A Guide to Buying the Right Hoverboard

So you’ve seen your favorite celebrity bragging about their new “hoverboard” on social media. Maybe you’ve seen some of the hip young people in your neighborhood rolling around on these crazy wheeled contraptions. Now you’re thinking you might want to get in on some of that action, but you don’t really know where to begin. Well, good news! You’ve definitely come to the right place. In this buyer’s guide I’ll tell you all you need to know about hoverboards so that you don’t end up burning your house down. But more about that later, though – first let’s get the basics down.

Getting Grounded

The first thing we have to clear up is that “hoverboards” do not in fact hover at all. I’m not sure exactly why people started calling them hoverboards. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the year 2015 was when we celebrated the year depicted in the famous sci-fi film Back to the Future II. The film received a lot of coverage in the media, especially with regard to which aspects of life in 2015 the film predicted well. One of the most famous parts of the movie involved anti-gravity skateboards known as hoverboards. These had long captured the imaginations of people and it seemed the time was right for that name to become associated with what we know now as the hoverboard.

So what exactly is a hoverboard? It’s a unique type of personal mobility device. Specifically it’s an electrically powered self-balancing scooter. If you’ve ever seen a Segway you’ll immediately have an idea of what I’m describing. Although the hoverboard is certainly inspired by personal mobility devices like the Segway, it doesn’t descend from the Segway directly in a technological sense. Obviously, much of the technology is related, but they aren’t exactly the same type of product.

back to the future

Back to The Future

Stranger Danger

There are a lot of overnight fads, but not since the banning of lawn darts has a product had this much potential for injury and property damage. The main issue is that the models of hoverboard that first began the craze were very well built, but also very expensive.

The Chinese manufacturing industry quickly sprang into action with a slew of cheap and unsafe knockoffs that were almost completely identical on the outside.

It didn’t take long before the papers were reporting people falling off erratic hoverboards, battery fires, and in one case a whole home burning down. Clearly these were not just harmless toys, which makes it doubly important that you choose well when buying one.

So let’s talk about the most important things to look for.

Safety First

The main safety hazard you have to be aware of when it comes to hoverboards is the battery systems. Most modern electronics use a battery technology known as lithium-polymer or “lipo” for short.

Lipo batteries are pretty much the best overall battery for consumer products. They’re in your laptop, your phone, and every other rechargeable hi-tech gadget. The downside is that, compared to other, less-powerful battery types, they aren’t particularly stable. It’s not that rare for a lipo battery to catch fire or explode, especially if they haven’t been made with the experience and precision you’ll find at manufacturers like LG or Samsung.

No-name and sometimes counterfeit batteries are a big problem. When you hear about someone’s phone exploding in their pocket or face you can bet your bottom dollar it was a cheap knockoff battery to blame. Even legit batteries will flame out if they get punctured or shorted – not a great thing in a vehicle that’s prone to crashing into things.

So what can you do about it? It’s vitally important that you make sure that any hoverboard you buy has the proper safety certification. It has to have UL certification and preferably protection systems that prevent overcharging, overheating, and short-circuiting.

It’s also a pretty good tip to make sure you charge your hoverboard in a place where a potential fire will do the least harm, like on concrete away from wood and fabrics. Do yourself a favor and have a look at YouTube videos of lipo flame-outs to get an idea of the potential damage. Those of us who use charging computers with lipo batteries for RC helicopters and planes make use of a special flame containment bag, but since it’s not practical to remove the built-in batteries in your hoverboard, that’s not really an option.

Price

Top of the line hoverboards will set you back as much as $1700, but products that aren’t junk begin around the $500 mark. If you’re considering a hoverboard that’s significantly cheaper than that you’ll have to pay special attention to why you aren’t paying very much. It’s possible to get a good deal, but these can be dangerous waters.

Weight Capacity

How much weight your hoverboard can carry is mostly determined by how strong the frame is. Most products are rated to carry up to 220 pounds, which may be a little low for some male adults. Believe me, I know.

More expensive boards can handle up to 300 pounds and Phunkee Duck has an unofficial weight capacity of 400 pounds, but be prepared to pay through the nose for the privilege. Seriously, it may be cheaper to just get a gym membership.

Wheel Size and Type

Most hoverboards have wheels that are just over six inches, which puts you pretty close to the ground. These electric scooters are notorious for picking up scrapes and scratches. They also aren’t great on anything but very smooth terrain. So getting one with eight- or ten-inch wheels can really mitigate that issue. You’ll have to consider the terrain you’re planning on traveling. If you’re going indoors, ten-inch wheels may be a problem if there are low doors or lights.

You also have a choice of solid or pneumatic wheels. Solid wheels obviously can’t go flat, but they provide less shock absorption and don’t do well on rough surfaces. Their grip is also compromised as they don’t conform to the surface they’re on.

Speed and Range

Usually your hoverboard will be rated for just over six miles per hour, but some can hit as much as fifteen miles per hour. If you’re buying for someone who may not be too responsible, like a child for example, it’s better to go for something slower. Six miles per hour may seem slow, but when you’re whizzing at that speed a few inches off the ground it feels plenty fast.

Ten miles is a typical range, but the more you weigh and the faster you go the less range you’ll get out of it. If you plan to make a commute, ensure that the range will get you there easily. It takes and hour or two to recharge (as much as four hours for some models), so keep this in mind when planning your trip.

Wrapping Up

Hoverboards are both cool and fun, but it pays to shop around before committing to one. One last important thing you should consider is whether there’s a local office or warehouse for the hoverboard you are considering. Make sure you can buy parts, arrange returns, and receive support from a local place in your local language. I can’t overstate how important after-sale service is for hoverboards. Believe me, you’ll thank me later.

Oh yeah, and wear a helmet for Pete’s sake.