They share a uni-vision.
Navigating an electric unicycle through gritty Gotham’s cutthroat streets and gridlocked traffic may not be everyone’s idea of Nirvana.
But don’t tell that to the 200-strong gang of electric unicyclists who meet up at the Kung Fu Tea shop in the East Village for a cruise after a nice cup of Sesame Wow Milk or Cocoa Lava Slush.
In June 2020, the City Council approved legislation to legalize electric bikes and scooters.
However, electric unicycles are illegal in New York City, the NYPD confirmed, but the folks who ride them insist they aren’t out for trouble.
“We’re just looking to get around the city like everyone else,” said Paul Engle, 43, who hails from Southern California. “We obey the rules. … We take up less space in a city of eight million people. We’re just looking for the gaps, man.”
Engle talks about one-wheeling like a surfer catching that perfect wave. “It was a hobby initially. It was just something to do. Very quickly it became a way of a lifestyle. There is something about the absolute presence required to ride one of these out in the world that is meditative and therapeutic,” he said.
Other enthusiasts have come from further afield — even Canada and Malaysia — to get in on the groove at the tiny Bubble team emporium on St. Mark’s Place.
“Some people look at us like we came from outer space,” said electric unicyclist August Hill, 33, and the NYPD might agree, calling the contraptions illegal despite their growing ubiquity.
Unlike an e-scooter or e-bike, there are no handlebars on the motorized unicycles. The battery-rechargeable, single-wheel gizmos are compact and some are even lightweight enough to carry.
The rider straddles the wheel on foot rests and — similar to a Segway — steers the vehicle and makes it move by deftly shifting their body weight.
And they are gaining ground on other modes of transportation on congested city streets, Hill, a Manhattan resident, contends, adding that he had his own epiphany about five years ago while bemoaning another torturous cross-town commute.
“I was sitting on 34th Street contemplating what I wanted my life to look like when a guy whipped past me on an electric unicycle and that was it,” the former logistics director said, adding he started with a small wheel but has since graduated to “bigger and more robust machines….I now own my time and I can be wherever I want to be. It makes the world so much smaller and more accessible.”
Hill claimed that a rush hour trip by car from Lower Manhattan to Harlem may take 90 minutes. “It takes us [electric unicyclists] about 15 to 20 minutes,” he boasted.
The electric unicycles generally weigh between 35 and 80 pounds and some can zoom up to 60 mph, Hill said, adding a dependable ride runs between $1,500 and $4,000.
Hill and Engle, formed True2One, an “organized group of personal electric vehicle (PEV) enthusiasts who share a passion for riding, community and the PEV culture.” The group has its own Instagram page with close to 8,000 followers.
The Kung Fu Tea shop became their headquarters after the owner, a friend, also got the one-wheel bug and allowed the growing unicycle community “a place to sit and store their chargers and charge their wheels,” Hill said.
Hill said the drill is that someone will make a flyer and post it on social media.
“When we ride, the leader will have a blueprint of where we want to go,” he explained, adding that last week a group of Canadians joined in on a ride that went from Lower Manhattan to the West Side Highway up to Harlem, across to Randalls Island and then back down to Lexington Avenue. The trek began and ended at the St. Marks Place tea shop.
“The trips are spontaneous. Someone can make a ride and have people there in an hour,” Hill said adding the group embarks on about 14 rides each week.
The big meet-up, “The Broadway Bomb,” is slated for October and the plan is yes, a trip that will “take participants down Broadway,” Hill said.