M o n o w h e e l s: Page 3.

The story of vehicles with insufficient wheels.

Updated:
12 Feb 2008

New Dynosphere pic.

Diwheels now have their own page here.
The Dynosphere: 1932 Updated
The Monowheel Tank: 1933
The Nilsson Monowheel: 1936
The Rose Patent: 1937
The Saurez Monowheel: 1966
The Owen Monowheel and Diwheel: 1998
The Chabanais TractoWheel
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THE DYNOSPHERE: 1932

The Dynosphere (or Dynasphere, in some sources) was invented Dr J H Purves. It differed from the other monowheel designs in that it was wide enough to stand up by itself, without the need for continuous balancing. The outside of the wheel was part of the surface of a sphere.

In the picture below, the son of the inventor is at the controls, and apparently having some difficulties in steering; leaning this monowheel to one side is clearly not going to be easy. The Dynosphere was reported to have reached 30 mph on this run, powered by a 2.5 hp petrol engine. Since the wheel was said to have weighed 1000 pounds, I have some doubts about these figures.

Left: The Dynosphere on Brean sands, near Weston-super-Mare, England, in February 1932.

Not sure what the "tyre" is made of; it appears to be a steel framework covered in some sort of rubber compound. Presumably the grid construction is to give some forward vision.
Note the roof to keep the rain off- or possibly the sand carried up by the tread.

Above: A Churchmans cigarette card apparently showing the Dynosphere, with a woman driver. One careful lady owner...

The text at the bottom is not really legible, but certainly starts "The Dyno..."

Interestingly, there are significant differences between the picture on the card and the photo of the real thing.

Dr J H Purves, the inventor, with a model Dynosphere. Note the enclosed cabin.

Dr Purves claimed that the use of one wheel instead of four gave great economy of power. This seems highly doubtful. Dr John Purvis had set up the West of England Electricity Company, so he was presumably not a solitary eccentric. This picture and those below from Popular Science (USA magazine) sometime in 1932.

Future versions were intended to be steered by using machinery to move the cabin to one side, tilting the wheel.

Picture kindly supplied by David & Peter Hastings.

One eye-witness states:
"As a lad I lived in Weston-super-Mare. One day in the 1930s I went to the beach and saw a man trying to drive a huge wheel across the sands. It wasn't very successful and wobbled about... I have always wondered what it was or whether I imagined it." (BBC)

Not a very positive report.

The Dynosphere meets a conventional car.

This gives a very good idea of the impracticability of the Dynosphere. Since the wheel has to encircle the passengers, it is big and correspondingly heavy. The Dynosphere seats two, or three at most; it dwarfs a conventional car seating four. Top right of the pic is missing.

Picture kindly supplied by David & Peter Hastings.

Another Picture of The Dynosphere on Brean Sands.

The son of the inventor is at the controls.

A one-man version of the Dynosphere.

This one was electrically powered, presumably using lead-acid batteries.

Picture kindly supplied by David & Peter Hastings.

The two versions of the Dynosphere together.

Apparently at the Brean Sands outing.

Picture kindly supplied by Tom Anable.

The big Dynosphere on the cover of Popular Science, in May 1932.

This implies it was a two-seater, but it might be unwise to put too much credence on that.

Picture kindly supplied by David & Peter Hastings.

The Dynosphere was also tried out at Brooklands racing track where it is reported to have knocked someone over, probably due to its inadequate steering capabilities. (though you would have thought anyone with any sense would have stayed well out of its path) The project was abandoned soon afterwards.

The "Dynasphere" in the US magazine Modern Mechanix, in July 1932.

This appears to be the model that Dr Purves was holding in one of the pictures above. It has gained bumpers and possibly headlamps. The text seems to confirm the engine position as being in the front.

This article was drawn to my attention by David Worth.


THE MONOWHEEL TANK PROJECT: 1933

The Monowheel Tank Project: 1933

So far as I am aware this notion never progressed beyond the drawing-board, which is perhaps just as well for the men who might have been called upon to pilot it. There are a dozen objections that might be made, not least the use of "crutches" to cross trenches in some unimaginable manoeuvre. What really sinks it for me, however, is the use of the inverted stabiliser-wheel mudguards as floats for water-borne progress. A few ripples would fill these with water, and the monotank, having lost its stability, would at once fall on its side. This is the sort of thing which leads me to suppose that the inventor had very little idea what he was about.
It's a brilliant drawing, though.

The monowheel at bottom right is not identified, but the inner wheel mountings resemble the Nilsson machine shown below. The claim that it has reached 100mph is highly questionable- or to put it another way, an outright lie.

The mention of an Italian inventor in England (top of 3rd column) suggests it might refer to Cislaghi, the originator of the Motoruota.

The text tells us only that the monotank has been patented (hardly a good way to keep it secret) by "a New York inventor". Could it have been Julian Rose? See The Rose Patent below.

Note that someone has done a fine piece of type-setting in wrapping the text round the wheel at bottom right.

A Civilian Version of The Monowheel Tank Project.

Note the stabilising wheels at rear.

Picture courtesy of Ian Bennet.

The USA Patent drawing of The Monowheel Tank: 1932.

Not for the first time, we note that the published drawings are closely based on the patent.

How on earth could anyone have thought that those inverted-mudguard floats were practical? Well, it defeats me.

Picture courtesy of Stephen Ransom.

The Monowheel Tank patent: 1932.

The "contemporary publication" no doubt being the Popular Science article referenced above.

Info courtesy of Stephen Ransom.


THE NILSSON MONOWHEEL: 1936

The Nilsson monowheel: 1936.

Walter Nilsson aboard.

Picture from the book "The Spirit of the Motorcycle" by Michael Dregni. (Voyageur Press, 1936)

Picture and info kindly provided by Patrick Appleyard.

The Nilsson monowheel

This appears to be another picture of the Nilsson monowheel, judging by the distinctive curved forgings (?) at the bottom, and the details of the seat.

It looks like this picture was taken from a newspaper, but the provenance is unknown. The fuel tank is different, and it looks like a different engine is fitted.

The Nilsson monowheel

That looks like Walter Nilsson inside the wheel, so far as one can tell from a picture of distinctly limited quality, but this time he looks far less confident. Apart from the facial expression, note he has donned a crash-helmet.

Image courtesy of Stan Smith

The Nilsson/Rose monowheel again?

Uno-wheel? That's a new name for these things. This blurb does at least tell us (assuming that anything in it can be trusted) that the tyre was specially made, rather than being adapted from some other use, and cost a small fortune. In 1936 $800 was a lot of money.

This advertising blurb, date-stamped 1936, seems confident that Walter Nilsson is the inventor and onlie begetter of this monowheel, but then at least part of it is fiction. I absolutely refuse to believe that this machine ever travelled at 100mph or anything like it. 100mph? On yer bike.

A common thread that runs through the history of monowheels is the persistence of claims for amazing speeds using engines of low power. One needs to bear in mind that some of these figures may be nominal "taxation" horsepower, derived from an official formula and much lower than the actual power output.

Image courtesy of Stan Smith


THE ROSE MONOWHEEL

The Rose patent of 1937.

Note anti-gerbilling wheels fore and aft.

Gerbil v,i To rotate inside a monowheel due to excessive braking or acceleration. [f. E, From ability of gerbils to run right round the inside of hamster wheels due their greater speed]

Image kindly provided by Patrick Appleyard.

Mr Julian Rose of Glendale.

Since there can hardly be two inventors called Julian Rose working on monowheels, I make bold to claim that this is a picture of an earlier (or later) model of the device shown in the patent above.
There is an unexplained structure just above the roof, at the top of the big wheel, which are possibly intended to be stabilising vanes. Or possibly not.

Note that Mr Rose has a new solution to the steering problem here. Whether his machine still counts as a monowheel is an interesting question. Well, not that interesting.

Picture courtesy of Ian Bennet.


THE SAUREZ MONOWHEEL: 1966

The Saurez monowheel: 1966.

This is almost certainly a patent drawing, but the number is not known. If a patent was granted, it is hard to see why; there seems to be absolutely nothing new here.

From the USA magazine "Machine Design", 29 Sept 1966

Image courtesy of Stan Smith


THE OWEN MONOWHEEL AND DIWHEEL: 1998
"Two years ago a Bath University engineering lecturer and Vintage Sports-Car Club stalwart by the name of Dr Geraint Owen reached the inexplicable conclusion that the monowheel was a concept that ill-deserved its place in motoring's bulging "where are they now?" file. To prove the point, he went and built one of his own.
Left: A modern monowheel, built by Dr Geraint Owen of Bath University, UK.
Left: A modern diwheel, also built by Dr Geraint Owen and his father.

This machine is clearly much more fun.

From The Daily Telegraph, 18 May 2000:

"The Owen monowheel consisted of a 7ft metal hoop with a 50cc moped engine, driver's seat and controls mounted on an inner frame. Owen wobbled erratically across the runway at RAF Colerne during the lunch break at a VSCC sprint event for the benefit of our photographer, and everyone assumed that this brief experiment would have got the fad out of his system.

To be blunt, the only good thing about Owen's first monowheel was that it was too slow to kill either spectators or the rider, and as a result it failed to achieve his bizarre ambition to own "the most dangerous motorcycle ever".

But now that ambition has surely been realised, because he has launched a new two-wheeled machine - the di-wheel - which is powered by a 250cc four-stroke motorcycle engine. It is geared to hit 70mph - but the more worrying news is that it has a passenger seat.

Owen built the di-wheel with his father, Owen Wyn Owen - who has ridden it only once (and very briefly, from the workshop into the hedge opposite). So why on earth did Dr Owen build it?

"When I rode the monowheel," he says, "everyone asked if it was possible to get the seat to go right up the back and over the top, and I wanted something that would do it." But that simply highlights one of the monowheel's many weaknesses - namely, that if you brake too hard, the inner and outer parts become coupled together, and the rider goes round and round with the wheel. This horrifying possibility has been christened "gerbilling" by Owen's fellow VSCC members.

So back to the fundamental question: why? "I would have thought the benefits are self-evident," Owen deadpans. "We just built it to make a lot of people laugh - and now I can take them for a ride, too."

And so, two years after my brief encounter with the monowheel, I arrived at Colerne to take a spin on the di-wheel. "The wheels are 6ft 4in this time," Owen says. Is there some profound engineering reason for this? "No," he replies. "My garage doors are only that high and I used to have to lean the monowheel over to get it in."

A total of 1,000 was invested in building the di-wheel and steering is accomplished by braking each wheel individually. There's a Cortina diff and axle to transfer the drive to the wheels and, in an unexpectedly up-market touch, the battery is from a Harrier jump jet.

Before we met up at Colerne, Owen had only taken his new creation for the briefest of shakedown runs - and on a nice soft beach at that - but he'd already discovered that the brakes are needed to minimise another fundamental weakness in the design. "You tend to get bad fore-and-aft rocking on the di-wheel, which is really a kind of tank slapper," he explains, "and you have to snap the brakes on and off in an effort to reduce it. But if you get your timing a bit wrong, it just gets worse."

Despite the inherent ghastliness of the di-wheel, Owen is at pains to point out the thing's plus points. "It's quite steerable," he says. "There's some progression in the brakes and it will turn on a sixpence. Plus it's very good at doing figures of eight."

In my book, such accomplishments hardly compensate for the rest, but there was nothing for it now. The talking had to stop and the beast had to be ridden.

The gods weren't smiling on the day of the di-wheel's inaugural run, however, and the VSCC event at Colerne was abandoned because of standing water on the track.

In the flesh, the di-wheel looked even worse than I'd anticipated: like a cross between a medieval instrument of torture and a piece of antiquated farm machinery. The only remotely aesthetic touch was the gold coachline that Owen Snr had painted, mischievously, I thought, around each wheel.

The inner frame of the contraption swung alarmingly as the creator climbed aboard and it was almost as bad when I followed. Just imagine trying to get on to a swing by way of the frame and you'll get the picture. However, once aboard, the rally seats were snug and my feet were soon being warmed nicely by the exhaust pipe.

Before I could make a last request, Owen was underway and as the di-wheel accelerated, we were propelled backwards and up inside the wheel. Then a swift application of the brakes meant that we plummeted to the bottom and thence up the front. I was asked to look out of the back and feign fear for the photographs, but it was impossible not to laugh because the di-wheel is an absolute hoot, and as such it entirely fulfils Owen's design brief.

That only leaves us with the "gerbilling" question. Sadly - and I think I mean that - we didn't become the first men to "gerbil" in a di-wheel... but only because the ambulance that had been on stand-by for the VSCC event had long since gone. It can only be a matter of time before Owen attempts the feat, however.

Even that might not be quite the end for the di-wheel, because Owen is considering making it road legal. It would almost be worth trying it, just to see the look on the MoT tester's face as the di-wheel rolled into the workshop. Some of Owen's VSCC colleagues have pointed out the di-wheel is distinctly short of luggage space, but Owen is unmoved by such petty criticism. "When you drive this thing, you're concentrating on hanging on to your breakfast, not buying it," he says."

Extracted from The Daily Telegraph, 18 May 2000.

Left: The Owen monowheel coming...
...and going.

Many thanks to Dr Owen for permission to publish these images.

Left: Another outing for the Owen monowheel.


THE TRACTOWHEEL.

One of Jackie Chabanais' unusual machines; this is the TractoWheel.

Gerbilling holds no fear for M. Chabanais.

See more at: http://www.jackiechabanais.com

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