Full disclosure – as a kid, I’ve always enjoyed cruising around on a skateboard, mainly because I was terrible at doing tricks and too worried about getting hurt. Naturally, I gravitated towards computers and electronic hobbies from RC cars to drones and eventually Miniquad FPV racing. Fast forward to present day – the popularity of personal electronic vehicles has grown and with it – the electric skateboarding community which combines the gratification of DIY tinkering with a broader communal experience.
My earliest memories of electric skateboards were of metal behemoths fitted with lead batteries like something out of a science fiction movie. These days, parts have gotten smaller and slimmer which have allowed manufacturers such as Boosted and Yuneec to carve a out a very unique market of consumers who are not just skaters or tech nerds but those who are looking for alternate modes of transportation. To be fair, someone using an electric skateboard for the first time looks pretty ridiculous but those who fully embrace the technology make it look they are having more fun in life than everyone else.
I was first introduced to the Yuneec E-GO by Emm from Cheesycam. Paired with a gimbal, we used it as a camera dolly for super smooth tracking shots. While the experience was fun, I didn’t have an immediate gut reaction to purchase, which is what typically happens when Emm shows off some new gear. I was intrigued, but the price point kept me at a distance. It felt a little gimmicky, like a big boy toy for guys my age who don’t like to hurt themselves.
After about a year, I started seeing electric vehicles crop up around town and I began to feel left out. I was compelled to get my own big boy toy. And since I live about 2 1/2 miles away from my office, I figured an eboard would be the perfect way to commute. So with a little money saved I bought a used Yuneec E-GO display unit from eBay and immediately customized it with a new paint job and lights.
The E-GO is a rock solid entry level board, perfect for those who want to get their feet wet with electric skateboarding with little maintenance. Ask any hardcore DIY eboard builder and the Yuneec is not really a part of the conversation. But compared to a Boosted board, the E-GO has a very pleasant price tag for it’s components – nothing more, nothing less. It maxes out at 13mph which is slow for most but very reasonable for downtown city commuting where there’s more obstacles, unpredictable terrain and limited straightaways.
DIY ELECTRIC SKATEBOARDING COMMUNITY
Initially I thought about upgrading the E-GO to push it’s performance but after some research, it felt a little risky to modify a board whose only fault was being reliable. Like I never felt “cheated” by the E-GO if that makes sense. Plus having a production board to study for design research is always a good thing. Next, I started lurking in the Endless Sphere and ESK8 Builders forums, a cornucopia of knowledge for all things related to electric skateboarding. One thing that stood out to me was the pleasant attitude exhibited by many of the stakeholders in the community. Compared to some of the guys in Miniquad FPV groups, this was like a breath of fresh air. This is how I took my first plunge into DIY eboards.
FINDING THE PARTS
Every DIY eboard currently relies on components developed by many companies springing up to serve the market. These companies are developing batteries, writing code, engineering motor systems and figuring out pieces of technology at every point in between. This is a constantly evolving scene with DIY’ers providing some valuable nugget of R&D research hidden in posts across two major forums. It’s deep, but not alienating if you dedicate the time. With about a month of lurking, I felt I was caught up with the technology to make informed purchases. One thing to keep in mind is that many of these products are built by DIY’ers for DIY’ers which means its best to do your homework before hitting them with a barrage of questions. This isn’t like shopping for a sweater at Macy’s. Like all communities, it pays to play.
Supporting these guys with a purchase or two puts your skin in the game and as a customer they will give you personal attention and support for your build. You’ll need to have patience as products are made to order. My expected delivery times were off by about a week or two but since I placed my orders before Christmas and New Year, it was understandable. Waiting is hard. Really hard. But on the flipside, having something made to order feels special. Essentially, having a good customer attitude can mean the difference between someone going through the motions, versus someone really giving that extra attention to detail and a once over for quality control. I won’t get too wrapped up in specific components as parts will evolve way past what this article can provide but I can detail what informed my purchases which are entirely shaped by my personal needs.
CHOOSING THE PARTS
JET RADAR SERIES SPUD NIPS LIP DECK
I found this board through posts by Torqueboards and Siggs from ESK8 Builders. It’s 29″ length with a 21.25″ wheelbase seemed like the perfect size for my body dimensions and commuting distance. The nearly 40″ length of the Yuneec E-GO was comfortable but definitely a hassle for taking it on a bus or other form of public transportation. One thing that worried me was the rather large wheel wells and extreme concave but more on that later.
CARVON V2 SINGLE HUB MOTOR + MATCHING TRUCKS + WHEELS SET
To stay within my parameters of a stealthy, low key look, I went with a single hub motor from Jerry at Carvon. Carvon’s website FAQ answered all of my questions in regards to the advantages of hub motors and up to date photos of customer builds. Jerry was really helpful with shipping times and let me know that mounting the Carvon on the 29″ Jet Spud deck was possible but challenging due to the short wheelbase. Not one to shy from a challenge, I placed my order a week later and when it arrived, the product looked even better in person than the pictures. This may seem like common sense but being on the fence or wishy washy can only go so far when it comes to DIY. Once you soft commit to a purchase, be honest and follow through. It goes a long way to establishing a solid customer relationship.
ENERTION 10S SPACE CELL BATTERY
Jason at Enertion Boards has been developing and innovating within the electric skateboard scene for quite some time and it shows. From complete builds to individual components, Enertion is proof of concept that DIY and ready to run solutions can co-exist peacefully. So when it came time to choose a power solution, I knew the Enertion Space Cell was the best bang for the buck hands down. Without getting too deep into battery comparisons, the 10S Space Cell is a self contained unit with a battery management system, power button, charging port and voltage display. Jason was also kind enough to give me advice on my components, measurement specs for my enclosure and overall encouragement to see my build through. It’s almost like he’s on a personal mission to outfit every man, woman and child on earth with an electric skateboard and I look forward to where he takes Enertion by next year.
OLLIN BOARD COMPANY VESC – OPEN SOURCE ESC SPEED CONTROLLER
The VESC is currently the best electronic speed controller created specifically for electric skateboards by Benjamin Vedder. Jeramiah at Ollin Board Company was another helpful resource for providing recommended settings on my build and constant updates on the VESC’s features. Once it arrived, the VESC quality was top notch with heavy duty wiring and clean soldering all around. Like a master chef preparing an expensive meal, Jeramiah uses military grade, gold plated PCB’s along with a re-flow oven for soldering components and various stages of firmware testing to ensure maximum efficiency.
TORQUEBOARDS 2.4GHZ MINI REMOTE CONTROLLER
I wanted an affordable, reliable, small remote so I went with this TorqueBoards 2.4Ghz Mini Remote from DIY Electric Skateboard. It isn’t fancy and is not really in the same league as slick production board remotes but it seems to last forever on 2 double A batteries and well – it just works like hell. With it’s small compact receiver, zero dropouts and transmission errors, this remote had my attention but now has my confidence. TorqueBoards is also very active on social media so sharing your build with him there is a quick and easy way to get immediate feedback.
RUNPLAYBACK SULACO V1 ENCLOSURE
To house all of these electronics I created my own DIY vacuum former oven that was inspired by Psychotiller from Endless Sphere and James Bruton from XRobots. Using feedback from Jason at Enertion and Jeramiah at Ollin Board Company, I created an enclosure code named the Sulaco V1 that is designed to house the Enertion 10S Space Cell, a single VESC and a standard 2.4ghz receiver. No more, no less. The specs are L: 20″ W: 8″ H: 2″ and features 1/8″ thick ABS plastic for lightweight performance, flexiblity high impact resistance, and added durability. Since I live right next door to a major ABS plastic supplier I can provide these at a good cost.
Here’s a few odds and ends that I needed to complete my build.
As I waited for parts I decided to prep my deck by sanding away the sweet Jet Spud Lips design and spray painting it with glossy black. I figured the artwork would be covered with my enclosure so I didn’t feel too bad.
Next I added the MOB grip tape which is super coarse and probably too extreme for most folks. My hand actually started bleeding laying this stuff down so I threw on some work gloves. Ouch.
Once that was done, I binded the TorqueBoards remote to the receiver, then connected it to the VESC with a JST cable that was provided by Ollin Board Company. I added a ziptie as a cable lock to prevent the connection from coming loose and squeezed some hotglue to both the VESC and receiver for extra safety. Loose connections are a safety hazard so be sure to test the strength of every wire. If it can be pulled out with little force, it’s best to start over and do it right. Also adding some velcro on the bottom of the VESC and receiver will help keep things in place once you house it in the enclosure.
Next I prepped the Enertion Space Cell battery by adding velcro to the top. I found three strips placed equally across the length of the battery was enough.
On the other side I added a few strips of 1/4″ Neoprene as a cushion. This side faces the skateboard deck so it’s important to have a little bit of cushioning to guard against vibrations.
Next I prepped the RunPlayBack enclosure with corresponding velcro strips for the battery, VESC and receiver. I can’t stress how important it is to have an enclosure that fits your electronics like a glove. Everything should be firmly enclosed and not swishing around like loose change in a jar.
I carefully placed the Space Cell into the enclosure, making sure to align the power button, charge port and voltage display with the corresponding holes.
Next I added the VESC and receiver by first pulling the motor wires through the holes and securing everything into the velcro. Once I was satisfied with the fit, I connected the VESC to the battery and added a small flap of rubber as a cover.
You can get creative here and add an entire sheet of neoprene and rubber across the whole enclosure like the Yuneec E-GO battery system. Mileage will vary depending on your deck design and weather proofing needs. I highly doubt I’ll be riding mine through inclement weather so I didn’t go too crazy.
The Carvon Hub Motor and wheels were next. I picked up some 1/4″ Khiro shock pads and 1.24″ DBS Dank Bolts to mount the trucks to the deck. Similar to the Yuneec E-GO design, the rubber shock pads are great for added flexibility and a smoother ride.
I then mounted it all to the board, ensuring that each screw was tightened equally. I didn’t go crazy here, just wanted to get the tension secure.
Finally, with everything in place I secured the enclosure using #8-32 machine screws, washers and nuts from Home Depot. There’s many different ways to mount an enclosure to a deck. Most folks like using tee-nuts for a cleaner finish and as a faster way to pop the enclosure on and off. I personally don’t mind the extra time using nuts and washers and with the crazy curvature of the Jet deck, I needed a little more play in the mounting holes.
From my initial DIY product inquiries on 12/7/15 to 1/18/16, it took me approximately 41 days to complete the build. Slap on the downtime during holiday season and the process took much longer than expected. Yet the results were well worth it. There were a few times when I hit some speed bumps, particularly in the vacuum forming process where each failed pull felt like I got the wind knocked out of me. Like my brief time spent with Miniquad FPV’s, there were moments that zapped my creative energy. I wondered why was I spending all of my time on a glorified big boy toy while everyone else around me was living in the moment. It’s like, why didn’t I just buy a Boosted Board Dual Plus and call it a day?
Fortunately, with the help of a loving supportive family and encouragement from friends, this build became more than just some kind of self serving prophecy. With DIY electric skateboards, there’s an immediate gut reaction when you see one. Like the kid inside all of us suddenly leaps through the soul in our eyes and peeks through smiling. Once I tapped back into that emotion, everything made sense. Sharing each technical step with my 6 year old daughter and seeing her wide eyed reaction brought me back to reality. I didn’t make this build for me. I made it for anyone who ever felt weird in school. Who felt more comfortable tinkering on their computers and in their garage than on the football field. The minute you understand you can build something, however you get there, you’ll want to improve it and share it with the world. Once you DIY, you’ll never be the same again. Hit me up in the comments if you’d like to discuss and stay tuned for part 2 where I actually take this thing on the streets.