Kaylum Graham first saw the fat-wheeled electric unicycle in action last fall on a Snapchat video shot by one of his friends.
It showed a cheerful guy zooming around on the machine around downtown Fayetteville.
Graham was enchanted. He wanted one. “It was like love at first sight,” he said recently. “It was totally different.”
After some quick Internet sleuthing, the 28-year-old found the unicycle’s manufacturer – a tiny Fayetteville company called Exemplary Vertical Applications – and bought himself a unicyle. He said he loved riding it but ended up giving it to a teenage cousin who got an even bigger kick out of it.
“I’m trying to get another one for myself,” Graham said.
Eric Nkusi, EVA’s owner and the cheerful rider from the video, said he’ll build Graham one when he’s ready.
Meanwhile, Nkusi is balancing an Army career with his side interests of building up his electric vehicle business and trying to improve the world through simplicity and green technologies.
The native of the African country of Burundi said he has always been fascinated with science and its possibilities for helping people and has always loved to tinker. He reads scientific journals for fun and often wakes in the middle of the night with an idea for creating or improving something.
Remembering his childhood village, which lacked electricity, he has created solar-powered light bulbs and lighting units.
Recalling the miserably hot living quarters during some of his past overseas deployments, he said, he has designed solar-powered heating and air-conditioning units.
And believing there will be an increasing need for low-cost, short-range transportation that doesn’t pollute and doesn’t contribute to traffic overload, he turned his thoughts to bicycles that could be powered by rechargeable electric batteries. He developed a unicycle and a scooter, as well as an electric tricycle for children. To sell the vehicles, he started EVA a year ago.
Nkusi said his goal is to make transportation as easy and affordable as possible.
“You can ride 100 miles for $2” of charge, he said.
The unicycles are handy because they’re small enough and light enough to pick up and store in a car trunk or a closet.
But it can take a little practice to master their operation. A rider must lean forward on the unicycle, which has a handlebar, to make it go faster and must lean back to slow it down and all the while remain balanced. Graham said he picked up the general feel for riding his unicycle within a day and was completely confident on it after a week.
“I rode it all around my neighborhood,” he said.
Then he took it to the beach and happened to stop by his cousin’s house. His cousin loved the unicycle so much and mastered it so quickly that Graham let him have it.
Nkusi, of course, can operate the unicycle like it’s part of his body, riding without hands or while standing on its pedals.
“It’s easy!” he exclaims, laughing.
The much heavier scooters, with their two wheels, are less portable but are as easy to balance on and steer as a bicycle or motorcycle. Their speed is controlled by a throttle on one of the hand grips. Graham said he and his girlfriend tried one of EVA’s scooters, both riding it at the same time, and they liked it.
“The scooter is cool,” he said. “I’ll probably get one of them eventually too.”
Nkusi said he gets parts for the machines from manufacturers working from his designs. He has a small work space where he builds them when he has time but it’s not big enough to accommodate the entire business. So some parts are stored at his house. Eventually, he said, he would like to have a larger space so EVA could be in one place and have room to grow.
In that, he’s getting help from Albeiro Florez of The Walker-Florez Consulting Group in Fayetteville. Florez said he believes in Nkusi’s products and in his vision. “It’s not just a business for him,” Florez said. “He has a passion for it.”
Indeed, Nkusi said he enjoys the challenge of trying to solve problems as efficiently and simply as possible.
“When you stretch your mind, it’s amazing the things you can accomplish,” he said.
Nkusi has had to overcome much in his life. When he was a youth, he said, genocidal fighters murdered his family in Burundi. He escaped only because he was away.
He said he came to the United States about 20 years ago and joined the Army to give back to the country that had taken him in.
“I think there’s no nobler cause than serving your country,” he said.
Nkusi said he became a citizen about nine years ago.
Remarkably ebullient and energetic, he said he makes a conscious choice to be joyful.
“The best way to overcome hate is with love and just to enjoy life,” he said.