E-board Myths

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(myth – “a widely held but false belief or idea”).

I see a lot of people looking, who are new to e-boards, many who are also new to skateboarding or conventional longboarding – which is great, the more that get to enjoy it, the better the community and the industry will get. Come on in. Consequently, I thought it worth getting some of the re-occurring myths busted to help new folk – so my starter for 5:

  1. E-boards have brakes and can stop – any abrupt stopping capability would be highly dangerous, the good ones have an ability to progressively slow you down, that’s it. You need technique and riding skill, as well as finger control.
  2. It is safe and legal to ride through city traffic (like some no-helmet reckless social-celebrity fuckwit in NY) – in most cities, it is not legal and certainly not safe (god-forbid no helmet).
  3. E-boards are good for long commutes – they are actually a PITA: slower, more stressful, more dangerous and certainly less robust than any cycle. Get one for fun, and the occasional commute, but really just fun.
  4. You can ride happily in the wet – a few e-boards have water-resistant ratings on some parts, but that does now include things like the bearings, which will rust quick. More importantly, you significantly lose grip both on the road and deck in the wet – 20mph with minimal grip..? I can show my accident photos as to why it is not worth it.
  5. They are consumer ready items, just buy and go – this is still early days in the market evolution. Based on the community and personal experience, more e-boards turn up with faults or quickly develop faults, than not; hence, be ready and think how you are going to things fixed. Equally, they all need a basic set-up and importantly set-up for your weight and riding, which may mean changing the bushings. I am still amazed that e-boards don’t ship with a range of different duro bushings and some instructions as to why they are important and how to change.

Disclaimer – sure, these are just my opinions, nothing more. I am happy if you disagree, just not on the no-helmet riding bit – just don’t do it folks. Brain damage is not cool.

 

Buying your first e-board

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I see quite a few people looking at, or who have bought, e-boards who are completely new to the whole scene, including conventional skateboarding or longboarding. It looks cool, which it is; fun, which it is; and a good commuting option, which it is not. The last point I will save for a separate post, but let’s assume the first two work.

Before I get into some good ways to start and what you will need, there is the fun bit of choosing your e-board and, to me, if you are new to this whole scene, there is one really big question to ask yourself first when choosing your e-board: “what am I going to do when something breaks (they all do) or when I brake it (we all do)?”.

If you are DIY handy, and with a little experience of, electrical and mechanical DIY, then it is much easier – simply buy a board which you can get spare parts for and you are good to go.

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However, most people in today’ consumer world are not that capable and don’t need to be for most other things. If you aren’t DIY handy, then choose your board very carefully, is the best advice I can give you. When something stops working (and it will) do you really want to be trying to send back to China? You can buy off Amazon or eBay, but they don’t fix things when they stop working. Answer this question, work out your plan for fixing, before taking any more steps and certainly before parting with any of your hard-earned money.

What does this mean, well, if you have a local retailer, a friend with one already, someone selling in your country, choose that e-board over anything else you read is ‘awesome’ online. Even if your local option is more expensive, not as fast or, quite frankly only available in pink stripes, yellow polka-dots and with unicorns patterns in the grip-tape (hey, actually I am first in line for that).

Remember, it WILL break or you WILL break it and then what?

If you need help then there is a list of European retailers that I know of here: https://longboardlife.org/european-makers/

Answered that, then go ahead and choose what works for you and your need for speed, range, terrain, looks, carry-ability, riding style etc.

How much are you going to pay?

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When you do your calculations just be aware of any import duties and shipping that might apply, not just from the purchase but when you need spares or even, depending on your country, when getting an existing board fixed and shipped back. Those belts that you need to replace might only be £8 each, but £60 in total to get two of them shipped to you.

I keep thinking about getting a Meepo kit and fitting it to one of our existing longboard decks, but the import duty in the UK, shipping from China, would add on at least 22.5% to the cost, as I would have to import it and be subject to both import duty and VAT.

What to learn on

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Next, I have a suggestion for you, which you may not have considered – buy a conventional push longboard as well to learn ok and get early confidence. If you are new to all this, the last thing you want to be doing is trying to learn how to start, brake, switch-ride etc when you are doing 20mph or more with cars, people, and rough old pavements. Conventional push longboards are relatively cheap, easy to resell, and much easier to get confident on; as well as being fun in their own right. Knowing and being confident with a few skills will make a huge difference in enjoying your e-board or not.

Helmets and more

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Next, choose your helmet – it is essential, a must; don’t do it without one and ignore all the irresponsible tossers and fuckwits on YouTube weaving in and out traffic with no helmet – arrghhhhh.

I very sadly have one friend already with permanent brain damage after a minor no-helmet cycle fall. Not a life for anyone. After the helmet, get whatever protection you want, it is your legs, arms, knees etc. And it is not just other traffic, people, dogs or roads that you have to worry about, remember… it will break… if it disconnects at 20mph or the wheel shears off or the motor jams, you are most likely have a trip to a hospital. The perfect empty smooth tarmac road is still not danger free. Adopt the view that your e-board, as well as everything else around you, want to kill you and you get it.

Tools & Checks

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Finally, pick up a few tools (you don’t need much), like a T-tool and anything else your board needs, and get familiar with some basic maintenance checks – if there is nothing from your board maker (use that as a judge on quality and support), then start here: https://longboardlife.org/2018/02/01/checking-before-riding/

Check, tighten and loosen.

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When you board arrives always check the trucks, connectors, nuts, bushings, washers, cups etc. Personally, I would always take off the wheels and check there are spacers, speed-rings etc. in place – one of our boards previously turned-up missing speed rings, so we now always check. It is easy for it to happen if the quality control is not great and with most cheap boards right now, it does not seem to be.

Tighten or loosen the wheel nuts and kingpin screws – there is an optimum for them, just like with wheel nuts, neither too loose or too tight. Remember, over-tightening the kingpin nut onto the bushing cup does not increase the stability, it just deforms the bushing and reduces its ability to progressively manage all multi-dimensional forces it has to balance.

Earlier post on “how tight“: https://longboardlife.org/2018/01/27/truck-bushing-how-tight/

Get the right bushings.

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Finally, on the bushings, find out what the stock/default bushings are and if necessary replace them. Personally, I have yet to be impressed by any stock bushings, so personally would always change them for ones from a reputable make, like Venoms, Blood Oranges, Riptides, Oust etc.

If you are not sure what bushings to use, I would set up your board like a conventional downhill board with barrels, board–side and road-side and a durometer rating that matches your weight for a stiff downhill ride.

If you are not sure of the durometer to use, this post includes some calculators: https://longboardlife.org/2018/01/27/bushing-duro-calculator/

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Checking before riding

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Thought it worth getting down on virtual paper what I check before riding, as I was asked a few days ago by someone who had just taken up skateboarding.

When I take any of the boards (conventional or electric) out of the under-stairs cupboard, I always do the same quick 30-second check with a T-tool in hand.

At the end of the day, the last thing I want when traveling at 10, 20mph or more is anything jamming, disconnecting, losing grip or breaking.

What I do:

  1. Check the grip-tape is not coming off.
    (turn over the deck)
  2. Trucks are screwed tight to the deck – no wobble or any movement.
  3. Bushings are not deformed or cracked.
  4. Kingpin nuts are not too loose or tight (at their optimum)
  5. Wheels not torn or cut (and about to shred).
  6. Wheel nuts not too tight or loose.
  7. Wheels bearings run smooth and quiet (each wheel) and not rusted.

As said, usually no more than 30 seconds.

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Dual-motor Boosted.
For the E-Boards, I then spend a few extra minutes on:
  1. Battery status – remote controller and board.
  2. Ensuring all exposed electrical connectors are tightly connected.
  3. All compartments (battery and controller) are tight to the deck.
  4. The motors tight and aligned (we run belt drives).
  5. No belt wear or damage – anything, and I will change them.
  6. Remote control wheel/trigger moving freely (not switched on).
    I then switch on the board and put on the ground (I am not stood on it) to give it some resistance.
  7. Remote pair the board and handset and quick forward and back.

That’s it, done; only takes a couple of minutes. Happy to know if I have missed anything you do.

 

UK Law & E-Boards

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I have been doing some digging into what is the current situation with UK law and using our e-boards on public roads and pavements.
First off, it is important to note that I am not a lawyer, nor transport official, just an enthusiast with a vested interest, so please take this as nothing more than my interpretation and comments.
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I have seen a number of people comment on various forums that the situation is a “grey area” or “unclear”. Personally, I don’t think it is unclear, I think is very clear – it may wrong, based on antiquated laws and little understanding, but it is still clear and unfortunately illegal for us to be on the public road or pavement.
With the exception of cycles (with pedals) where there is specific classification, it looks very strongly that our e-boards are classified as “motorized transport” on public roads and therefore, subject to UK road law. Plus, unless you are on an OneWheel, as e-boards have four wheels, they are classified as cars and not motorcycles or mopeds. This means they need to meet safety, registration and licensing laws.
Ref: Department of Transport, Road Vehicles (Construction & Use) Regulations 1986. 
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So unless you can get your e-board through an MOT, with insurance, seat-belts, working brakes, lights etc., we are illegal on public roads; great on emissions, but still illegal. The situation is no better it seems with regards to riding on pavements; as under section 72 of the Highway Act 1835 (yes, 1835!) it’s is an offense to ride a vehicle (and we are on motorized vehicles) on the public pavement.
At some point, the UK, even Europe, may do something to classify e-boards (and e-scooters) separately, like bikes and e-bikes, but there seems to be no sign that will happen in the near future or more – sadly, and frustratingly, we will be illegal on all public roads and pavements for many years to come. If you want this stupid and antiquated situation to change – write to your MP, join a (responsible) action group etc.
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Not wishing to incriminate myself, if I was (I stress “if I was“) to consider taking my e-boards out in the UK, in an emergency situation or after a moment of illness induced memory loss, I would choose to not antagonize the authorities and keep my riding to empty back-roads (not weaving ‘NY-Casey-style’ through city traffic!) or slowly on relatively empty pavements. It would wise to even be careful with cycle lanes and paths, which are generally still public roads or pavements.
My personal experience with law-enforcement in the UK has been nothing but good. A few police officers have shown interest and just asked general questions on the technology and how you control an e-board; but then at the time I had been both riding safely and respectfully of the environment and people around me. I do fear, however, that over time the situation will change for the worse and the authorities (as with aerial-drones now getting increasing banned in public places), after some high-profile dangerous incidents, will be forced to publically enforce the laws. All it will take is one or two serious injuries, the videos on YouTube and we will all be left with only our home driveways and group-hiring of privately owned racetracks. Want to know when e-board prices will drop? This is when there will be a flood of pristine second-hand e-boards on the market, but sadly nowhere to use them.
Why do I write all this – well, besides protesting responsibly and making our views known to those in power, we need to learn a lesson from what is happening to flying drones in the UK. Please, please, ride responsibly, not just for your own safety, and those around you, but because right now we have a special time in the UK and we could lose it very quickly.

Truck bushing how tight?

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A common question I see on various forums, and talking to new boarders, is “how tight should I run my trucks?“, which is really how tight should the kingpin nut be in compressing the bushings and holding the hanger in place.

The thing to understand is that the bushings on a conventional truck have to do a very complex job of reacting to multi-dimensional forces and keeping you out of hospital. Importantly, there is an optimum for the nut tightness and bushing compression. Too slack and the hanger will move unpredictably and reduce control, especially with speed wobbles; however, too tight and the bushing will deform and not work properly with poor progression, even damage. Meaning there is an optimum for tightness and over tightening does not help, it can actually make things more dangerous. Better stability and control does not come from overtightening tightening the kingpin nut, it comes from using a different bushing shape and durometer. Similarly, if a board won’t turn well, requiring too much brute force, loosening the nut more also does not work; use a different shape or software durometer.

Below is an excellent video from New Zealand skater Crunchie, which shows how to tighten on the bushings.

How much to spend?

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A few friends have asked me lately about returning to skating, after long absences, and buying a longboard (complete), so I thought it worth documenting how we framed it, specifically in answering the question: “how much do I need to spend?”.

Longboards and skateboards, like cycles and other basic mechanical things, are simple items and, when buying, you get what you pay for – more money just buys better-made parts. Equally, unlike with the luxury goods market, there is no real rarity, nor overly powerful brand names, where demand falsely drives up prices – this is a buyers market, not a sellers, so you are simply buying components that have been made to a price-point.

In very general terms, I categories boards sold into the following cost brackets:

  • <£75 – supermarket trash; don’t buy, the experience is just not going to make you want to progress and stick with it.
  • £75-150 – cheap cruising starters, but they are not going to last or progress with you. You will replace at some time – they are not keepers, but are perfectly good to start on and importantly get confidence.
  • £150-250 – decent complete boards that can be more focused on the type of boarding you want to do: freestyle, carving, downhill, dancing etc.
  • £250-400 – quality custom-assemblies (deck, trucks, wheels, bearings etc.)
  • £400+ – exotic, custom-builds: beautiful and exotic material, your own design etc.

There are always going to be a few exceptions and bargains to be found; we bought for my younger son (aged 7 at the time) in a closing-sale an Atom 36″ drop-through for £50, which was a great starter for him and over the year we only needed to change the bearings (£15).

Rather than  buy a complete board, if you want to assemble your own board, which is easy to do, I would look to pay roughly the following for the parts:

  • Deck: £150-300
  • Trucks (pair): £50-150
  • Wheels (set of 4): £30-70
  • Bearings (set of 8): £15-100

To me, a good self-assembly would start at £280-300 – less than that and I think you can get better value from buying a complete board from a single maker.

Choosing Wheels

img_20171125_104251.jpgOver the last year, we have used 11 different wheels, including various models from: Orangatang, Hawg, Walzen, Metro, Atom, Abec & Blood Orange, and thought it worth documenting our experiences and preferences.

First off, it is important to note, that all this is in the limited context of our cafe-cruising, street pumping and carving, limited trick ability and tentative deck foot-work (calling it “dancing” is a bit much). We don’t live with streets or paths where we can downhill safely or (yet) have the ability to do big dancing and tricks.

 

Info-graphic from w82.com

For what we do, I suspect just about any wheel would work, but our choice usually comes down to the following four characteristics:

  1. Larger diameter (70mm+) – to smooth out the local rough roads and pavements. We don’t push our boarding that much to notice any subtle acceleration difference from using smaller wheels (smaller wheels accelerate faster than a larger one), but do notice immediately when smaller wheels rebound against old rough pavements.
  2. Colour – hey, aesthetics are important to us; when cafe-cruising, it is important to have a cool board with colours that work together.
  3. Lip edge & contact width – either:
    • a square/sharp lip with a larger contact width, like the Hawg Mini Monsters and big Orangatang Kegels, for max grip in the turn when cruising; or,
    • a rounded lip with a smaller contact width, like the Blood Orange Liam Morgans and Metro Red Motions, for the boards we like to throw around and do basic tricks on.
  4. Built-in Lights – my 8-year-old son will only use wheels on his board with built-in lights 🙂

I initially thought that the durometer rating would be a big factor for us, but have ended up happily using wheels from 78a to 84a with no issues.

None of the wheels we have used have given us any problems and I would happily buy any of them again.

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big 80mm pavement-crushing 80a Orangatang Kegels

 

 

 

Bearings – how much to spend?

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As a casual easy-going longboarder, and 6 boards in, I was thinking: “what have I learned?” – the full subject/answer is for a much longer post in the future, but I just wanted to cover one aspect now: bearings.
Alongside bushings, to match my weight and style, the one thing I almost certainly will keep changing on any future boards I buy complete, is the bearings. As a casual longboarder, not pushing the envelope in dance, freestyle or downhill, can I tell the difference between bad and good bearings, cheap and more costly? The answer is very firmly “yes”.
So far we have used bearings from Atom, Venom, Bones, Oust, Bronson and some unknown unbranded makes and I may not be able to tell the difference between makes, but I can certainly tell the difference between cheap and bad, and some costing a bit more. Is it worth spending a little more on your bearings? The answer for me is “yes, but not too much more”.
So, how much is spending a little more? Well, the bearings that have all come with complete boards have been quite frankly rubbish  – “rubbish”, being that the board, under load (remember any ol’ bearing can spin forever without any load) does not travel as far and is just harder work. At the end of play, I feel more tired and just have not got as much done nor had as much fun. I guess it is simply an easy item for the makers of complete boards, in a very price competitive market, to use to help keep their costs down – there is no visible branding needed and in a shop people just flick the wheels (unloaded).
We first bought £8-12 bearings to replace the bad ones, but found some of them to not be too much better – I doubt it is a make/brand issue, it is just a consequence of the manufacturing costs. The step change in improvement has come from spending a bit more: £20-30 bearings – for us: Bones Race Reds, Bronson G3, Zealous & Oust. This is where the effort, speed, the run etc. have all been significantly better and overall just made the boards more fun to use.
On the next board (oh’ yes more to come… :-> ) I am going to try out some more expensive again Swiss and Ceramic bearings, just to see if they make an even bigger difference – I suspect not, but it will be fun to see.
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UPDATE:
Crunchie makes a good point, which is that a new bearing will generally be better than an old expensive one. Our philosophy is now to change bearings when they start to show issues (sounds rough, don’t run smooth etc.), frequently, if necessary. Consequently, I am not going to spend a lot on bearings, given we may replace them often – £20-30 for a set works for us.

E-Boards State of Market

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I am looking to get another electric board to go with the Yuunec and wanted to share, less my thought process, more the state of the market; especially for those of us living outside the US.

First off, the market right now is almost all made up of start-up companies with little history, experience, and pedigree in manufacturing. The technology is generally not stable, not standardize and constantly evolving – it is the wild west and we all have to gamble to varying degrees with our hard earned, and not insignificant, cash.

Although electric boards are relatively simple in functionality – there is really not much to them, they are all just a deck, some trucks, wheels, motor, a battery, and controller – the reality is that the quality and functionality of the batteries, the motors, the controllers, especially the controllers, all vary massively. Some are OK, a few are actually good, a lot are crap and nearly all of them have reports of quickly developed, or “from bad batch”, faults. Add to this that most of the manufacturers are still talking only “pre-orders and hoping to ship sometime soon” and our choices seem to be choosing the

Some of the e-boards are OK, a few are actually good, a lot are crap and nearly all of them have reports of quickly developed faults. Add to this that most of the manufacturers are still talking only “pre-orders and hoping to ship sometime soon” and our choices seem to be very much choosing the lesser of evil/risk.

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So if you don’t mind the Wild West, and are prepared to risk your money, I would categorize the available options as:

  • Expensive boards, at £1000-3000, from some big marketing spend start-ups; who, on the upside, seem to at least understand skateboards and longboards, but are still spending more on their marketing than actually shipping to customers.
  • Much cheaper, at £500-1000, direct-from-china start-ups; who see the manufacturing and sale opportunity, but rarely seem to understand the skateboard and longboard experience. Lots of variable quality, no real support and often the poor experience leaves you frustrated and wishing you had bought something else.
  • Smaller start-ups with not much money (especially in marketing to take on the big start-ups), with older generation technology, trying to do their best but still charging £1000+. Not sure how many of these actually survive and, at best, you get a board, but it can not be repaired and, at worst, your order will never arrive and you lose the money.
  • Kit parts – you can now buy relatively easily all the parts you would need to build your own, with some suppliers providing all the parts as complete kits to make it easier. In the end, it all comes down to how good you are technically, but it is not a bad option if you are competent, as faults are then much easier to rectify.

If you are prepared to risk, because that is the big overall point here, your hard-earned money on an electric board (accepting that it will be quickly obsolete and surpassed in a few months time) I would put five questions at the top of my decision making,:

  1. When it goes wrong (high probability it will), what am I going to do?
    Return to the supplier in China, the online retailer, fix it myself with parts?
  2. What riding do I want to do?
    What size deck, how flexible and, equally important and often overlooked, what wheels do I need? Is this for smooth concrete runs where thin urethane in-hub motors will be fine, or bad pavements needing full wheels or even off-road wheels for rough ground.
  3. What is the reputation of the e-board maker with the community?
    Any board, cheap or expensive, will be dangerous at speed. Examples of controller disconnects or motor-biting at speed is not worth any cost saving; medical bills will always be more. It is worth noting the experience of others have had and not buying anything that is going to endanger you. failure to start or battery sag is not the big risk with a bad board, it is a failure at speed.
  4. How much range, speed and hill-climbing do I need?
    Boards all differ on their power ability, it is important to read what users have said it is like in the real world and take with a pinch of salt what the advertising says – does anyone actually regulate these companies? it is not just about being dangerously fast, to slow or too weak to get up any hill will just not encourage you to use it and end up left in the basement. A dull bord is just as something that gives you no confidence.
  5. What is the control like?
    The software and the remote-control unit. Some boards (bad boards in my view) are unprogressive in their control, being almost just off or on. Just as important as how progressive is the speed, is how progressive, ie. safe, is the braking. And this is an area that is not just the cheap boards, some of the premium brands have produced dreadful controllers.

More than anything, remember the boards now will become obsoletely very quickly and will retain very little second-hand value. How fast they are evolving, and their high rate of faults, makes these effectively very expensive short-term disposable purchases! Great fun, but it is still early days for these devices.