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Story and photos by Laurance Yap
When I returned the BMW 545i that I was testing for a week, the price of premium fuel had risen to almost a dollar a litre, which is a lot when you’ve got to pump fifty-five or sixty of them into the tank of a car powered by a thundering (and occasionally guzzling) 325 horsepower V8 engine. “Surely,” I joked while handing over the keys, “you must have something more fuel-efficient than this on the test fleet?”
Little did I know they would give me something without an engine!
The SlideCarver – a three-wheeled scooter-cum-skateboard – is the latest in a line of amusing mobility toys primarily executed as design exercises. With an adjustable handlebar, articulating suspension pieces, and perhaps most importantly, the addition of disc brakes, it would be a lot easier to control than the StreetCarver skateboard I tried a couple of years ago, and looked pretty cool as well.
Check out the detailing: the deck is a perfectly-formed plank of cast aluminum, with a blue traction-enhancing substance applied to its surface. The wheels are gorgeous five-spoke alloys, with centre-lock hubs and slick tires. The suspension pieces actually come from a 5-series sedan. And the brakes, well, the brakes are sexier than the brakes used on any BMW road car, with vented, cross-drilled rotors and shiny red-lacquered calipers, just like a Porsche Turbo’s. This is one mean machine.
Don’t let the lack of an engine fool you; the SlideCarver can achieve some serious speed; BMW wasn’t joking when they said it might be a good idea to take a helmet with me. Find a sufficiently open space (a parking lot is good, or a long, wide, lightly-trafficked sidewalk), grab the handles, give your back foot a mighty push, and you’re soon zipping right along. Unlike the StreetCarver, the SlideCarver is easy to keep going in a straight line, thanks to the stable handlebar steering and wide deck, and the soft tires and sophisticated suspension system actually do a very good job at damping out surface vibrations. This thing rides as well as a 5-series does, even better if your 5-series is rolling on run-flat tires.
How does it handle? Like a BMW would, if a BMW had three wheels and no engine. It takes a while to figure out how to use the SlideCarver; you have to remember to lean into turns, not the opposite as you would in a car. Sometimes getting traction with your back foot is tough because you end up kicking down right where one of the rear wheels is. But get that all sorted and the Carver is a lot of fun. It’s exceptionally stable, thanks to how the plank bows downwards where you stand, and the steering is quick and easy; you only need a minuscule angle on the handlebars to create sweeping turns if you’re leaning into a corner. The brakes are remarkably powerful, too, should you manage to lose control, and though they don’t have ABS, they never lock up.
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I took the SlideCarver into work one day for fun, and nobody got anything done. There I’d be, sitting in my cubicle, and the president of the company would go zooming by, screeching and hollering like a little kid as he slid it out by the photocopier (yes indeed, you can oversteer a SlideCarver). The creative director went up and down the hallway so many times the rug on the floor moved a couple of feet from all of the action it was seeing. Everybody was abuzz with how much fun it was to play with, but more importantly, what a quality piece it was, from the little BMW logos that were as lovingly applied as any on one of the company’s road cars, right down to the intricately-detailed brake discs.
Let’s be honest here. You’re never likely to use a SlideCarver as a substitute for a car, no matter how expensive gas gets. Cool though it may be, folding handlebars and all, it’s never going to be a substitute for a bicycle in town – even putting aside the $1000 list price, it’s probably a bit too weird to be scampering about the downtown core in. Just like a BMW skateboard would probably get you beaten up if you ever showed up at a board park on one, so a SlideCarver is an expensive indulgence, better suited to be played with in private than shown off for all the world to see. But that’s okay; as an art object, it’s one of the most intriguing toys I’ve come across in many months, and there are certainly more senseless ways to spend a thousand bucks than on a piece of kinetic sculpture.
Then again, if you work in a pretty big office, it would significantly shorten those hourly trips to the water cooler…