The VESC Project – the game changer for e-skates

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Much as I like the look of the various direct-drives and gear-drives coming to market, the real e-skate game changer for me the new open-source electronic speed-controller (ESCs) that are born from the VESC Project.

If you are not aware of the VESC open-source project, let me explain: the VESC project is an open-source project for programmable motor controllers, for anything that uses electric motors: e-skate, e-scooter, drone, robot lawn-mowers, anything. Off the back of the great work the project has done, companies like the innovative Australian company Enertion with their FOCBOX, are now using the specification and starting to sell component ESCs for self-building electric skateboards.

focbox
The Enertion FOCBOX

This is a massive game changer, as until now there has only really been proprietary controllers available, which made self-builds difficult if not using a complete kit, with a matched proprietary controller, or someone’s complete blueprint. E-skates are relatively simple things when you break them down, there is a deck, a battery, wheels, trucks, drive-unit or hub-motors, remote and the ESC. Assembling them should be like building lego, but until now it has been difficult, even hit or miss, matching the ESC to the motors, battery and the remote-control.

Now, with VESC based ESCs, you can tune/program your controller to match your battery and motors. Upgrading your battery or motors is just a re-program; swapping from hub-motors to belt-drive, just a re-program. Plus I expect to see lots of people publishing their custom profiles, making it even easier. The outcome of this may not be more self-build parts, that will still come down to demand as this will still be a niche pastime, but I would expect to see more people self-building (including me) their future rides, plus start-ups and small e-skate companies selling better products. The outcome will be that we all benefit, those who want to self-build and those that just want to buy a complete e-skate.

VESC software
Benjamin’s Robotics

To read more:

Teamgee Adaptor Unit

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Video link: Teamgee Factory

A nice little video from Daniel Kwan who visited the Teamgee offices in Shenzhen; however, what is really interesting (at 1:58 in the video) is you see their adaptor unit which apparently is already sold in China. Competition for LandWheel, Onan, Ride Unlimited and the crazily expensive Mellow.

I am really interested to see how good this unit is, as we have a big stable of longboard decks that could work with such a unit.

Short e-Boards and Long e-Boards

With Riptide entering the market with their two short e-boards, and Boosted Boards announcing yesterday the Boosted Minis, there is now more than ever interest in shorter e-boards, as opposed to the well established bottle-nose longboard. We have had short boards, typically based on sub-30” decks, for a while, but it is Riptide and Boosted who have generated the latest marketing noise. Plus, I also suspect that, as e-boards become more established, a lot of people are thinking about portability for last-mile commuting.

Note: I stand by my views on commuting on an e-board: unless you are already familiar with skateboarding/longboarding, get a scooter or cycle – they are cheaper, easier, safer, usually faster A-B and more robust. Not as fun as an e-board, IMO, but better commuting options for the mass majority of people.

For those who do want a shorter e-board (putting aside hub-motor vs belt for a minute), I would consider that there are actually two very different types of short boards available:
  • Kick-tail and short wheelbase
  • No kick-tail and longer wheelbase
For example, a 28″ Predator Banshee is shorter than the 31″ Riptide, but has a longer wheelbase at 23″, compared to the Riptide’s 14″. This is because roughly a third of the Rip’s deck is a kick-tail hanging off the rear drive wheels. Having such kick-tail means that changing your stance (pressure on the kick-tail) will quickly change the ride and balance of the board – way more than on a shape like the Predator. If you know what you are doing, skateboard already, this will not be an issue and give you lots of control for quick turns, even an olly. If, however, you are not used to this type of short kick-tale deck, you could easily move your stance too heavily and be off the board.

Why I would get one?

For me personally, the main reason to get one (and I am considering) would be that it would be fun and different from our existing longboards. Although I don’t need one to commute on (I prefer cycling), I can also see the portability advantages, especially as a last-mile commute option: easier to take on public transport, put under your desk, even stick in a backpack.

 

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Arc Board portability

 

When to not get a short-board?

It is a (relatively) free world, so if you want one – get one; however, I would advise caution if:
  • You have not skateboard/longboarded before – longer boards are easier to get used to, more stable at speed and help build up your confidence quicker.
  • You are a heavier rider – given they are all top-mounted and not bottle-nose, you have an increased risk of wheel-bite, especially if you are a heavier and more aggressive rider. Wheel-bite at speed is a whole world of pain.
  • You are riding constantly over rough roads and pavements – a lot fo the ride dampening and bump handling comes from deck flex. Short-boards have little or no real flex to take the bombs. Especially with hub-motors their rides are harsh and really need smooth surfaces.
  • You like going fast – longer wheelbase will just be more stable, shorter less so.

Hub vs Belt?

The pros and cons of hub Vs belt are well documented (overly documented), however, I think the choice is a key part of choosing a short-board. Short-boards have little or no deck flex, as the battery has to go the length of the board and make the best use of the space that it can, this means that there is little protection from vibration in the deck. Although hub-motors have their benefits, being quieter and with more clearance, they will add to that the vibration and can produce on short-boards a harsher ride. Using all real (soft) wheels, with a belt system like on the Rip or Boosted mini, will give some help and protection on bad street surfaces. Not a reason to ride hub-motor short-boards, just that the surface you want to ride over most of the time needs to be taken into account in making your choice.
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Medium Article: https://medium.com/@michaelgatti/raptor-2-part-2-the-comprehensive-comparison-1c8bf438f1b8
Personally, I would accept all the downsides of a belt-motor for the ride comfort, given I live in London with all our crappy Victorian pavements and roads, but that is just my preference.
damaged-pavement-photos

So what short-boards to consider?

For me, the #1 rule still stands: get a board you can fix easily and cheaply, the company has great customer service and you can get individual parts easily and fix things yourself. This applies even more to short-boards, which are probably going to lead an even harder life than longboards, especially if you are using that kick-tail to slam up and down curbs.
Some options to consider:
There is also one other excellent option for a short-board, which is to assemble (from a kit), build (from parts) or adapt (using a unit) your own deck. A good option because there are lots of decks you can use and lots of options for building, assembling or adapting; plus fixing any issues after can be relatively simple especially if you built it using a kit or parts. People have been doing transplants to short boards ever since the first board sold, this is nothing new.
See:
As ever, let me know if I have missed some make/board?
(I am sure others will come to market quickly with an option and I will try and add them as quickly as I can)
UPDATE: Added Ownboard & Bolt Motion.

Norwegian Goveernment adds e-boards to e-bike laws

norway flag

The Norwegian Government announced last week that they are bringing e-boards and other electrical vehicles into line with cycles/e-bikes and their use on public roads and pavements.

This is in-line with the EU recommendations on personal electric vehicles and on the face of it this looks good, with headlines such as: ‘e-boards legal on public roads in Norway‘…. however, it is not that simple or in my view that welcoming, when you go into the detail and understand the objectives behind it.

Press Release. Date: 10.04.2018
Source: https://www.regjeringen.no/no/aktuelt/sma-elektriske-kjoretoy-blir-likestilt-med-sykkel/id2596831/

(Translation) Simpler rules, less bureaucracy and more fun in everyday life. Now we simplify the regulations for small electric vehicles, such as electric bicycles and castors. They are very similar to the bicycle in terms of use. Therefore, we are now equating such vehicles. They should now be able to be used in the same areas and under the same conditions. This makes it easier for both users and authorities, “said Minister of Transport, Ketil Solvik-Olsen.

The government has today set new regulations for small electric vehicles.
“This government will simplify regulations and remove unnecessary prohibitions. In 2014, the government made use of self-balancing vehicles legally in Norway. Now we take new steps and change the regulations so that other small electric vehicles are also allowed, and it will be the same rules for all such vehicles as for bicycles. There will be no age limit, and you can use the same areas as cycling and walking, ” says Solvik-Olsen.

Classification as a bike will mean that there is no obligation of approval, nor any registration duty or insurance obligation. The user is responsible for ensuring that the vehicle meets the terms of use as a bicycle.

Same care requirements as cyclists

The rules of particular care against other road users when using the vehicle for example on sidewalks or walkways shall also apply to users of small electric vehicles.

For road safety reasons, the weight of such vehicles is limited to 70 kilograms, including battery. The width should not be more than 85 cm, the length not more than 120 cm, and the maximum speed does not exceed 20 km per hour. The technical requirements correspond mainly to those that have been applicable to self-balancing vehicles

The vehicle shall be equipped with headlamps, tail lights and reflectors. There is also a requirement for braking power. In addition, the vehicle must have a signal horn or a signal bell, similar to that of a bicycle. However, exceptions to these requirements may be granted where such equipment cannot be fitted. There is no requirement for helmet or mandatory training.

“Although there is no requirement for helmet use, I would urge anyone who travels on both bicycles and small electric vehicles to use a helmet, drive carefully and pay attention to other road users, especially towards walking,” says Solvik-Olsen.

The objective of this law is to bring the increasing plethora of personal electric vehicles, scooters, e-boards, one-wheels, hover-boards etc. in line with existing restrictions on e-bikes and, here is the crux of it all, their physical restriction to a max of 20km/h (12mp/h).  Note, importantly, this must be a physical restriction of the transport, it is not a speed limit. It will be illegal, with penalties, to use on the public road or pavement any personal electrical transport that can exceed 20km/h. It does not matter if you are only doing 5km/h, if the board can do more than 20km/h, which virtually all non-toy boards can, you are not allowed on the public road or pavement and will be prosecuted.

So, all current mainstream e-boards – *Boosted, Evolve, Meepo*, all – will now be illegal on the public roads and pavements in Norway.  We do, however, need to recognize that they already were illegal: as in most countries, only vehicles specifically approved for the road are allowed on the road. Most of us, around the world, ride illegally on public roads and pavements because we are not approved for the road.

So why do I still see this Norwegian law as a bad thing? You could argue that at least it is allowing boards, even if restricted to 12mph, on the roads? For me, it is that this law is purely setting a threshold of 12mph, to match a previous judgment on e-bikes, not in any way to help reduce urban congestion, fossil-burning pollution or even encourage e-boards. It is just set at 12mph because they did not want challenge what had already been implemented for cycles years ago. The law-makers did not look at how the technology has advanced and will advance, it just pushed e-boards and scooters back to when cycles and e-bikes first entered the market.

Finally, I am also very disappointed that it did not address the actual main safety concern with riding – the wearing or not of a helmet. If an accident is at 10km/h, 20km/h or 22km/h, it is highly likely that it is the lack of a helmet that will be the major contributing factor to the seriousness of the injury. I would happily see laws, like with seat-belts in cars, making helmets compulsory on public roads.

Norway, sorry don’t celebrate just yet, I think you actually just took a step backward. It will be interesting to see now if the board makers actually consider it a market now worth selling to. In the end, this law could not actually encourage e-boarding in Norway, it might actually kill it.

 

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.

Jungle Boards on Crowdfunder

Jungle Boards
Jungle Boards

Jungle Boards are now Crowdfunding their lovely decks.

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/jungle-longboards-launch

I really like the wood design and style of their boards. Good luck to the small time maker with inspiration. I just need to decide between the cut-out or the pintail.

UPDATE:  Went for the classic Pintail and looking forward to that lovely herringbone deck.. Good luck Sam, great to see you do this.

Jungle Boards

ref:

junglelongboards.co.uk