I saw a deal lately on the skatecycle, a strange love-child of a skateboard and casterboard, a clear descendant of the snake board, and, in my opinion, a reasonably good longboarding substitute. I haven’t tried something new in a while, and figured I’d give it a shot. Reviews all indicate–and I entirely agree–a very high learning curve for this sucker. This is coming from a guy who has held a few season passes for snowboarding, regularly longboards, has held his own wakeboarding, wake surfing, skiing, even flyboarding, and has dabbled in surfing, waterskiing, and skateboarding. Having a board attached to my feet that’s meant to get me around isn’t an unfamiliar feeling, but the skatecycle is an entirely different experience.
I think my extensive board-sport experience has helped me avoid any serious discomfort; I think I’ve only ended up falling off my feet once, and that was fairly gently onto my hands. I’m also guessing the soreness in my feet would be drastically worse if I wasn’t as frequent a snowboarder as I am, though it still gets fairly painful. This is only speaking from a week’s worth of experience, though!
There’s a decent handful of advice on how to get yourself going on the thing, but I think it ultimately comes down to trying out a lot of ideas. I’ve mixed tips from how-tos all across the web, sticking with things I like more. The concept is fairly simple. Your feet are individually planted in the centers of two large wheels, connected in a very flexible way (not only does each hub rotate 180 degrees from the center axle, but the axle itself is made of a flexible material). You can lean and turn your feet to steer, and, ideally, develop a quick snaking motion that will allow you to propel yourself (I wouldn’t know…this part is clearly the hardest, and I’m still far from getting the hang of it). So far, after 3-4 hours or so of total practice, I have a fairly good handle on controlling the board on a gentle decline. My stops tend to be messy. There’s no clean-cut way to stop, actually…similar to a longboard or skateboard, you’ll need to either powerslide or otherwise be creative. My favorite longboard stop–stepping forward off the board to transfer the motion to my legs and stopping the longboard–isn’t so feasible, with your feet within the wheels as they are. Powersliding is far down the road in my skill set. I currently rely on trying to turn away from or against the decline I’m on, to slow myself to a stop or close enough to just sort of step off. Some reviewers suggest a quick turn to stop, sort of what I’d do on ice skates or rollerblades, basically creating a circle with the wheels. I’m about halfway there with my turn method. Bottom line: it’s tricky. I’ll update when I’ve got a better handle on the self-propulsion thing.
Update (8.31.15): I actually managed to sprain my ankle really good about two months ago, and haven’t been on the Skatecyle since! However, I had made some progress before that time. I can self-propel myself just a bit now. If there’s almost any uphill slope at all, even just barely, I almost inevitably am too slow to keep my balance. The key to developing the ability to self-propel, for me, was realizing, through repetition and practice and trying again and again, how the physics of the self-propulsion works. Essentially, you’re creating your own fall line, then nudging yourself to take it (the “fall line” is, i think, a snowboarding term, but it’s basically the point where you have shifted your stance enough that gravity is able to start moving you). When you turn your front ankle one way, you naturally sort of angle it downward…this creates the sort of “fall line.” When you twist your back ankle the other way (again, naturally creating a slight downward angle), you position your leg in a way that allows you to sort of “push” the skate cycle slightly, nudging it to follow the fall line created with your front ankle. Of course, you only follow that fall line very briefly, creating a bit of momentum, then you quickly switch both ankle turns…canceling the slight turn your first ankle movements caused, and creating forward momentum again. I’m sure this is far more complicated than any of you actually reading this care to think of it, but it helped me.
So far, the only tips I have that seem to have really helped, are to make sure your feet are angled outward to some degree, and build up your confidence on a very gently slope to get started. I did some flat-land practice with a wall for balance, and I’m not sure it did much more than to give me a bit of an idea of how the board reacts to your foot movements. A gentle slope will give you just enough movement to help you balance and feel the way the board moves, but not so quickly that you’re in a lot of danger, since you’re still learning control. The slope will keep you up and moving while you develop the muscle memory to turn and eventually propel yourself (you’ll feel yourself start to move faster than the decline alone would cause).
I’d also like to comment a bit on the build. A lot of reviews left the impression that I’d be really impressed, that the skatecycle is built like a tank. I certainly wouldn’t use such glowing words; it is, ultimately, primarily made of plastic. The central hubs of the wheels (including the footboards) and pivoting connections to the center axle are metal, and I’m not actually aware of what material the axle is made of (it’s actually covered by a rather squishy material, I presume for carrying purposes–since both hubs can rotate all the way sideways, the skatecycle can sort of fold into a nice compact shape and the axle turns into a sort of briefcase-like handle right in the center). However, all the outer siding is plastic, and since I’m rather adept at letting the skatecycle take the beating instead of my body when I need to bail, it’s already pretty beat up. The plastic on the outside of the pivoting axle connections, in particular, looks like I’ve taken a grinder to it. The bearings seem to be pretty dry out-of-the-box, as well…it certainly rides quite loudly. I intend to email ANVL Boards, the makers of the skatecycle, to see if they actually intend to have the user apply some grease from day one.
Update (8.31.15): I pulled apart the Skatecycle (not all that easy, but you get the hang of it after the first wheel) and applied white lithium grease to the bearings. I gathered that white lithium grease, while an awesome lubricant/grease, is just a bit too thick for skateboards, so I thought it would be perfect for the large Skatecycle wheels. While it did dramatically decrease the noise, it also slowed me down a bit. I think white lithium grease is too thick for a Skatecycle as well, and suggest something thinner like 3-in-1, Tri-flow, or even spring for Bones skateboard lube.
It’s worth noting that an imprint on the bottom somewhere reads, “Designed in Brooklyn, Made in China.” Classic. The material and advertisements for the skatecycle definitely left me the impression that they were an all-American company from start to finish. However, so far the device ultimately has held up well; I don’t get the impression the footboards will break off or something more drastic like that will happen. ANVL Boards also offers a 2-year warranty for manufacturing defects, but it’s definitely not a no-questions-asked type of thing; there’s a nice laundry list of exceptions to void the warranty right on the box (wear and tear, etc.).
I’d say it’s been worth it so far. I’m in the midst of finals and haven’t gotten to a really comfortable level yet, but the few times I’ve really gotten a nice long run down my road and felt the ability to carve out turns, it’s felt great. My impression is that it will only become more fun as it becomes second nature to ride. I think it will mostly become a substitute longboard for me. I’m not a skatepark junkie or longboard commuter (both of which would be valid uses for the skatecycle, as well, for the record), but I love to find nice long winding canyon paths to cruise down, and the skatecycle seems perfect for that.
Update (8.31.15): I’ve tried my Skatecycle on my usual long boarding trail. It may have been the slow-down caused by the white lithium grease (see above update), but it was tough, and fairly slow. My friend’s longboard drastically out-sped me on the Skatecycle, whether we were on a downhill or flat land and self-propelling. Perhaps this is from lack of experience on my part, and I will get better and potentially to that speed…perhaps it’s due to the overly-thick grease I used…or perhaps a Skatecycle just isn’t as efficient for getting around 🙂 I’m not sure. I’d like to get back to practicing soon (ankle injuries take way too long too fully heal, and the Skatecycle is very rough on your ankles), and see if I can’t get a higher level of efficiency and speed.