Though skateboarding has been a hobby and passion that has shaped my life for two decades, I've long resisted making mine electric. Skateboarders are sensitive creatures. And we fear change. The massive, hand-remote-controlled electric skateboards mostly piloted by tech-bros are just, well… different.
Rather than being an evolution of my passion, I considered electric skateboards simply a way to get around. That's not a bad thing in itself — being outside, getting some exercise and reducing your carbon footprint is an idea I can get behind — but it felt like a betrayal to the piece of wood that I grew up on.
But what if that commuter machine looked more like the shape and size of the skateboard I've ridden my whole life? A few companies are now making that possible with "converter kits" that make almost any board electric. That's the idea that finally changed my mind — and it pushed this old curmudgeon to put my convictions aside and give electric skateboarding a shot.
There are a few options available to add a motor to your board. I chose one that claims it can work with almost any old board.
Made by Unlimited, a Spanish company that partnered with the US longboard company Loaded, the $769 kit consists of a motor and a battery pack that you can add to just about any skateboard. I used the Solo kit, the entry-level package that has a range of seven miles, a top speed of 23 mph, and can handle an incline up to 9 degrees.
When I first opened the box I was disappointed to find four enormous, orange wheels that were meant to replace my 55mm OJ cruiser wheels. I felt better when I realized that the motor is housed inside one of these big wheels, making them necessary. But my desire to remain an incognito electric skateboarder had me wanting those big wheels in any color other than orange.
The rest of the kit was fairly easy to assemble. The only hiccup I ran into was fastening the cable from the motorized wheel to the battery cable. In order for it not to stick awkwardly out with the potential to snag on something, I had to force it at a weird angle inside a plastic holster underneath the wheel. And even after I made it look exactly like the photos in the instruction manual, it continues to be a problem. More on that later.
Actually riding it
Once I calibrated the board to align with my stance (so the motor knows which way is forward and which is brake) riding it was a breeze, and honestly, very fun. The only thing that took some getting used to was unlearning howto push. It was a strange sensation cruising for miles without taking my feet off the board, and instead controlling everything with a small remote in my hand. I'm still getting used to the extra second or two of reaction time I need to stop or slow down when a traffic light changes or someone walks out into the street. Just stepping off the board like I would on a regular board isn't sufficient or even safe.
It took only a few minutes riding around for me to realize that the gigantic wheels were necessary for another reason: a smoother ride at high speeds. On smaller wheels, hitting cracks and debris this fast would normally send me flying.
That brings me back to the cable. The jostling of the board, paired with the pull of the motor, kept forcing the cable forward, over my truck, the metal axles that hold the wheels, and dislodging itself from the protective plastic casing. I ended up shredding down the rubber cable exposing the wires inside and I had to stop multiple times to put the frayed cable back into its holster.
I reached out to the company and it turns out I didn't properly tighten the bolt with the included torque wrench, although that step wasn't clear in the instructions. In a week or so of riding, this doesn't seem to have affected how the board functions, but for a piece of equipment that costs nearly $800, it gave me pause.
Other than that, I had a ton of fun mobbing the streets on this thing. The speedometer on the remote has clocked me going faster than the claimed top speed of 23 mph. Paired with a hill, I've hit 26 mph. The range is pretty much as advertised — after a charge time of approximately an hour, my trips have lasted around the seven-mile mark, riding mostly in the middle "eco" mode.
I went up and down North Brooklyn, did the entire Central Park loop, and of course even commuted to work across the Williamsburg Bridge. There's a certain rush I felt that doesn't compare to biking or, dare I say, a human-powered skateboard. Especially in the upper loop of Central Park, with hardly anyone around and cruising downhill, it almost felt like snowboarding on asphalt.
But again, it's a different beast and will never replace the low-tech piece of plywood that's been keeping me company for 20 years. Especially at its current price, it's too much of an investment for me to put down that kind of cash myself. That being said, especially as a means of getting from here to there, the kit made me a little bit of a believer.
In case you missed it, you can watch me build and ride the kit for the first time in the video above!
A pint-sized new Onewheel from Future Motion 10 Photos Comments Special Features Culture Notification on Notification off Sport and Outdoors