We spotted the dudes behind the ZBoard at TechCrunch Disrupt earlier this week, but we weren't content to just ride the electric skateboard up and down the halls of Pier 94. We asked them to take a walk with us to Washington Square Park so we could take the board for a spin in a more realistic setting -- also, any excuse to skip out of work a bit earlier to go skating in the park on a sunny Friday afternoon is hard to turn down. We initially asked them to meet us at one of New York City's many skate parks, but they balked at the suggestion -- after all, it's more of a commuting board than anything else. It's big and fairly heavy, so attempting to go vert with the thing is pretty much out -- grinding and kickflips are likely off the table, too.
Co-creator Geoff Larson told us he managed to get the thing up on two wheels, but that's about the limit of trickery at the moment -- we're sure that'll change pretty quickly, as soon as more boards make their way into the hands of the public. In the meantime, the ZBoard is all about getting around, giving you about 10 miles on a single charge. Larson added that one skater said he planned to use his ZBoard to make the long trip to the skatepark and back, carrying his manual board along for the ride. Join us after the break for some sneakers-on impressions.
We tried the board out in our offices first. Baby steps. After all, as anyone who's ever ridden board on the island of Manhattan can tell you, the experience is a bit like 720° crossed with Paperboy. We flinched a bit at the concept of riding the thing on the linoleum floors of our building -- generally, skateboards and glossy floors don't really mix, but Larson and fellow co-creator Ben Forman assured us that the ZBoard is an all-terrain vehicle, thanks to its big, treaded wheels. Sure enough, the board rode just fine on linoleum and took on the indoor carpeting with ease.
There's still a bit of a learning curve here, even for experienced skaters. The board has two black, circular pads on top of the deck. The front is for accelerating while the rear is for decelerating and stopping. The more you lean your weight into the front, the faster you go. There's also a bit of a dead man's brake functionality at work here, stopping the board when you remove your foot from the front. The team is working to improve that, however, so riders don't have to keep their foot on the front pad at all times if they want to coast along. We had a bit of trouble adjusting out feet during riding, but you get the hang of that pretty quickly. The most difficult part of learning the board is turning. It's a big board, and thanks to the motor on the bottom of the deck, the weight is distributed differently -- we found ourselves taking much wider turns to make our way around corners.
After 30 seconds on the thing indoors, we naturally figured it was time go cruising through the park at the beginning of a crowded spring holiday weekend. We watched Forman and Larson take the board out first -- it's amazing what a little practice does. We had a little more trouble on our first run outside, but managed to weave around park-goers without crashing into any -- even if our turns were quite a bit wider than theirs. Thanks in part to carved-out wheel wells on the bottom and back lip (both new additions to the form factor that we first saw back at CES), reasonably tight turns are possible here. At a top speed of 17 mph, the thing is also pretty zippy for a skateboard -- we wouldn't recommended trying to reach the top speed the first time out, as it's a bit tough to master the braking situation. Instinctually, we found ourselves taking our feet off the board when it was time to brake -- though Forman tipped us to keep our feet on for maximum ZBoard style points.
Other improvements to the board, since the last time we saw it, include improved electric performance, a new maple deck with a new shape (all US-sourced) and a leather grip handle -- handy, given the size and weight of the board. The team managed to sell 350 boards with its Kickstarter company, as well. Pricing for the boards starts at $500. The pro-model we got to play with will run you $750 (all plus $50 shipping, domestically). The boards will start shipping this summer.