What do the calm waters of Waconia’s Swan Lake and the Caribbean Sea have in common? Both have people riding fitness machines in the sky.
Inventor Scott Olson — best known for founding Rollerblade — established what he calls SkyFarm on the shores of Swan Lake to test his latest invention, called SkyRide Technology. SkyRide relies on the pedal or rowing power of its users to drive sleek vehicles suspended from an overhead monorail. The enclosed vehicle options make it usable indoors or out.
“My idea with SkyRide was to merge commercial fitness to the rollercoaster industry,” Olson said. “I’m into fitness. Always have been, always will be.”
Olson first had the idea for SkyRide in 1996 but postponed making a prototype until 2010. Now, SkyRide can be found aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Vista ship. The two-track course suspended above the Vista’s sports area gives passengers a view of the ship and water as they pedal 150 feet above sea level. The two lanes also give passengers an opportunity to have a maritime bicycle race while suspended in the air. Though riders can’t race side-by-side on Olson’s lakeside track at SkyFarm, riders there get a view of the water and deciduous forest.
It was the idea of aerial bicycle races that motivated Olson to create SkyRide.
“I want to take spin class to the track,” he said. “Spin class stays in one place. I want to get that crowd zipping around and racing.”
Olson, a lifelong athlete, noted that Minnesota is known for its bicycling enthusiasts. However, Olson considers rowing a better workout.
“Rowing is the ultimate exercise,” he said, “but it’s not as popular as biking.”
Olson set out to change that with another invention called the Rowbike, though he no longer owns it.
At the moment, Olson is working on creating SkyRide courses for Carnival’s Horizon ship, which is under construction with a maiden voyage scheduled for 2018. His company is also developing a collision avoidance system and a faster electric-assist system for SkyRide. The electric boost helps nudge users along as they pedal or row.
Though he’s had success with Carnival, Olson said he’d prefer to continue inventing rather than manage SkyRide. He said he’s still looking for someone else to run the enterprise.
Back in 2012, Olson pitched the invention on the ABC show "Shark Tank," but investors didn’t bite. When he does manage the commercial rollout of his inventions, Olson said he relies on lessons he learned growing up as an ice hockey goalie in St. Louis Park.
“I don’t stress out,” he said. “If I let a bad goal in, I learned to let it go and move on.”
Olson said he also learned not to rely on others.
“You’ve got a team of guys in front of you,” he said, “but you look like a fool if you let one in.”
Ice hockey also directly contributed to the creation of Rollerblade.
“Hockey is what jump-started in-line skates,” Olson said. “Initially nobody wanted to do anything with it, but hockey players bought them for training.”
Olson said he is discussing SkyRide proposals with the Minnesota State Fair, Mall of America, Buck Hill ski hill and “a couple of brew hubs.”
Gabriel Sanchez is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.