How to ride a hover-board might be the last thing on your mind when you’re purchasing one but it’s probably worth checking out if you want to avoid a good bruising your first week of riding. We’ve all seen the videos of graceful, acrobats gliding around smoothly, without a care in the world on these self-balancing devices
The harsh truth is that, in the first few days, you’re far more likely to join the ever expanding collection of embarrassing hover-board fail videos than showing off your swan-like elegance.
Knowing how a hover-board works is the first step to impressing people with your “natural” mastery. Hover-boards are also known as self-balancing scooters but how does self-balancing technology actually work? The key is the gyroscope which was developed several thousand years ago in ancient Greece.
Gyroscopes are devices that create angular momentum. It’s a spinning wheel which keeps two wheeled vehicles like bicycles upright. Without getting too much into the science of it, a gyroscope provides stability by continuing to spin. Any forces trying to re-orientate that spin are met with resistance. Furthermore, angular momentum works by providing force in 90 degree angles to the vector, which is why two wheeled vehicles stay upright in relation to the surface they’re on.
So the key is to keep the gyroscope moving at a comfortable speed. This will add stability and keep you balanced. The reason there are so many hover-board fail videos is because it’s easier said than done. On a hover-board you will go from falling to riding, in an instant. There’s no in-between ground, which is much like riding a unicycle.
Of course a hover-board is far easier to master than a uni-cycle because two wheels, or gyroscopes, will work better than one. Most modern devices will have a 3 axis gyroscope built-in to help make balancing even easier, but the key to making this work is smooth momentum, and avoiding sharp turns of direction or acceleration which will unbalance you.
The first thing to do when you’re stepping on for the first time is to clear some space. Falling on your backside might be embarrassing, or even painful, but it’s not going to be serious in the way that riding full speed into a glass cabinet will be.
With the board powered up, get on by putting one foot first, then the other. The best way to achieve this is in a fluid motion. You’ll want to keep your center balanced over the board and bending your knees will help you to find that center easier. There’s nothing wrong with asking your friends or family to act as spotters to help support you at this stage.
Hover-board controls are intuitive and respond to the changing of weight distribution for direction. Although most companies will use “leaning forwards or backwards” as a short-hand to help you understand how the controls work this way of thinking about it isn’t ideal in practice. The key is to keep your center of balance over the board at all times. That means pushing down on the balls of your feet to move forward, and pushing down on your heels to move back.
The control pedals on hover-boards respond to pressure in your feet to decide motion, speed and direction. The balance comes in part from angular force (gyroscope) but also from your core muscle group. It’s your core that will keep your center of gravity in place and prevent you from unbalancing the board- this is why longer journeys on self-balancing scooters are accompanied by mild aches in core muscle groups.
Keeping your core in alignment with the board is easier in smooth motions. High-end hoverboards naturally have more power. That means faster acceleration with responsive steering. Don’t run before you can walk by avoiding excessive acceleration that comes with pushing down too hard. Most boards will also have training modes which lower the power and firm up the steering to help you find your balance.
Once you feel confident moving backwards and forwards in smooth motions you can start to be a bit more adventurous. Turning uses the same principal of moving back and forwards but instead exerting pressure to the left or right. The key word here is exerting pressure rather than relieving pressure. Taking pressure off can easily unbalance you, or worse leave you spinning forever.
Hover-boards use dual motors. That means that each wheel has its own motor. A setup like this allows you to spin on the spot. It’s also what makes these devices agile enough to weave in and out of human traffic or navigate tight corners around the house. Getting a handle on this is all about making soft turns rather than sharp ones.
Increase the power in one wheel by pushing it forward whilst keeping your other foot the same. For a challenge, try exerting a little backwards pressure on one side, which will let you make the sharpest turns or spin on a dime. As you gain confidence, your turns will get faster but always make sure you keep your balance centered above the deck.
Once you’ve mastered moving around the house, you’re ready to take the training wheels off. If you’ve had the training program on, set the hover-board to full-power first. Most hover-boards are calibrated to work best on expert modes, so you may even find it even easier to balance once you’ve turned the training mode off.
Take the board outside to start applying your skills in a real-world environment. Pay attention to the type of surface you’re riding on. You’ll want something smooth and flat without any rocks, gravel or other obstacles. On a high-powered board it’s well worth investing in safety equipment like helmets and knee pads. Again focus on keeping your actions fluid and your center of balance above the board.
Children tend to be better at self-balancing scooters than adults. There’s a number of reasons for that and we can learn a few things from those reasons. Firstly, children have a lower center of gravity which makes balancing easier. We can replicate that by bending our knees to center our core. The other reason is confidence
Children have less fear of falling than adults do, even though they have a lot of experience falling over. Falling over doesn’t impact a child’s confidence. On a hover-board confidence is key. It allows you to make fluid motions whilst higher speeds offer more stability. Going very slow is actually counter-productive and will make falling off more likely. If you’re an adult, smooth motions with a healthy dose of confidence will work wonders for your ability.
You Get What You Pay For
The self-balancing scooter market has boomed because they are fundamentally easy to ride. Having said that, some are easier to ride than others. We’ve covered the basics of learning to ride, but choosing the right board will make learning easier. Here’s a few things to look for in an easy riding board.
If you’re looking for a legitimate commuter scooter wheel size is important. Roads are full of little hazards you might not have noticed when walking. Drains, changes in texture, bumps, pot-holes, rocks, twigs and gravel are all capable of making you eat the tarmac on a hover-board.
First generation hover-boards were almost unanimously built with 6.5” wheels. The low ground clearance aided balance but wasn’t versatile enough for the changing terrain of a commute. Modern up-market products tend to go for 8.5” wheels which makes changing terrain less of an issue. These are easier to ride out-doors plus the engines tend to be smoother with better calibration.
Get Out There!
You can take as much advice as possible but the truth is, the best way to learn is by doing. The key things to take on board is confidence, centering your gravity above the deck and fluid movements. These products are designed to be easy to ride and you should be able to get the hang of them within a few hours. That doesn’t mean going cavalier, but keep in mind that the faster you go the more stability you have.
Avoid leaning forwards or backwards, because it will likely kick in auto-balance correction which can prevent you from moving at all or buck you off. Instead exert pressure on different areas of the board. Cheaper products tend to have a worse motor to wheel calibration and will be jerky at the top speeds. If you’re looking at a commuter vehicle spend a little more money to get something well-made with larger wheels.
That just about wraps it up for this segment so enjoy learning how to ride your new hover-board, be safe and have fun.