SBU V3 2014 Phil Huff 665x297

Alternative options to public transport…?

I have spent the last two weekends in Cambridge and London, both cities that are not ideally set up to accommodate cars in the city centre. Being a true petrolhead, that doesn’t stop me weaving something unnecessarily large and powerful through the narrow streets, but even I’m beginning to realise that sometimes there might just be a better option.

The immediate thought must be public transport. It’s always the answer given by any Londoner, who will tell me at length about the myriad options available, from reliable and timely buses, through the obviously widespread and speedy underground, and on to the delights of the Docklands Light Railway and overground rail services. For those last few places where there’s an issue there’s also a massive fleet of 24,000 black cabs and 53,000 minicabs.

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Given that, I agree that there is actually good reason to not own a car if you happen to live in London. Getting around is easy, quick and relatively cheap, almost certainly cheaper than running a car, although the obvious downside is that you have to share your transport with other people. That’s never ideal.

That is all well and good, but it doesn’t really work the same way outside of the big smoke. Up in Cambridge the streets are as narrow, the buildings every bit as old, the parking just as expensive, but there is for the most part no viable public transport option.

A bus from my home, even on Cambridgeshire’s £152 million guided busway, takes well over an hour to get to the city centre. That’s something I can do by car in under half the time, and given the ticket costs it won’t cost me any more either.

Even driving the city outskirts and using the Park & Ride scheme can cost more than parking in the city as they charge per person – once the car is loaded with my other half and two teenagers, the bus no longer makes sense.

So I’ve been looking for ways to get around without relying on either public transport or a car. Before anybody shouts ‘bike’, I live far too far away to consider cycling. And I’m not fit enough, but it’s mainly the distance. Really.

I thought back to an experience I had a few years ago in the old US of A. There I had a Segway Personal Transporter at my disposal, allowing me to whizz around on pavements, in shops and pretty much where I liked without too much effort.

A Segway, for the uninitiated, is made up of a platform between two wheels. You stand on the platform, at which point a load of magic stuff happens and it remains upright without any effort. Leaning forwards makes the Segway zip forwards, going faster the further you are prepared to lean. To stop you simply lean back until you reach a halt, but stay leaning and you can reverse.

It’s a brilliant device, able to bounce happily up and down kerbs and reach speeds as high as 12.5 mph. That’s four or five times walking pace, so it can cut down the time it takes to get places easily, potentially even beating cars once you’re in the city.

However, Segway’s are big. Two big wheels sticking out each side of you mean that it’s not really viable in busy pedestrianised areas, and there’s no way you can get more than one in the boot of a car.

One other HUGE issue is that they’re not legal in the UK. Banned from both pavements and the road, the only place you can legally ride your Segway is on private ground.

A company in Maidenhead offered me a solution recently, inviting me down to test the new SBU V3. This takes the Segway concept and cuts it down to half the size, making it a self-balancing unicycle.

Much like the Segway, you lean forward to go faster, lean backwards to stop and reverse. The main difference is that you’ve got to balance left and right yourself, while you also lose the ability to steer using handlebars. Instead you have to twist your body round and manhandle the unicycle around yourself.

This has the strange advantage of being a bit of a workout. Personal trainers will go on about core muscles and such like, and they’d be right. It’s not overwhelming at all, but you are aware you’re making some effort.

With no wheels either side, it takes up no more space than a person, so suddenly crowded areas aren’t out of bounds. You could take it on a train quite happily, carry it on a bus, put two or three in the car boot, and then use the SBU to cycle the last mile to the office or shops.

Twenty minutes is all it took to become reasonably competent at riding it, and a weekend spent on it in the back garden would get you some serious unicycle skills. Personal experience says it is possible to fall off it though, especially when racing…

There’s only one major drawback. The price of personal transport is just under £1,700. For the same price I could buy 29cm of guided busway, or two and a half years of unlimited tickets. I could even buy a car, tax and insure it without too much difficulty.

So I’ve reached a conclusion about the best way of getting around the city, and it’s free.

I’ll walk.

[button link=”” rel=”nofollow” color=”orange”]This article was first published at on 23 September 2013.[/button]

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.