If nothing else, 2016 was the year that electric skateboards grew up. Some of the first companies in the market released their second-generation boards, like the Boosted Board 2, the ZBoard 2, and the Yuneec E-Go2, making electric skateboards broadly available. People who want to ride and don’t mind paying a several-hundred-dollar premium for the convenience of premade board finally had a handful of options.
This boom created space for new ideas, new companies, and — finally — some healthy competition. And there’s no better example of all this than the Inboard M1.
The M1 launched as a Kickstarter project in early 2015. We previewed it at CES last year, where its streamlined design first caught our eye. We noted that it promised an even higher level of integration than its competition, including standout features like a swappable battery, built-in LEDs, and motors built directly into the wheels. Now over 800 Kickstarter backers have received their boards and we have a production sample to test. We decided put it through its paces in both nice weather and the punishing extreme of a New York City winter.
The M1 entered the market at $1,399 — the high end of electric boards — and is only $100 less than the top-tier version of the Boosted Board. The choice between the two boards had been made even more difficult because, for a while, neither company was shipping. But now, while Boosted Boards are currently only available for reserve following a battery recall, Inboard is down to a 3-week delay between clicking “order” and the board shipping. It’s a temporary advantage for Inboard, but an important one nonetheless.
The M1 is at the high end of the electric skateboard market
From an outsider’s perspective, electric skateboards might seem indistinguishable from each other, or simply a choice of design preference. And this is true to a certain extent, but the devil is in the details.
The Inboard M1 rides much differently from competition like the Boosted Board 2 or the Yuneec E-Go 2. The E-Go2 is sluggish, chunky, and not very scary. The Boosted Board feels like riding an exquisite horse that’s been shot with a full dose of adrenaline. But the M1 feels like riding a ship from Mass Effect. It looks high-tech, feels high-tech, and even sounds high-tech.
Easy to learn on but good for experts, too
Inboard positions the M1 as a board for everyone, but insists that it was designed for enthusiasts. A characteristic like the stiffness of the board, they said, was necessary for taking curves at max speed, something that pro riders would enjoy.
As an everyday Boosted Board rider, the stiffness of the M1 was something that initially irked me, but grew on me over time. Boosted Boards use a bamboo deck that is extremely flexible, and this gives your feet a feeling of connection with the ground that adds a sort of cognitive understanding of the ride. But when you’re riding at max speed, that excessive flexibility can make the board hard to control if the road isn’t perfectly smooth. Not so with the M1. At high speeds the board feels stable, which is good even if I feel like I’m missing something at lower speeds.
Then there’s the marquee feature of the M1: the swappable battery. While the Boosted Board and the M1 have a similar range of seven miles — depending on hills and rider weight — the M1’s modular battery can be swapped for a freshly charged one in seconds. Practically speaking, this means that the M1’s range is only limited by the number of batteries that you’re willing to buy (for $249) and carry in your bag. The Boosted Board charges quickly, but you still have to plug it in for around 45 minutes every seven miles with the standard battery and can’t just swap in a new battery on the fly like the M1. (Boosted promises to sell an extended-range battery in 2017, but that product has been delayed.)
For commuters, swappable batteries are a game changer, and the M1’s implementation really is top notch. The batteries themselves charge with a MagSafe-esque magnetic charger, and once they’re charged, you place them inside a cavity in the top of the board by twisting the handle and popping the hatch open. Then you just slide the battery down so it connects with the board, and you’re good to go. Swapping the batteries takes just a couple of minutes — less if you’re acquainted with the somewhat fiddly handle — but you’ll need to be gentle with the battery door, as it’s a thin piece of plastic that feels a little fragile. All in all, though, the M1’s swappable battery is such a revelation that it’s hard to go back to other boards with built-in batteries.
There are other notable differences between the M1 and its competitors, like the M1’s high tech, Jetsons-like sound, which comes from the board’s hub motors. Where most other boards use belted motors, hub motors sit inside of the wheel. They give the board a 1:1 gear ratio, which makes it far easier to push (with your feet) if you run out of batteries. The downside is that there’s not as much initial zip; belted motors like the ones on the Boosted Board and the E-Go2 give you a lot more power right out of the gate, and this was what disappointed me the most about the M1.
In-wheel motors give the M1 a smooth ride at the cost of acceleration
The M1’s lack of speed off the line has implications beyond personal thrills, too. For example, the Boosted Board’s torque is indispensable when trying to scoot through a congested intersection, or attempting to avoid obstacles (like cyclists and jaywalkers). In New York City, long stretches of road where you could reach the M1’s top speed and maintain it simply aren’t common. Busy intersections and random obstacles definitely are. But in spacious parts of California or in more suburban settings, the M1’s top speed and stability might be a real advantage — it simply depends on where you live and what you’re looking for.
Inboard also built a lot of subtle perks into the M1, like the front and tail lights. They don’t illuminate the road very well, but they do make you more visible as a rider. Pairing the board to the remote or the app is also delightful: you tap a touch-sensitive area on the underside of the board which causes the lights to fade in and out, not unlike MacBook Pros of old. The remote that Inboard provides isn’t particularly impressive, but it’s worlds better than the one that comes with the E-Go2. Plus you can turn the board on and off with the remote, a feature that isn’t on any other board I’ve used.
At $1,399, many people will wonder whether the M1 is worth the price. And some of those people will want to know if it’s a better buy than the Boosted Board 2. If you’re willing to spend more than $1,000 on an electric skateboard, you’re likely to be looking for a very high-end recreational vehicle, or something viable for a daily commute. The Inboard M1 delivers in both cases, particularly when you consider the M1’s swappable battery. And if the M1 was built for sporty riders who want a polished, high-performance machine, it delivers there, too.
When it comes to deciding which board is right for you, it really does come down to personal preference. For me, riding long stretches of road and taking tight curves at max speed just isn’t part of my use case in the city. However, if those are high on your list of priorities, the Inboard M1 provides an experience you can’t get anywhere else. But considering the pace at which new boards are hitting the market, it wouldn’t be surprising if something cheaper is just around the corner.
Update February 1st, 1:57PM ET: Inboard has started shipping non-Kickstarter orders. This post has been updated to reflect that.