Published on January 23rd, 2013 | by Greg

spnKiX: Rocket Skates Not Quite The Future Of Transit

Remember when the Segway was new? Actually, do you recall when it was being announced, and hailed as a potentially world-changing invention? We wanted to envision a future with battery-powered self-propelled vehicles, but the Segway is awkward and bulky. It’s tough to beat the skateboard, the bicycle, and roller skates for personal mobility. Electric scooters and bikes are great options, but are also prone to theft and more than a little difficult to find space for. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could strap a pair of skates to your feet, press a button, and just… go?

That’s the promise of spnKiX, the new motorized skates. We received a pair of the “Pro” models right before Christmas- one of the best gifts ever- and were thrilled with the possibilities. New York City might seem small, but on foot it can take quite a while to get around. Zipping at up to 10 miles per hour, we imagined ‘skating’ through Central Park, keeping pace alongside the many runners that occupy the West Side Highway, and generally looking like we were slightly taller and faster Manhattanites busily going about our day without having to move our legs.

Reality set in, though. The fact of the matter: safety is pretty important. And any responsible company is going to build in a bunch of safeguards to prevent silly or mean people from bowling over crowds on the street. Also, though battery technology has advanced a long way, motors and lithium-ion cells are still heavy and hefty. These weigh 18 pounds- that’s not a typo- meaning that you’re not going to want to carry these up and down the subway stairs. Also, the range per charge is about six miles, which should be enough for shorter commutes but won’t allow you to cover marathon distances. Men in shoe size 6-14  and women from sizes 7-15.5 can fit, but these aren’t for kids.

The idea is great- that’s probably why the Kickstarter project raised $120K a year ago when it was only seeking $25K. They’ve now shipped several hundred pairs to over 26 countries. And the actual units are well-designed, with sizeable wheels that offer solid traction, carrying handles, and a dual-strap system that keeps your feet really secure. Simply charge up the units with the included wall charger (it takes around four hours for a complete charge, we were able to do it in three or less typically); a power meter is built into the back of each skate.  The remote is small, pretty basic, but has a nice wrist strap to keep it handy. We had to pair the remote to our skates the first time, but then we were ready to go, strapped in, charged up, then… splat.

It’s tough. These take some getting used to and many hours later, we still don’t feel comfortable taking them outside to city streets or sidewalks. Granted, it’s pretty cold outside and there’s a dearth of parking lots in the city for us to experiment with. But our first attempts indoors make us suggest strongly: have a friend ready to help. You’ll need to put your feet one in front of the other, and then slowly ramp up. Ours didn’t come with “training wheels” which were sadly missed, and meant a steeper learning curve. The main issue is that balance is absolutely essential, as you’ll have to tilt your body forward a bit, but not so much that your shoes touch the ground. Plus, and this surprised us: only one wheel is actually motorized in each skate. Braking is easy- just step back or push back on the remote, we did both simultaneously and it’s very natural. After some practice, we could take them out without assistance, but still wouldn’t use them in public as even a small obstacle would mean real trouble. It’s also exhausting!

Our take: nifty, well-made, and the sort of gadget that absolutely everyone asks about when they pass by. Much like the Segway, it’s a concept that will only improve as our batteries do, but this first iteration leaves quite a bit to be desired. They’re novel, but ultimately very safe and just not very fun. Available now online for $699, coming soon are a new EZ version that will cost $499.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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