6 Expert Tips For Buying an Electric Skateboard in 2017
Whether it’s your first electric skateboard or you’re looking to upgrade your current one, you need to know these six pieces of advice!
In 2012, the electric skateboard company Boosted Boards, which was just a startup at the time, announced a high-tech, dual-motor electric skateboard. Their product kicked off an innovation avalanche in the electric skateboard industry.
Electric skateboards had actually been around for many years before 2012. However, they just weren't very good. Massive batteries, unimpressive performance, and heavy, bulky designs are a few reasons the industry never received much attention from tech enthusiasts.
4 years later, in 2017, there are more and more ESK8 brands entering the market and they’re all scrambling for market share and bragging rights when it comes to claims about performance and features.
As a electric skateboard engineer & designer, I’ve researched and tested all kinds of eboards. In this article I’ll list the six most important technologies, features, and specifications to look out for when purchasing your electric skateboard.
1. Is it Waterproof?
Since rain can be unpredictable, it’s important to find out whether the e-skateboard you’re purchasing is waterproof. You don’t want to be caught in the rain (or go through an unexpected puddle) with your new skateboard. It's critical to check this before buying any electric skateboard because many of them don't come with environmentally sealed enclosures to protect the components inside.
We all know that electronics and water don’t mix. There are a few other components on some electric skateboards that also don’t like being wet. Can you guess? Most people would probably already know that bearings don't really like being wet, however, there is not much you can do about that if you want a skateboard that rolls :)
Another thing that can eventually by ruined by water exposure is a belt and pulley drive train system. Many electric skateboards use belt and pulley drive trains. These all work very well. However, the teeth tend to get a bit clogged up with dirt and grit when riding over wet surfaces. This tends to reduce the amount of torque that can be transferred into the wheels. The impact of clogged teeth is mostly noticeable during braking, as the brake force is instantly applied with greater force than during the forces of acceleration. If the teeth are clogged up, you may notice the teeth skip. This can lead to shorter life expectancy of your belts, so make sure you buy spares. Also, be sure to do more regular maintenance if riding in the wet with a belt drive, and focus on cleaning the drive train components to ensure any debris that is lodged in the teeth is cleaned out.
If you hate the idea of maintenance and plan to ride in bad conditions, it might be a good idea to shop for a direct drive or hub motor electric skateboard, as the motors are better protected against the elements of nature because there aren’t any external moving parts. In some electric skateboards, the hub motors are completely sealed, making them totally waterproof and maintenance-free.
Do your homework and make sure you find a product that is built to last, no matter what the environment throws at you. Any serious product should have an Ingress Protection Rating clearly indicated. IP65 or greater is what you should look for.
2. Comprehensive Warranty
Any skateboard rider will agree that skateboards have a really tough life. They’re constantly exposed to a variety of terrain (some of it rough) and they move at high speeds. For these reasons and others, wear and tear can happen pretty quickly. It's no different with electric skateboards. No matter how well-built an electric skateboard is, there is always a chance they can break down. In fact, with the more complex electric components of ESK8 boards, they’re probably even more prone to breaking down than traditional skateboards.
When it comes to warranties, it pays to read the fine print so you can understand what is actually covered. Also, it may be super obvious, but the longer the warranty the better. If a company only has a 6-month warranty, it might mean that they don’t have confidence in the durability of their product.
Not all warranties are created equal, so do your research and conduct some market research online about any company you plan to buy from. Search online for cases using the company name, and also search in the various online forums to see if people are getting good service and support.
It's also important to know what rights you have as the consumer: Are you allowed to do your own repairs, or will that void your warranty? Will the company send you parts? Do you have to send the item back to the company if it needs repairs? How much will it cost for shipping, or is it free?
Warranties come in all shapes and sizes, so ask yourself before handing over your hard-earned cash: does this product come with a legitimate warranty, and can I easily make claims if I have to? Of course, we all try to buy high quality products and keep them well maintained, but the reality of life is that you might have issues. Make sure you’re covered in case there’s a problem with your electric skateboard.
Also keep in mind that if your board breaks because you’ve been abusing it, you’re probably on your own: most warranties only cover manufacturing faults!
3. Battery Technology & Capacity
Range anxiety is real! There is nothing worse than heading out on an ESK8 adventure and realising you don't have enough juice to make it home! Pushing totally sucks. And if the board has belt-driven wheels, you’ll have substantially more resistance, making pushing an exhaustive exercise that your legs will remind you about for several days following!
When it comes to batteries, bigger is nearly always better. Generally speaking, the larger the battery, the more power it can store and the further you can ride on one charge. However, not all batteries are made with premium cells from the world's leading battery chemistry experts (such as Samsung, LG, & Panasonic). Be sure to do your research and find out if the battery is capable of delivering the performance you desire. Make sure to confirm it is made using the best quality high-output cells.
A good rule of thumb is that an electric skateboard battery should offer close to 1 hour of ride time and ideally 20 miles or more in terms of range. (Normally an electric skateboard will use around 10 to 15 watt-hours per Kilometer. That’s why 99wh batteries are only good for around 6 miles.)
Also, if you are a fairly heavy person (say 200 lbs or more), or really tall (say 6ft or more), you will create more load on the drive train. This is not just due to your weight! Wind resistance is a real factor, and the taller you stand, the more wind you need to displace when accelerating forwards. So if you are a biggin’, you’ll definitely want to get an electric skateboard with a larger battery. Something with over 300wh capacity is probably the smartest feature to shop for.
To be fair, not everyone shares this opinion about large batteries. It’s common to hear arguments such as; “I never need to ride that far,” or “My legs hurt after 20 minutes.” These are valid points for sure, and I would also agree that 1 hour of riding is a long time, especially if you are riding really hard, crouching down, and leaning into corners. Like they say, time flies when you’re having fun!
However, on a more serious note, it’s always better to make it home safely while there is plenty of juice left in your pack. This way your battery never gets over-discharged, which is very important to avoid, as it will ensure you have a happy battery that can easily be recharged more than 1000 times before noticeably showing less capacity per charge.
Smaller packs that are always being fully depleted & fully recharged will have a shorter life span meaning the cost-to-charge-ratio of a small pack is higher than a larger pack. Larger batteries do have a higher price tag upfront, but don’t balk at this because they are technically more cost effective over their lifespan.
Finally, there’s one really important note to keep in mind with skateboard batteries: most airlines have size restrictions that limit you to carry only 99wh. So don’t take your battery with you if it’s bigger than this. Unfortunately, airlines can change this rule anytime they like, so be prepared to have your board or battery confiscated at the airport if you choose to travel with it.
4. Serviceability & Modularity
For most mechanical devices, like bikes and cars, the theory is that regular maintenance will result in fewer major issues over time, and will hopefully help you avoid major unexpected and expensive problems from occurring.
Fortunately, electric skateboards are fairly simple in regard to mechanical components. From time to time, you might need to tighten some screws and clean the bearings, but this really shouldn't be an issue with a modern electric skateboard on the market today. They should all be using standard skateboard hardware that is available from your local skateboard shop or various online suppliers.
What is a major concern with electric skateboards are the electronics. Just like mechanical parts, electronic parts can fail over time due to wear and tear, or simply from random events that can’t be predicted or identified. Vibrations, water, and corrosion can destroy electronics slowly overtime. Unlike mechanical parts, you can’t easily do regular maintenance on electronics to prevent issues. Electronic faults can sometimes be explained with Murphy's law "whatever can go wrong, will go wrong."
The good news is that electronics these days are generally inexpensive. If a small part fails inside your electric skateboard, like a switch, it is likely only a few dollars to replace that part. However, here’s where it gets interesting! Not many electric skateboards have been designed to allow the end user to repair it easily. This is often due to the use of proprietary components or due to the main circuit boards having all the sub-systems integrated together.
When it comes to resolution, this design and manufacturing method can create a domino effect that results in a costly and lengthy delay on repairs. It often means a specialist repair agent or the original manufacturer needs to have the product in their workshop so they can use specialist tools to troubleshoot and replace the part.
As a consumer, it would be advised to shop for an electric skateboard that has modular parts that can easily be replaced by the end user. It’s also important to make sure you’re allowed to do repairs yourself without voiding your warranty. The ability to repair your product with parts at home will not only save time, but it also can be a great new skill that can give you a sense of accomplishment!
In the future, I hope that all electric skateboards use standard parts that are easily replaced by the end user! Just imagine for a minute if you had to return your bike to the shop to get a puncture repaired! Silly, right? I feel the same about electric skateboards—anyone should be able to repair them.
Most people would agree that non-powered skateboards are naturally very good at rolling along flat or downward-sloping surfaces but not so good at rolling uphill.
So the only reason you’d want to strap very expensive, heavy motors and batteries to a perfectly good rolling platform like a skateboard is if you want to climb hills… Do you agree? So first & foremost, ask yourself this very important question: can the electric skateboard on your wish list carry your body weight up a hill?
Your weight & the incline percentage you want to climb are the key factors in this test, therefore, it is a difficult question to answer until you have the board in your hot little hands!. Your only viable option if you don’t want to waste cash on trial & error is to search for answers on YouTube. Try to find some videos that clearly show the product carrying a human load up a steep hill. If you can’t seem to find any videos of the product you like taking someone up a hill, you need to seriously reconsider your purchase.
Apart from watching videos to determine if the esk8 you like can climb hills it would be very handy to understand some basics about mechanics, physics & electrical theory. So, try to bear with me and I’ll do my best to quickly cover the basics & ultimately help you to demystify the topic of electric skateboard performance.
In general, on an electric skateboard, Speed & torque are inversely proportional to each other.
Example 1: Assuming constant power of 1000 watts, if you change a drive train component like the wheel or pulley diameter to increase top speed you will lose some torque. If you change a drive train part to increase torque you will lose top speed.
Still with me? The above example is a mechanical change only, however, you must think about electric skateboard performance as being determined by both mechanical attributes & electrical attributes. The voltage & current are extremely important aspects to esk8 performance. The most common way to compare the power of two electric skateboards is by the wattage rating, Voltage X Current = Watts, the greater the watts the better.
Example 2: You install a wheel with a larger diameter to make your esk8 go faster, However, this will directly impact your hill climbing performance because there is now less mechanical torque output. The only way to keep the new higher top speed & maintain the same torque is feeding the motors more power, specifically you need more current.
Example 3: Increase top speed by increasing voltage. If an electric skateboard designer wants the most efficient system with high top speed without losing torque they won’t change mechanical parts they will use higher Voltage batteries. Assuming your electronics are rated accordingly there are no major disadvantages of increasing voltage. Warning this is not something that you should try to do at home, modifying the voltage of an electric skateboard will permanently damage it.
Let’s also remember, Performance is very subjective. It can mean many things to many people. Ultimately what is important is whether the electric skateboard has the ability to meet your expectations. So take some time and think about exactly what you want.
For me personally, In urban environments max of 45km/h (28mph) is my sweet spot, but only if I'm presented with clear open space, anything less eventually seems to feel slow & let’s be real with ourselves folks, cars are much safer and generally more comfortable if you want to travel at speeds above 45km/h. Also, traveling any faster than around 45km/h on an electric skateboard tends to chew through your battery very quickly— wind resistance losses are quadratic meaning speeds over 45-50km/h on electric skateboard will be very inefficient & can tend to lead to overworking the electronics which results in shorter life span on components.
Electric skateboards that can reach speeds up to 45-50km/h whilst also offering very strong torque output for hill climbing are not very common, nor are they very cheap. This explains why tesla’s cars are expensive! To make a high performance ESK8’s a reality you need these key ingredients; large powerful motors, high voltage & large capacity battery packs with premium cells and finally, electronics that are engineered to throughput the high current.
In the electric skateboard physics examples above I said that slower top speed normally means more torque, however, this is not always true. Some electric skateboard manufacturers will purposely make an electric skateboard so it has low top speed & low torque because it is much easier & cheaper to do this. So be warned, if you are shopping for the cheapest electric skateboards on the market don’t expect premium performance. It’s way more expensive & complicated to make high performance electric skateboards. So the super-cheapo ones available on the market are generally recommended for kids only & tend to struggle & ultimately fail or need expensive repairs if you drive them too hard. It’s a false economy.
A great way to learn more about electric skateboard performance characteristics is to build your own electric skateboard. Of course, like I said above, the other reason you might decide to build your own is because most of the mainstream brands, especially at the entry-level price point, have very low end performance. If you do decide to build your own ESK8, you can try different gearing ratios and battery voltages and test the real world performance. If that sounds too complicated or if you simply don't have the time, you might decide to search for electric skateboard builders or specialist companies that only make high performance electric skateboards.
6. User Mods & Customizations
Since the birth of skateboarding in the mid 1900’s, both the form and function have been constantly evolving. In the beginning, the skateboard was no more than a plank with wheels. Riding one was often called “sidewalk-surfing!” As the decades rolled by, many different skateboard riding styles were developed, and with each new style came a new deck shape carefully tuned to maximise performance. In the 1976 California drought, most backyard pools became popular with skaters who liked to get air by launching themselves from the edge of the vertical pool walls. Thus, “vert” was born & the popularity of wider decks with kicktails increased.
The 1970’s was a time when skateboard tech was progressing rapidly, new materials were being used, and now there were more manufacturers working to develop better wheels, trucks, and decks. For the first time, skaters could finally build a setup that suited their specific styles. With improved handling characteristics gained from using quality deck, wheel, and truck combos; riders could now perform more radical tricks. This allowed the sport to constantly evolve.
As the technology improved, many new genres of skateboarding riding styles were developed. Sometime around the 80’s the ollie was invented and street skating increased in popularity. The size and shape of skateboards also began to change to be more uniform & lighter weight to meet riders’ preference to perform ollie based flip tricks common in street skating.
Whether you consider skateboarding to be a sport, a recreational activity, transportation, or a form of performance art, there’s no denying that all skaters have their own individual styles. This is only fully realised due to the ability to customise the skateboard to meet the rider’s personal taste. Customizing your own ride has been a critical element in the history of skateboarding. Without this ability to cater to the individual's needs, skateboarding wouldn't be where it is today.
The ability to pimp your ride to meet your unique style should not be overlooked when buying an electric skateboard. Shop for electric skateboards that offer some level of customization. At a bare minimum, I recommend going with an electric skateboard that is compatible with different deck designs. I personally like a freeride-style longboard with medium wheelbase and a kick.
The deck on your skateboard is the only part you interact with when riding. To get the most out of your riding experience, you need to feel confident and feel physically connected to your rig when riding. That’s because even the slightest variation in shape underfoot can really play havoc with your balance, especially if you are constantly searching for a natural foot position on an unfamiliar deck shape.
So, whether you are a longboarder, old school vert rider, or street skater; having a say when it comes to deck should be a major priority.
Finally, you really want some control over the performance characteristics of your electric skateboard, especially if it's a really high powered system. This can be in the form of beginner mode toggles or more advanced throttle curve adjustments. Humans are all different, so being able to tune the performance to meet various riders’ skill levels and expectations is super important. With the ability to adjust power and performance settings, you can safely share the amazing experience of esk8ing with friends & family without worrying about them breaking their ankle on your new rocket stick!
Hopefully this guide has helped you in your electric skateboard-shopping journey! If you keep these expert tips in mind, you’re sure to end up with an esk8 that will provide loads of entertainment and satisfy your transportation needs for years to come.