Add two inline skate wheels with 360-degree rotatable casters to the base of a skateboard and you've got a Fast and Furious-style drifting device known as a freeboard. Developed in the '90s, these boards are an off-season way to enjoy the smooth carving and extended slides of snowboarding when all you have are city streets. But just like on the slopes, when the hills flatten out, so does a lot of the fun. That's what spurred snowboarder Aaron Aders into action in October 2013. He founded LEIF Technologies with the idea for an electric "snowboard for the streets" that could tackle downhill, flat ground and even uphill terrain with ease. While the technology is still in the prototype phase, the company has its eyes on the future and continues to fine-tune the device at its Brooklyn-based workshop. A Kickstarter campaign is currently underway and the final product is scheduled for a spring 2015 release. We caught up with Aders earlier this week to check out the LEIF in person and take it for a spin.
Electric skateboards have been popping up over the years, and after pushing hard on my human-powered deck over rough terrain for 30 minutes to get to the meeting, I can see their allure. Of course, not having skated for about six years will set alight all kinds of soreness, but that's part of the fun. Unlike most electric boards, the LEIF isn't just about making it easier to go from point A to point B. Its freeboard design is all about cruising, carving and enjoying drifts far longer than you can maintain on a normal skateboard. For the uninitiated, a freeboard is essentially a skateboard with a "Rollerblade" type skate wheel mounted on a spinning caster along the inside of each truck. These inner wheels are raised slightly beyond the height of the outer four, allowing you to "float" at sideways angles, similar to carving through the snow on a snowboard. The outer wheels act as edges, providing traction to slow down or grip the road when turning. After a full day of testing one of the first prototypes, Aders found that the LEIF wasn't that far off from its wintry counterpart. Not having ridden a snowboard for a while, he said that the LEIF elicited aches and soreness in all the same places that he'd experienced after a day on the slopes.
The real magic of the LEIF design lies in its tandem 360-degree, rotatable, power caster wheels driven by 18 nano-phosphate lithium-ion batteries (LiFePO4) -- nine for each motor. The battery pack is housed in a 3D-printed shell on top of the deck and sends juice to the two 2,000W brushless motors underneath, providing about 5.5HP and propelling the board at speeds of up to 20MPH. The current design for the casters delivers electricity to three concentric rings of copper through three conductive pads that press against them like needles in a record groove, allowing for its full 360-degree range of spin. The final design aims to use bearings for the rotation, as well as conducting the electrical current to the motors.
Speed is controlled through a single hand-held 2.4GHz radio remote, which Aders found to be more reliable and resilient in the field than IR and had less competing noise than Bluetooth (at least in the city). After jumping on the board for a test ride, it only took a minute or two to figure out the right amount of pressure for the throttle and holding the control was less of a bother than you might think. To slow down, you simply let off the throttle and use the wheels as traction to reduce speed or spin to a stop.
The setup is currently a Freebord brand deck, trucks and wheels, and falls somewhere between a regular skateboard and a longboard in length. And with all the motors and batteries on board, it weighs in at a respectable 15 pounds, although it's hardly noticeable while riding since it's motorized. Snowboarders and skateboarders should have no trouble getting comfortable on it, although skaters may need a moment to get used to the idea of foot clips. If you lose your balance and need to bail, though, it's easy enough to jump out of them without getting hung up.
As for battery life, the LEIF's rechargeable system lasts for about eight miles of riding -- depending on the terrain. The battery pack can be replenished through a standard wall outlet -- although LEIF is considering solar as a possible alternative -- and takes only about one hour to get the battery up to 100 percent. That's more than enough juice for a local commute or a decent day's session out on the streets.
You can get in on a Kickstarter Early Bird deal starting at $1,299 for one of the first production run LEIF boards -- at least until the campaign ends on August 31st. That price puts it on par with other electric boards when you consider the feature set, range and power. So, whether you're a snowboarder, skater, surfer or a Segway user who's looking for a bit more style, the LEIF should probably be on your radar.
Edgar Alvarez contributed to this report.