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

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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!

Electric Skateboards Of 2017 Preview!

Electric skateboard scene might not be huge right now, but it is definitely getting hotter by the days.

It feels like there is a new electric skateboard kickstarter project every two weeks and with newer technology! This is definitely an exciting time to be an electric skateboard enthusiast!

It’s hard to foresee any unexpected development in the future, however we can definitely look forward to these electric skateboards that are scheduled to roll out this year.

Continue reading “Electric Skateboards Of 2017 Preview!”