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January 9, 2011

News & Features

One-wheel wonder: Portland inventor tries to launch futuristic machine

Special to NWautos

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(RYNO Motors)

It's smaller than a bicycle, it motors you from point A to point B without gasoline and it would cost less than a new scooter. Chris Hoffmann, a laid-off machine designer turned inventor, thinks that his electric-powered "micro-cycle" could become the new urban commuter. Now if he could just get investors to agree.

The one-wheeled RYNO was dreamed up by Hoffmann's daughter Lauren, then 13, who suggested it to her dad while on a fishing trip four years ago. She had seen a single-wheeled motorcycle in a video game and wondered if it was actually possible.

"It stuck in my head, so I just had to try so that I could kill the idea and forget about it," says Hoffmann, who lives in Portland and spent 15 years in the auto industry designing factory machinery.

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The one-wheeled RYNO "micro-cycle" is shown on the streets of Portland. Inventor Chris Hoffmann is seeking investors to manufacture the bike. (RYNO Motors)

He kept waiting for a major roadblock: a non-existent part or prohibitively expensive technology. But as he started putting it together in his wife's art studio, he found everything he needed among standard automotive parts, obtaining them easily and cheaply.

About a year later he had a prototype, but the steering was awkward and the cycle was almost impossible to control. He thought he'd finally hit his roadblock -- but then he met an engineer online named Tony Ozrelic, who helped Hoffmann add a software program similar to a Segway's to control the forward motion and braking. They also added a linkage that allowed the rider to swing the upper half of the bike left-to-right over the lower half for easier steering.

"I thought, 'If this thing doesn't ride, I'm done,' " Hoffmann says. "But I got on it and just rode off." When Hoffmann got laid off from his job soon after, he threw himself into his invention full-time.

The current design runs at speeds of up to 25 mph and has a range of 30 miles on an hour-and-a-half charge. Both mechanical and computer-controlled safety features keep the driver aware of how the RYNO and the driver are handling.

Once you get the hang of it, riding the RYNO is "like a graceful dance," Hoffmann says. "You find a sweet spot and your body just goes, 'Ahhh.' It does what you want it to do."
With the headlight and turn signals Hoffmann plans to add, he expects it to qualify as a street-legal scooter that won't require a motorcycle endorsement (though he hasn't yet run it by the Department of Transportation).

Whether we ever see RYNOs cruising the streets remains to be seen. Hoffmann is setting his sights on the Asian auto market, where he hopes densely populated cities, dismal air quality and an affinity for gadgets could mean a receptive audience. He has also approached police forces in Portland and Vancouver, B.C., which he says have expressed a willingness to give them a try.

RYNO's origins
  • Chris Hoffmann named his one-wheeled motorcycle after a bazooka-like weapon in the gearhead video game Ratchet & Clank. The acronym stands for "Rip You a New One."

Hoffmann thinks the RYNO could become popular as an off-road recreational toy. If he gets the $2 million he's seeking from investors, he hopes to put out production models that would retail for around $3,200.

One thing Hoffmann definitely isn't hurting for is attention. Naturally, the RYNO turns heads and starts conversations wherever he takes it. It was recently featured on the TV show "Green Science Oregon," in a Belgian magazine focused on ecological news, and on a German car TV show. It is slated to appear on the CNBC show "Not Invented in Silicon Valley" next month.

Hoffmann was even contacted a couple of months ago by the producers of an upcoming sci-fi action movie starring Bruce Willis. Hoffmann says they want him to ride the RYNO around in the background of "some futuristic world."

If Hoffmann has it his way, though, that future is near.

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