Several years ago, electric skateboards had a "second coming", as NiCad batteries and MOS FET power controllers popular in RC-car racing became more available at lower prices. Out came big, heavy, powerful longboards with large DC motors and a hefty price tag and several companies began producing them. Most of those companies are gone. Now comes "round three", fueled also by developments in DC motors, Li-Ion batteries and wildly-miniaturized radio and power controllers found in the RC industry, there's a new crop of electric skateboards with more power, more range and way, way less weight. Here's a look at one of them that's seen a lot of recent discussion on the 'fish...
Checking out Electrically Boosted Boards
We recently had a chance to hang out with the guys from Boosted Board and to check out the board design they're touting as The World's Lightest Electric Vehicle. Not only is it a vehicle – it’s a longboard. If their Kickstarter campaign (which is almost reaching $500k) is any indication, they are in a position to make a solid go at bringing these hot rods to the mainstream consumer in a big way.
Their electric skateboard reaches out into the market to not only provide a light, agile board that is powered by electricity but is also combined with a regenerative breaking system, meaning you get more go out of it and can control speed. We hooked up with them at a local lake and took a go at riding the Boosted Board built up as two different boards, a Loaded Vanguard and a Rayne Avenger. We skated them for several miles of curvy, mildly-hilled asphalt, abused them a little and came away impressed with both the technology in the boards and the stoke of the skater/engineers behind Boosted Boards.
On the near side, a Li-Ion battery pack, radio receiver and
MOS-FET speed controller with re-gen, proportional braking.
Boosteb Boards founders, all three of whom were engineering students and longboarders at Stanford University, are definitely well-versed in the technologies they've applied to their board project. For reporters like us, drooling over paper with the large, fat pencils the doctors say are safe for us to use, it boils down to sime relatively simple stuff: a custom mounting plate and driveline they bolt onto Landyachtz'es Bear Trucks, independently belt-driven by tandem 1kw, brushless DC "outrider" motors, all powered by a lithium-ion battery pack managed by a heat-sinked mos-fet controller that's directed by a blue tooth handset. Simpler yet: tons of horsepower, 6+ miles of range and only about six pounds heavier than the longboard they start with before adding on the electronics.
Want more? Okay, the belt-driven wheel adaptors are mounted on Loaded's Orangatang (and Powell's These) wheels, via a six-bolt core-spline drilled and clamped through the center of the wheels, and it can pretty much be adapted to any wheel over 70mm (depending on the shape of the faces). The truck-mounts, however, work best with the Bear Trucks because they've tweaked, cut and contoured the rig to fit on the trucks and allow full turns, but without hanger/motor bite on the baseplate and Loaded Vanguards most of their boards are constructed with.
The kevlar belts are tough, but future versions will be shrouded,
if only to avoid snagging your ratty shoelaces...
Ah, yes: the really important part. Cutting to the chase, the Boosted Boards ride pretty much just like the same deck would without the electrics bolted on, at least going forward. The big detractor with all electronic skateboards to date has been weight, but the 6 pound "penalty" with this system is not only 5 or even 10 times lighter than the problematic old Altered/Exkate boards you may have seen some poor sap dragging up the block, but it's so light that you really don't notice it when you're under power. The boards ride, flex, lean and grip just like you'd expect. Boosted's longboard owes much of this simply to the batteries Boosted chose to use. Although a powered board is also now a directional one -- you don't have a reverse gear on these, yet -- the Vanguard we took out for 7 miles of lakefront carving rode just exactly like a Flex 3 Vanguard should, at least under power.
You do pay a bit of a penalty with the weight and drivetrain drag when you push one of these, but it's really not bad -- especially when compared with the "dead boat anchor effect" from older electric boards when their power runs out. With the Boosted Boards system, a dead battery leaves you with a board you can totally push, carve and skate. It just takes a little more leg, slows downs a little faster and rides with a little more weightiness over rough stuff.
Now, under power, the Boosted Boards have plenty of go-go. They vaulted our 250lb editor up to speed without any trouble and topped-out at an electronically-limited 20mph over varied terrain without any difficulty. Pushing up to a start and gently pressing the throttle takes some getting used to and you find yourself feathering it or rolling on the throttle to get to a comfortable speed. It’s got torque and power and it will buck you if you forget what you're doing. You have to get used to it, just as you would with any other control system. The proportional, re-gen brakes are another thing, altogether. These work great and, with a little practice to learn how much stop you can punch into it with your thumb, the ability to come in to corners hot, late-brake and then turn in is really fun. We're not talking about the kind of power from a really strong footbrake, but close to it and without you having to step off the deck to do it.
Sho Takahashi and Matt Tran, goofing around on Boosted Boards.
The ride at speed is comfortable, even pleasant and you can carve, turn, footbreak and at no time does it really feel much different. Get to know the deck and the control system and we figure you could pretty much do anything you want on it.
Not a production-ride, this Avenger with These on it was built for the Menlo Slide Jam.
The boards we checked out were just "working protos", a proof of concept for their Kickstarter campaign. Although we didn't have to hold back anything with the boards, the hand-controllers and overall finish of the decks will still have some modifications made to them. It’s hard for us to judge the final product, based on the short time we spent on protos, but the Boosted Boards certainly passed our basic tests for electric longboards: they're totally rideable, didn't kill us with savage, uncontrolled surges and didn’t leave us stranded ½ mile from home with a 60 lb. board to lug home. So, in our limited opinion, we would call it a success.
Boosted Boards' Kickstarter campaign (see below) is moving along and generating a lot of interest from outside the traditional skateboard crowd. They've been showing the product to hardcore skaters at local events and skate crews, to ensure it can handle abuse and "typical skating stress" but also preparing and presenting the Boosted Boards concept to people and industries interested in alternative forms of transportation. Matt Tran explains, "[o]ur approach to EV [electric vehicles] isn't just to replace the combustion motor in a car, but to change the form of transportation, itself". Lofty goals, but how different is this from the ideas that find young urban professionals on cargo bikes, big-wheeled scooters and Vespas? A relatively "green", quiet, compact method of transportation that's almost easy to ride (let's be fair, it's harder to skate than, say, bike for more most people) and definitely fun. For $1,200.00 dollars, you get a skateboard you can ride across town, up hills and back down, without breaking a sweat, fighting for parking or giving up the feeling of wind in your face.
Loaded Longboards have been behind this project from early on.
You'll definitely see O-tangs on the production models.
Do you want to know more?
Boosted Boards might be one of the tipping points of our industry, one of the elements that help to bring a legitimate level of technology adoption that the sport of skateboarding is so ready for. With $85 completes for sale in Bed,Bath and Beyond, it’s about time someone delivered a product that melds technology with the very real capability of longboarding, there are other companies playing around with it but just this make be a break away reaching a demographic that has so far been un touched by longboard companies: the high end market. With a focus on quality and not shaving down costs, it seems like a good thing, right?
You can check out Boosted at Boostedboards.com and get in early on the concept by support their campaign on Kickstarter.