Follow the discussion on Reddit here
If you want the TL;DR, see end of review
It was a day like any other day on March 30, 2019 when I got an email from Jeff Anning.
“Hi Sophia,” it started. “My name is Jeff Anning, I’m the founder of Evolve Skateboards based in Australia and we have been manufacturing and distributing Electric Skateboards since 2009. I’m emailing you to see if you would be interested in doing a review for us. We have some cool things ahead and now at a stage where we are looking for potential reviewers who may be interested in working with us. We do have our USA partner whom can assist with logistics etc and is more than happy assist with anything that may be required. If you have any questions please let me know, cheers for your time :)”
Of course, I leapt at the chance. Evolve Skateboards. I mean come on! They’re one of the few companies in the eskate world that cater specifically and directly to high end consumers. Their boards are fun to ride despite their well documented problems, and they’re secretive. Who wouldn’t want to get a first look at what they’re up to?
My first experience with Evolve was with their third generation board, the Carbon GT. At first, I thought it was the best thing ever. Then I started to experience the issues. Remote disconnects, battery sag up hills, almost no power to do anything meaningful once it drained past half battery. The problems were exacerbated here in San Francisco as it’s a very wirelessly dense and hilly city. After a while, I became unhappy with the performance and moved on to bigger and better things.
However, I always wondered what Evolve would do to fix these problems. Make no mistake, these weren’t isolated incidents I was having, the problems were very real. There’s no way they wouldn’t be working to fix this stuff.
Well, what have Evolve been up to all this time? Let’s find out.
When I first opened up the box and caught my first glimpse of the Bamboo GTR, my immediate first impression was that it simply looked fantastic. An all new super flex deck, new thicc enclosure, new white (!) wheels, new matte finished trucks. The combination just looks great. I love classic looks, and this is most surely a classic look. The wide wheelbase coupled with the natural wood deck striped with griptape on either side is just super. You’d be hard pressed to find a better looking board.
I’m told by Evolve that the new GTR series shares no components with the 3rd generation GT series. Even if things look similar, every component has been at least re-engineered. A new manufacturing method for the trucks (forging and CNCing instead of casting), a new deck manufacturer with a different construction method, a new motor construction with a focus on reliability, and new wheels with new formula poured by AEND, the same factory that pours wheels for other leading wheel brands like ABEC.
New wheels. Let’s talk about the wheels for a second. First off, they’re really great. I mean really. I’ve tried all the ABEC wheels, all Evolve’s old wheels, and a whole bunch of other wheels. The rebound on the urethane is great, and it really grips the road and takes potholes well. I run Boas on my main DIY board, and honestly I like these 97s ever so slightly better. It’s high praise, I know, and the durability and long term coloration of these wheels are still to be determined, but so far so very good.
Speaking of so far so good, the deck is also a lot improved from the previous bamboo deck. There’s a lot more flex, a lot more distinctive concave, and personally I think the design is a lot better. It’s also a bit longer than the previous one at 38 inches, and features multiple sets of mounting holes so you can adjust your ride position. Of course, the enclosure that goes on the deck is equally flexy and solidly built, with improved waterproofing by way of rubber gaskets and improved sealing, and in my opinion the battery pack that goes inside is also much improved. But let’s talk about that later.
All this coupled with the new more precision made trucks makes for a fantastically comfortable ride. I had absolutely no problems rolling over any potholes that I otherwise would have to watch out and brace for, even though I’m on 97mm wheels. It’s so cliche and cheesy saying this, but I can tell they really focused on the ride first and foremost. So good!
Of course, no Evolve product is complete without the ability to swap to all terrain hardware. I did not get to test this feature in my review as they didn’t send me any AT hardware, but if it worked like it did in the previous generation, I’d expect it to work quite well. There are new tire colors, sizes, and rims, something for everybody. I’m also told that the new Evolve website will have a board builder feature where you can customize your perfect board and have that arrive at your doorstep instead of a stock configuration. I think this is really great and an unprecedented option in eskate.
But skate hardware is not everything when it comes to eskates right?
Right. The electronics are of the utmost importance and tell the other side of the ride story. Performance, control, and reliability of electronics all play a huge part in how an eskate handles and feels to ride. Previously, on the 3rd generation GTs, some of my most major complaints were somewhat jerky early braking curves at high speeds, weirdly jerky throttle application, remote disconnections, and inconsistent power.
Let’s start with the braking curve. I’m happy to report that compared to the previous generation, it’s much improved. The same Evolve motor control algorithm is present, and the customary motor whine is still there, so if you were hoping for that to go away, you will be disappointed. However, braking from high speeds no longer jerks on initial application but instead comes on smoothly and predictably. This was a painpoint for me as bombing hills at high speed is something I do regularly and it really used to be very nervewracking on the Carbon GT. Now I no longer worry when I’m on the GTR. As for throttle during acceleration, while it does feel smoother than the previous generation, it’s not so much of a difference that I’d say it’s gamechanging.
But braking and acceleration curves mean nothing if the dang thing isn’t reliable. So let’s talk about that.
The R2 remote was somewhat controversial when it first launched. The design was wholly unique, and many people’s opinions were split. I personally even preferred the original remote and eschewed the R2 because of that.
However, I’ve come to realize that all I really had to do was stick with it. Now, on my second go at using the R2 remote daily, I’m finding that it really is a fairly good remote in terms of ergonomics and controls. I have smaller hands so it’s ever so slightly on the chunky side, but it’s not so bulky that I have a hard time using it. It’s now heftier due to a larger battery than the original R2 and even comes in several colors if you’re into that sort of thing. A battery saving features has now been built in as well where the screen automatically turning on/off depending on if you raise to look at it or not.
Now all that is well and good, but the major headlining feature for the GTR R2 remote, is the Bluetooth connection. There may be some confusion around this subject so let me explain. Evolve did not actually change the radio technology they use to transfer data. Bluetooth is a protocol, transmitted via the same radio frequency they used to use, 2.4GHz. Done correctly, 2.4GHz remotes are some of the most reliable remotes available.
Now, it’s no secret that old Evolve remotes have had connection issues. It’s also no secret that their remotes have had pairing issues. I’ve had many an instance where I’ve simply turned on my old Carbon GT as I regularly did and had it simply refuse to connect. I’ve also had many an instance where the remote would simply disconnect on me while riding. I know firsthand that these things happened with the old R2. And although I no longer have an old R2 remote, I also know exactly where I can reproduce disconnections on bad remotes in general. Now that I’ve been given this opportunity to put the GTR through its paces, I must also test the remote as thoroughly as I can.
Please note before you read the below that my board and remote was both running prototype firmware. There were some bugs in general that did not affect riding.
I really tried to get this remote to disconnect. San Francisco is a very wirelessly dense city with tons of interference, and I made sure to run through the thick of it. In my test, I rode through all the challenging areas of SF: The streets of Chinatown, the heart of the Financial District, directly under high voltage bus lines, up Twin Peaks and around the high powered radio towers. I ran errands on the board, commuted to work on the board, did 20+ mile nonstop rides across hilly and mountainous terrain on the board. Not a single drop while riding where the old R2 once had issues for me.
There is one caveat though. If I stand at a certain street corner near my house for a period of time, I can maybe make the remote disconnect. I can’t reproduce this reliably (in fact the two times it happened I was not attempting to reproduce it at all) and it’s only happened twice and only on this specific street corner, but I believe it bears mentioning. There were a few other firmware related issues with my review unit, chief amongst which was a bug where the remote wouldn’t re-establish connection with the board after the board times out and turns off then is turned back on again, so I’m more willing to chalk this issue up to a firmware bug. Evolve tells me these issues have already been fixed on the release firmware, but only time will tell if they really have been fixed. All I can say is that in my times testing it, I have not had a single issue where I most surely would have already on the old hardware.
If the remotes were the foremost controversial thing about the 3rd generation GT boards, the battery packs that ran them were the secondmost.
Reports of battery sag and being kicked down to Eco mode going uphill have been abound for the last few years, and it’s been a major sticking point for the GT series boards. It’s also no secret that CEO of Evolve Jeff Anning has had very public strong opinions about Evolve’s then battery technology of choice: lithium polymer prismatic packs. In any case, this was something Evolve dearly needed to fix. And fix it they did.
Let’s get some facts out of the way. The new Evolve Powerflex packs are 10s4p Samsung 35e batteries. This means the cells are arranged in packs of four, wired in series. 35e cells are 3500mAh cells that can do 8A discharge. It’s somewhat surprising that Evolve has chosen to go this route, as the 35e drops voltage faster than another popular cell for eskate, the 30q. Here’s a comparison between the 35e and 30q:
And here’s a comparison between the 35e and VTC6, yet another popular cell for eskate:
As you can see, voltage drops quite drastically in both single cell performance comparisons, which means packs built out of 35e cells will experience more battery sag than packs built out of the other two cell types.
But does it matter?
When Evolve told me about their new battery technologies, they stressed that their first main focus was battery safety. Their second main focus was power at all battery levels. This means that regardless of the state of charge, you should experience similar torque. Taking off at 100% in GTR mode should feel the same as taking off at 10% in GTR.
I’ve tested this to the best of my ability and, well, they’re not lying. Torque is similar at all battery levels. Climbing hills at 10% felt the same as 100%, albeit slower, and I remained in GTR the entire way. The battery indicator did not fluctuate wildly either. This is honestly a fantastic improvement. With this, one of my major complaints about Evolve boards was solved completely.
Heading to the top of Twin Peaks, San Francisco is a route I ride regularly, and it’s no easy route. It’s a fairly steep climb all the way to the top if you start at Market St near the Castro or the Panhandle near Golden Gate Park, and it’s the route I take if I want to test performance of a board under high constant load. I took the Bamboo GTR up that route, and recorded the whole thing. Here’s the video. Note that the video starts when I was already halfway up:
I’d say that’s pretty impressive. The whole route up I only dropped 20% battery according to the remote, and maintained power the entire time.
Range is quite good too. On range tests over very hilly terrain (basically all of San Francisco), I was consistently hitting over the 20 mile mark riding briskly. As you can see in the ride tracked on the left even an 145lb person can do a 21 mile run and still get home with 7% battery all in GTR. This includes literally riding up a mountain. This is extremely good and quite impressive for a board in San Francisco. I have no doubt on flatter ground it’s entirely possible to hit the 30 mile range advertised even in GTR mode. Really good shit.
One of the major improvements Evolve claims they’ve made to their battery system is that they’ve found a way to allow the entire pack to flex an insane amount.
I’m not talking about just a little bend, I’m talking about you can bend the entire pack into an almost tube shape. They also told me they’ve redesigned every single internal electrical component. So of course I opened it up, and here’s what I found.
The electronics enclosure is split into two parts: the ESC housing and the battery pack and BMS housing. You can remove one or the other quite easily simply by removing the screws from the top. Each enclosure has been dustproofed and waterproofed, though Evolve won’t say what the rating is.
Each enclosure has a plastic cover that’s screwed down, and there are o-rings and gaskets around every point of ingress. It’s very clean.
Opening up the battery enclosure, we find the underside of the flexible battery PCB. The entire assembly is pressfit into the enclosure tightly to prevent movement, so it takes quite some effort to pull out.
But pull it out I did, and here’s what it looks like.
You can clearly see how flexible this pack is. I’m actually very impressed with the design of this pack. The traces on the PCB can actually carry around 200A, even though the full pack is rated at 32A continuous and 52A burst. Evolve says that average continuous riding will hit 20A discharge and that in their side by side comparisons with the same pack made of 30q cells, the 35e performed better. I don’t claim to know what metrics they’re looking at for performance, but this is what I’ve been told.
Going over to the ESC enclosure, we remove its cover to find the newly redesigned ESC.
You can see the ceramic antenna for the remote embedded on the right side of the ESC, and two wires going to the USB breakout board. These power the two rear facing USB ports for accessories.
I think time will tell how well this enclosure system holds up. Evolve tells me they got to where they are now from breaking countless iterations, fixing, and breaking again so they’re very sure of the hardware, and honestly I believe them. Everything I see here is quite high quality and obviously built to last.
So after all that, I have a few observations.
The GTR is a brand new product inside and out. It may look similar to the 3rd generation GT boards, but honestly, it’s really not. As far as I can tell, almost everything is improved in a forward thinking way. Even the motors have been redesigned with stronger components, are now vented, and now feature a single hot swap connector for some mysterious purpose.
I think a lot of people will look at this board and go “well it looks similar to the old one, why upgrade? I can just send my current GT to a battery upgrade service and be done with it,” and of course, you can do that. But I think unless you’re also planning on swapping the ESC out for something like a FOCbox Unity, the new GTR would probably still be a better bet due to the numerous upgrades.
I really love the new 97s. I think they’re a great wheel with great rebound, and I love the white color scheme even though it gets dirty fairly quickly here in SF. They’re so good that I’m willing to jump in and get four sets. HMU Jeff Anning 😉
I think it’s a good move for Evolve to move to 18650s, even if they’re not admitting they were wrong in the past. It’s an even better move for the consumer as now they don’t have to deal with the headaches related to voltage sag and can just ride. We’ll call it a win-win yeah?
The new Bamboo GTR deck is just great. You gotta take it for a ride.
But Sof, would you recommend it?
I’ve been riding the new Bamboo GTR for the better part of two weeks. It’s less time than I would have liked, and certainly less time than I typically ride other boards before I give my opinion.
In addition, the release schedule of this review had to be very unexpectedly and very annoyingly bumped forward quite a bit because of certain circumstances regarding a certain YouTuber, but I think what it boils down to is this.
Riding an electric skateboard, as with any other leisure sport, is an activity that should be enjoyed. That’s the bottom line. If your only focus is speed and that’s what you enjoy, this is not the board for you. If you hate belt drives, this is not the board for you. But at the end of the day, there’s only one question that needs to be asked. Do you smile when you ride the GTR? I know I do.
Update On Remote Connection
Earlier in this piece, I mentioned that I was getting dropouts on the remote at certain places during my testing. Evolve chalked it up to issues the prototype unit had and assured me that the issues wouldn’t persist in the production unit. Of course, I didn’t simply believe them, so Evolve was kind enough to arrange for me to get on a production board and ride to my problem spots around San Francisco to test if things have really gotten better.
I’m happy to report that I had no issues whatsoever. Down Polk, down Market, up the entirety of California, around Chinatown, no disconnects occurred. Of course, this is not a comprehensive testing and consumer results remain to be seen, but in areas where I previously had issues with the prototype, I now had no issues with the production unit. I’m fairly satisfied for now.