If you haven’t seen one of these, you will. They will be on every kid’s wishlist come Christmas and they’ll reignite our fervent consumerism, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Tickle Me Elmo or Razor Scooter years, probably. This rover board/hover board whatever you call it is just plain silly fun. Everyone that has seen me use it has been utterly dumbfounded by its wizardry*. I can’t believe I’ve been using my legs like a sucker this whole time.
The Name and Nitty Gritty.
The board doesn’t have an official name. There’s a factory in China that builds all of them and they resell them to different distributors. A cursory search into Amazon or Google yields many names for this deelio – Rover Board, 2 Wheel Rover, Self balancing scooter, all bring you to the same product. They also have, more or less, the same specs. They all run on the same rechargeable battery and charger with a weird proprietary connection that I’ve never seen stateside. A single charge lasts pretty long. They quote 10 miles (depending on your weight and incline of surfaces rovered on), which is a little wishful thinking, maybe in perfectly flat and smooth conditions can you achieve that figure. I’ve been using it in real world conditions and realistically it’s only 5miles. Cool thing is I’ve only had to charge it once this whole week. I’m assuming that the guts of the board is all steel construction with a bonkers Tesla battery or something because it’s pretty robust and weighs a hefty 30lbs. When I do have to charge the board it probably takes about 4 hours to fully charge. Max speed is 15 KM/HR or about 9 MPH (Avg walking speed = 4mph).
The reason why these specs are approximate is because when I received my rover board, it didn’t come with a manual or any additional documentation. NO WARRANTY, NO INSTRUCTIONS, NO SAFETY INFO. Which is kind of funny because it shows how much China cares about liability. It’s like a big middle finger from China to the US’s legal system. “China don’t owe you shizz. Tough luck if the thing hurts you, it’s your own damn fault for falling on this thing.” The box I got didn’t even have a picture of the board on it. The entire package was like Lindsay Lohan that one time – barebones.
Confession time. I don’t know how to skateboard. But within 2 minutes, I had this thing down pat. There’s a moment of wobbliness, but once you start trusting the motors and gyroscopes it feels natural. You just think about walking forward and it goes. And stopping only requires a lean back. Unlike Segway operations, using the roverboard is more about tipping your feet forward and back as opposed to leaning your full body in. This calf workout feels much safer.
There are two pads that register your presence on the board. Use your dominant foot to step on and position it mid-foot. Then bring your second foot up, like climbing stairs when you were 3 or 73. The motors will try to keep your first foot level when you hop on; keep your foot flat, don’t put too much pressure on your toes or heels. The board works on an axle system where the right and left wheels turn independently of each other, the antithesis of a differential. Tip both toes down and the board moves forward. Go heel heavy and it stops forward movement. Continuing to push your heels down will generate backwards movement. Tip one foot forward more than the other and that’s how you turn and pull off sweet ice skater spins. The board doesn’t have to start in a certain orientation to use, there’s no specific front or back. It can work with the LED lights facing forward or with the LED lights facing behind you. That’s basically it. It’s pretty simple operationally. However, the simplicity of the system does have some caveats.
At max speed, unless the surface you’re traveling on is perfectly flat and bump free, the rover board is sketchy. The gyroscopes aren’t fast enough to keep up with your momentum, so the motors overcompensate too late, making the board unstable. And since your balance is better in a lateral stance than a forward-backward stance while moving forward, you will fall harder or more often than if you were on say a skateboard. That’s just physics ya’ll. Additionally, if there’s a gap in the pavement or curb that’s larger than 2 inches, be prepared to slow down or bail quickly. Always bail backwards while going fast; you may bail forward if you lose your balance going slow eat much unwanted pavement. I would advise using a helmet your first outing, but once you get the hang of it and don’t want to be called a nerd anymore, you won’t really need it. You shouldn’t even be traveling that fast on this thing anyway. Beware steep inclines, and ramps. Thankfully, these boards are ADA compliant (I’m talking about the yellow bumpy Armor Tiles on corners of sidewalks and along BART stations).
Because of the board’s lack of instructions, I don’t know what the blue LEDs on the front mean when they flash. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for why they start flashing. For safety, I usually position the board with the LEDs facing backwards when I’m on the street so cars and cyclists can see me. When the battery indicator light is green you’ve got enough charge, but I don’t know what the round light located next to it does. The battery light turns orange when the battery is low and the board will start beeping at you. The beeps also chime in when turning the board on and off, stepping on or off, and when the board needs to reset itself for gyroscope balance. Usually that happens after you fall off of it. Acoustically, the rover board is dead silent. All you’ll hear is tire noise. It’s quieter than going to a restaurant alone.
I bought my hover board from Amazon for two reasons. One: Amazon’s buyer’s guarantee. Two: It only costs $400 there. Typically, after these boards leave the Chinese factory, companies that buy and distribute them upsell them here in America. The PhunkyDuck and IO-Hawk brands mark up the price 300%, bringing the total cost to around the $1500 range. Crazy. That’s why you only see wealthy kids and NBA stars using them first.
I ultimately bought mine was because beloved Youtube personality, Casey “American Badass” Neistat, filmed a neat short detailing his experience with the board and how to score one cheap from the internet. Chinese factories build the boards for $200. You could buy one directly from Alibaba.com at that price, but I felt more secure using Amazon.com. I’m also a sucker for Amazon Prime free shipping. Be forewarned however, it took almost a month to get my board. Chinese-American customs held up my order for the majority of the time. But thankfully the seller I bought my board from emailed me updates (broken English and all), and provided reassurance that I would get my order and be happy with my purchase, and boy they did not disappoint.
I was originally saving up my money to get a Playstation 4. I’m glad I got the hoverboard instead. Everyone that sees the board for the first time are all smiles and express a child-like wonderment – like seeing a new born baby or witnessing the first-gen iPhone for the first time. A barrage of questions always follow. How does it work? How much is it? Is it difficult to ride? I particularly loved hearing a certain question, because I loved answering it in a particular way.
Normal Person: “Where did you get it from?”
Me: “The future, my child. The future.” [floats away with ease, as if on a cloud of pixie dust]
Normal Person (now changed person): [Shook]
It’s seriously better than owning a Ferrari, because it attracts the good kind of attention. A lot of folks on the street stare or ask politely what it is. Riding it around Oakland, I get a lot of hollering. You look cool being on it. You feel cool being on it. And not in a snobby San Franciscan way. And that alone is priceless.
I have yet to bring it while commuting on BART. I’m a little worried I might get jumped for it. My hope is once these things proliferate and become cheaper, it won’t be as much of a concern for theft.
Don’t be rude. The worst stigma we could give these ‘fun-boards’ is that riders are a bunch of clueless ass-hats (Drone Users). Treat it like a skateboard. Let pedestrians know you’re coming up behind them and which side you choose to pass them on. Be mindful of cars and bicyclists while using it on the street. Because you’re going much slower than them always give them the right of way.
Rubber gasket cover for the charging port to prevent water or debris from damaging the pins. A faster, more sophisticated gyroscope and motors to solve the stability issues. And lastly, use of lighter materials such as aluminum (or carbon fiber). It’s not a deal breaker, but lugging around 30lbs inside an office building while using stairs is tiring. They do make carrying bags, but they’re inelegant. They make you look like a yoga nut, and are about as cool as walking your bike.
*Thanks Sieg for that reference