Maxfind M6 Drive Kit Review – All-terrain? Booster Drive?

Today, we will be reviewing the Maxfind M6 Drive Kit.

This is an $869 (USD) all-terrain electric skateboard drive kit. To those who are new to the e-skate hobby, a drive kit is what you attach on skateboards or longboard decks to instantly transform them into an electric skateboard.

Aside from Maxfind, other notable drive kits in the e-skate scene are Loaded x Unlimited, Mellow Drive, and Revel kits, but Maxfind M6 Drive Kit challenges its competitors for being the only all-terrain drive kit on the market.

Maxfind M6 Drive Kit on a drop-through maple deck with camou grip tape

So if there’s a pretty awesome deck you want to use, and don’t mind the effort of drilling 6 screw holes on the deck, the M6 Drive kit is an option.

Will it be a good option though? Let’s find out!

Let’s take a look at the specs first.

Build and Specs

Maxfind M6 Drive Kit Build and Specs Chart
  • ESC: 10s Hobbywing ESC
  • Battery: 10s2p Samsung 30Q cells (6.0Ah and 216 wh), Hot-swappable
  • Marketed range: 16km
  • Motors: Dual 1200W hub motors
  • Top speed: 38km/h
  • Wheels: 6.5 in airless rubber wheels
  • Trucks: Double Kingpin, 11.4 in, 98a bushings
  • Weight: 18.7lbs or 8.5kg (deck not included) 

Electronic Speed Controller

The Maxfind M6 Drive Kit uses a 10s Hobbywing Electronic Speed Controller. Those who are familiar with the Hobbywing ESC already know that this speed controller allows exceptionally smooth acceleration and braking, with intuitive control.

Maxfind M6 Drive Kit uses Old-gen Hobbywing ESC

Unfortunately, this is an older generation of Hobbywing ESC, which means this kit has no smart power-on. Smart power-on is a very convenient feature if you want the board to turn on with just a press on the remote.

To know more about electronic speed controllers, click here.

Hot-swappable battery

For the battery, M6 Drive uses 10s2p Samsung 30Q cells, which means you’ll get 6.0 Amp-hours and 216 watt-hours. These are genuine Samsung cells, and Maxfind cited it as the reason behind their higher cost. Hence, the price tag. 

Maxfind M6 Drive Kit has a hot-swappable battery

Using a better cell might make the battery last longer, but it definitely didn’t help increase M6’s range. The kit’s marketed range is 10miles or 16km, but we only got 7.5 miles or 12km out of it. 

The batteries are hot-swappable, though. So, you can technically ride for hours as long as you carry extra battery packs. However, the batteries are pretty expensive and will cost you $200 for each extra pack.

Dual Hub Motors 

Next, let’s talk about the motors. This drive kit uses Dual 1200W hub motors. Hub motors don’t require belts and are less prone to maintenance. Another plus for hub drives is that they sound quieter than belt motors.

Maxfind M6 Drive Kit uses Dual Hub Motors

However, a hub drive has less torque than a belt drive or gear drive, that’s why we rarely see it in an all-terrain set-up. We’re pretty excited to test how well the dual 1200W motors will perform in an off-road setting, given that it has less torque for acceleration.

Close-up of the Maxfind M6 Drive Kit Dual Hub Motor

The marketed speed specs are 23mph or 38km/h, and we managed to hit that.

Airless Rubber Wheels

For the wheels, the M6 kit uses 6.5-inches airless rubber wheels. You won’t need to worry about the tire pressure, nor puncturing them. 

Maxfind M6 Drive Kit uses Airless Rubber Wheels

On the downside, you can expect a more bumpy ride, but the wheels are definitely big enough to roll over anything on a paved road.

Double Kingpin Trucks

For the truck, the Maxfind M6 Kit uses 11.4-inch Double Kingpin Trucks with 98a bushing. Reverse kingpin trucks are more commonly used for all-terrain, so we’re also interested in how this set-up will play out.

For those who don’t know, Double Kingpin Trucks allow easier changes in direction with tighter turns.

However, after reviewing more than a few DKP trucks, we know that the quality between good and bad Double Kingpin trucks is very far from each other. The good ones have great rebound to the center which allows easy turns while still being very stable. The less great ones, however, are twitchy and can feel unstable during high speed. 

Unfortunately, we are very familiar with Maxfind’s DKP trucks and know that it belongs to the latter group. 

To know more about electric skateboard trucks, click here.

Lighter than most all-terrain eskates

The drive kit weighs 18.7lbs or 8.5kg alone. After slapping the drive kit onto our drop-through maple deck, the board only weighs 23lbs or 10.5 kg. This is considered very light! 

Maxfind M6 Drive Kit is a Lightweight All-terrain Electric Skateboard

Most all-terrain boards weigh around 28lbs or 13kg. With a smaller battery pack than your usual all-terrain boards, the lighter weight is probably an unexpected benefit. 

Riding Experience

Now that we’ve gone through the build and specs, it’s time to ride!

Maxfind M6 Drive Kit on a drop-through maple deck with camou grip tape

Obviously, a huge part of your riding experience will depend on what deck you use.

In our review, we used a drop-through deck that’s rather stiff, but we think the best deck for this would probably be an aggressive double drop deck, since the drive kit is very slim in profile, and wouldn’t need much ground clearance. Plus, a lower riding height will make the board ride more stable, compensating for the twitchiness of the trucks.

Twitchy trucks have poor rebound and won’t help you return to the center easily. You might get a feeling of swaying when turning. The 98a bushing is supposed to be tight and hard, but it didn’t help much, and changing the bushing would probably improve its quality.

TAKE NOTE: the board side bushing can’t be tightened by the T-tool provided by Maxfind, so you would need to find a spanner and adjust the tightness yourself.

When it comes to speed control, the acceleration and braking have 4 speed modes. And as always, every speed mode is perfectly smooth with Hobbywing ESC. This speed controller may not always be powerful, but no such worries for the M6 Kits. The acceleration and brakes are both very strong in the top speed mode.

Better than street wheels

When it comes to all-terrain performance, the 6.5-inch wheels perform well on rough roads. These are airless rubber wheels, so they weren’t as good as pneumatic wheels, but even then they’re still much better than Cloudwheels, Windwheels, or any street wheels. You will still feel the vibrations, but it won’t be uncomfortable. 

Comparing the experience to pneumatic wheels however, I found the airless rubber wheels less impressive. But when compared with your typical street wheels, these are much better.

We tried it on sand, grass, and rough roads with gravel or rocks.

Riding on sand is fine. There was enough torque from the motors to handle it. The same goes for grass. The motors are powerful enough to go through thick grass and coconut husk. It’s just not strong enough for gravel or small rocks.

THE VERDICT

Now that we know the quality of the build and specs, will the process of slapping this drive kit on a board of your choosing be worth it? 

The Maxfind M6 Drive kit is a decent drive kit that offers decent performance. Its worst flaw would be the truck, but it can be fixed by swapping in your own bushing. 

The rather small battery pack is not a big deal, since the battery can be easily swapped out in the middle of the ride. And going with a smaller battery looks pretty sleek. It doesn’t only allow more clearance, it’s also lighter in weight.

Maxfind M6 Drive Kit's sleek profile

On the value side of things, being able to choose an awesome deck is a factor that you are obviously paying extra for. Maxfind M6 Drive Kits go around the same price when compared to similar performing, yet completely built AT boards that come with a deck.

For example, Maxfind’s own FF Plus – All-Terrain comes with a pretty sweet carbon fiber finish flexible deck, and only costs a hundred dollar extra! ($969). Unless you are very insistent on using your preferred deck, going with the FF Plus or another brand’s complete build would probably be a better option.

As a person who doesn’t want to hold a screwdriver unless I absolutely have to, an all-terrain drive kit is not that appealing to me. However, if you have a bad-ass deck that you want to convert into an all-terrain eskate, the M6 Drive Kit is currently your only choice. It is the only all-terrain drive kit on the market, after all. At least it is a reasonably decent one, and has a US warehouse to provide fast shipping.

If you are interested in buying a Maxfind, be sure to check out our affiliate discount link here and uses code: “ESKATEHQ” during checkout.
It will help you get a small monetary discount and helps us out too. On top of that, you’ll be tagged as an Electric Skateboard HQ customer and probably be treated better. Cheers!

JayKay E-trucks Review – Tantalizing Future

Oh man… where do I begin with the JayKay e-trucks?

I guess the best place to start would be to explain what they are. The JayKay e-truck is a reverse kingpin longboard truck that has a bunch of electronics stuffed inside the baseplate and hanger. The truck links with a ring shaped remote with a thumbwheel and tiny display from which you can control acceleration and braking easily. JayKay sells these trucks in 2wd and 4wd options, though they recommend the 4wd option.

What this means is you can turn any deck into an electric skateboard with absolutely zero (0) modification. This, in turn, means total freedom of choice and ride. I love it. This is totally the fut– well let me back up to the beginning.

lol jk

I remember where I was when I first heard about JayKay. The year was 2017, the month was March, and I was sitting at home, reading a curious thread on the electric-skateboard.builders forum about an eskate Kickstarter from a company based out of Germany, JayKay Sports. The thread was mean. The people in it were tearing the Kickstarter apart and claiming that the trucks were “Grade A+ bull shit”.

I’ll admit, I was highly skeptical as well. Everything inside a truck? 7 mile range? Super tiny remote? Charging via USB-C? Zero-resistance hub motor with zero cogging? Sounds like somebody just took all the pipe dreams of an eskater and chucked them in one place! So I closed out of the thread and forgot all about it.

Until 2020.

I was vacationing in Taipei, Taiwan with my boyfriend and linked up with the Taiwan eskate group, Esk8 4Ever. It’s always fun to find like minded people when you travel, and the Esk8 4Ever peeps were definitely fun. At some point during our visit, we met up at a board shop (one of the best ever, possibly in the world, I might add. Amgreat Integration. Definitely visit.) and one of the chaps, Cheng Li-Wei, asked if we wanted to see something very curious that he’d just received from Germany. Of course we were interested, and thus was my first time seeing the JayKay e-trucks in person.

“Wow. It’s really real. It’s not vaporware,” I remember thinking. The next thing that blew me away was the remote. So small and unassuming! How the heck did they manage to fit a display and Type C charging onto a ring that small? Then I rode the thing. What the heck there’s actually a decent amount of torque? What the heck zero resistance in the motors? What the heck zero cogging? What the heck’s going on?

I think it’s safe to say I was immediately and totally infatuated. Flexible enough to mount anywhere? Unobtrusive enough to be virtually unnoticeable? It’s like a cruiser’s wet dream! I immediately hit up my editor Paxson to see if he could get us a review unit to put through the test.

This is where a damper gets put on my hopes and dreams. It turns out that JayKay was generally unwilling to send out review units even though we only wanted to borrow them. We had to buy our own unit. Ok sure, no problem, we’re willing to buy review units in the name of the truth. So we bought a 4wd kit.

But then the wait began. What made the wait worse was that JayKay was not super communicative. Nevertheless, we persevered, and four months (almost to the day) later, an unassuming box arrived in my mailroom.

All it had on the outside was a shipping label, but that was enough. I read the return address. “JayKay”. Suddenly I was a kid again.

A Masterclass In Miniaturization

I was unreasonably excited opening the box. I had absolutely no idea what all would come in the box, but I wasn’t disappointed. The JayKay 4wd kit contains two trucks, one remote, a three port (2 x Type C PD, 1 x Type C QC3) charger, two magnetic Type C cables, one regular Type C cable (all of them braided), and a cool skate tool.

I think the most striking thing about the e-trucks is just how unassuming everything is. There’s no fancy design at all. The wheels it ships with are plain white. 90mm, with just the tiniest amount of sans serif text on the side. The hangers themselves are completely matte smooth with “JayKay” embossed on the front. The baseplate barely hints at the USB Type C PD charging port and LED headlight it contains. You’d be forgiven if you just wrote it off as a regular truck.

But what you don’t see is the masterclass in component miniaturization that is taking place inside each truck. A dual motor speed controller, encased in its own faraday cage, runs along the length of the truck, which also doubles as its heatsink. Four Samsung 40T 21700 cells take up most of the space inside, directly wired into the four layer pcb of the speed controller for minimal power losses due to resistance in longer wires. The motor controller actively switches between drawing in 4S1P or 2S2P configuration from the battery in order to optimize reduction of internal losses.

All this tech in the truck then communicates via powerline using a system of pogo pins in the pivot cup to the components in the baseplate that handles wireless connection, lights, charging, etc. It honestly confounds me how much tech and new ideas they’ve managed to pack in there.

Drivetrain Madness

The motors themselves are no joke either. A totally new design that JayKay’s motor engineer spent five years researching and developing for his PhD, it’s a total outlier in the current-day motor game.

The first thing you’ll notice is that these hubs have almost no rolling resistance and no cogging. It’s exactly as if you’re riding a regular skate wheel. This is due to the ironless stator and air-gapped windings JayKay has developed versus the typical iron-filled, slotted stators used nowadays with most common outrunner motors.

I will say, at 160kv and 90mOhm winding resistance, this isn’t the most efficient motor out there, but I think the real world results speak for themselves for JayKay better than the pure numbers.

Because of this novel motor design, there are no motor factories that can make this type of motor. So JayKay has to build each motor in-house, with tooling that they also built in-house, essentially hand winding each motor. It’s not exactly a fast process, and it shows in their delivery rate. Having heard Li-Wei’s story and having experienced quite a long wait time myself despite JayKay knowing I was a reviewer, I can confirm that you won’t exactly get your trucks fast, though they eventually did deliver.

UX Curiosity

I think it’s worth talking in depth about JayKay’s UX with their e-trucks as it’s certainly one of the more… unique things about the whole experience.

JayKay has opted to go all in on energy saving. They have to. Cause in comparison to basically anything else, the battery packs in these trucks are absolutely tiny. So in order to make the batteries last as long as possible on a charge, JayKay has implemented a bunch of energy saving quirks into their software.

For example, you must push off every time after you stop to turn the trucks on. This means no standing takeoffs on any sort of incline or flat ground. And if you let the remote sit without throttling for more than 2 minutes, you must click the thumbwheel to turn it on again. Also, there’s no “forward” direction. Whichever way you push off will become forwards. All this becomes second nature when you get used to it of course, but for the first while of usage, I kept on forgetting that I had to click and push after stopping at every stoplight.

JayKay has also opted to include other interesting features as well. For example, there’s an LED headlight and taillight integrated into each baseplate. It’s not really very bright so I feel like it’s a bit of a battery waster (I keep them turned off) but they’re there nevertheless.

Another interesting “feature” is that the battery is user swappable by just popping off a motor. I think this is more of a you can do it feature vs a definitely intended feature, but it’s there. I haven’t tried it. Yet another interesting feature is a wireless charging coil in the baseplate that can also do reverse wireless charging for devices, though JayKay tells me this will be for V2 and is not currently present in V1. It’s worth noting the instruction manual also mentions an app but JayKay tells me it’s also not out yet.

The One Ring

Of course, having only mentioned it only briefly so far, I must talk about the remote.

JayKay’s ring remote is a huge departure from the norm, and honestly I’m a fan.

It’s super small and wraps around your finger, just like a ring. There’s a spring-loaded section that grips your finger lightly so it doesn’t slip around too much and can adjust to various finger thicknesses. A bright, OLED display shows information like speed, battery level, power mode, and current charge, though I think it doesn’t update at a very high frequency because the speed indicator doesn’t change very fast.

I haven’t had any cutouts or disconnects on this remote, and I live in a fairly wirelessly dense area. That’s encouraging to me. The remote also has a signal strength indicator, though I don’t know if it takes into account interference. I haven’t been able to take it to any of the places where I can regularly get less capable remotes to cut out (mostly due to range) but so far my tests have shown that it’s doing fairly OK.

I suppose the most important thing that I must mention about this remote is the general user experience. In an effort to save power consumption, JayKay is very aggressive with its standby timer. This means that the remote and board goes into standby fairly often as the standby timer on the board is somewhere around half a minute and two minutes with the remote.

I’m not gonna lie, the standby timers catch me unawares quite a lot. A general flow of my interactions is as follows:

  1. Reach a stop at a stoplight.
  2. Stand for a couple minutes.
  3. The board goes into standby.
  4. The remote goes into standby soon after.
  5. I push off when the light turns green… but forget to click the remote so there’s no immediate power.

I don’t think this is really a usability issue, just a gotta-adjust issue. I understand where they’re coming from with the very eager auto-standby’s, I just have to get used to clicking the remote when I take off is all.

It’s worth mentioning that clicking the wheel while the remote is on doesn’t do anything. All menu actions are hidden behind a long click, so rest assured you won’t accidentally change anything if you click while the remote is not on standby mode.

Powerrrrrr…?

Now we must talk about power.

I would say that there is… enough? Look, you’re not getting this thing to go 30mph and rocket up hills. I think you should think of this more like an assist rather than a full eskate, as that’s clearly the direction they’ve gone in here. The whole point is to cruise, maybe kick a bit, and cruise some more. If you wanna have just a tiny bit more fun, you can certainly turn up the power mode to “huge muscle” and go full throttle, but I don’t think it’s very different from “big muscle” or even “small muscle” mode during regular riding. It only matters for hills and stuff.

During range tests, I was able to squeeze more than expected range out of them. I tend to average around 5 miles or so at a cruising speed, which is honestly more than I expected. This includes going up and down higher grade hills and starting/stopping, which tends to kill batteries faster. For reference, I’m around 130-135lb.

One of the longer range tests I did. We stopped for clam chowder!

Which brings me to torque. It certainly has it (I tested the 4wd kit) and I can go up hills just fine (though not fast), but I encountered some interesting behavior.

The JayKays are set up so that if you step off while the board is rolling, the board will brake. It’s a great idea, but in some instances, I’ve had that feature slightly backfire on me. When going uphill and going over an extreme pothole, the truck going over the pothole will slightly brake then resume powering. It’s a bit jarring as it feels like a momentary loss in power, and makes me wish there was a way to turn off the auto braking. Regularly though, it doesn’t happen when just cruising, and I think the extremely pot-holey hills I’ve got here are the exception, not the norm.

Also sometimes, if I take off hard from almost a dead stop, I can feel the trucks start powering slightly out of sync at first. Not always, but sometimes. What usually happens in these instances is one of them will start powering, then a fraction of a second later, the other one will kick in. It’s not really a big deal, just a quirk that I’ve found, but certainly something to keep in mind when bracing for harder takeoffs.

There’s also the issue of overheating. A couple times going up steep, extended stretches of hills, the remote starts warning me that the trucks were overheating. This isn’t something completely unexpected as most times when I’ve felt the trucks after riding they were almost always hot, but just another limitation to consider before purchasing. I can just about manage in San Francisco and there really aren’t a whole lot of places hillier than it is here, but if you’re in one of those places, I’d recommend you think hard about what you’re looking for in these trucks.

Konnichiwa Wildhearts

Honestly, it’s so refreshing to take a break from reviewing “yet another” eskate. The JayKay e-trucks may not go very far or very fast, but they’re something special. Cutting edge yet distinctly old school feeling at the same time. I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything like it.

I don’t wanna be in love with the future, yet I am. And I love it.

A Note From Paxson (The Editor):
If you liked this review and are interested in buying the JayKay e-trucks yourselves, please support us by using our affiliated link here.

Maxfind Max 4 Pro Review – Can it compete?

Maxfind, a Chinese brand that has been around since the beginning of time. A brand that delivers budget boards in nice packages for casual eskaters, but has always been ignored by eskate enthusiasts, as their price vs value proposition was not as high as the other Chinese brands. If you have read my previous takes on Chinese brand, you might have sensed that I hated the brand, that’s because their product and marketing strategies made me feel that they are just preying on the less informed buyers.

Well, that idea of mine has been shaken up with the new lineups that Maxfind introduced awhile ago, and today, we are going to talk about the Maxfind Max 4 Pro.

Maxfind Max 4 Pro

The specs are the least interesting part of the Max 4 Pro, so we’ll just quickly run through them.

  • Top Speed: 26mph/ 42kmh
  • Range: 15mil/ 25km (4.4AH Samsung 22p, 10s2p)
  • Weight: 16lbs/ 7.5kg
  • Charge Time: 120min
  • Price: 619USD with shipping included. (Ships from USA or China)
  • Features: IP65 Waterproof, hot-swappable battery, remote with telemetry, swappable PU-sleeves

Wait a second. You might be saying, “all the numbers sound like a typical entry-level board, EXCEPT that last one. The price!” Yes, the Max 4 Pro is retailing $200 pricier than your typical entry-level budget board, so what is Maxfind doing to justify the price?

Max 4 Pro is not actually, not your typical eskate, it’s more like a Drive Kit

First, the Maxfind Max 4 Pro is actually not a regular eskate, instead, it is a removable drive kit, marketed with a complementary deck. They are selling the DIY drive kit for $569. Drive kits that are designed to be slapped on any deck and instantly turn them into an Eskate have always been pricier. Mellow, Unlimited, Revel. All pricey.

The battery is hot-swappable

The Max 4 Pro comes with all the benefits of being a drive kit. It has an easy hot-swappable battery, you just need to undo a thumbscrew, and voila, the battery can just slide out. Maxfind also included an extra charging cable to charge the battery separately, which is a nice touch too!

It’s waterproof

The second justification of the price is that the Max 4 Pro is waterproofed. (IP X7 on the ESC, and IP65 on both the battery and hub motors). I don’t know how much faith you can put into any eskate company’s IP rating claims, but at least you don’t have to worry if you accidentally spill coffee on it.

It’s pretty well polished

Finally, Maxfind did show their manufacturing prowess and gave their boards a good polish. The Max 4 Pro is beautifully packaged, and it’s 8 ply maple deck with carbon fiber coating is just beautiful. It uses a metal enclosure. The trucks, bushings, and bearings are not branded but look high quality nonetheless.

Premium = Customer service?

In Maxfind’s case, I’m not sure about that. It’s not to say that the company has any bad reputation, it just that I have never heard anyone singing their praises, and for a brand that’s been out there for so long, there should really be people singing their praises.

Field test: (Did all this translate into good ride feel?)

Deck:

I know, it looks pretty flexible but it’s maples.

The 8-ply maple deck is flat, without concave, but still does a good job keeping my feet comfortable. It has only a mild flex in it, which helps maintain stability, but unfortunately does not improve vibration.

Speed control:

Acceleration and braking are intuitive and smooth, as expected from a Hobbywing ESC. Maxfind did make some adjustments, however, especially on the braking for the Max 4 Pro. Unlike generic Hobbywing ESCs, which traditionally have dangerously weak brakes, the strength and smoothness on the Max 4 are exactly how we like it.

Carving:

Carving on these pairs of Caliber II clones is a pretty great experience, and fairly stable, even when riding at top speed.

Range test:

The removable battery pack is made of 4.4AH Samsung 22P cells in 10s2p configuration. It has a marketed range of 15miles (24km) but – our range test got us to only 11.5 miles (18.5km) riding in top mood throughout. I know, the result surprised no one as these are pretty standard numbers for most 4AH entry-level board.

Top-speed:

We hit the 26mph (40kmh) top-speed, which surprised no one. After all, the Max 4 Pro has a pair of 750W hub motors (with removable sleeves) and that’s stronger than most entry-level and mid-range hubs. The stronger hubs did translate to our ride when it comes to conquering rougher terrain and hills.

Misc:

By the way, I like how most boards have bigger wheels now. The board uses large 96mm wheels, which are safer for beginners but can also help ease the vibration on rough roads. We’ve said that Max 4 Pro wasn’t GREAT when it comes to handling vibration, so imagine how much worse it would be if they chose to use the 80mms on it.

Did he die?

Verdict:

Max 4 Pro is still not about price vs value proposition. Think of it this way –

For $619, you get a package that:

  • Shares the same spec with regular $400 entry-level eskate, but
  • Waterproof,
  • Hot-swappable battery,
  • Easy deck swap (It’s a drive kit!)
  • Slightly better ride feel (and torque)
  • Better polish

I’d say it’s worthy of the price.

All in all, the Max 4 Pro is a nice board that we enjoyed, but I suspect that many buyers would opt for the $569 Drive Kit Pro, as it’s actually the real MVP here.

If you are interested in buying a Maxfind, be sure to check out our affiliate discount link here and uses code: “ESKATEHQ” during check out.
It will help you get a small monetary discount and helps us out too. On top of that, you’ll be tagged as an Electric Skateboard HQ customer and probably be treated better. Cheers!

Oh, one Quick note on Max 4 normie (AKA not Pro)

The Maxfind 4 standard (without the ‘Pro’) is $100 cheaper, but it has weaker hubs, smaller 90mm wheels, and a generic Hobbywing ESC without the OLED Remote. Just think of it as your typical Hobbywing budget board with a $100 price premium for also being a drive kit and having good polish.


Unlimited Eon R Kit vs. Mellow Drive: The Ultimate Showdown

Follow the discussion on Reddit here

If you want the TL;DR, see end of review

Update from Paxson:
On 10th July 2019, Unlimited announced the fusion between them and the Loaded. Hence born Unlimited X Loaded. You can read about the news and the changes on Unlimited after the update here.
The following post is written prior to the update, but almost all of it stays relevant.

The Rundown: Mellow Drive (April 2018)

Note: The version of the Mellow Drive I reviewed was from before their switch to paid software unlocks. I will not be covering that in this review.

The Mellow Drive. The swappable, flexible drive kit that started everything. Originally conceived as a Kickstarter project and funded on June 11th, 2015, it’s famous for enabling the dream of turning any board electric. The dream was within reach!

The hardware engineering on the Mellow Drive is flawless. Heavy, durable construction can be consistently used to describe every facet of the physical product. It’s impressive, really, how nice the drive unit itself feels in the hand. It’s so hefty and solid in fact that I would say you can knock somebody out with it.

The battery packs are well engineered as well. 7S2P and each with its own BMS, they’re water resistant up to IP65. I was given two batteries to test, and had no difficulty carrying one in a small backpack to swap out on rides. At under 99Wh, they fall below most airlines’ safety regulations and so can be carried onto planes to double as a battery pack to charge your stuff (USB port is included on each pack).

The Mellow app provides a really nice interface for looking at vital information on the fly. Setup is easy. All you have to do is connect the app to the Drive. Software updates are also provided this way, and are pretty easy to apply. During troubleshooting sessions with Mellow, the level of access they were able to obtain through the app was astounding. It’s really all a very, very nice setup.

The Rundown: Unlimited Eon R Kit

If the Mellow Drive is the ruling big brother from Germany, the Unlimited Eon is the underdog younger brother from Spain.

Where Mellow went for the one piece design, Unlimited went for the fully modular approach. The entire drive system is meant to fit on almost any setup you can think of. The hubs are designed to be installable on almost any truck, and the battery and ESC setup under almost any deck. The only limitations are drop decks and trucks with non-standard axles, such as the 10mm on Surf-Rodz.

Speaking of the battery and ESC setup, I’m quite impressed with their forward thinking approach. Each ESC runs FOC and comes in a pigtailed module that connects to each other via an external CANbus module. That same middleman module also allows the ESCs to connect to the battery modules, which are each 10s1p packs with their own BMS and rated IP65. What this means is you can have ultimate flexibility in your setup. Want to optimize for mileage? Run one ESC with two batteries. Want to optimize for board weight? Run one ESC with one battery and carry the extra one. Want power? Slap both batteries and ESCs on there my dude. It’s also worth noting that the batteries come with USB ports for charging devices as well. Unlimited does provide a fast charger, although only a 3A fast charger as the internal PCB traces may burn at a higher amperage I’m told.

Unlimited does have an app, though it’s only a very basic one for updating firmwares. I was not able to test it as I had to return my review unit before the app was released, but I was able to take a look at it after the fact and can only assume it works though the interface is extremely utilitarian.

The Matchup: Flexibility

Consider: any deck? or any deck and any truck? I’ll take the latter please. The Unlimited hub system is really a game changing system. Easy to install on almost anything with no modifications and easy to remove after, I was able to put it in many ridiculous configurations and setups. At one point I even put it on a G|Bomb push pumping setup.

The Matchup: Cruise

Living in San Francisco means it’s much easier to get from point A to point B using alternative transportation methods due to traffic and street layout. However, the frequent and frequently steep hills means that it takes a vehicle with decent power and good brakes to get up and down those hills to cross town. Unfortunately for Mellow, it sort of all starts to fall apart once you start maneuvering those hills. The max hill grade for the Mellow Drive is about 20%, or 11-12 degrees. I found this to be true most of the time, although many times the Drive would start beeping at me and slowing down going up a 9-10 degree hill, and I’m not even that heavy (125lb). The Unlimited kit would power up the same hills no problem, though even though it’s rated for 36% grade hills (20 degree), it can’t reasonably power up anything more than 25%.

Going downhill sucks as well on the Mellow Drive. Often times, I have to brake down a hill and stop at an intersection while still on the hill. The Mellow Drive does this thing where it will actually cut brakes once you drop below a certain ERPM. What this effectively means is that I will almost stop at an intersection then the brakes will suddenly let go and I’ll start rolling again. It got to the point where I had to start relying on foot braking more than the actual brakes. The Unlimited R Kit didn’t have these issues, though the brakes on both drive units were pretty weak so weren’t that effective at stopping you anyways.

There’s also a feature that stops the Mellow Drive from accelerating without a rider on it, although it doesn’t always work. I’ve had the Drive shoot into traffic a couple times, as well as cut power while I was doing some heavy acceleration. I did bring the issue up to Mellow, and the response I got back after much troubleshooting was that I was likely too light and that it wasn’t likely to be fixed. Welp.

Where the Mellow Drive really shines, though, is flat, wide open spaces where I can just crank the throttle all the way up and carve. There’s no other feeling that can come close to carving at speed on a smooth, long road devoid of pedestrians, and the Mellow Drive simply delivers on that front. While testing, I found zen by going to Crissy Field, turning on Endless mode, and just carving without having to deal with a remote. While the R Kit does also have cruise control capabilities, it doesn’t feel as refined and sort of “jerks” into the mode when the button is held and vibrates when it’s activated while not moving, a side effect of unsensored motors. In comparison, the cruise mode on the Mellow simply feels a lot more refined.

The Matchup: Performance

There’s no question the R Kit is simply way more performant than the Mellow Drive. Off the line, the R Kit can put out more torque and so wins straight up. The R Kit hub motors are pretty strong and though it is unsensored (mandating kick pushing off the line to get started), the R Kit takes off faster once the ESC catches.

Now, you must allow me to rant a little bit as I’m passionate about this subject. Personally, I’m not a fan of unsensored motors for eskate. In a city like San Francisco (and this is true for any dense urban environment as well), having the ability to accelerate from standstill without having to kickpush is a godsend. Often times, it’s hard to achieve an acceptable speed kickpushing uphill for the ESC to discover the stator position, which means you can’t accelerate. Sensored motors solve this problem handily and I don’t quite understand why they still aren’t considered standard.

Unsensored motors aside, riding hard on the highest speed modes finds that the R Kit lasts longer (though not that much longer) than the Mellow on one battery. This makes sense since the R Kit technically has six more cells than the Mellow Drive. There is a caveat to this though, which is the fact that we’re comparing two physical batteries for the R Kit to one physical battery for the Mellow. If you want to swap batteries for the R Kit and carry extra batteries with you, you will need to carry two physical batteries vs. the one battery for the Mellow Drive.

The Matchup: Remote

Now we must discuss a huge sticking point for most electric skateboards: the remote. The Mellow Drive remote is… not too great. While it does have a rock solid connection, the remote is largely ruined by its form factor and ergonomics. The slide mechanism, while novel, is not great in practice. It often sticks and yields less than ideal control, and while Mellow has done throttle control smoothing to try and remedy the issue, it just doesn’t induce confidence.

It’s also often hard to see what mode you’re in in direct sunlight. The mode indicators are hard to read, and there’s no speed indication, an unfortunate omission.

On the other hand, the Unlimited remote is ergonomic and fits quite well in my small hands. It uses a more traditional thumbwheel with nub based approach, and really is quite well designed. Again, rock solid connection here, and the integrated display is quite readable in direct sunlight. This isn’t to say that I don’t take issue with some aspects of the design, however. The battery indicator on the remote showing the R Kit’s battery status never quite reached full. At first I thought it might be a pack balancing issue, but I was not able to fix it even if I charged the batteries separately. Navigating settings was also a slight bit difficult due to a combination of slightly questionable English translations and settings bugs, chief amongst which was I wasn’t able to get the measurement units settings to persist across remote restarts. This was supposed to be fixed in an upcoming update, though I never saw the update. There is also a cruise control button on the remote, though I found it funny that it would just vibrate the motors if you pressed it while standing still.

The Verdict

In the end, it depends on what you’re after. I can’t speak to the durability of the R Kit, but I’ve heard good things about how much the Mellow Drive can take a beating. I can’t speak to the effectiveness of the friction mount system employed by Unlimited in their hub motor mounting system, but I have never had an issue while using my review unit. If you’re looking for power, Unlimited might be a good bet. If you’re looking to just cruise on mostly flat terrain, Endless Mode on the Mellow Drive is very enticing.

TL;DR

I’ve included a pared down version of my notes that I took while reviewing the two drive kits. Use them as a tl;dr of the above.

As of September 2019

Mellow Notes:

  • Sensored but no standing start, cites safety but is major inconvenience
  • No-rider safety braking system works most of the time but not all the time, board shoots into traffic
  • Braking doesn’t work without weight, and cuts off once drive senses you’re adequately slow. Weird when going down hill and reaching bottom. when board rolls away you have to chase it instead of just braking
  • Push start is a bit unforgiving. You can only kick it once, kick it twice and you’ll likely lose your balance
  • Remote slide mechanism is a bit “tacky”, not a completely smooth as I’d hoped, otherwise pretty effective Remote
  • Onboarding UX is excellent. UX in general is excellent for the most part, including in app. Too many manufacturers forget about the UX part
  • Batteries feel solid this time around, unlikely to fall out
  • Doesn’t run for very long on top power mode

Unlimited R Kit Notes:

  • Unsensored, must push above certain erpm to start, big dislike
  • Lightweight and properly powerful
  • Pretty small and nice remote
  • Hub motors were mountable on any truck I tried, very solidly built and clever securing mechanism. Super innovative
  • Custom built ESC they call “MESC”, R kit links dual MESCs together via CANbus, passthrough charging multiple packs at once. Very clever.
  • UX was a bit confusing and felt unpolished
  • App launched as of 12/07/18, feels super unfinished, was not able to test if functional
  • Unable to use faster charger than 3A because charging traces may burn internally
  • Batteries last an ok distance on top power mode, 8-9 miles

Note On Unlimited Kit Availability

While Unlimited kits have been shipping, the R kit is currently unavailable for purchase. Unlimited states the following: “We are currently manufacturing a big batch of product that we are hoping to have available during spring to summer.”

Update by Paxson:
Along with the announcement of Unlimited X Loaded, Unlimited Kits are now available for purchase. Finally, the wait is over.
Check out Unlimited X Loaded here.

The Mellow Drive Review: Gliding into a New Era for Eskating

When we talk about eskates, we hear about a lot of companies coming out of California, and China. We do not often think about Germany, a country where eskating is illegal, but with a rich history of technical innovation and precision engineering. One company has taken on the mission to apply the German mindset to eskating, and have created a product that is truly as refined and precise as one would expect.

The Mellow is an eskate notorious in the community for its high price. At $2,299.95, the Mellow Drive is one of the most expensive bolt-on kits that money can buy, but is it worth the high price tag? I spent some time commuting-on, racing, and generally abusing the heck out of my Mellow Drive to find the answer to that question.

First, let’s get the tech specs out of the way.

The Board

The Mellow Drive is an Eskate bolt-on kit that replaces the rear trucks of any skateboard with two 1000 Watt hub-driven motors, turning it into a fully-functional eskate. It boasts a top speed of 25 mph, in “pro mode”, with a range of 6 miles, or a top speed of 15 mph with a range of 9 miles in “eco” mode.

The kit features acceleration and regenerative braking controlled by a remote that is a bit different from your standard eskate controller.

Unlike controller “wheels” that you roll forwards or backwards with your thumb, the Mellow features a proprietary “sliding” action that takes some getting used to. In order to accelerate, you slide the top portion of the remote away from you, and to slow down, you slide it back towards you. The method of control does take some getting used to, and I have sometimes found myself crossing some wires in my brain and accelerating when I meant to start braking.

Needless to say, having the board perform the opposite action than that which the rider intends can get quite dangerous, so Mellow have instituted a top speed limitation of 15 mph as a safety measure on new drives until a user has logged 18 miles on the board as well as several other cool safety features:

“The Mellow Remote does not have a classic dead man’s switch but a set of other features in order to have increased safety even without the switch.
  1. Push Start. The mellow board will not start from a standing stop but the rider has to push to start in order to engage the motorsThis is critical to avoid the board shooting of by accident and either hurting other or getting damaged itself by shooting into rolling traffic.
  1. The “Run Away Blocker” monitors the acceleration within the first 5s of skating. This functionality monitors the wheel speed increase and decides whether there is a rider on the board or the board is running of alone. If there is no rider on the board the wheels rev up at a ways higher rate (read – the board shoots of). If this is detected then the board will beep twice and apply 10% breaking power. Enough to stop the board after 1-2m but not enough to knock of a rider. After 5s of riding the system is switched of so there is no interference while i.e. jumping off curbs and revving wheels due to that.
  2. Emergency braking. In case of a loss of BT-Connection between the remote controller and the drive (i.e. because the remote has not been charged in a while) the drive will run a emergency braking sequence by gradually applying the brakes. It starts with 10% and slowly goes up to 100% braking to bring the rider to a full stop. You can test this by switching off the remote while riding. After about 3s the drive will start braking automatically.”

Unorthodox design aside, the Mellow remote SCREAMS quality. With a matte finished front that features bright LED’s that indicate your board battery level and riding mode, it is easy to quickly take in relevant information about your board in an instant, in even the brightest conditions. The back of the remote features grippy rubber, which is particularly useful for retaining the fine control needed to execute precision remote-sliding maneuvers at high speeds or on bumpy terrain.

The one thing that every eskate remote should have that the Mellow remote lacks in its simplicity, is a deadman’s switch. I always tell myself, “you are an experienced eskater, you won’t have THIS board go running off on you.” which is generally followed by said board zooming off from under my foot at max speed into traffic, while I watch, dismayed. The Mellow was no exception in this regard, and is powerful enough to easily jump right out from under your foot if you apply pressure to the remote accidentally (as I did while skating with some stuff in my hands.)

I have noticed a slight sticking on my remote that does not allow it to return to perfect “neutral” in the center position, but this may be due to the fact that I have fallen onto the remote before, and scuffed up the plastic. This is a very minor issue that is not dangerous and rarely impacts my ride, but it is worth mentioning.

While we are on the topic of quality, MELLOW. HECKING. SLAYS. IT. Everything from the box it comes in:

(look at this beautiful box and board! It is even designed with steps in mind to guide you through the unboxing process.)

To the online learning support:

And the literature included:

In all of these regards, Mellow goes entirely above-and-beyond anything else that I have seen in the eskate scene. If there is one thing that I hope other eskate companies take away from Mellow, it is this extremely high standard for quality parts, online support, and usability.

One aspect of Mellow as a company that I LOVE, is their commitment to skater education. Even if you don’t own a Mellow, I would urge all skaters to check out their “Mellow School” videos that teach valuable skills that any eskater should know, particularly:

Emergency Stopping

Eboard Stances

Safety Tips

These videos are created by real skaters and highlight a lot of the lessons that many eskaters have had to learn the hard way (they even slide a board under-power in the emergency stopping video in a pretty gnarly slow-mo shot).

This attention to detail is also reflected in the drive itself. The battery feels solid, well-designed and easy to snap into and out of the drive. It and the mount are encased in rubber and dampening foam which help solve the issue that most bolt-on kits have, incessant amounts of rattling. Another cool feature on the Mellow battery is a small port that allows you to use the battery as a power-bank for your devices. I haven’t utilized this particular feature yet, but it seems like a great way to charge a remote or cellphone in a pinch!

(Pardon my dirt, had to test the water-proofing…)

All cables on the Mellow are recessed into the a specially-designed channel in the trucks that gives the drive a very clean look and ensures your cables wont get caught or rub on anything.

The Mellow is actually pretty indistinguishable from a regular skateboard if you overlook the small black box that is mounted on the bottom. Add this to the fact that the drive itself is IP65 waterproof, which means it is splash, water jet and dust resistant, and you have yourself a very robust commuter! I tested the waterproofing claims in-depth (literally deep puddles) and in the rain and found them to perform as-advertised.

Operation is easy. Simply snap the battery into the drive, click its big button, turn on your remote, and you are good to go. You can even easily snap in another battery in seconds once your first one runs out.

(my typical commute involved bringing my two batteries with me and snapping another one in after 5ish miles of aggressive riding had drained the first one)

The board is so user-friendly, it’s crazy. The closest analogy that I can think of is; its like if Apple designed an eskate, it’s so simple to use that a monkey could ride it. To test this theory, I lent the board to my roommate without any explanation and she found she was able to ride it in minutes without any prior skateboarding experience, besides one hiccough that also got me, the rolling start.

Unlike other eskates, the Mellow will not work from a complete stop. It has been designed to only allow a user to accelerate after the board has already begun rolling. I will admit, I thought that I had a defective unit for about an hour until I did my research and discovered that the Mellow requires you to push a couple of times before you can engage the drive.

This serves two purposes:

  1. It eliminates jerky starts where a user must apply a lot of power with their remote in order to overcome the moment of inertia for their mass. These starts rarely look graceful on other boards and, let’s be honest, you should all be pushing into your accelerations anyway. I understand that we, as eskaters, are not the biggest fans of physical work, but we can all afford to push once or twice at the start of our journey.
  2. It saves a lot of power, thus extending range. As I mentioned above, a lot of engine torque must be applied to overcome the moment of inertia for an eskater and their board. All it takes to save a large amount of that energy, is to give the board small push and start rolling before you apply throttle.

Since I have started testing the Mellow, I have incorporated rolling starts into my eskate routine with ALL of my boards, and I have found that my quality of life, and my range have increased as a result. Enough about the specs and the tech, let’s talk about…

THE RIDE

When they named the Mellow, they did a good job. The first thing you notice when you apply the remote and begin sliding forwards is just how damn SMOOTH it is. Acceleration and braking don’t come on suddenly or surge, and feel almost uncanny in the way that they carry you forwards, almost like a gust of wind or wave that carries you along. It also helps that the board is very, very quiet. After riding the Mellow for a couple of months and jumping on my Boosted, I was surprised by the loud whine of the belts and turning of the motors. The Mellow, by contrast, is almost silent…almost too silent in fact. I often find myself startling people as I pass them, a problem that I never had on my Boosted.

When the board is new, it is limited to a measly 15 mph which isn’t very exciting. Once the full, 25 mph top speed is unlocked, the Mellow really starts to spread its wings. I have a lot of boards in my stable currently, but when I have to get somewhere in a hurry, I always grab the Mellow. For my typical, pothole ridden, bumpy, city-riding commute, 25 mph is plenty of speed, any more than that begins to feel unsafe. The torque is great as well, you can tell that the Mellow team put a lot of work into building the torque curve to utilize the power of the two 1000 Watt motors without making the ride jerky and dangerous.

One area that I notice the Mellow Drive to be lacking in is the braking department. Though the Mellow boasts having 2 brakes per wheel that help double-up on braking power, I have noticed that the ECU is a little TOO protective of over-braking, which often results in decreased braking ability at lower speeds. This problem doesn’t seem inherently dangerous, as the board provides great braking power at higher speeds, but at lower speeds, I always find myself rolling a few more feet than I expected when coming to a full stop.

I can totally understand that Mellow does not want you to be able to apply the brakes hard enough to throw yourself from the board, but at current levels, it just doesn’t provide enough braking when slowing to a stop. As a former DH racer, this is not a problem, I can slow myself down just fine with a footbrake, but eskate-exclusive riders, might find this a little annoying.

I should mention at this point, that I ran the Mellow in as stock of a setup as I could, including their strangely-named “Cruiser” deck which is actually shaped like a shorter top-mount DH deck more than anything else. Let me tell you, this is close to the ideal eskate deck as I have ever seen. It is short enough to store easily and be maneuverable. It has cutouts for big wheels, a very light and strong construction, and a little bit of a tail for jumping off of curbs and pivoting on those tighter turns.

The “Mellow” brand double-barrel bushings that come with the trucks were also surprisingly springy and close-enough to an ideal rebound that I didn’t have to swap them out with some Venom barrels (something that I do with almost every eskate that I ride). The setup feels turny and responsive right out of the box with great rebound that makes for really good carving. This is yet another testament to Mellow’s commitment to a great skating experience, over just creating another high-powered eskate and bolting it to a deck.

The two 1000 Watt hub-driven motors provide ample power (very similar to the feeling of my Boosted V2) and the 80 mm wheels are a good size for eating up bumps and cracks in the sidewalk on your ride (especially needed with the reduced urethane for the hub-driven motors in the rear). I was even lucky enough to pick up some sizable debris from a construction site on my way to work!

(A couple seconds with handy-dandy pliers and I was good to go again)

The W concave on the deck is also a god-send, and something you rarely see in a sea of flat and bouncy Loaded Vanguard copycats. I like to feel the road under me when I ride, and want to be locked in on my heels and toes with a comfortable concave, not be bouncing around on what essentially amounts to flat trampoline covered in grip-tape.  Hell, if the concave on the Mellow deck was a little more aggressive, I might even consider racing this thing as a regular skateboard.

Speaking of regular skateboarding, Mellow offers a unique riding mode called “Endless” that does something that I have never seen another electric do, it mimics real skateboarding.

The way it does this is by allowing the rider to manually push the board up to a given speed, and then simply continuing that momentum with the hub driven motors. It sounds great in practice and is advertised as a way to get a “real skating” feeling while extending battery life. I come from a skate background, so I was very excited to try out this feature, but quickly came to the realization pushing off and continuing the be pushed forwards at a constant speed feels very far from “natural.” Sadly, you still have to have your remote with you to slow down and stop, but this mode is great for extending your battery life, and I found myself making use of it several times to limp home with <5% battery life.

What I would LOVE see is a mode that uses the hub motors to subtly add a little more “glide” to each push, extending the power that a rider is able to put down, and allowing for a little bit of a motor-assisted skate session without requiring use of a remote. 

In Conclusion:

The Mellow Drive is the best bolt-on kit that we have tested. If you have deep pockets, and are not into soldering wires and programming your own ECU’s, but still want an eboard that can mount on any household deck, this is unquestionably the right choice for you.

Additionally, Mellow is making great advances in the fields of eskate tech, ease-of-use, and putting the rider experience first. Their products truly reflect a love of skating and a consideration for skaters that goes beyond what we see from the rest of the industry. In a world where Chinese manufacturers are constantly copying each other’s designs and pumping out boards with bigger and bigger motors bolted onto shitty, flat decks with trucks that fall apart during real use, it is important to recognize that Mellow is focusing on innovating eskating as an experience.

We can buy products from the Meepo and Wowgo’s of the world for a hundred years, and I can almost guarantee that the eskate landscape will look very similar in that time (albeit, extremely cheap if they keep up their current trends) but it takes companies like Mellow to actually bring new features, technology, and ideas into reality that will truly innovate the eskate industry. (after 2 months of abuse, this is what a Mellow looks like. It handled light rain, dirty roads, and Boston traffic and came out looking none the worse for wear)

I hope you liked this month’s long-term review. If you have any questions about the Mellow or have an idea for a product that you would like us to review or compare next, feel free to email me at [email protected]

Until next time, stay rolling, stay upright, stay stoked!