As electric skateboards grow in popularity, more and more different kinds of boards appear. It may seem at times like the differences are mostly trivial, but each different board is designed for a different purpose. It’s important to understand the differences between them so that you can buy a board that will meet your needs.
Once you’ve bought the board, you have to start looking at the add-ons. Safety equipment, remote controls, and the like. To help you make those decisions, this guide will explain the different types on electric skateboard on the market and the equipment you can buy with them so that you’ll be as informed as possible when you choose your board.
Types of Electric Skateboards
Regular, non-motorized longboards are actually the original skateboard. They were invented to simulate the feeling of surfing on the sidewalk. Longboards are often considered to be ideal for beginners, at least the non-motorized ones are, because the bigger deck and softer wheels give them more stability and a smoother ride.
Those features make longboards ideal for use as electric skateboards, which is why the majority of the e-boards you see on the market will be longboards. They’re easy to use, comfortable to ride and the basic design is already optimized for cruising.
The softer wheels also make longboards a great choice if the area you ride in has lots of cracks and bumps in the asphalt.
If you’re a total beginner, meaning you don’t even have much experience on a regular skateboard, a longboard is probably the safest choice for you. The stability and smoothness of the ride will make it much easier for you to learn how to ride your board. Just watch out for the deck flexibility; on electric boards, you don’t want as much flex in the deck as you would with a regular longboard, because a deck that’s constantly flexing up and down can damage your battery.
Shortboards are what most people picture when they think of skateboards. They’re shorter, of course, and they’re also more rigid. The wheels tend to be smaller, harder, and closer together than on longboards. They also tend to have decks that curve upward at both ends to make it easier to perform certain tricks.
You won’t be performing tricks on your electric board, so if your deck has those curves they’re purely decorative. That said, skateboard tricks are the main reason that shorter boards exist in the first place. So, why bother slapping a motor on a shorter board if you can’t do tricks with it?
Shortboards are lighter and easier to carry. In other words, they’re a lot more portable when you’re not riding them. Boosted Boards longboard, the Boosted Plus, weighs in at 17 pounds. Their shortboard, the Boosted Mini, weighs 15 pounds. Two pounds doesn’t seem like much now, but it will when you’re carrying it around all day. The Plus is 38 inches long, 11 inches wide and almost 6 inches tall. The mini is the same width and height, but it’s 8.5 inches shorter. It’s much more portable than the Plus, and while the Mini is a standard size for most shortboards the Plus is a relatively small longboard.
Shortboards also tend to be cheaper, since they’re smaller. Again, using Boosted boards as an example, the Plus retails for $1400, while the Mini sells for $750. The longboard costs almost twice as much.
Shortboards are a little more difficult to use, and if you’ve never skated before you may be much better off starting with a longboard.
If you’re an experienced skater, though, a shortboard can offer some advantages. You’ll save money without sacrificing much speed or range, and they’re a lot easier to carry around. If you’re looking for a board to ride to and from the bus stop or the train station on your commute, a shortboard might suit you better than a long one.
Penny boards take their name from an Australian company called Penny Skateboard. They’re tiny boards, usually made out of plastic. The small size and plastic construction makes them ultra portable, and a lot of people say they’re very fun to ride. Electric penny boards, like this one, are also small and made of plastic. They almost always have hub motor (more on the different motor types later), making them quieter and easier to use if you run out of power.
When most people hear “plastic” they think “flimsy”, but penny boards, whether they’re electric or not, are built tough.
Much like a regular shortboard, a penny board’s biggest selling point as an e-board is portability and price. Penny boards are smaller, lighter, and cheaper than shortboards. If you’re going to have to carry your board a lot, these may be a good choice.
The biggest downside to penny boards is their main selling point: size. The tiny deck on a penny board gives you very little room for foot placement. Since even electric boards rely on your feet for steering and much of the braking, that’s a big consideration. Even if you’re an experienced skateboarded, if you’re new to electric skateboarding you might want to get used to it on a larger board first.
Off Road Electric Skateboards
All the boards listed above are used for relatively mundane things, like commuting to work. Sure, they’re fun and most people probably ride them for pleasure, too, but they also have a practical purpose.
Off road boards have no practical purpose. They exist to be awesome, and that’s it. They’re the monster trucks of skateboarding. Some boards, like this one from Evolve, are hybrids; the wheels can be switched out for use on road as well as off-road.
You’ll see some unique features on off-road boards. Often the trucks are mounted on top and drop through the deck to lower the center of gravity. Occasionally you’ll find one with straps to keep you attached to your board in rough terrain. eGlide, one of the bigger names on off-road electric skateboards, makes several models with aluminum decks for added durability.
The most obvious difference between off-road boards and regular boards is in the trucks and wheels. Off road boards have huge wheels and wide trucks to handle uneven terrain. The wheels are usually tires, rather than solid urethane, with thick treads to provide traction in dirt and loose soil. They’ll almost always have dual motors too, while many regular e-boards rely on one motor directly attached to only one wheel. That works fine on asphalt and concrete, but off-road it would lead to skidding and poor traction. 10 inch tall wheels are standard, and rubber tires are necessary.
An off-road board will also have a much more powerful motor and battery to handle hills.
When considering an off-road board, think about whether you want a board purely for off-road use or if you’ll also ride around town occasionally. Those big rubber tires and super wide trucks will be slower and much less maneuverable on city streets than regular skateboards. A pure off-road board is heavy, too; that plus-sized motor and battery, along with the giant wheels and trucks can add a lot of weight. You do not want to be carrying one of these around, and you don’t want a light board when you’re off-road because the extra weight helps on loose surfaces like gravel.
Off-road boards are great if you’re interested in off-road adventures, but they’re a poor choice if you want a board to ride around town. Hybrids do exist, and if you want to use your board for both work and fun, they can be a good option.
Each type of board has it’s advantages and disadvantages. Off road boards are great if you just want an all-terrain board for fun, but they’re not a good board for commuting. Longboards are easy and comfortable to ride, and great for cruising, but they’re bulky and heavy.
Penny boards give you ultimate portability but they may be uncomfortable to ride, while shortboards bridge the gap and offer a compromise between portability and ridability. None of these boards is always a better choice than the others. Each board has it’s pros and cons, and choosing the right board for you really depends on your specific needs and your experience level.
Different Electric Skateboard Motors
There are two types of motors for an electric board: hub and belt drives. The differences between the two mostly have to do with how your board accelerates and how much torque they can generate.
A belt drive is a simple pulley system. There’s a small gear on the motor, and a larger gear on the wheel, connected by a belt. The motor turns the small gear, which in turn pulls the belt, and the belt turns the wheel. You can see how it works in the picture below.
A hub drive, or direct drive, has the motor attached directly to the wheel. Often this means that the motor is embedded in the wheel itself, although some manufacturers simply use metal gears in direct contact with each other to connect the motor and the wheels.
A belt drive will make it difficult to move your board using foot power if your battery dies, whereas with a hub drive if the battery is dead you can use it just like a regular skateboard.
A belt drive also has more moving parts, which means more potential for something to break. Yet, a hub drive is much more difficult to repair in the event of a breakdown.
Belt drives have more torque, and hence better acceleration, and better climbing on hills. For off-road boards, belt drives are essentially the only option. At the same time, belt drives have less efficient braking.
Hub drives are also more prone to overheating, which in turn makes them less durable than belt drives. That said, hub drives are lighter and quieter.
If you want a quiet motor that will preserve your battery life, a hub drive is the best option.
A belt drive is a better choice if you want more torque. If you’re buying an off-road board, you likely won’t even see hub drives as an option. Conversely, if you’re buying a penny board, you likely won’t see any being sold with belt drives, since they’re bigger and heavier. The only way you’ll really have a choice of drive is if you’re shopping for a long board or a short board.
Most boards are still sold with belt drives. The technology has been around longer, so it’s still considered more reliable. And, it’s simply more powerful, which appeals to a low of people.
Hub drives can’t deliver as much torque, which means they won’t accelerate as well and can’t handle hills as well, but they are more efficient. If you compare two boards that are the same size, with the same battery, but one has a belt drive and one has a hub drive, the board with the hub drive will have a much longer range than the board with a belt drive.
While hub drives can’t accelerate as quickly as belt drives, they can reach the same top speeds. So, it might take you a little longer to get up to speed, but it’s not true that hub drives are slower.
If you’re shopping for a longboard or shortboard, and you have a choice between a hub drive and a belt drive, the first thing to consider is the terrain. Do you live somewhere like Austin or San Francisco, with lots of hills? Or are you somewhere flat? If you’ve got lots of hills, the decision’s been made for you, you need a belt drive. If the terrain is flat, either will work, so think about what you’re using the board for.
Are you going to be carrying your board a lot? The light weight of the hub drive might be better. Do you need a longer range? The hub drives efficiency makes it a better choice. Do you need to move faster? The better acceleration on the belt drive wins out here.
Neither belt drives nor hub drives are always better, they both have their advantages and disadvantages. Choosing the right one depends on your specific needs.
If you skate with regular boards, you should already have most of this gear. Still, electric boards sometimes require extra protection, especially if you’re going to ride at night. Make sure you have everything you need to ride safely. This list is an overview of the safety gear needed to ride an electric board, but it isn’t comprehensive. When in doubt, always err on the side of caution. Electric boards are more dangerous than regular boards, and if you have doubts about your safety gear, upgrade before you ride.
You can use standard skateboard helmets if you want, and most of the time that’s probably all you need.
Still, electric skateboards move a lot faster than regular boards, which means if you take a fall you’re hitting the ground with a lot more force. It might be a good idea to invest in a helmet made specifically for electric skateboarding, or even a BMX helmet.
Downhill mountainbike helmets are also a good choice; they’re lighter than standard motocross helmets but they still offer great protection and they cover the full face, which is something you won’t get from a standard skate helmet.
If you aren’t planning to ride at full speed, you don’t need the full face helmet. You can wear something a bit more comfortable and still be protected. The full face covering is for those times when you really want to open up the throttle and have some fun.
The exception to that is when you’re off-roading. If you’re riding an off-road electric skateboard, wear a full face helmet no matter what speed you’re going. You never know what might happen.
The design of the helmet is really up to you, but don’t buy the cheapest one. You really don’t want to end up with a low quality helmet.
A lot of the gloves made for regular skateboarding won’t work for an electric board, since you have a remote control in one hand at all times.
Many riders choose to use motorcycle gloves, because they offer good protection without the bulk of some skating gloves.
You can also use a more flexible motorcycle glove on your remote hand, and a sturdier skate glove on the other one, if you like. These are popular longboard gloves that offer great protection, but you can see from the design that there’s no way you’d be able to use a remote while wearing them. Wearing one of them on your non-remote hand would provide great protection, though.
Knees are tougher than hands, so a lot of people use their knees to break their fall. It works well but it will cause your knees to weaken over time, and so can lead to serious injury. For that reason, knee pads are a critical piece of protection gear. They aren’t designed for absorbing the impact so much as they’re designed to help you slide through the impact, preventing you from absorbing the shock in the first place keeping your jeans and your skin intact in the process. Any kneepads will do, there’s no reason to try and find ones specially made for electric skateboarding. If you already have knee pads for skating, those will work.
Much like your knees, your elbow joint can weaken over time if it suffers repeated impacts. Wearing elbow pads also provides protection to the rest of your upper body, because it allows you to throw out an elbow to absorb an impact that would’ve otherwise hit your shoulder or clavicle, which are much harder to protect.
Just like with the kneepads, you don’t need anything special here. The elbow pads sold at your local skate shop or the ones you already own will get the job done just fine.
Wrist guards are especially important for people new to electric skateboards. It’s easy to find yourself in a situation where the board zooms out from under you and you fall backwards. You instinctively throw your hands out behind you when that happens, and you’re very likely to break your wrists doing that. Wrist guards add a lot of support and strength.
If you’re going to be riding your board at night or in low-light conditions, it’s a good idea to attach lights and reflectors to your board. In fact, in most places where electric boards are legal, it’s illegal to ride at night without lights and reflectors.
Shred Lights is the most popular brand of lights for electric skateboards right now, and for good reason. Their products are easy to install and very bright. You can attach the lights when you need them and remove them when you don’t, and you don’t need tools to do it. They make bright white head lights to make you visible to others while also illuminating the road ahead of you, and they made red taillights to keep you visible to cars approaching from behind. They also make lights that attach to your helmet, white in front and red in back. Since electric boards are so low to the ground, adding head and tail lights to your helmet increases your visibility.
Illume’s V2 Eboard lights are another popular choice. Like the Shred Light, Illume makes bright white headlights and red taillight. The V2 also comes with different light modes, including a strobe effect to really boost your visibility. These lights come with a lifetime warranty; if your V2 breaks, Illume will replace it no questions asked. These lights are also a lot cheaper than Shred Lights.
Serfas Thunderbolt makes USB-chargeable lights, but users report poor battery life, so it may be best to avoid that brand.
Safe Lights by Koowheel are another option, but users have reported poor build quality on these.
If you’re buying lights to attach to your board, it looks like Shred Lights and Illume are the best options.
You can also wear and LED vest like the one made by Trace360. These are designed for runners but they’ll work just as well for you. The only downside is that, while they make you more visible to cars, they won’t help you to see the road in front of you as well as headlights will.
The Lumos helmet is a bike helmet with LED lights on the back. It also has an accelrometer built in that can detect when your braking, so it has brake lights, too. The T2 Torch helmet is another great option if you want a helmet with built in lights.
Some people use GoPro mounts to attach lights to their helmet or to their board. GoPro equipment is built tough; it’s water resistant and shockproof, so this can be a great option if you already own quality LED lights and just need a way to attach them to a board or helmet while riding.
If you really want to save money, you can also get a DIY light kit. You could also attach strips of LED lights to the underside of the deck. This creates an underglow effect that looks really great while making the board very visible.
If you’re building your own board, one option is to integrate the lights into the deck itself. You can fit them in between layers of wood or fiberglass.
You can also add lights to your remote control, your backpack if you’re wearing one, or buy an LED armband. There are endless options for boosting your visibility when riding at night. Just remember that you’re trying to both see and be seen. That really requires bright headlights in addition to whatever other lighting options you go with. Red taillights are also non-negotiable. Even if you have underglow lights, an LED vest and a lit helmet, you need red taillights for riding at night. You don’t want to take any chances if you’re riding at night; a collision with a car could be fatal, and even if you survive you might have crippling injuries. Light yourself and your board up as much as possible to make sure every car on the road knows exactly where you are.
Before you buy your board, it’s a good idea to know exactly what you need. You may decide that the higher price and lower portability of a longboard is worth it, since they ride better and are easier for beginners. Or, you may have to carry your board a lot, and a penny board might what you need.
If you’re never going to ride at night, you don’t need any lighting at all, but if you are, you probably want as much lighting as you can get.
Knowing which safety gear your going to buy might also affect which board you choose. If you have a set budget, you need to account for the cost of any safety gear you buy. That might mean you have to look for a slightly cheaper board, but it’s better to have a cheaper board and great safety equipment than a really great, high end board and shoddy safety gear.
There are a lot of things to consider when you’re buying an electric skateboard, especially if it’s your first one. Hopefully this guide has given you a lot of useful information, but if you still have questions the people on these forums can offer up a lot of wisdom born of experience:
Make an account for those if you don’t already have one and introduce yourself to the folks in the forum. They love to help people out with decisions like this, and they’re bound to have lots of experience to inform their opinions.
Resources and Further Reading
Should I get a Skateboard or Longboard? A good breakdown of some of the differences between a longboard and a short board.
Longboard vs. Skateboard. Another guide to the differences between the two; this one focuses more on the shortboard.
Boosted Plus. Product page for the Boosted Plus; this gives you the dimensions, weight, and price of the longboard from Boosted Boards.
Boosted Mini S. Product page for the shortboard from Booted Boards. Information on the dimensions, weight and price of their short board.
What is a Penny Board and are they fun to skate? A guide to penny boards. It’s written about non-motorized boards, but most of the information applies to electric penny boards, as well.
LOU 1.0 Electric Skateboard – fun for everyone. One of the more popular electric penny boards on the market. This gives you an idea of the size and price of these boards.
Bamboo GTX Series All Terrain. Highly rated off-road electric longboard. This one’s a hybrid, so it can be ridden on streets and sidewalks as well.
Best off-road electric skateboards in 2019. A guide to the best off-raod boards on the market right now. It lists the top rated models but it also goes over some of the features you should look for and gives some pointers for how to choose one for yourself.
Belt Drive vs Hub Drive? A very informative overview of the differences between the two types of drives you can get on your electric board.
Loaded Boards Leather Downhill Race Longboard Slide Glove. Popular longboarding gloves that provide great protection. You won’t be able to wear these on both hands while on an electric board, but you can still wear one on the hand that isn’t holding the remote control.
Best Electric Skateboard Lights 2019 – see and be seen! A very detailed guide on the many different ways to improve your visibility when riding at night. It covers lights you can attach to your board as well as lights you can wear and provides some information on how to make your own headlights for an electric board.
Tracer 360. A good LED vest to increase your visibility when riding at night.