AURORA | As he casually glided through Utah Park in Aurora on Monday morning, Dennis Van Allsburg was turning heads and raising eyebrows. That happens when you ride nothing but a wheel. “That’s the coolest thing I’ve seen in my life,” 14-year-old onlooker Rossannie Garcia said.
His hands tucked neatly behind his back, Van Allsburg quickly and effortlessly floated forward, the neon green shirt draped over his slender frame fluttering in the breeze as he wove his way around the concrete pathways. From a distance, it almost looked as if he were flying.
“How is he doing that?” 17-year-old Cindy Reynaga asked as Van Allsburg whizzed by her.
Van Allsburg was getting such reactions because of his Solowheel, a single-wheeled transportation device he recently started riding and selling in Aurora. Equipped with a 1,500-watt motor, the device utilizes the same gyroscopic technology as the two-wheeled Segway PT, and is similarly controlled by simply leaning forward to accelerate and backward to slow down. Standing only about two feet tall with a total weight of 24 pounds and maximum speed of 10 mph, the machine gives riders the appearance of floating; much like Marty McFly’s hover board in the movie “Back To The Future.”
“I see it as potentially changing the face of Denver and the metro area,” Van Allsburg said. “As more people learn to ride them and it becomes more popular, I can see it literally becoming part of the pedestrian mix.”
Van Allsburg is the owner and single employee of Solowheel Colorado, a Solowheel distribution business based out of Aurora he started last month. The opening of the business came about six months after Van Allsburg became instantly enamored with the product upon first seeing it in a YouTube video. The former owner of a marina supply store, Van Allsburg was immediately drawn to the wheel’s utility for boaters on-the-go.
“When I saw the Solowheel, I said, ‘that’s got to be the best marine accessory ever built,’” Van Allsburg said. “This device is very compact and easy to put on the boat. It makes it very easy for people to tour around the area where they land.”
Following his introduction to the product and a few months of research, Van Allsburg decided to drop his marina supply business after only about a year, and focus entirely on getting Solowheel Colorado off the ground.
“I thought the promotion of the Solowheel would take up all of my time,” Van Allsburg said. “A big part of my job is to simply ride around communities in Denver and Aurora so that people see it, because people can’t realize how it will fit into their lives until they see it.”
From Boulder to Golden to the 16th Street Mall in Denver, Van Allsburg travels to public places and community events throughout the metro area to promote his business and product. So far, he’s said the public response has been remarkably positive.
“I’m getting extremely positive reactions and I wasn’t expecting that at all,” Van Allsburg said. “I’ve yet to see a negative reaction, which is kind of surprising. I thought I would see a diversity of reactions, but so far they’ve all been positive.”
The positive public response that Van Allsburg has received is not necessarily just beginner’s luck or unique to Colorado.
The wheel has sparked interest and picked up distributors throughout the U.S. as well as abroad, from Korea to Colombia. The proliferation of the product, particularly as a transportation device, came as a surprise even to the product’s inventor, Owner of Inventist Inc. Shane Chen. Based out of Kamas, Washington, Chen made the first Solowheel prototype three years ago because he thought that the Segway could be made more fun and simplified even further using just one wheel.
“I just thought it would be fun, but now people are using it for transportation,” Chen said. “I realized that it’s so portable. You can carry it like a briefcase, which makes it so easy.” Chen added that the invention is great for the commute to and from suburbs just like Aurora. “There’s that last mile commute, when you get off the bus, train or subway and you still have a ways to go,” Chen said. “This is really great for that.”