At the moment, I belong to those people who would rather be kids than have them, and so last month I bought myself an electric skateboard. I ended up with a Metroboard “Micro Slim” (we’ll see later the quotes are quite deserved). This was my very first time on a skateboard, so here I both review that specific product and relate my fresh impressions about electric skateboards in general.
Two basic trends emerge from the market. On the one side you find longboards with long range and high speed. That segment is totally dominated by Boosted (contender: Evolve), who looks like it is surviving a near-catastrophic, 6-month long battery recall episode and sets the standard in terms of aesthetics and performance. On the other side you have ultra-compact, get-to-the-train-station type boards. That segment will come to life (or not) this summer, as leading up-and-comers Blink and Bolt will have to deliver on their promises and pre-orders.
I’m not a hardcore rider. My project was to get a board I could use on a few casual week-end city visits across the country, instead of a rental bicycle. I figured that even if I end up selling the board on ebay in the next springtime, it will have been an interesting experience.
I stayed clear of the “compact” market segment. Many such boards have a hub motor (the power plant is integrated inside a single wheel, for efficiency and elegance). Given the incredible amount of abuse and exposure these tiny wheels endure, it sounds like an unreasonable design choice to me. Even when they do feature a drive belt, models in this segment all seem to have the battery built and sealed inside the board itself. To this, I added the great amount of pressure these startups face as they race to market pushed by a mob of impatient preorder customers. It looked like I would be waiting a long time and getting a throwaway product.
I turned the other way and pondered getting an Evolve or a Boosted board (both belt-driven). They are expensive. I thought I would get a second-hand board on ebay during a trip to the US and bring it back to Europe with me, but it did not work out. First, at least this winter, the second-hand market was small and strained by Boosted’s long near-death hiatus. Second, it’s not all too pretty either. The Boosted v1 battery can’t reasonably be disassembled (a requisite to fly it home, and a no-brainer maintainability feature in my eyes). That’s addressed in the v2 but there are sill caveats like the main power cable being layered inside the wooden board or people asking around how to make v1 wheels compatible with the v2 version. Wheels! Which engineer would in their honest mind even design a proprietary rubber wheel? Riding a device designed so I can’t ever void the warranty spoils the fun for me.
I ended up finding Metroboard. They make skateboards, with a motor and a battery. They are heavy, hardly elegant at all, go fast, and far. There is no “smartphone app for your skateboard” bull-dung. They have a website from the year 2000. They build boards to order. I liked it.
Metroboard Micro Slim
The Micro Slim is neither “micro” nor “slim”. We’re looking at a 74×24×15 cm, 7-kg beast capable of covering 15 km at 30 km/h. The front truck is standard, the motor & transmission mount are cleanly welded on the rear truck. The aluminum battery case is screwed below the main wooden board. Cables neatly travel to the motor, front, and back light. The board itself is painted black, covered in grip, and buckled so that it is fully rigid. It is and feels like an extremely robust machine.
Unlike the rest of the Metroboard product range, the “Micro Slim” is aesthetically satisfying in my eyes. For a reason that escapes my understanding, it comes afflicted with standard blue-and-red lights, green-and-orange wheels, and red-and-white stickers. Since the board is made to order, I asked for black (97 mm) wheels and a white front light to be installed instead, and I removed the stickers. It’s a relief.
In general terms the speed and acceleration correspond to a fit person going all-out on a bicycle. It is fast and accelerates briskly. My top speed is 29 km/h (18 mph). I do not have any desire to go faster, and I have left the power settings in default mode. Metroboard quotes a max motor power of 3 kW peak, 600 W continuous. It is, as always, understood that such figures describe the motor running on a bench at its best speed: in practice the battery may not be able to deliver the current, the speed is always off, and there are transmission losses. Based on the accelerometers in my smartphone, which exceed 2 m/s² at low speed, I’d say that the power delivered at the wheel at max throttle, default mode, comfortably exceeds 300 W. Make no mistake: this is brisk. Unless you are decisively postured to take off, you will be thrown off before you can adapt. The skateboard accelerates like an airplane.
Experienced skateboarders know, of course, what I had to find out by myself: there are two ways to turn. The obvious first is to carve in your toes or heels (roll the board) so that the trucks twist (and the board yaws). Roll stiffness is controlled with a nut on each truck: too stiff and you can’t turn, too weak and you risk entering a scary self-induced oscillation at high speeds. The second method is to shear the rear of the board horizontally so that the wheels partly slip in a controlled way (this slip strongly depends on the local ground surface quality, don’t ask me how I found out). Because you lean into turns doing this (usually after a quick kick in the opposite direction, like riding a motorbike), it is a great source of pleasure; but it obviously won’t work at low speed.
The minimum low-speed turn radius of the board is roughly 6 m (20 ft). Once a strong lean-in has been initiated, for example by doing loops on a parking lot, I can reduce it to perhaps 4 m. At any rate this is too large to make a 90° turn on a sidewalk or a 180° on a road, so, in town, the agility of the board is limited. I don’t know whether solutions exist to dampen truck movement at high speed (so as to safely increase roll angle at low speed). I suspect all other electric board makers face the same challenge.
Concrete is hard and falls are very painful. Given the speed and acceleration of the thing, you can’t jog away from the board when you lose control. You need a good amount of experience to judge the ground surface quality if you want to fool around (I found this out so you don’t have to).
Braking action is good. All you need is to concentrate on applying rear pressure so the belt-driving wheel does not slip. Nevertheless, that doesn’t amount to a third of the braking power of a decent bicycle. On a skateboard, rider balance really is the bottleneck.
If you ride regular in a right-hand-drive country, then the cars are basically always behind you. I ride bicycle lanes and it’s a little hard to sweep-check left when going through a roundabout. I’ll happily dive into French traffic with a bike, but I don’t feel like mixing with cars on the skateboard anywhere yet.
The control is with a radio-frequency model-car type remote. It works very well but feels cheap and is very uncomfortable (in general, the entire sensory experience of the product, and the emotional aspect of the purchase process, have not been thought through at all by Metroboard).
I find the electronics side extremely well-made. The throttle controls power, not speed. Acceleration control when riding or maneuvering is intuitive and pleasant.
Transport and commuting
The board comes apart with a screwdriver, a hex key, and a couple of (imperial) wrenches. You obtain sub-assemblies as front truck, rear truck+transmission+motor, battery case, battery, and wooden board. The rear truck assembly and battery case can’t easily be separated because many cable contacts are hot-glued on the motherboard. On a plane, everything can go in the checked suitcase except for the battery. Taking it on board with me in a transparent zip-lock bag alongside my laptop worked across 5 flights and 3 checks (including one at Certain Recently Privatized French Airport with its zealous security agents).
You can take the board on the German high-speed train ICE, where non-folding bicycles are prohibited.
In town, once you get to your destination, you can’t lock the board in the street, and so you have to carry it around. With a bit of practice and some effort, it can be lifted by flipping it around the rear axle with one foot. It stands on its own on its tail.
Because the center of gravity lies so far below the wooden board, carrying the skateboard like a snowboard (hand on a carving edge) is very uncomfortable. The only way I can carry it without cringing is by grabbing the front truck; even so, the board is too long and much too heavy for a seamless walk up a tall staircase. Also, the truck is always dirty. I bought a snowboarding backpack so I could have it on my back. It fits (not before you have dust all over your hands), but the board is still too heavy to carry comfortably like this for more than an hour.
Like all other boards out there at this time, the Micro Slim is not designed for wet weather (that’s a major restriction if you want to commute). The battery case sealing, belt drive housing, and cable inlets are soundly and cleanly built, so that dust isn’t a problem. But they would definitely benefit from another round of engineering. There are plenty of clearances left that could be shaved off, and tighter integration would improve protection from the occasional puddle splash.
Comfort strongly depends on the quality of the pavement. It reaches from pure bliss (smooth bicycle-lane asphalt) to unpleasant (rough rain-resistant road asphalt) right down to hell (setts. We have all types of setts in my town). The wheels have to do all the suspension work, as the wooden board is absolutely stiff.
The board is forgiving and will go over large twigs, cat’s eyes, nasty manhole covers and other obstacles at full speed without any problem.
The Micro Slim is loud. The sound is not unpleasant: some sort of a Duujjjjjjjjjjjjjeeeeeeee which I feel propels me into the future. Ultimately the relative wind drowns much of it. But everyone around hears it, and I find this is the only important issue with this board: people stare. In the end you need less self-assurance to conquer the accelerations than you need to cope with all the attention (thankfully the riverside lane in my town is quite empty on Sunday mornings). I don’t know how Metroboard and other manufacturers will deal with this, as low acoustic signature is a difficult thing to communicate and market (let alone engineer).
- Too loud. I’d like people not to notice the board is powered.
- The build quality and ergonomics of the remote are very disappointing.
- The board has no flex.
- Far too many margins are built in everything. Clearances, weight, volume could be sharply decreased for identical performance.
- The rear truck assembly can’t easily be separated for transport because of imperfect cable management inside the battery casing.
- Rationally designed throughout. Maintainable. Battery can be pulled out.
- High-quality build, inspires full confidence.
- Fast and powerful enough.
Balance: no regrets.
Some people go to great lengths to try to rationalize their skateboard purchase, but a bicycle will do three times better at half the price. The only thing rational about buying an electric skateboard is it noticeably alleviates the fear of growing old. The Micro Slim is a powerful toy. It’s hard and interesting to handle. When I ride, I am afraid and excited and feel like a really lucky kid. It’s all that really matters in my eyes.
Disclaimers: this review was not solicited and is not transactional. I make my opinions with my own brain. You should wear a helmet, too.