Electric Skateboard Buying Guide
Skateboarding is still cool after all these years, but while trick boarding remains the mainstream image of skateboarding, there has been a surge in the popularity of longboarding.
Longboards are special skateboards that are longer than 36 inches. They are designed for road cruising or downhill riding. There are variations meant for longboard “dancing” and some more trick-oriented versions, but most are just intended as a mode of transport.
The electric revolution has been perfect for the extra size and strength of a longboard; now there are a gazillion electric skateboard options on the web and in stores. In this guide I’ll take you through the most important aspects to look at when considering an electric longboard.
Also, be sure to have a look at my review page where I’ve highlighted some of the most appealing boards, as well as one or two that you should stay away from.
The Long and Short of Longboards
Before we get to the electric part, I just want to highlight some traditional longboard basics. These are only a few considerations; if you want to know more about longboards in general there are plenty of good resources on the web.
Unlike regular trick skateboards, the kind you see on X-games, longboards are closer to the original purpose of skateboards. Originally they were supposed to be a way for surfers to keep training in the off season, but they quickly evolved into what we think of as a skateboard today.
Many longboards that you’ll see now do actually look like surfboards. The type of longboard we’re interested in here is the downhill cruiser. These boards can be used for deep carving and are wide and low. They have skateboard decks that are low to the ground – a drop-deck that hangs below the top of the trucks or a “drop through” deck where the head of the wheel truck actually goes through the deck and attaches on the top surface. They also have deep cutouts that allow you to carve without the wheel biting into the deck, a bad situation at any speed.
Think of it as a low-profile sports car that has little ground clearance, lots of wheel contact area, and a wide wheel base.
There are also now quite a few offroad downhill boards – with big pneumatic wheels these big boys can really shred down a dirt hill, almost like a land version of a snowboard.
It’s to these two main types of longboard that the electric treatment is most often done. Keep that in mind as we discuss the other aspects.
Power and Drive
Electric boards will often have their power rating stated in watts. Be careful though – the motors have a peak and a normal power output. You shouldn’t worry too much about this number, though, as what really matters are the performance figures. Still, having more watts will help you get up those inclines. Boards that are rated at 150W are usually toys. Serious boards will range from 800W to about 2000W in power. A mid-range board would be about 350W with a bit of peak power in a pinch.
Those are the basic rules of thumb, so when you see a power rating you should have a rough idea of where a board is in the greater scheme.
Another important aspect is whether a board is single or dual-drive. Single-drive boards only have a single set of powered wheels. Obviously dual drive boards send power to both sets of wheels. This improves power transfer versus grip, as with a 4WD car, so you can tackle steeper inclines and accelerate and brake better. On lower-powered boards (1000W and lower) the advantages are not so clear.
Brakes and Bidirectional Drive
Electric longboards usually use a braking system that converts motion back into electricity – a process known as regenerative braking. This can help extend range by recovering some energy lost climbing a hill as electricity, rather than wasting it as heat.
Some longboards also allow full reverse drive, which is useful in many scenarios as you can imagine.
All electric skateboards that I’ve seen use lithium batteries, but not all batteries are made equal. Good brand-name certified batteries will provide you with years of safe service. Battery capacity isn’t something you should worry too much about – rather, check the charge time and whether a quick-charging option is available. If a battery also happens to be easily removable and swappable, that’s even better.
Speed and Range
Some of the fastest boards can hit a frankly pants-wetting 24 miles per hour. Those with variable speed controls let you have exact control of how fast you go. Offroad boards tend to have lower speeds, but you have to be pretty brave.
You should also only opt for digital wireless remote controls, as the wired ones have far too much risk of snagging. That being said, I haven’t seen a new model of electric skateboard with a wired remote in a while.
Range is, of course, quite an important consideration. Even some high-end boards only have a range of about seven or eight miles if they are performance-oriented. The range is something you have to fit into your planned usage. Seven miles is fine if it gets you to a place like a coffee shop or office where you can charge up again. Some boards have a quick-charge ability that will fill them up in an hour. Others have bigger battery packs or dial back the performance. Choose whichever will get you where you want to go.
Electric longboards are some of the lightest electric vehicles on the market. Typically, even a large model will be between 13 and 17 pounds. So carrying it around is not a chore at all. Still, you should make sure that you are comfortable with how much a given board weighs.
Longboards can take a lot of weight, although the more weight you put on there the slower the speed and the lower the range. For adult boards the lower end of the weight range starts at 220 pounds. Some boards can easily take a 300 to 350-pound adult.
Bombing the Hills
Electric longboards aren’t that complex to figure out, but before you go zooming around town I have to reiterate how important it is to wear a helmet and pads when riding one of these things. Check out my helmet buyer’s guide as well as my helmet reviews, and get that dome protected.