We’ve all seen skateboarders speeding downhill on a regular skateboard.
Easy. Gravity 101, right?
But if you’ve seen a skater zipping up hills, effortlessly defying gravity, they might have been riding an electric board.
Electric skateboarding offers high-tech mobility in a low-profile package, providing reliable transportation, easy storage, and bugs-in-your-teeth fun.
What’s not to like about that? Well, except for the bugs part.
Time to put the mystery of these four-wheeled flying carpet rides to rest; here’s an overview of how electric skateboards work.
What Is an Electric Skateboard?
An electric skateboard is a skateboard with one or more electric motors, a rechargeable battery pack, and a hand-held remote control used for acceleration and braking.
Electric boards, also called eSkates or eBoards, use electric motors to propel the board. This allows gravity-defying uphill climbs on inclines of up to 30 degrees.
Shorter electric skateboards generally offer better paved-surface maneuverability and are easier to carry or stow. However, this can come at the cost of range and versatility. Shorter boards typically come equipped with smaller batteries and single hub motors.
By contrast, longboards typically extend the riding range significantly while also providing a more comfortable ride.
The tradeoff with longboards is that they’re heavier and can be more challenging to carry around.
Typical longboard lengths measure over 3 feet.
If you’re an experienced skateboarder, riding an electric skateboard should be an easy switch.
For many new skaters, however, the first experience with a skateboard since childhood might be with an electric skateboard.
Beginners or those returning to skateboarding after a lengthy hiatus may find a longboard to be a more stable choice, at least until you get your sea legs. But electric skateboards aren’t for everyone. Electric bikes provide another alternative for those not quite ready for the look-ma-no-hands brand of e-powered micro-mobility.
How Electric Skateboards Work: Acceleration
Old-school traditional skateboards run on people-power, and that’s still possible with most eBoards, which is good to know if your journey lasts longer than your battery. But the beauty of electric skateboards is that the board does most of the work.
Most electric skateboards use direct-drive hub motors, and a growing number use belt-drive motors. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Hub motors sit inside the wheel and generally require less maintenance. They also are less susceptible to jams due to debris. However, hub motors also limit your options for wheels and tires.
Because the motor is part of the wheel assembly, you’re likely limited to two or three wheel-size options. These limitations also affect comfort and traction.
By contrast, belt-driven boards allow you to choose from a wide variety of wheel options, including aftermarket wheels that are compatible with your electric skateboard. This flexibility opens a world of customization options ranging from wheel size to gear ratios.
A change in gear ratios lets you boost torque, extend range, or increase your maximum speed. But as with most customization tweaks, adjustments in one area may have costs in other areas of performance.
As a caveat, belts can (will) break eventually. Many times, new boards ship with a spare belt. But, sooner or later, you could find yourself doing the walk of shame due to a belt failure.
Belt-drive boards can be noisier as well when compared to hub-drive skateboards.
Hub-Drive Electric Skateboards
Hub-drive eBoards often offer a lower price point compared to belt-drive configurations. Other advantages include quieter performance, lower maintenance, and free-rolling ability. If your battery gives up the ghost mid-journey, you’ll appreciate the latter.
But even among hub-drive boards, you have a choice to make: single-motor or dual motor.
Price-leader boards usually sport single-motor designs, but this choice doesn’t always make a single-motor skateboard a slower ride in regard to top speed. Instead, the advantage of a second motor usually shows in torque, which equates to tenacious hill climbing ability combined with predictable traction.
How Electric Skateboards Work: Belt-Drive Boards
Belt-drive electric skateboards use a toothed belt that runs from the motor to the gear that drives the wheel. It’s common to see higher-end skateboards and all-terrain skateboards powered by belt-drive motors.
If you expect to do a lot of uphill riding, consider a belt-drive skateboard. You’ll find belt-drive configurations often dig in better on the uphill stretches.
Belt-drive boards can also come with one or two motors.
For example, the Eovan GTS Carbon Super, pictured below, features two belt-driven motors that deliver a whopping 3500W of power.
Eovan’s GTS Carbon Super offers a great example of one belt-drive’s advantages over hub-drive electric boards.
You can easily convert the board from street wheels to airless-rubber all-terrain wheels, making the GTS Carbon Super ideally suited to wherever your adventure takes you.
The conversion kit also includes pulleys, so your gearing is well-matched to the task at hand, whether that be street riding or all-terrain.
The seemingly magical aspect of how electric skateboards work is in the hands-free operation. But to describe this as hands-free isn’t entirely accurate.
Both acceleration and braking for electric skateboards are controlled by a discreet hand-held wireless controller.
Most models use a thumb wheel on the controller to accelerate or bring the board to a stop when needed.
How Electric Skateboards Work: Braking
Electric skateboards use regenerative braking to slow the board. With regenerative braking, the wheels’ rotational energy is recaptured to recharge your Lithium-ion batteries. The resistance of the motor itself slows the skateboard, and the recaptured energy helps extend battery life.
The same controller used for acceleration is also your secret weapon for fast stops. The thumbwheel can move the board forward or apply stopping power.
But body-weight placement plays a big role as well.
When braking, you’ll need to shift your weight to the back leg, using the front leg for stability. However, timing is important. Braking causes the weight of the board and rider to shift forward, which is why you shift back.
But you’ll want to practice your timing before you venture out into the neighborhood. A weight shift too early or too late could cause an “unplanned dismount.”
With some practice, the timing for weight shifts will become second nature, much like riding a bike. Some electric bikes also use regenerative braking coupled with disc brakes.
How Electric Skateboards Work: Steering
Another key aspect of how electric skateboards work is the steering itself. For some newer riders, steering may the trickiest skateboarding skill to master.
How you choose to steer through a turn depends on your speed, obstacles, traction, and other factors. But you have three basic choices, none of which you can control with your handheld remote. Instead, you’ll use tried and true skateboard physics just like with standard skateboards.
Your eBoard is powered, however, so the handling dynamics can differ in some situations.
- Leaning: Both normal skateboards and electric boards pivot on their skateboard trucks when you lean. When leaning, the wheels are actually changing their alignment beneath the board, forming a steering arc that can steer left or right depending on which way you lean. You can practice this part while stationary to get a feel for how much the board can move without tipping over.
- Leaning while pushing: This option comes up less often with eBoards than with regular boards because the eBoard uses powerful motors to do the pushing for you. Pushing refers to pushing off with your foot. The other foot leans the board to steer. On analog boards, you may need to lean while pushing when navigating a turn on a hill or when you don’t have much momentum yet.
- Kick turns: A skateboard kick turn is done by shifting your weight to the front or back of the board and pivoting the opposite side of the board to change direction. This one takes some practice and might not come up as often if you choose a longboard. Don’t try your first kick turn in rush hour traffic. Find a safe place to get a feel for the geometry first.
All-Terrain vs. Street Boards
Before you melt your credit card by buying the latest electric skateboard, consider how you’ll use the board. For some riders, nothing beats the speed and efficiency of a street board setup.
Then again, you might also appreciate the flexibility of an all-terrain eBoard. You can pilot some of these burly boards straight into the woods. Really.
However, most all-terrain boards are best-suited to a mix of street, hard-pack trails, and grassy fields rather than the skateboard equivalent to trial riding.
All-terrain skateboards typically have a longer wheelbase, which leads to bendier boards more willing to forgive uneven surfaces. Select models also feature suspensions. And rubber tires are standard equipment on all-terrain skateboards, with some even sporting knobbies.
In a nutshell, that’s how electric skateboards work. But often, you’re not limited to the factory configuration, and a vibrant aftermarket exists to address a wide range of customization preferences.
Many electric skateboard brands provide numerous ways for riders to personalize their ride to match their lifestyle. Some electric skateboard models, designed with quick changes in mind, even let you convert your board from strictly street to all-terrain as easily as you slip on your Vans Old Skools.
Electric Skateboard Safety
Skateboards can be dangerous, and motorized boards, perhaps doubly so. Recently, Purdue University assembled a task force to study electric skateboard safety following a series of serious accidents on campus.
Many municipalities also ban electric skateboards due to concerns regarding rider safety, pedestrian safety, and traffic safety. Be sure to check local rules before making a purchase, but also consider whether an electric skateboard is the right micro-mobility choice for you.
Personal electric vehicle (PEV) alternatives include electric bikes and electric scooters, both of which come equipped with handlebars and bar-mounted brake levers. Both also offer the ability to carry cargo if needed.
Electric skateboards aren’t always the best fit for every situation. But for some riders, there is no substitute, and there is no second best.
Fortunately, today’s riding gear offers a safer way to enjoy skateboarding.
Invest in your safety. Consider a MIPS helmet or other safety gear as appropriate to your riding style.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you push an electric skateboard?
Hub-drive skateboards support free-wheeling, so you can push the board without power. However, belt-drive boards do not support free-wheeling.
How do you carry an electric skateboard?
Longboards are often long enough that they can be dragged behind, rolling on two wheels. Shorter boards can fit in a shoulder bag or be carried tucked under an arm.