Back in late August of 2014, I got some kind of crazy idea that I should build an electric skateboard. It all started when I was sitting in my home office looking at a positively ancient Ray Underhill deck that I bought brand new in 1990 from a skate catalog. Originally I wanted to make it my electric board, but it just wasn’t long enough, so I ended up buying a new longboard deck. If you follow me on instagram (@longhairedboy) then you have seen me post images of the insane rig I put together using parts from the Australian startup Enertion.
This review is a long time coming, but I didn’t feel like I should write it until all the bugs were worked out of my board. And there were plenty of issues that needed to be worked out. When Enertion tells you their kit is DIY, they aren’t kidding. You put everything together and you bring your own deck. You can bring your own trucks too if you like, as long as they’re Caliber IIs or something with the exact same cross section. Wheels are also something you can bring to the table, as long as they’re 83 mm or more and are ABEC 11 Flywheels or Sesmic’s Speed Vents. The reason for these particulars will become clearer later in the article; suffice to say it has to to with the drive pulley mounts.
Ordering everything was dead simple. Enertion has a very nice web site from which all things can be ordered simply and easily. That part was painless. Good descriptions, good info on what goes with what, and if you have questions, they will get back with you. I had a few emails with questions and Jason, support guy, order satiator, youtuber, and apparently the fairly new owner of an exploding business, always got back with me, and usually within a few hours. Customer service isn’t a problem with him. I was pretty impressed with his timely responses and helpful advice. Actually receiving the items, well, lets just say i was bearing some of the weight of his growing pains.
On September 7th, 2014 I placed an order for the K1 propulsion kit and the 10Ah power kit. The K1 propulsion kit is basically a set of Caliber II clones (I was told they are actually made in the Caliber factory, and are essentially rebranded Caliber IIs), a set of Flywheel clones, a pair of branded 245Kv brushless outrunner model airplane motors, belts, pulleys, and all of the custom machined aircraft grade aluminum parts necessary to mount all of this on the deck of your choice. They’ll even throw in allen wrenches and all the nuts, bolts, screws, rings, washers, and everything else you need to get up and running that day. The 10AH power kit has everything else. The motor controllers or EMCs, the battery pack, the aluminum boxes for both, cables, jumper wires, and everything else you need.
The caveat is that it might not arrive that quickly. Perhaps because its from Australia and international shipping can be a pain, or perhaps it was because I hit him up in the middle of a growth period, or maybe it was due to suppliers being short on things, but I didn’t get the big package until October 11th. He did mention not being able to secure the belts he needed and cited that as one of the reasons for the delay. I’m sure being the only one cobbling orders together while struggling to run the rest of a newly booming business had a lot to do with it too. The good news is that because of the delay, he upgraded my wheels for free. Instead of the Enertion branded 83mm wheels, I ended up with ABEC 11 Flywheels. But after an exhausting unpacking of a million tiny white boxes, i discovered to my horror that there was no battery pack. What hell, I cried aloud to no one in particular. I clenched my fists and vowed to destroy everything.
After a beer or seven, I emailed Jason and asked what the hell. His response:
Hi damon. Due to aviation regulations the Batterys are shipped separately direct from our factory. Unfortunately these are also behind schedule a bit. So will arrive next week… so get stuck into your build and once your finished the battery should be there.
I’ll admit. The idea that i was ordering something dangerous enough to warrent regulation and legislation made my nips hard. A few more questions revealed that they were shipping out of Hong Kong. After a dozen more emails over the course of weeks, I got this gem from Jason:
Update on battery, it is stuck in Hong Kong Customs, they are running some high level search drill checking all outgoing consignments for smuggled birds… i know this sounds ridiculous but its what my factory told me….. looks like it will be another two days of delays.
NOTE: I have also found a problem with some of the ESC i have recieved, so there is a chance that yours has this problem too. The voltmeter has been wired wrong, the voltmeter should only come one when the power switch is turned on, however it comes on as soon as the battery is connected.
It is fairly easy to fix, you just need to cut, then re-solder the RED wire to a different location. SEE THE PICTURE.
If you don’t do this the voltmeter will always be on.
Let me know how you go.
Wow. I shit you not. Smuggled birds in fucking Hong Kong were the reason for all of my nail biting rage. All I wanted to do was tear around the neighborhood at ludicrous speed on a skateboard powered by airplane motors, but some douchbag in Hong Kong customs was digging through my shit looking for birds. I had no words. Oh and hey, your motor controller boards are wired wrong. Fucking birds, man!
I gave no shits about re-soldering a wire. I let Jason know that wasn’t a problem and didn’t care. This is DIY, man. If I don’t feel intimately involved with this beast, it just won’t be the same. And what’s more intimate than opening some guts and rewiring something? For an objective realist, I have a pretty good attitude most of the time about things like this. But the waiting… my god man. Much like a doctor, I was born without patience.
The battery finally arrived on October 30th, almost two months after I originally ordered everything. Surprisingly, there were no birds in the box with it. Just an allegedly mislabeled 10Ah Li-Poly.
I didn’t take unboxing pictures because of the shear volume of boxes. My order arrived in one giant box filled with myriad tiny white boxes. Each motor was in a box. The motor controller was in a box. Box for the wheels. Box for the bearings. Box for the trucks. Boxes for the aluminum controller and battery cases. Box for the remote control that is essentially a rather nice RC car controller. Bags of screws. Bags of bolts. Bags of boxes, boxes of bags. By the time everything was unpacked and laid out, I needed a new garbage bag.
Everything was blue except for the upgraded wheels. Anodized blue aluminum parts dominated. The Flywheels were, of course, Flywheel green with their trademark orange hubs. Blood Orange bearings arrived to compliment them along with plenty of speed rings. All of this was headed straight for my 41″ Bustin Yo Face deck, so lets get on to the assembly.
Putting this beast together was straight forward, but no small task. Jason made some videos to help people out and generally promote this gear, and if you have an engineering type of brain, everything more or less makes a lot of sense. There are clamps that bolt onto the trucks, motors that bolt onto the clamps, a bridge plate to keep the clamps and motors both protected and aligned, drive pulleys that bolt onto your wheels without the need for drilling into your wheels, pulleys to go onto your motors, and belts. The motor controller box sticks onto the bottom of your deck with industrial adhesive tape, as does the battery box, though the battery box also has a couple of bolts to go through the deck. Then you wire and heat shrink everything. There’s even a plastic strip you can run the power lines through between the boxes. And its blue. At some point in the middle of all of that, I also completely tore down the motor controller assembly to re-solder the volt meter connection mentioned in Jason’s email. The whole process took maybe an hour and half and I had no real prior knowledge about this system other than what I saw on Youtube.
As I mentioned earlier, you can bring your own wheels. As long as they are one of two brands or are basically identical to them. The reason for having to have specific wheels is due to the way the pulleys mount to the wheels. The bolts actually go through the holes in the wheels hubs, so you sort of have to have wheels that have holes in the hubs. Flywheels and Speed Vents both have holes in the right places, so you don’t have to drill your own.
However straightforward it was, I managed to do some things wrong. One of things I didn’t do at first was thread lock EVERYTHING. Jason repeatedly stresses the use of thread locker in his videos and any advice he gives. I’m going to take a moment to repeatedly stress the use of thread locker also. Here’s a pro tip: Is it a fucking screw? Thread lock it. Does it look like a screw but might be a bolt? Thread lock that shit. Did you mess up and have to go back in and now have to replace the screw? Thread lock it a-fucking-gain. One of the things he sends you is some serious industrial strength thread lock. Use it. If you have any doubts, just remember this: Thread lock every-damn-thing.
Its also worth mentioning that the motors are downright creepy, and they have their own brains. And beep codes. I don’t know what kind of black magic is working in there, but there are three wires involved for each motor. The ports on the controller for these wires are color coded, but the wires themselves are just black with no coding or indication as to where they go at all. When I asked about which wires go where, this is what i was told:
Regarding the motor wires, just plug them in anyway for now, once you have a power source you can spin the motor to see which way it goes, if it spins the incorrect way simply swap any 2 wires to reverse.
The fuck? Plug them all in, then swap any two if it spins backwards. Any two. Does it matter which two? No. What sorcery is this? I only ask because this seemingly insane advice actually worked. I don’t pretend to understand what’s going on here, so I’ll just quietly throw away everything i thought I knew about these kinds of things.
This thing comes with what looks like a pretty standard yet feature rich RC car controller. It’s the trigger type with the steering wheel on the side and all the trim and signal inversion switches on the top under a flip-lid. It has a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery in it and charges via USB cable. Fortunately I installed several USB power outlets in my kitchen, so it is often found recharging next to the cook books and not dangling from a PC.
The wheel does nothing, and neither does the “C” switch located near the thumb on the handgrip. However, the ports for those items on the receiver are available and could be made to do something, like turn on your headlights if you want to go that far. The trigger, however, does it all. Gently squeeze the trigger to go forward. I say gently because this damned thing will peel out and throw you backwards if you slam that trigger down. While you are still, pushing back against the trigger in reverse will cause the board to go backwards, so it will allow you to back up if you need to. While rolling, reverse acts as the brakes. That might sound insane, but the motor controllers are programmed in such a way as to know if your are rolling. It will not slam you into reverse and throw you. It will instead stutter the motors in reverse a little to slow you down gently. This is invaluable on hills terminating in stop signs and traffic, and becomes quite intuitive. I know, I know. I should just get some pucks and slide down into that stop like a boss.
Since I had so much time waiting, before I got all my parts in I put together a regular longboard to get used to longboarding again. That one weighs about 7 pounds and has a Gravity deck with Caliber IIs refitted with venom 98a double barrels, and These white 75mm 78a wheels. Its ridiculously fast and will easily achieve scary speeds on hills. It will also just coast along for days on flats as well as let you get up to a really decent push speed. A cyclist clocked me at about 16 mph just cruising and carving on the bike trail at Gemini Springs one day on one of the flat sections. That park is one of my favorite places to longboard.
Finally, after two months of waiting on aircraft aluminum and smuggled birds, I had a pretty sick electric longboard in my hands. I was ready to rock this shit down the street. But this was no regular longboard. This thing weighs in at 18 pounds and highly prefers not to be pushed. Pushing this monstrosity without the aid of the twin motors is like pushing a poorly lubricated sack of potatoes through the dirt while wearing only socks. Its important to know this, because you sort of don’t ever want to squeeze the trigger on the remote until you’re rolling a little, so pushing has to happen. If you jump on this thing and expect it to roll with you like you would on something like my Gravity, or any other longboard really, you will be Bustin Yo Face. As is clearly written on the deck.
But once you get going, holy shit is it awesome. This thing flies. It sounds like a star wars speeder when the motors wind up to full speed. The specs claim it will do about 35kph which is almost 22mph. It will do every bit of 20mph and if you’ve never gone that fast on a skateboard without the help of a hill, it is fucking exhilarating. Its also worth mentioning that the torque on these motors is unholy. Not only will it do 20mph with a 160 pound man wearing full gear, it will do 20 uphill through acorns and sticks. It even took me up a short but sharp grass slope without any questions. It gives precisely no fucks about hills, acorns, leaves, sticks, small grass clumps, mower clippings, or most other things you’ll find on sidewalks and roads. Even sand is a non-issue most of the time as long as it isn’t too deep. I attribute this mostly to the gigantic 83mm Flywheels, but the uphill power is due exclusively to those Enertion motors. Watch the pine needles, though. They like to wind around and work their way into the motors.
It does care about vibration, however, which brings me to the next chapter.
The vibration modifications
My street is terrible. And most sidewalks are a clackity clack clack nightmare. A regular longboard like my Gravity will just tac tac tac tac down a sidewalk as fast as you can stand on it. And on terrible roads like the street I live on that haven’t been paved in 20 years and have the texture of scaled-up sandpaper can cause the board to float a little, making pushing difficult and carving a little.. well… floaty. But something you don’t realize on a regular longboard is exactly how much vibration you’re experiencing. As human beings who are filled with water, muscle and fat, we absorb a lot of that vibration with a grain of salt. Some of us feel it in our old ass ankles, but for the most part it goes mostly unnoticed.
When you start involving machine screws and push button switches, however, shit starts happening. Within my first two runs I managed to lose about seven screws, and almost lost the bridge plate as a result. Remember that bit earlier about thread lock? Yeah. I didn’t thread lock every fucking screw like I should have. Fortunately, most of the screws I lost were compatible with standard hard drive mounting screws of which I have a metric ass-load. I replaced a lot of the screws and went back and thread locked everything. I literally removed every single screw in the entire rig and thread locked it. Then let it sit over night before rolling on it. I should have done this during the build.
But that was just the beginning. A couple of weeks into it, something else started happening. Excessive vibrations such as the noise on my terrible road or the tac tac tac tac tac down the sidewalk would cause the sexy chrome blue LED push-in-and-click switch to pop out and cut the power. You might think that’s not a problem. You might think that you’ll just keep rolling because skateboard. What you wouldn’t be realizing is that this beast has regenerative braking and coasting. Allow me to explain why that matters.
The board already weighs eighteen pounds and has twin motors with belt drives on pulleys mounted directly to the wheels. The friction from that alone is not at all negligable. But when this thing is coasting, it is actually generating power and trying to force it back into a 10Ah LiPoly battery that is likely already charged north of 22 volts. That puts an additional load on the motors, which in turn puts more of a load on the wheels. You can definitely feel that load. Remember that sack of poorly lubricated potatoes? Yeah. Now imagine losing power like that at near top speed, which is the exact opposite of sack-of-potatoes. It’s almost enough to throw you if you aren’t already braced for a slow down. It also provides an endearing little safety hazard when you’re rolling down hill and expect the brakes to work, then suddenly realize you have to do that sketchy foot drag thing that we all love to hate and are mostly terrible at.
This problem was solved with a 3 dollar blue LED rocker switch from Radio Shack. It wasn’t exactly a drop in replacement. I had to bore out the hole in the panel for it to fit. The wires all matched up perfectly, though, so it does illuminate when on. Between that and having to re-solder the voltage meter, I felt pretty close to this rig already.
Now that my switch isn’t trying to kill me at random and my screws aren’t falling out in the street, I felt pretty good. So I decided to see how far and how practical of a trip I could take on this thing. How about an eight mile round trip to Wal-Mart? It only took half way through that trip to realize the third and final problem with this thing related to vibration.
Remember those sorcerous black cables on the motors? Well they seem to want to work themselves out if not properly heat-shrinked into place. You’re going to need six inches of heat-shrink tubing and a heat gun to fix this, and I strongly advise holding things in a way as to point the heat gun AWAY from the insides of the motor controller. Lets just say I have a slightly deformed radio receiver now thanks to my impatient thoughtlessness.
What happens when one of the motor cables works its way out and starts dragging the ground behind you while rolling near top speed? Its hard to explain the experience of standing on a very confused motor. One of the motors will go about its business because they are essentially on two separate controllers working in tandem. The one dangling a wire, however, will become very unsure about what it is supposed to be doing. In fact, it will start intermittently stuttering in reverse in the same way that is supposed to happen when you hit your brakes. This can be nerve wracking as well as sort of dangerous because you do lose power while rolling. Fortunately, the heat-shink tubing will resolve this for the most part. You may have to go back later though and do it again if you don’t get it right the first time.
I replaced the barrels and cones in those Enertion trucks with some Venom 98A double barrels. Its worth it if you really need that spring in your steering. It made the ride a lot more stable. After seeing what it did in my Gravity, it was a no brainer to do the same to my power board.
Something I would also like to do is build a speedometer for this thing. It has been done using an Arduino, a sixteen character display, and a reed switch. Hopefully I can find room somewhere under my deck for yet another box of wires. I would really like to know how fast I’m actually going most of the time.
I also gave it headlights so I could ride it at night, which is fun as hell. There may even be some EL wire in the future. This is 2015, and everything needs to look and sound like it came from the movie Tron.
- This thing rocks. SOOOO much fun.
- Very fast, very stable. Rock solid handling.
- Reliable remote control, never get signal noise or intermittence there.
- More torque than expected, gives no fucks about hills.
- Charge time is very reasonable at around 90 minutes to 25 volts from 18 volts.
- Run time is very close to spec at around 50 minutes.
- High quality parts that perform as expected.
- Replacement parts, such as belts, are available and ship rather quickly. Belts are cheap. Get spares.
- Support is great. Jason is great. I recommend giving him your business.
- Bring your own deck, trucks and wheels if you want. As long as they’re compatible.
- Doesn’t deal with excessive vibration too terribly well.
- It ONLY runs for maybe 50 minutes. I want it to run forever so i can feel the breeze in my hair forever. This isn’t really a bad so much as a whine on my part. 45-50 minutes at full tilt isn’t bad at all.
- Dogs and squirrels are a serious problem. The sound of the motors drives them crazy and they chase you. I almost killed a squirrel, and some guy’s dog almost dragged him after me.
- The wife will worry about you and tell you you’re going to break your arm. Then you will break your arm and tell her its not really broken. Then you’re in the ER and the doctor will tell you its broken, but because its your elbow they won’t give you a cast, so you keep telling people its not really broken but you still have to stay off The Widow Maker for 6 weeks. I’m not talking about me, I swear.
- Belts will wear out quickly if you do dumb shit like climb grass hills or routinely hit the gas from a dead stop
- Hong Kong has a serious bird smuggling problem and it may affect your order.
- This is a new business, and new businesses suffer through growth, so that may affect your order. This is under Ugly because I’m a seriously impatient fucker, but it should likely just be a Bad thing.
- Out of the box it needed modifications to deal with factory mishaps. The voltage meter was wired incorrectly and had to be re-soldered. I file this under supplier issues, but its still ugly.
- Not thread locking everything will cause you to lose parts in the street. Seriously.
- Heat-shrink the cables or they will come out at the worst time. Like when you’re rolling at top speed.
- Replace the power switch or it will vibrate into the off position and possibly throw you. Like when you’re rolling at top speed.
My recommendations for improvements
Since this is a DIY kit, the only recommendations I could really make for Enertion is to use some tougher power switches. I was assured by Jason that the switch was most likely defective, so maybe its a non-issue for most people. The majority of issues I faced were my own fault and were the result of not using thread lock or heat-shrink tubing where I should have.