Reinventing the Wheel

Monowheels have been around for decades, but it took an automotive outsider to try something new.

Illustration by MCKIBILLO

Dimensions: 8'3" long, 4'9" high, 2'2" wideIllustration by MCKIBILLO

Dept.: You Built What?!

Tech: Motorized monowheel

Cost: Around $5,000

Time: 900 hours

Jake Lyall thinks the idea for a new kind of motorized one-wheeled vehicle came to him in a dream. Which makes sense, given that the 37-year-old part-time programmer and Renaissance Fair jouster had never worked for a garage, studied engineering, or even held a welder before he built the RIOT Wheel.

Lyall's 1,100-pound monowheel monster (whose name stands for Reinvention of the Wheel) works on the hamster-in-a-wheel principle: Move a wheel's center of gravity forward and the wheel turns. Lyall's hamster is a lead-weighted engine, which hangs by bearings off a stationary center shaft and uses its torque to move from 0 degrees vertical when stationary to 90 degrees forward at full blast, continually pulling itself forward around a sprocket bolted to the outer spokes. An independent counterweight system keeps the driver floating gently above ground out front, instead of inside the wheel, where most monowheel designs sequester him. Steering is handled by a gyro system and the driver's shifting weight.

So far Lyall has no commercial designs on the project, which debuted at last year's Burning Man Festival. But he hopes that a refined electric version will break the monowheel land-speed record of 57 mph this summer (the first RIOT topped out at half that). Follow Lyall's progress and see the RIOT in action at theriotwheel.com.

DISSECTING THE RIOT (see illustration, above left)

A. Chassis, MIG-welded out of thin-walled steel tubing.

B. Spring-mounted seat tilts 15 degrees each way.

C. Throttle controls engine speed; joystick controls gyro and counterweight crane to lift or lower the driver.

D. 80cc four-stroke Honda scooter engine and 80 pounds of lead, delivering 120 pound-feet of torque at 90 degrees forward.

E. Sprocket bolted to outer spoke transfers engine assembly's torque to wheel.

F. Disc brake bolted to outer spoke; in full-skid braking, engine assembly is pulled backward from 0 degrees, pushing the driver quickly but safely to the ground, where a skid plate on the bottom of the seat aids braking.

G. 450-pound counterweight system, which works even without the engine inside.

H. 65-pound steel gyro, powered by two fan motors, tilts on a horizontal axis to yaw the vehicle for steering.

I. 1.5-gallon gas tank. Future versions will be electric.

J. 20-inch-wide rimless tire.