Walking on water? Pssh. I rode a bike on water. And it was glorious.
OK, so this aqua-vehicle didn't have any wheels. It was engineered and constructed by the Vallejo, California-based brand Schiller for the sole purpose of skimming seas, lakes, and chilled out rivers. The company launched with a splash in August, a quick ten-months after founder Judah Schiller made headlines by cycling across the San Francisco Bay. His gear at the time was a 20-year-old "Da Vinci-esque floatation system" attached to a thin steel rail European bike. But the success of that journey encouraged him to create a purpose-built machine. Enter: The X1.
I drove out to visit Schiller and CTO Marcus Hays in Sausalito, a small coastal enclave just over the Golden Gate from the city. It was the kind of crisp, foggy San Francisco afternoon that showed no sign of the sun until the clouds (mercifully) dissipated about halfway across the bridge. I was stoked to try the X1. I was told I wouldn't get wet. I can't say I was completely convinced.
The X1 was disassembled when I arrived at the dock; 55 total pounds of parts including a glossy white frame that looked like something you might see lined up in a slick gym on a sci-fi film set.
For the most part, assembly was a pretty straightforward process — though not one that I could have managed on my own without a manual. Pumping up the pair of pontoons that flank the frame took the most amount of effort.
And then it was assembled. I was ready to ride. I asked what I needed to know when I got out there. "Nothing," was the simultaneous response. Schiller and Hays carried the craft to the dock and plopped it in the water. I mounted. I grabbed the handlebars. I started pedaling. And then: I never, ever, stopped smiling.
The sheer joy of the experience was immediate — exhilarating and calming all at once — and it only intensified the further I traversed into the open water. I kept instinctively looking over my left shoulder for traffic, the way I would when I'm riding my road bike through the streets of SF, but I was completely alone out there, save for a few seagulls, and oh my goodness it felt incredible.
I was so close to the water, but even with the wind whipping around — and it did pick up a bit — I didn't get a drop on me. Which is not to say I didn't want to get wet. I know from experience that the Bay is cold and not particularly welcoming, but it was all I could do to not dismount, stand on one of the pontoons, and do a cannonball. In fact, it's something that Schiller kind of anticipates. The pontoons won't tip over — not if you stand on them, not if you pile some gear on them — which makes this the ideal vehicle for a body-of-water-adjacent camping trip. Or a quick ride with snacks.
One of the coolest thing the X1 has going for it is capitalising on lower body strength. Most of us — even non-bikers — are going to have way more power in our legs than our arms, which can tire out pretty quickly on a kayak or something like a stand-up paddleboard. The Schiller team wanted to make sure all that quad oomph was successfully translated into knots. Sure enough, riding the X1 was surprisingly easy, kind of like pedaling a bike in middle gear on a flat surface.
Turning the handlebars from side to side took care of steering, and it was possible to pedal both backwards and forwards. At the risk of sounding ridiculously cheesy, I felt peaceful in a way that, well… I can't remember the last time I felt that easy breezy. It was the ultimate chill sitch.
I didn't have a watch, or a phone, so I wasn't sure how long I was out there, but I knew I could have stayed mobile for about a million more hours. When I finally — reluctantly — went back to the dock, my cheeks hurt from laughing. It was GREAT.
So how do you get on one of these things for yourself? Unfortunately, Schiller's good times do not come cheap — an X1 will set you back about $US6,495 today, and they're not done tweaking the design. But Schiller hopes that this heralds the beginning of a more robust waterbike community, with more opportunities to ride. I sure hope so.