POSSIBILITIES are endless when the wheels of invention are applied to people movers. Just look around Songjiang to see how far we’ve come from the simple pedal bicycle. And best of all, innovative new forms of personal transport are environmentally friendly.
One of the more distinctive devices is the Segway, a two-wheeled, self-balancing, battery-powered electric vehicle invented by American Dean Kamen. It’s seen on Songjiang’s streets, though not often.
The rider stands on a small platform about 20 centimeters off the ground and uses handlebars to steer. When the rider leans forward, the Segway moves forward. When the rider leans back, it moves backward or stops.
The device is quite expensive, normally priced at more than 10,000 yuan (about US$1,600). Taobao.com, China’s largest online shopping platform, said it sold almost 1,000 Segway transporters last year.
Another increasingly popular variation of wheels is the snakeboard, which was invented by a South African to fuse the traditional skateboard with elements of snowboarding and surfing.
The first snakeboard was an old roller skate chopping in half and joined by a piece of pipe. Nowadays, the boards are made from strong plastics.
The rider stands with one foot on each footplate. By moving the feet in and out in tandem with shoulder and hip movements, the rider is able to propel the board in any direction using only body weight.
Gu Jiayuan, 14, who lives in the Xingchen neighborhood, says she loves her snakeboard.
“Some of my classmates ride them to school,” she said, “but my mother allows me ride mine only in the neighborhood.”
Snakeboards sell for between 100 yuan and 1,000 yuan, depending on brand and quality of materials used.
Another innovative people-mover in Songjiang is Solowheel, an electric unicycle manufactured by US-based Inventist Inc. The wheel, which can be packed up and carried when not in use, runs on a battery-powered 1,000-watt electric motor and a gyroscope that helps the user stay balanced while moving.
A shop in Songjiang University Town sells the device for 1,880 yuan.
The Solowheel is hard to master at first.
“Beginners can get on the unicycle by leaning against a wall first,” said a salesman in the shop. “The Solowheel is propelled by how well you control your body balance.”
A Solowheel’s maximum speed is 40 kilometers an hour, but its battery at top speed lasts only 45 minutes.