Are DIY Electric Skateboards Cheaper? | The False Economy

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Jason
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Joined: Mon Jul 31, 2017 9:54 am

Are DIY Electric Skateboards Cheaper? | The False Economy

Post by Jason » Thu Aug 03, 2017 8:17 am

Warning: This article was meant to be a generic overview of the cost of building your own electric skateboard & it was meant to be short!............but it turns out its a fairly complicated topic because it deals with business ethics, manufacturing, over engineering, the false economy, psychology, customer satisfaction & expectations and the intricate details of the emerging DIY electric skateboard industry. I also had to make reference to my business EBoards for real life examples so what was meant to be extrospective now might seem a little introspective....

If you want quick answers here they are:
YES building your own electric skateboard can be cheaper than buying one in a box.
NO a self built eboard probably won't be as good or better than a bought one if you buy all the cheapest hobby gear available.
YES a DIY-e-SK8 will be better in nearly every way, including reliability, top speed, torque, range, aesthetics & charge time if you build it with quality & custom made electric skateboard parts.
NO Just because you build something yourself doesn't mean it should be cheaper then something pre-built.
YES You will waste money blowing stuff up if it is the cheapest stuff you could find on the internet. The cheap DIY eboard build quickly becomes the hole in your pocket!
If you have time to read a semi-rant that goes for several pages please continue!
Often people will comment on The Enertion Boards YouTube Channel374 about the cost of building a DIY electric skateboard using enertion parts VS just buying a "boosted Board" or any of the other "in-a-box" solutions.

The comments usually go something like this:

"Your parts are too expensive & I also have to assemble it myself so it should be cheap, why don't I just go by a boosted board / zboard / marbel / inboard / .... etc... etc??"
Its a great question! & The answer is actually fairly complicated
Now don't get me wrong, I am the first to admit that not all Enertion parts win the prize for being the cheapest available and really that's not my objective in business! Go to hobbyking.com if you want the cheapest junk electronics you can find (note: they also have premium stuff too that is expensive). Or go buy a piece of shit complete longboard from amazon if you think our trucks & wheels are too costly.... Our mission is to provide High Quality, Affordable & Purpose Made parts to make building a High Performance, High Quality, Reliable, Electric skateboard at home Quick & Easy.

So it's true some of our parts aren't the cheapest on the internet! However the stuff we sell lots of ("lots" is a relative term - I run my small business from my garage so packing 20 or 30 orders a week is what I call "lots" but its really nothing in terms of manufacturing economy of scale) such as the motor mounting hardware & pulleys are actually very competitively priced with little profit margin... So to all those internet trolls please go & do your homework before you blurt out your ridiculous comments on public forums, such as "that too expensive, blah" it makes you look uneducated! & you are probably the perfect candidate for falling into the false economy TRAP! So beware!

It's also worth noting the Motor Mounting parts we are selling cannot easily be made yourself at home without very specialist tools & prior knowledge. They are custom made parts, manufactured in small production runs. So yeah a motor mount & pulleys and a drive belt is probably always going to cost over $100 for at least a few more years until our company or some other big name player does a run of 10,000+ units which is when you can start to get parts made very cheaply. For instance instead of CNC'ing parts from aluminium billet you would cast everything in molds then polish it up... & its probably half the price! But not as strong!

If you do want to prove me wrong though please go ahead, I now offer my Enertion Motor Mount designs free of charge through an open source license for you to make at home... or maybe go get a quote from your local CNC shop to make one set... then you will understand how much it costs. Download files417

Anyway.....

Lets talk Electronics, The custom made electronics components are the products that most frequently get perceived as expensive by the novice eboard builder, Such as the Enertion S.P.A.C.E Cell Battery, The Enertion R-SPEC Motors, VESC (An advanced open source motor controller) .... Yes this stuff will very likely seem expensive in comparison to the common parts that most first time DIY Electric Skateboard Builders source from hobbyking.com. Its because they are better parts & they are custom designed to give you a better build quality, better features, easier assembly & superior reliability.

So why does everyone always look at buying most of the parts they need from the online hobby retailers when all this awesome custom made eboard stuff is now available?
There are two main reasons.
1. The parts from online hobby stores are super cheap & people love cheap!
2. It's what they have been told to buy by the majority of DIY electric skateboard builders on the online forums for the last few years, mostly because until recently there were no other good options, such as the items I listed above.

So if the hobby stuff is so bad how come more people aren't complaining? People are happy to document their build and show off their handy work, but rarely will people completely and publicly document and discuss when their self built pride and joy caught fire during a catastrophic motor seizure that catapulted them 20 feet through the air into a pile of stinging nettles..... Maybe it is the fear of being wrong or feeling like your building skills are not as good as others.... Don't get me wrong, from time to time you will hear stories of how someone's DIY electric skateboard build failed, But for every story you hear there will be 10 more stories of product failure that you don't hear about on the public forums...

I know about this topic well.... I have been building electric skateboards for people since enertion officially launched about 16 months ago.. When I started out I also only used hobby parts & Flier ESC's... Hence the reason I stopped selling a lot of electronics kit on my website... Reliability was terrible! Failure rate at one point with Flier ESC was about 2 in 10.... That is really bad for business, which I will discuss more below! The 6S Lipo Batteries I was getting from hobbyking.com where also terrible and would commonly get puffy or have bad cells, not to mention a pain in the ass to charge.. One of my customers nearly burnt down a house because he left a faulty LIPO battery on charge at a mates house (thankfully it was outside on the deck) and went to the pub...BAD IDEA!. The cheaper battery chargers where also shit, I think I had about 3 or 4 faulty units in one batch! & the motors where hit & miss.... That is when I realised if the DIY electronics skateboard industry is going to be legitimate industry we need to improve every part! we will need better quality everything!

I realised if the DIY Electronic Skateboard Industry is going to be legitimate industry we need to improve every part! We will need better quality everything!
In this paragraph I will focus on reason #2 from above: When I first started to research how to build an electric skateboard I had no prior knowledge of RC hobby electronics, I didn't know what an ESC was or what 6S LIPO meant! So like anyone you start reading what other people use, I spent about 3 months doing solid research. This opens up a can of worms, as everyone uses lots of different stuff.... But the common thread is that most of it is purchased from the online hobby stores. So you assume that it must be ok stuff (like I said, people rarely report failures publicly), so now all you need is comprehensive list of the parts to buy... and fortunately in the online forums eventually people made these lists, some folks were even selling this info because it was actually not available in a concise format anywhere. Eventually the info became freely available in a digestible format. Here are two of the most comprehensive ones:

> FREE Step By Step 6S Electric Longboard Build Guide1.2k
> How to build an Electric skateboard tutorial493

Both these lists are amazing because they are a blue print on how to build your Eboard & What parts to buy & why.... This would have saved me a huge amount of time if they were available when I first started researching my first build which was probably 2 years ago now... Before these lists were created you had to compile the knowledge yourself from reading 100's of different user "build threads" and asking heaps of stupid questions.

So if these list of what parts to purchase are so useful, what's the my point?
The problem is the lists where made just as business like Enertion Boards were being born (and DIYelectricskateboards.com), There was no VESC, there was no custom made 18650 Batteries with BMS and simple one port charging (no one was even talking about 18650 for eboards), the where very few custom made motors with modified shafts & keyways, there where no custom made compact remote controls and there was only one place (Alien Drive System) to buy a motor mount and it only was compatible with one truck type.

Over the last two years if you wanted to build an electric skateboard you were told to buy your motor, battery & esc from the online hobby stores & if you wanted a "better" quality ESC, or a "dual motor esc" to consider buying one manufactured by Flier (A Chinese factory who make various ESC) sold by Alien Power System & previously Enertion, DIYelectricskateboards & Bubble Gum Boards (who no longer trade, mainly due to reliability issues with cheap electronics)

Well I am sorry to say but all this information is now out dated!
NOTE REGARDING THE FLIER ESC: Originally available only from Alien Power Systems, eventually word spread that the supplier was a Chinese company called ShenZhen Flier Electronic Co, These ESC actually use to have a very good reputation and I still have some that work fine, but something seriously went wrong just under 12 months ago and the reliability turned too shit! I have a feeling that some of the parts they where originally used may have been substituted to lower grade components to save money, also I think changes were made with the firmware that caused lots of problems. When stuff catches fire it is bad for business, so now I refuse to by from them.
The fact of the matter is, in this game you get what you pay for! So maybe enertion electronics are a bit more expensive but that is because we have had enough of the rubbish hobby grade gear! When you buy enertion you are buying the next level up, so there is plenty of reason to pay a bit more initially to save you hassle later. It is in our best interest to ensure the board you build with our parts is extremely reliable & far better then the "in-a-box-solutions".

It is extremely important for our business that our reputation remain unblemished, So let me explain further some reasons why Enertion went the "premium" to "semi-premium" route (There is always more expensive stuff we could buy and try to sell to you but there is actually a point when there are diminishing returns - just like the old saying "don't gild the lilly"). As I mentioned, Basically I got sick & tired of bad quality electronics, its impossible to run a business if you have product failures. Yes, things will always break it is impossible to guarantee they won't that is why we have a warranty. The problem from a business point of view, with cheap stuff that fails frequently, it is exponential in the negative effects it has on a business & brand reputation and word spreads fast when business don't deliver what they promise.

This might sound counter-intuitive as I just finished ranting on about how people don't talk publicly about product failure as much as it might actually be happening... Well there is exception to this rule... If the person buys the parts in a kit from a specialist retailer (such as enertion) who claims to have quality custom made parts that make building a high quality reliable electric skateboard quick & easy.... well now they would have much more reason to publicly vent about how shit the gear is from enertion if it was actually failing. In comparison If it was the board they built with various parts they sourced from hobby stores and combined them together in an ad-hock way they won't tend to complain out loud from fear of being held responsible due to bad build quality, or being an idiot! no one wants to look like an idiot in public.... and even if people did complain out loud about the hobby grade gear that failed on their electric skateboard hobbyking.com doesn't give a shit! they will not try to develop a better product.

Anyway this is not meant to be an article about consumer psychology, but the point is it's our responsibility to make really bloody good quality stuff that works reliably and is easy to install. By doing this it legitimises the DIY eboard industry! Also, It gives less ammunition to the crowd funded electric skateboard companies... They (or their customers) should not be able to criticise the DIY electric skateboard industry by claiming that their products are more reliable or have better quality....

Visualise this for a moment, you pull up at the traffic lights on your DIY rig, right next to a guy on his brand new top of the line boosted board, you both look each other up & down then finally give the nod... signalling to each other a DRAG RACE will commence on green!... the lights turn green and.... You either leave the guy in your dust or your board starts smoking and fails miserably... it all comes down to whether you have a quality build or not... no one will care if your rig was $400 cheaper because it didn't get even off the line!
A person looking to own an electric skateboard, whether it be DIY or not, should not have to ask themselves the question of whether it will be good quality & reliable or not. The buying decision should be purely based on whether they want to build it themselves and have a faster & overall better electric skateboard or just get one in a box already built that goes a bit slower or offers less torque & range.

When you really think hard about it there are actually four types of electric skateboards one could own. What one do you want?
1. The ad-hock DIY electric skateboard built from scraps & retro fitted hobby parts that could catch fire at any minute?
2. The Premium Self Built Electric skateboard made using custom engineered high performance parts & Tuned perfectly to your riding style that will leave the others in the dust?
3. The out of a box "Crowd Funded" options from brand name companies such as Boosted Boards, that have slow top speed and terrible range?
4. The out of the box "no-name" Electric skateboards from china that look like shit with 100 year old Lead Acid batteries technology?
So hopefully now you should understand why we focus just on premium custom made gear! We realised trying to be the cheapest when it comes to electronics is a lose - lose situation. However this can be confusing for people looking to build electric skateboards at home.

So you've decided you want to build yourself an electric skateboard!
So for those stubborn readers out there thinking "I'm building it myself, surely it should still be cheaper to build my own skateboard!"
Lets be clear!... A self built electric skateboard can be really cheap, or it can be really expensive, or it can be the same cost as the in-a-box solutions....

For example if you build a 4WD eboard that has a top speed of 60km/h and goes 100km on one charge with a carbon fiber deck. How much should it cost? Should it be cheaper then a Boosted board just because you build it yourself? NO! of course not! It will cost much more because it is much better!

That is the beauty of a self built electric skateboard! You can decide what it is you are creating!

I think it is fair to say that most people when they set out to build their first ever electric skateboard at home have a tight budget & don't want to spend too much coin... Because for most people the only reason they went the DIY route in the first place is because in theory it can be done for much less than what the brand name boxed solutions cost. Makes sense right?

Common sense says, Why build something when you can buy one for the same price? This does not just apply to Eboards, same goes for everything in life.
Once you have decided you want an electric skateboard most people then start working out how they can get one put together for the lowest possible price! These are the common questions that one asks.
1. Whats the Best & Cheapest Motor?
2. Whats the Best & Cheapest ESC?
3. Whats the Best & Cheapest Battery?

These items above are not things that you can easily make, so the price you pay should be directly proportional to the quality, features & performance. The better stuff will naturally cost more.

So how can you actually save money building your own E-board?
It basically comes down to how much work you want to do yourself and if you have the tools & expertise. For instance if you decide to make your own motor mount & machine your own pulleys in your workshop you could save anywhere from $100 to $200.

Some people also make there own deck, another saving of $100 or $200.

There is an "instructable" article written explaining how to build an electric skateboard from scratch for $300 >HERE<324 I actually think that this guide is a bit misleading... tools & equipment cost money... glue, screws, sand paper, drill bits all cost money... & also time is money...

The Problem with all this talk about how much can be saved is you may end up cutting corners! Just like I did on my first ever build:

first-build.jpg992x2756 1.05 MB
Don't laugh too hard!... Basically I built it using stuff that was laying around & Second hand parts. I used my old skateboard, some aluminium angle & a milk crate! The result is you end up with a Frankenstein build! As you can see the battery was very exposed & when one of my mates took it for a ride he jumped down a gutter and tore a hole in my battery! There goes $120 worth of battery down the drain... The irony is that I was complaining about spending $30 on a proper components housing!...obviously I should of spent that $30! FALSE ECONOMY TRAP!!

So please have a good long think about what you want to achieve!

Do you think the deck you make at home is as good as one made in the factory? For some people the answer is YES! I certainly don't back myself to build a quality deck. I also don't think I could machine the motor mounting parts and get a quality result. So in many cases you may be able to justify buying some parts that are ready made to save time & get a better result..

The same common sense that told you to only build an electric skateboard yourself, if you can do it for less than a store bought one also plays a role when the decision is about building a complex part over the course of several days, in your workshop using raw materials VS buying that complex part and paying a higher price and having it delivered to the door.

There will be many tough BUILD IT vs BUY IT decisions that you need to make during the course of your eboard build. Especially now as there are a few dedicated business that specialize in selling nearly every single part you need for building an electric skateboard at home.
1. Enertion Boards.
2. DIY Electric Skateboards.
3. Alien Drive Systems.

So this is where it gets confusing!
You want to build an electric skateboard because you know you can build something that is better then the store bought ones, but you don't have the tools or expertise to make any of the parts. You also want the best quality parts to make the build easy, reliable & awesome!. So you add up the cost of all the parts and realise it now costs more then the store bought one!! How did this happen?

Aren't DIY Electric Skateboards meant to be Cheaper?

Because you can't build any of the things yourself & you want all the best parts your DIY eboard may actually cost more then a shop bought one! This is when people start to get nervous! This is when you risk falling into the "False Economy Trap" You go searching for cheaper parts at the hobby store & maybe save a few hundred dollars, cheaper battery, smaller motor, cheaper charger, cheaper ESC... Now your board is $150 less than buying a boosted board & your really happy! & If your lucky nothing will ever go wrong & you live happily ever after!

BUT: What if one or two of those parts fail prematurely? your savings just went out the window and you now regret building your own in the first place... This is the false economy. You end up spending more in the long run then if you just built it better in the beginning.

This is what all the big brand names want to happen to you, they want your crap parts to fail so that you cut your losses and go buy the pre-built solution from them....
I personally have not ridden a boosted board, or any of the "soon-to-be-released" products born from successful crowd funding campaigns... However I have heard many complaints, the biggest complaint you get is that they are too slow, the don't have enough battery... not enough power... these are all legitimate complaints.... Most of them unfortunately are very mild in the performance department... Boring!.... that why I build my own!

I added it up the other day, from the 6 most well known crowd funded electric skateboards there was approximately $2.47 million dollars raised.... these are Boosted Boards, Inboard, mellow, Bolt, Stary & Marbel

Only Boosted has got product out there for purchase, Maybe Marbel! & many of them are not actually available outside the USA anyway.

The biggest problem with these crowd funded solutions is they lack the performance that most DIYers can easily achieve with a self built electric skateboard of the same price. When I say performance I mostly mean these three primary attributes:
1. Top Speed
2. Range
3. Torque (acceleration & hill climbing ability)

NOTE: If you have never ridden a skateboard though, these in-a-box solutions will probably blow your mind!

Let me summarise!
If you decide you're going to build an electric skateboard make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, don't just do it because you think its going to be cheaper, because it might not be in the long run. For me building an electric skateboard is an art form. The end result should not only be beautiful, it should be a professionally finished master piece that you can proudly announce you made yourself. It should out perform anything on the street and also look better too. It should feel better. It should be over engineered and designed to last you many years.

The self built electric skateboard is a legitimate solution, the self build eboard movement is growing stronger each day, knowledge is spreading, we are leading the way in technology & performance, its happening now, it is the future.....

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