Librans, they say, are all about balance. Someone forgot to send my body that memo though. As a child, I was just about fine on a bicycle. But enter roller skates and I soon realised that I was spending more time sitting on my sore backside than rolling along smoothly down Bombay’s roads!
Even later in life, balancing was rarely my thing. I remember being coerced into ice skates and plonked onto the periphery of the rink at Esselworld by well-meaning friends. I stood there clutching a bar the entire time, the only thing not frozen in fright were the tears flowing freely down my miserable face!
More recently, when I went to prime Swiss ski territory at Mount Titlis or the super luxe St Moritz, it never even crossed my mind to consider the ski lifts as anything more than joyrides over the pristine piste!
Which is why I surprised even myself when I agreed to test the IO Walk, a self-balancing board that seemed to represent everything I feared most. Seemingly unstable, highly sporty, with reports of self-combustion… boards that I’d seen only reckless 12-year-olds trying out at Mumbai’s Marine Drive.
So what exactly is an IO Walk?
According to the company that markets these devices in India, the IO Walk is ‘the next step in the evolution of transportation’. Popularly called a ‘hoverboard’ or, more correctly, a ‘self-balancing board’, it’s purportedly an Intelligent Personal Mobility Device. It’s been brought to India by three young enthusiastic entrepreneurs, Hitesh and Lokesh Gurnani and Karan Kulchandani. They say it’s a ‘luxury toy’ which can be a fun and environment-friendly mode of transport in the urban space for people of any age or gender.
How you’re supposed to work it
The IO Walk is said to be incredibly intuitive and easy to use. You just need to lean in the direction you wish to go, indicate this by pushing your toes down, and the miracle machine does the rest of the work for you. Apparently it takes just about 30 minutes to get the hang of it. Now, seeing the guy who brought it to me using it, you’d think he was born with wheels on his feet. He actually made it look really easy. “You just hop on, catch your balance and you can start moving,” he said, demonstrating just that. A few cautioning tips… You just need to make sure your feet are placed firmly in a manner that doesn’t make the IO Walk pivot. It’s best to start in the child mode, which doesn’t let the IO Walk go beyond a speed of three kms per hour (it can whiz around upto 15 kms if you pull out all the stops!). To stop, you just hop off from the back.
How I worked it
Day 1: Not quite as reckless as those pre-teens at Marine Drive, I approached the board like it was going to bite me. Very gingerly, I placed a tentative toe on it. It whirred and moved! How was I going to get onto this seemingly sentient board that looked like it just wanted to see me take a spill? I decided to take support of my sideboard (I was doing this indoors to start with so there would be fewer people to laugh out loud at me!) and get on. Getting on wasn’t difficult but staying on was quite a task. I had to use my hips to balance and pivot so the IO Walk didn’t slip out from under me. If you’ve ever stood on a swing, you’ll get an idea of what I mean. Only in this case, you don’t have anywhere to put your hands or cling on to. I was trying the Elite version, whereas the Elite Plus comes with a Segway-like handle, which I’m thinking will make the whole process much easier.
While I was initially quite intimidated by it, I was soon up and going, making turns and being able to hop off. Perhaps not as gracefully as I would wish, but much better than I thought I would ever be!
Day 2: I thought it would be easier to try it out in a more open space so I optimistically took it to the Worli Sea Face in Mumbai for a bit of fun. But enormous curiosity and attention from the morning walkers coupled with the unevenness of the surface, made it a difficult ordeal. For someone more confident on it, the IO Walk would have been a pleasurable experience on the promenade. For me, I had to shamefacedly lug it back home.
But I was determined to master this machine and later the same day, I decided to try it out in my building corridor, which has really smooth tiles and adequate space to muck around in. This is where I got my second wind with the IO Walk. Suddenly, it was so easy to hop on and hop off, I got into the groove and my body felt its rhythm. I was zipping around quite comfortably and, most importantly for me, I was ENJOYING it for the first time!
Day 3: By now, I was so comfortable on it, I was actually wishing I had the Beats version, which lets you stream music of your choice as you go! The charging apparatus and remote control are really simple and I was pleased to see that it worked tirelessly for about 13 hours over three days on just one zap (I wasn’t going very far or fast, though).
In fact, I was really sad to send it back to the company as, though my review was done, I would have liked to take it for my next shopping spree at the mall. No more aching feet as you walk through those endless spaces!
My take on it…
Safety: It’s something you need to get the hang of before you take it for a spin. I’ve seen someone falling off and it wasn’t pretty. But if you’re the agile, athletic sort, mastering the IO Walk won’t take you as long as it took me! There have been several reports of such boards catching fire and they have been banned by many airlines. The easily-Googleable fact is, that the boards that self-combusted were all cheap (mostly Chinese-made) rip-offs of the real thing. I’m told that the IO Walk, like its American counterpart the IO Hawk, runs on superior Samsung batteries that are properly fixed in the body, which is made up of ABS (the same tough material used to make car bumpers). Indian roads aren’t quite as clean and clear as pavements in more developed countries so it may be a little difficult to get a lot of usage out of it as a transport or commuting device. Even so, given its sturdy build quality, I think it’s a great (and eco-friendly!) way to get around.
Style: It’s an eyeball-grabber wherever you go and can even be customised with your name or a company logo (they put The Hungry Happy Hippy on for me!). It’s the new ‘it’ toy and if it’s allowed in malls and clubs, I see it becoming quite popular.
Cost: It certainly isn’t a cheap thrill. The Elite Plus at Rs 55,000 comes in two colours with the ABS body, Samsung battery and a handle for better control. The Elite (which I tested) is priced at Rs 50,000 has a remote control, ABS body, Samsung battery and is available in six different colours. The Beats version at Rs 36,000 has built-in Bluetooth speakers, no handle, no remote control and a battery from another company.