SkyRide may be the single coolest business to enter the Shark Tank this season, or any season for that matter. Inventor Scott Olsen is no stranger to entrepreneurship, he invented Rollerblades! In fact, Roller Blade wheels are integrated into the SkyRide's design. Olsen claims SkyRide is “developing the next breakthrough for the future of sustainable urban transportation, recreation and fitness.”
SkyRide is a people powered monorail system. The “vehicles” are suspended from a steel monorail track and are powered by either a recumbent bicycle or a rowing machine. Olsen envisions his invention as an inexpensive way to allow people to move around urban areas at a far reduced cost versus traditional methods. There are also recreation and therapeutic applications as well.
He has a track set up at his home in Waconia, Minnesota and says anybody can drop by and try it out (call first). Olsen has plans to install SkyRide tracks at ski resorts and on a medical campus. He even claims to have someone in Dubai interested in a several mile stretch of track.
I think this would be an innovative transportation solution in many environments. The cost and energy savings alone make it an excellent solution; the fitness advantages just add to the overall benefits. The problem is accessibility. Not everyone can use SkyRide: people with disabilities, the elderly, or people with young children. This eliminates its use in public transportation applications, only private groups would be able to install the monorail tracks for use as transportation. Unless the human powered monorails were installed in urban areas as an alternative to traditional public transportation (that would result in some energy savings), it doesn't have appeal as a mass solution.
The other issue SkyRide may face is competition. Back in 2010, Google gave some VC money to a company called Shweeb, which has an enclosed, bicycle powered monorail system that has already been deployed in New Zealand. Shweeb is also actively seeking investors for both “adventure tourism” and public transit solutions. The question of proprietary technology could hamper investment for SkyRide.
That being said, there is probably room for two players in the bicycle powered monorail market, particularly on the adventure tourism side of things. I don't think this is something the sharks bite on, though. The scale of deploying such a system and the costs involved coupled with the fact that it isn't a mass market product most likely keeps The sharks “out” on this one. I also don't think an entrepreneur the caliber of Scott Olsen would give up enough of an interest in this company to make the sharks bite.
That doesn't mean SkyRide isn't wicked cool though!