Greased Lightning: The 3.4 kW Gnarboard Trail Rider electric skateboard
By Mike Hanlon
June 5, 2012
The recent availability of high capability electric motors is currently in the process of revolutionizing every aspect of personal transport, but something we weren't expecting was the resurgence of the electric skateboard.
In a short time, electric skateboards have gone from being docile and anemic to having enough power to do burn-outs and wheelies.
In April we looked at all the available 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-wheel transportation appliances on the market, but envisaged nothing quite like the newly announced US$6100 Gnarboard 4WD Trail Rider.
While the 39 kg (86 pounds) Trail Rider doesn't really fit the weight criteria for a transportation appliance, if used in conjunction with a larger vehicle it would certainly fit the bill for last mile transport. With 3.4 kW at its disposal, it makes short work of its 39 kg weight, it is certainly capable of performing very rapid urban transit for a range of 25 kilometers (16 miles). With just two hours at a domestic powerpoint required to charge the battery from empty, the Gnarboard offers some compelling features as a commuter, albeit a potentially very rapid and responsive one.
All the Gnarboards are constructed from durable high quailty aluminium and come with with a hand controller sending instructions to the four 850 W motors. Peak power output is a whopping 16.5 kW which gives it a power-to-weight ratio better than most cars, but the four low geared electric motors with their inherently robust and controllable low-down torque, offer an extreme ride beyond that.
The Trail Rider's forte is brutal acceleration. It accelerates so hard that it can hit its top speed of 28 mph in 1.9 seconds, which is faster than 90% of road cars.
The Gnarboard Trail Rider is not just built for tarmac, which makes it more extreme again, and it can be ridden through soft sand and up the steepest of trails. Try that in your Bugatti Veyron!
Providing, of course, you can ride it.
Being able to ride something like the Gnarboard Trail Rider without appearing a complete fool will take a person of average coordination a lot of practice. Indeed, being able to consider one of these as a regular form of transport probably signifies someone with a special aptitude, as it is more than capable of challenging the best of the best.
If you can ride a skateboard, you're miles ahead of the pack already, and probably with the reflexes to control the power slides with some practice.
Look at the videos and see if you don't disagree with me - even the most extreme and adaptable athlete with immense core strength, superb balance, excellent coordination, and lightning reflexes will need some time in building the relevant skill sets which directly apply from skateboarding.
Ridden with such skills, no doubt the result of lots of practice scratching up high quality body armor, Gnarboard's two 3.4 kW boards could undoubtedly be the equivalent of a Stradivarius violin - even with such skills, some very well credentialed people have bitten the dust coming to grips with it.
The creator of the Gnarboard, Industrial Designer Joshua Tulberg, gives the same advice to everyone no matter who they are - "squeeze the trigger very slowly."
"If you are familiar with riding skateboards, then you just have to get familiar with controlling this kind of power," says Joshua.
"Acceleration and braking are controlled with a hand-controller, with which the rider squeezes one direction to accelerate and another direction to apply the regenerative brakes. You have to be a skilled rider to take full advantage of the power these skateboards produce.
"Most riders end up on their butt the first time they try it."
Almost certainly the Gnarboard will become a favorite of extreme sports artistes who will find new ways of expressing themselves with spectacular tire-spinning, wheelstanding antics demonstrating their daring and exquisite throttle control.
Throttle control is fairly simple ... and very sensitive
In all there are three Gnarboard models at present, though their handmade status of three a month means you can spec the boards as you wish and you'll need to wait for a while. All have a recharge time of around two hours from a domestic power supply.
The US$4800 Commuter is probably not what it seems, and indeed, if you envisage the essence of the word "commuter," the description on a 1.4 kW skateboard is somewhat of a misnomer.
The 2WD Commuter is the lightest of the range at 71 pound (32.2 kg) and is designed to feel more like a traditional longboard. It has a low deck height and slick tires and runs one 700 W motor on each rear wheel for a total of 1.4 kW of power and a pretty reasonable range of 18 to 21 miles (29-34 km).
If you like the idea of rear-wheel drive only, you can have the optional 850 W motors fitted for a total of 1.7 kW.
The Road Warrior is probably the pick of the bunch if you only intend to venture only onto the consistent grip of tarmac.
It has the advantage of same four wheel drive as the Trail Rider and it can be specced with four 500 W motors for 2.0 kW of power or four 850 W motors for 3.4 kW, which gives it the same power and acceleration times as the Trail Rider, though the 400 W controller would also need to be added.
Gnarboards suggests the 4WD system is far superior to the 2WD system for traction, control, cornering speed and anything else you can measure. It also has a truck-dampening system that helps to reduce the chance of speed wobbles from the high speed trucks. The huge advantage the US$5500 Road Warrior has is the slick tires - with a very controllable 3.4 kW underneath you, the slicks will offer much more traction and enable far greater control.
Given what it can do - I think the Gnarboard probably deserves a place in the Transportation Appliance market, even though it probably can't be ridden by most people and might well not be legal in your locality.
European laws now allow for 500 W of power without need for registration, but 3.4 kW is roughly seven times that amount, and Gnarboard riders may well find themselves thrown in amongst the traffic given the existing laws where you live.
It probably goes without saying that US$6000 is a lot to spend on a skateboard, so make sure you'll get to use it before purchasing.
Urban transport options grow by the day and the Gnarboard offers a US$6000 high-performance vehicle with carving steering, making it something akin to a surfboard or skiing when in motion. Carving vehicles are invariably more fun, more rewarding to ride and the Gnarboard looks to be a real gem.
Incredibly rewarding to ride well, the Gnarboard has all the hallmarks of a future enthusiast brand developed by an engineer with a passion - like Ferrari, and Lotus, and McLaren, except in a new market catering for a new wave of youthful and athletic consumers.
The remarkable thing about the Gnarboard is that it's a zero-local-emissions vehicle with supercar performance that can be run on a sub-commuting budget - cheaper than bus, train and tram fares, and quicker, and more fun.
Yes, the price tag may look formidable in comparison to a skateboard, but not so if you look at the performance for the price - there really isn't anything out there in this category because of the extreme power of the Gnarboard. Low cost of ownership is a plus, and apart from ensuring you have somewhere safe to ride it, the only thing you need to worry about are the risks inherent in owning a Ferrari for your feet.