The VESC Project – the game changer for e-skates

gold_vesc_tool

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 H6 arrives

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The eagerly awaited Teamgee H6 finally arrived after UPS messed around for a week (my experiences lately with UPS have been universally not good). Unpacked and straight out on the road ūüôā – why do people make dull unpacking videos on youtube, even worse with music overlay?

First impressions from the weekend are really good. It’s big selling point obviously is the board’s looks and it does not disappoint – it looks great and is a real stealth board, apart from the big red “Electrical Skateboard” stickers on the underside, which did make me laugh (they will no doubt be taken off quickly).

The power delivery with the remote and ESC is sharp, but nice and progressive. This is a board easy to get confident on quickly. The remote wheel is nice and smooth, although the overall weight of the remote is a little light and feels a bit cheap; but it does not impact the control and ride experience.

The L1 and L2 settings are via a simple hard-switch on the side of the remote, rather than a soft programme control, which is good. The speed-range between L1 and L2 seems nicely spread, so that L1 does not carry you at warp speed, but it is also not boring so you are forced to go full speed. In fact, the board spent most of its time over the weekend on L1 being tested and used by my neighbours’ young teenage kids Рand got the big thumbs up from them.

Next, oldest son has to take it on some speed tests. Will do a full write-up shortly. Nice one Teamgee {thumbs up}.

Helmet: Giro Switchblade

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A few notes on the Giro Switchblade downhill MTB helmet, which I now use most of the time when out on the e-boards. In summary, I really like it, have no issues with it and very happy to recommend it.

I looked at the Switchblade, the Bell Super 3r and DH, some of the Fox Racing ones and the Met Parachute; in the end, I chose the Switchblade primarily for the:
  • Graphics/colors scheme (my Red and White).
  • Detachable chin guard (the Parachute does not detach).
  • Half-shell having more coverage (over some of the others).
  • Reasonable cost.

They all fitted well, which surprised me, and they all had the MIPS safety system, so my choice was really about just color, style, and cost. The cost new, after a bit of hunting around, was £160; which I was pleased with. I could not find discounted deals on the Foxes or the Bell DH, but the 3r Super and Met Parachute were available with deals at roughly the same price.

The Switchblade with chin-guard weighs 985g, which is a bit heavier than the very-light Met Parachute at 700g (but it has no metal chin lock mechanism, as the guard is not removable), but not an issue for me – I am used to much heavier motorcycle helmets. The foam padding is excellent and really¬†comfortable. It has the RocLoc¬ģ Air DH¬†system, where you just twist the wheel at the back of the head, to tighten or loosen the fit.

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The detachable chin guard is nice, but given I bought this primarily for the extra protection over my normal skate helmet, I could have lived easily with it being none-removable, like with the Met Parachute. Removing and fitting the chin-guard is easy, needing two hands. The fitting is snug and secure.
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What, however, does differentiate some of the helmets with removable chin-guards is what kind of half-shell is left when the chin-guard is removed. This is very noticeable between the Bell Super 3r and the Switchblade, with the Giro having more jaw-side cover/protection when used without the chin-guard. Not that one is better than the other, it is really just a preference thing.

 

I went with the downhill MTB style of helmet, over a full-cover motorcycle style, like the popular TSG Pass, for the extra ventilation and, being honest, it felt less conspicuous – a kind of a dumb rationale in some ways, but that is vanity for you.

It comes with alternative foam inserts, a nice carry/storage bag, and a spare visor.

Some review videos:

Norwegian Goveernment adds e-boards to e-bike laws

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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 Р*Boosted, Evolve, Meepo*, all Рwill 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.

 

Meepo now includes Import Tax

meepo v1.5

The very well regarded, and competitively priced, Meepo v1.5 hub-motor e-board is now priced with shipping and import tax (duty and VAT) to the EU, as well as the US.  This is great news as not only is it a good spec board for less than £500 (I have tested the v1 and v1.5 looks even better), but their customer support is very well regarded and, importantly, you can purchase individual components or it all as a kit. This makes fixing issues, although from China, much easier than other similar £500 options.

tax faq
Meepo FAQ

Cost (at time of writing) is¬†¬£302.52 for the std battery and ¬£446.92 for the more powerful¬†Sanyo model. Cost is the same for either the short 30″ or my preference, the longer 38″.

meepo short

Links:

Body protection for riding

http://skateszone.com/skateboard-protective-gear/
Skatezone protective gear article

I am a big supporter of always wearing helmets when out on the e-board, and most of the time on my conventional boards, always wearing mine (a standard skate helmet by Bullet). For once, I will leave out my usual diatribe on reckless fuckwit social-celebrities promoting helmet-less city traffic riding and just cover some options for protective gear.

I have considered a full-face skate helmet, with greater protection but lighter than a motorcycle helmet, and may get one depending on my riding.

 

 

 

UPDATE: I got a full-face Giro Switchblade MTB helmet, sadly one accident too late РI involuntarily came off and kissed a tree. That will teach me! Now I have the switchblade to save my pretty smile. I went with the MTB helmet as it was cooler than a full-face TSG and, for pure vanity, less conspicuous for me.

giro switchblade

The other things I consider essential are my gloves, where I use normal cycling gloves as they offer decent friction protection without limiting remote-control movement.

In addition, when going fast (and not nice and friendly with my youngest son) I use my armored motorbike jeans made by Force Riders, with armor in the knees and, importantly, hips. Previously I have had a bad pelvic injury, so protection of my hips is important for me. Interestingly, pelvic protection is not normally worn by skateboarders, but as I have learned it can be a fragile body part if you fall in a specific way.

I am not sure if Force Riders jeans still exist (I could not find any links to them Рmine were bought on Amazon), but there are other makes, including Alpinestars, Richa, Bull-it, UglyBros, Roadskin, and Draggin, who are well established and with a solid reputation. My Force Riders were relatively inexpensive, but I replaced the basic foam protection that came with them (same with many of them) with much better and more flexible sorbothane and shock foam CE rate armor. They work really well, especially when out just cruising around the local cafes (looking less kiddie-like than external knee pads), and I would highly recommend wearing them.

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Following the motorcycle theme, if I want to go full protection for conventional downhill, or fast on the e-board, I use my British Knox under-armour under whatever I am wearing at the time and is not going to shred easily. Again it is light, very comfortable and works really well allowing good movement on the board.

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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‚Äô consumer¬†world are not that capable and don’t need to be for most other things. If you aren‚Äôt 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

lush smba
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

helmet

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

t-tool
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 Рone 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.

oust-bushings

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 ‚Äúgrey area‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúunclear‚ÄĚ. Personally, I don‚Äôt 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‚ÄĚ 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 Рsadly, 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 Рwrite 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.

Interesting Gear: Ridge EL1

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Ridge, the Liverpool (UK) based company have brought out a small, almost a penny board 27″ deck, in-hub motor e-board called the EL1, that¬†weighs only 3.5kg. The main thing, however, besides the obvious¬†European¬†support is that it is only ¬£350. My first thought was “toy”, but reading the Esk8 review on their site, it needs to be taken seriously as a small high portable fun deck.

Esk8 Sweeden also did a good video review:  youtube review

Video review of small e-boards