You may have seen this black and white picture before of a man riding in a one-wheeled motorcycle and this is probably the most popular picture of a vehicle of its sorts, but what is it? First, the basic terminology, the broad categorization of a one-wheeled vehicle where the rider sits inside or astride of the wheel is most frequently called a monowheel, and when a motor is added to a monowheel, it is often referred to as a monocycle.
Next, as with the origins of the motorcycle, the early versions of the monowheels were human powered, either by the rider rotating hand cranks or using foot pedals. Historical documents come to the same conclusion that Rousseau of Marseilles designed the first monowheel in 1869.
There were various designs and early propulsion systems used just like with early motorcycles including some with propellers. Most likely the first with an internal combustion engine was the Garavaglia Monowheeel Petrol Monocycle that was displayed in Milan, Italy in 1904.
Over the next couple of decades there were a number of variations, but the pictured monocycle was designed and built by the Motoruota Company. Davide Cislaghi/Gislaghi and M. Goventosa founded the company in Italy and the monocycle design was patent filed in 1924. There are a couple of other pictures of the Motoruota’s, but this 1931 picture is of a rider by the last name of Gerdes, who is most likely an owner and not as often thought as one of the inventors.
Today, there are still some of these interesting monocycles made by Kerry McLean, but the monocycles have never really caught on. As you can imagine there are some inherent problems with its design, with the most significant being steering and the ability to keep it horizontal. So, although it was not a huge hit, it is a really cool picture.