John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Po-Chih Lai's "Stair Rover" is meant to conquer the rugged streetscape of London.
Can the design of the simple skateboard be improved? Po-Chih Lai thinks so, although it took him seven different attempts before he settled on an eight-wheeled monster that "walks" down stairs.
Model No. 8, pictured above, is Lai's final whack at the perfect urban board. He calls his baby the "Stair Rover," and explains its genesis this way via e-mail:
"My idea is to utlise the hidden energy in the city, just like the surfers look for the hidden energy of nature, which is waves. What I found is quite interesting, there are plenty of stairs around, and that is the energy everywhere in our playground-city."
About to graduate from the Design Products program at the Royal College of Art, Lai says he wanted to help extreme-sports fans in London experience skateboarding a different way. His board is specifically meant to open up previously blocked arteries of the urban landscape: staircases that twist around or are otherwise unfriendly for skating down. He hopes this newfangled vehicle will help spawn a "hybrid sport" of stair-boarding. Better have your dental fillings in solid, because that activity sounds bone-jarringly rough.
Lai fabricated the Stair Rover with aluminum, maple wood, bamboo, polyurethane rubber and PVC. Those metal supports look like they'd be more suitable for bracing the frame of a Kawasaki crotch rocket:
Below are details on the other rover prototypes and the building process, with a few individual highlights. Model No. 2 is missing for some reason... it must've been a particularly frustrating design:
All images used with permission from Po-Chih Lai.