Making the case for electric skateboarding racing

Status: Work In progress

This post investigates the nascent sport of electric skateboard racing. If you didn’t know, I once raced skateboards down hills, and so have used that experience to investigate the viability of the powered version. This post broadly assumes some familiarity with skateboard racing, but can be read with an eye to emergent trends and growing a scene. Skim any jargon and unfamiliar technicalities, they aren’t necessary to follow the gist.

Those of you in the small esk8 race scene, apologies upfront for assuming knowledge, this is purely based on assumption and research. Feedback & criticism welcome.

This post is generally intended for anyone that might enjoy a primer on electric skateboard racing.

Intro

As an ex-skateboard-pro-am racer, I have a passing interest in skateboards. Recent developments in battery technology led to the Boosted board, and more recently the logical next step, racing. Amateur hobbyists taking up their soldering irons and building faster and more capable electric skateboards (esk8), with the current phase looking like the emergence of grassroots racing in EU and USA.

In this post I’ll be analyzing these new beginnings, what issues there are with racing, what directions things may take, and why. My interest in writing this is purely out of curiosity. Downhill skateboarding had an incredible few years of growth, and the early days looked very similar to where electric skateboard racing is today. I like skateboards, electric motors, racing and emerging trends. This fits the bill, no more or less.

The basis for the investigation is my interest, background experience in racing and scene building, reasonable technical understanding of electronics care of some time near drones.

Broadly speaking, there are 4 aspects to this, which will be covered in turn, ending with an analysis on what key things will guide the direction.

  1. Technology - The race readiness of the technology
  2. Racing Today - What do “esk8 races” look like, compared to a downhill race
  3. Accessibility - How is a self-sustaining scene built
  4. Growth - How does an underground race scene become something more

1. Technology

The race readiness of the technology

Battery technology is improving incredibly rapidly. If you’ve managed to underestimate this up until now, then it is worth your while to go and find some powerful modern battery vehicle and use it for a day or two (not a governed government ebike, but something unrestrained). Applying this technology to a skateboard historically left you with too little power for the additional weight. The enough power per kg barrier was recently crossed, pushing us into the domain of well let’s race these things then.

I’ve considered the commercially available technology from the perspective of off-the-shelf and DIY, and how they shakedown for racing.

Complete Boards

The equivalent of your Sector 9 mall-bought skate cruiser, complete electric skateboards are generally a bit lacking in performance.

Entry Level

Off the shelf Boosted Boards are being produced in a very competitive cottage industry coming out of China. ~$600 gets you a 1500 watt (2 horsepower) flexy longboard with Calibre trucks, wheels made by ABEC11 or Orangatang that will shift you along at a governed 40km/h with a range of around 20km. Note that you can’t run much faster than 20km/h, and you’ll unlikely be able to cycle much faster than 30kmh sustained, so this is usefully fast, definitely dangerous and probably illegal depending on your taste for all 3.

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The power to weight ratio of you standing on this is around ~21W/kg (1500W/75kg) , about 1/3 of a Ford Fiest 1.6.[] Not earth-shattering, but certainly something.

All Terrain

The technology gets even more interesting in the offroad department. Boards with +5000W bring you up to ~55W/kg, equal to that Fiesta.

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Premium

Notable mention at this stage is Evolve, who seemingly has captured the space left by Boosted, the premium high-performance street skate. 3000W and a top speed of 42km/h. Cleverly also a crossover, able to switch to offroad wheels, this seems to be the board of choice for those looking to splash but not go DIY. With a swanky carbon deck, they almost nailed it, but the double pivot trucks, still my least favourite skateboard “innovation”, are a real pity on an otherwise capable-looking skateboard. This being the only one of these things I’ve actually ridden, I was very impressed and wanted to buy one, but at the £1500 price tag, I’ve yet to pull the trigger (which is funnily enough how you control the speed, with a little Bluetooth trigger control).

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Between the off-the-shelf Boosted board clone and the high-performance mountain board, there is an endless array of options. The industry of innovating for higher performance personal transport is in full swing, with hobbyists on the one side and entrepreneurs on the other all vying for position.

The commercially available boards are generally what you’d expect from something consumer-friendly. In broadly the same way that you’ll not find a suitable downhill skateboard ready-made, the same generally applies to off the shelf, and generally the more niche providers provide higher performance. I’ll unpack this further in the racing sections later.

Batteries

Battery technology has become much cheaper in the past decade, trending towards around $100/kWh. This price decrease has coincided with increased energy density. Brushless motor technology has concurrently jumped in performance. These changes are part of the reason drone technology has surged, and obviously why electric cars are viable.

Currently, batteries are the start and end of the conversation with electric vehicles. They are volatile, susceptible to performance degradation.

They can be explosive when over-discharged, over-charged, incorrectly charged or stored. This leads to numerous fires. The only real consideration as this relates to racing is that fresh batteries are a performance advantage, so charging is a logistical consideration, as is the cost-benefit of having multiple batteries available.

Much like tyres in motor racing or wheels in longboard racing, this is one of your primary consumables and an important consideration for competitive racing.

Wheels

Electric skateboards have equally adopted downhill skateboarding race wheels and mountain boarding pneumatic wheels in equal measure.

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The pneumatic wheels have greater rolling resistance so have lower range and seemingly more grip.

Polyurethane wheels are mostly just ~80mm hubbed longboard wheels, which means the range includes downhill classics like Flywheels and Otangs.

Worth mentioning the Hub motor. A brushless motor with a urethane sleeve. Drawbacks are a harsher ride, reduced torque, positives are a quieter more efficient ride. I have doubts about the applicability for racing.

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Hub motor

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Belt drive

What I have yet to see is meaningful high speed slides on urethane wheels, and I’m interested to see how viable sliding as a racing technique is with electric skateboards. It seems likely that powered braking is will be more efficient, but I fancy seeming some late braking slides to attack the apex as a possible technique.

It seems that pneumatic wheels have more grip on tar than the boards and riders are able to overpower.

DIY

Like any serious hobby, there is a crossover point where the bland watered-down consumer products fail to satisfy, and one turns to the internet for improved performance in the domain required. Much like my early days of downhill skateboarding, pressing DIY skateboards in dodgy garage clamps and slide gloves made of kitchen equipment, the DIY scene is deep in the early innovation phase, rapidly building and iterating, with a combination of hobbyist suppliers and hobby turned backyard startup suppliers combining to maximise performance.

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https://www.instagram.com/p/B9CgkgIJ16r/

The DIY scene is the obvious source for the energy behind a race scene, and there are some murmurings of interest in the idea, and ironically, lustings over the EXACT board that many downhill skaters would have lusted over about 12 years ago on another now-extinct skateboard forum.

The DIY scene has much more advanced equipment, with boards reaching 80km/h and beyond. What isn’t clear is the cornering capability, but with the amount of power, cornering will be sufficiently interesting to make a race of it.

I’ve also come across rubber non-pnuematic wheels. Interesting.

esk8.news forums

What is quite interesting is that there is surprisingly little cross-over from downhill skateboarding in the DIY skate scene. Other than the trucks, the commercial boards are all very varyingly quite flat and wide, with long wheelbases and wide trucks. Much the same in the DIY division. I wonder when the split angle short wheelbase narrow truck grip machine boards of downhill racing today:

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https://www.instagram.com/p/B_DVRLvBprE/

What I imagine is that the design will move in an entirely different direction.

@lucier7 machined some Baseplates based on the long rod #nkp3link. 130mm hanger On @riptidesports 85/90a bushings and #muirskatepodiums Ready DH shakedown.

Already some interesting esk8 trucks making it back into DH.

And Max Capps DIY downhill skater hitting 60mph on an electric board. Grabbing the nose too. Interesting.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BkGudtvgCh3/

2. Racing Today

What do “esk8 races” look like, compared to a downhill race

Road racing

Grip racing, most familiar to me, is currently actively racing in two categories, go-karts and uphill.

Go-Karts

Indoor Go-Kart tracks are well suited to ~40kph racing, as illustrated below. This looks like a close-fought race. Note the mix of pneumatic and urethane. If the guy in 2nd wasn’t riding some overly dippy trucks I’d have him in first in a re-race (skip to 1:35, 2:35 for the mid-corner wobs).

2018 - Evolve Electric Skateboards California

The above video is from a race put on by Evolve, graciously allowing non-brand boards to their event that is ultimately an exhibition of their technology. I’m sure they’re glad their riders placed first and second, but eventually one would hope the field to be open. I’ve read mixed reports of their 2020 racing being open to off-brands. Some further videos:

https://www.facebook.com/xEraceCZ/videos/3177064309076226/

XErace

Uphill

An interesting development in the race scene is esk8 hobbyists connecting with downhill skaters to use the closed roads for a “side-show” uphill race. This is run in the same way as downhill, knockout 4-6 man heats.

eSk8 Race uphill

Behind the scenes, note Mr Abec11 Chris Chaput getting involved. Always a good sign.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B12CNh9BecB/

The advantage of this is that there is no doubt some cross-pollination between downhill and electric skateboarders.

Disadvantages are that the races don’t seem to make for particularly close or interesting racing at this early stage, never mind the very fast speeds. Because of the power of the boards, aerodynamics seems to be of marginal importance, and bravery and the ability to keep the throttle pinned seem primary. This reminds me of the early days of downhill, when races didn’t quite push the limits of grip, and aerodynamic forces were not quite significant enough at the speed to create many passing opportunities.

I think the types of hills best suited to racing would be tighter, involve breaking and the edge of grip racing.

A production board here would be useless, as these custom boards are not limited in speed.

Offroad (All-Terrain) Racing

The offroad racing seems to mostly take place on either BMX tracks or junior motocross tracks as below.

The below video gives a good sense of where things are at. The boards in this clip are either modified 4 wheel drive Evolve GTR or 2 wheel drive Trampa mountainboards. (Probably an even match at a guess of around 6000Watts each.

[![ELECTRIC SKATE RACINGUK OPEN](http://img.youtube.com/vi/dyM5fTx3UdY/0.jpg)](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyM5fTx3UdY?t=157 “ELECTRIC SKATE RACINGUK OPEN”)

Evolve has done a good job of allowing non-Evolve boards at their open races, and winning in both examples, here and in the Go-kart track.

Questions:

  • Wheels: the racing I have seen is divided between urethane and pneumatic wheels, with each competing differently. Should they be different classes?
  • Batteries: Battery charging is an issue between heats, how many batteries do you need? What happens when they explode. Newer batteries are better than older batteries (freshies…)
  • Speed: They go poes fast, like 60mph, but the races are lame and too straight. the courses need to be more technical. Do you try to involve skate related stuff like drifting?
  • Drafting: Is the power too much for drafting to be a thing.. see MotoE where there is too much power for drafting
  • Laps vs Heats: Is a lapping process better? Up and Down? Sprints? The battery is too small usually for much more than heats. Or a few laps.
  • DIY vs Manufacturer: Similar to MotoE, a single spec league would make it easier to find support and build out a scene. DIY appeals more to the tinkerers
  • Starts: Rolling starts might enable better first corners like karting
  • AT/Road: Evolve has done AT already, looks slow and lame, but lots of BMX tracks could lead to cool things. Needs to have straps and follow snowboarding

That’s my back of the napkin analysis. I’m keeping an eye. I don’t want to mess my body up much more on a skateboard, but I’m curious to see where this goes

2. Accessibility

How is a self-sustaining scene built

The key to building a grassroots scene is accessibility and entertainment value. When running downhill skateboarding events, the most popular are the ones where speeds were low or constrained in some way. These are useful feeder events to the more high-performance races, where newcomers get a taste, which is generally all that is necessary to get someone hooked and coming back for more.

Introductory Races

There seem to be a few demo-day style races, primarily from consumer-facing companies.

High-Performance Races

Summary of why there may be some interest in a niche race scene, happening in the shadows:

  • Electric battery technology is making crazy progress, electric racing to replace combustion engines in the next 10-20 years (I guess), so e-skate is a great opportunity for grassroots e-racing
  • The e-skate technology is having a grassroots DIY moment, think early skate days, DIY trucks etc. Lots of interesting innovation, lots of unanswered questions.
  • electric scooters growth leading to electric skate growth as alternative commuting, leads to more common ownership, leads to racing (as with cars, bicycles, planes, boats etc, people like racing things, and hobby turns to obsession quite easily)
  • The current race scene that I could find is early, sketchy racing, DIY with most having no clue how to skate, races are lame and one-dimensional, but lots of interest, lots of DIY. Reminds me of the 08-09 skate scene
  • Racing on go-kart tracks seems pretty viable, otherwise, they do a lot of racing at DH races (they race back uphill, which seems like a nice idea, but looks pretty lame).
  • Boards aren’t crazy expensive, like $3000 for a v. fast death-machine… cheaper than a dirtbike or mountain bike

3. Growth

How does an underground race scene become something more

Why No, Not Now, give it a Decade:

  • recession would mess it up, people don’t do expensive hobbies when they don’t have disposable income (what recession…)
  • safety issues: sketchy death machines don’t have a good public image, nor do skateboards.

This is where the analysis ends for now.

It does seem like a scooter racing thing is lined up. Pity as a scooter is ultimately a small motorbike, which I have less personal interest in.

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