The Future of Transportation is Here, and It’s Personal

I’m wobbling my way down a road on a dual-motor LiftBoard, a $600 electric longboard that I struggle to tame. I realize pretty early on that any prior experience with a skateboard would’ve been a welcome safety net, but I’m determined to learn the ins and outs of boarding before I crack my head on the asphalt.

After about an hour and a half with the board, I’m cranking up the speed into the teens — I start in beginner mode maxing out at 9 miles an hour before eventually cruising along at close to double that. It’s a rush zipping down the street, and I begin to ask myself why I’d never longboarded before.

While I’m on the board, I start to consider the commute I’ll be taking in the fall, a three mile drive to campus from my apartment in a neighboring town. And the longer I fail to properly carve, the more I’m considering ditching my car a few days a week to weave in and out of traffic on the way to school. “This is personal transportation,” I tell myself. “This is what it should be.”

I’m not the only person who sees the future of relatively inexpensive consumer transport devices; both the Segway, now assigned to mall police and lazy city tours, and the “hoverboard,” the trend that erupted in a ball of smoke, tried to help you ditch the clunky car for a smoother experience. But both of these devices, in one way or another, were pretty massive flops, failing to meet the needs of consumers who needed equal parts speed, portability, and safety.

That’s where electric skateboards fit in — the Liftboard I mentioned earlier advertises a max speed of roughly 18 mph, a range of about 16 miles, and sports a handle so you can pick it up and carry it with you. It’s immediately recognizable, however, that this device isn’t for your grandma to get to work on. It’s a careful experience made for students on campus or millennials to use on their commute, a target market that seems limited in scope but grows daily.

As millennials grow into making meaningful purchasing decisions, the benefits offer by electric skateboards line up with their values: they’re relatively cheap, environmentally friendly, and don’t run the risk of becoming a social experience. And as work becomes more mobile, it becomes easier to conceive of riding around the city to meetings, coffee shops, bars, and back home.

When I asked Sam Sheffer, YouTuber and electric skateboard evangelist, if the future of transportation involves eSkating, he took it one step further: “It’s absolutely the present transportation.” The benefits, Sheffer said, are “better than any alternative,” advocating especially for the boards when trips require a range of 1–3 miles or when you need to go inside.

In my experiences with the Liftboard, I was able to travel roughly 3 miles in about 15 minutes at max speed. Of course, that emphatically trumps walking, and even begins to put it in the realm of getting in my car, driving to my location, and parking. As Sheffer put it, “it’s so damn convenient” — there’s no gas to buy, no parking to consider, and it’s much more fun, too.

There are some pretty obvious negatives with electric skateboards, though, and they are massively difficult for the industry to solve. First, the price: while you can buy in at around $500, the most respected brands are going to bring you to MacBook-levels of expense. Then comes the issue of variation, which manifests in hundreds of different boards with specs that vary in weird ways. For example, the consumer-favorite Boosted Board offers a top speed of 22 MPH and a flexible board, but struggles to match the range of the $600 Liftboard; however, the Liftboard’s maple deck creates a more rigid riding experience.

But the most glaring issue for eSkating is that not everyone is willing to put themselves at the risk the boards offer, where you’re one patch of gravel away from breaking an arm. Although price and specs will eventually get better for the average consumer, the inherent risk that comes from skateboards will always stay. This returns us to the same conclusion found earlier, which is that electric skateboarding is for “kids these days,” not only because of the stigma, but also because of the potential for injury.

Even so, electric skateboards are bound to find the same market where hoverboards landed, especially with inevitable price drops as the tech improves. Walking down a college campus, you’ll witness students’ desire to get around faster, whether they’re on a bike, pushing themselves on a skateboard, or hopping on a bus to go just a half of a mile. Or take a look in New York City, where Sheffer told me he sees eBoards almost daily for people looking to improve their commute. As our devices get faster, we want to be more efficient, and zooming down the road rather than hailing an Uber gets us ever closer.

Practically, electric skateboards aren’t going to revolutionize transportation like cars, busses, or subways. What they will do — and are currently doing for a small group of people — is taking an already existing infrastructure of sidewalks, roads, and alleys and providing shortcuts, all while remaining effortless. And it would seem that as we venture further into the future, we become all about the effortless.

Edit: I want to mention, of course, that Liftboard provided me with their dual-motor board. However, this post was by no means sponsored by Liftboard and my opinions of the board were honest.

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