Terribly frightening riding an electric skateboard. It’s a bit like water-skiing – mono-skiing, to be precise – except it’s not some beautiful, becalmed Mediterranean bay across which you scud. Instead, you hurtle over often uneven tarmac with the very real prospect of grave injury front and centre in your mind. One slip and there’s a good chance it’s A&E. Teenage boys might give little thought to physical consequence – the glory of youth – but for the rest of us the considerations of pain, humiliation and plaster casts have to be borne, or at the very least suppressed through an immense effort of will. Billy Connolly says you can’t be brave unless you’re frightened and he’s got a point. The electric skateboard revolution is not for the fainthearted.
I took delivery of mine – the Boosted Stealth – on the same day it was reported Madrid had become the latest city to ban the use of electric scooters. Municipal authorities had, presumably, grown tired of reports of riders causing havoc (and injury) by using them on pavements. The problem is the technology is now so brilliant that these tiny motors are capable of great speed and range, with a charge of only a few hours. My Stealth board – essentially an electric scooter without the upright bar to hold onto – has a range of 14 miles and a top speed of 24mph, which is about the pace Usain Bolt sprints. Too fast for pavements, then, but too risky for the roads. Over the next few years, as the technology becomes more affordable, what is currently a headache for urban planners will surely become a migraine. But for now – if you’ve got the stones – what an amazing way to commute. Because what’s the point in living if you can’t feel alive?
In Putney in the late morning under a clear, blue December sky I fired up the Stealth – by which I mean stepped gingerly onto it, controller in hand, while wearing for protection a cycling helmet and a Barbour coat. Ten thousand miles of brilliant wintry sunshine above and only the prospect of the open road ahead. I started tentatively – oh so tentatively – but in not too long had something approaching the knack, swaying through my hips to steer in my best approximation of a Californian teenager while sporadically calling out sincere apology to little old ladies I startled with my speed. It’s true I didn’t feel quite the radical dude I had hoped to, but more than once I caught myself grinning madly.
On the basis I would encounter few people and no cars, I rode the board down the broad Thames path from Putney Bridge, through the slightly soulless but smoothly surfaced Wandsworth redevelopment, past upmarket houseboats and the public dump, and on to Battersea’s magnificent St Mary’s church – plum on the river – where William Blake got married. From there I zoomed on through Battersea park, past the Peace Pagoda (encountering another middle aged electric boarder I made a peace sign) and then on to the crane-tropolis that is now Battersea Power Station. Certainly, it was a thrilling way to see the city, all senses heightened by the ever present prospect of massive pain – but, as good as it was to take it all in, nothing compared to clocking a pothole or hidden lip in the tarmac ahead of time.
I crossed into Chelsea over Albert Bridge and now there was nothing for it but to get off the narrow pavement to take my chances in the traffic. This, I realised quickly, is an excellent way to discover if heaven really is a halfpipe. In traffic on a bicycle you can zip left or right at a moment’s notice, but on a skateboard your turning circle is too big and you’re not able to brake sharply. People in the medical profession, I’ve heard, refer to motorcyclists as “donors”, but motorcyclists in my estimation are a good way further up the chain of human evolution than anyone who makes a habit of skateboarding through busy traffic. I gave up at Sloane Square because there are people who would miss me.
The Stealth, which comes only in black, is a thing of great beauty. Its big chunky wheels and wide board scream cool. For a boarding enthusiast (or overgrown child), it is undoubtedly something to covet. That said, it can’t do the tricks and stunts boarders try to achieve on non-motorised boards. Page 1 of the manual it comes with warns not to jump it off curbs or to use it too violently – the electrical components inside it are robust, but not unbreakable. It’s also not cheap – you can buy one in Selfridges for £1,500, which is a lot of paper-rounds. That said, if you’ve got a nephew who lives on an airstrip or a sprawling country estate, you’d be hard pushed to find him a better present this Christmas. I just suggest you also buy a him a full suit of armour, too.
They said in the future we’d have hover boards. The Boosted Stealth is the next best thing.
If skateboarding’s not your thing but you don’t want to spend hours of your life commuting in trains, tubes or traffic jams, here’s some other novel ways to make it to your workstation.
1. Run. If you live in a city (most people do), chances are you’re not more than eight miles from your desk. Provided there’s a shower at your office, why not start jogging to work? Thousands do. Being fitter will improve every aspect of your life. If you’re worried you won’t get the reading done you did on the bus, there’s always audiobooks to listen to as you pound the pavement. And if you are really committed, you could grab a pair of Nike Zoom Vaporfly trainers which Nike claim help you run faster. Run to work: save a fortune, be a better person and eat what you like for lunch. Where’s the downside?
2. Fold-up bike: fold-up bikes have been the must-have commuter accessory for a decade now. There is still no beating the Brompton for compactness and ease of folding.
3. Commuter scooters: why let the kids have all the fun on the pavements? Grab yourself a commuter scooter – both the Frenzy and the JD Bug are good options – and arrive at the office in record time. Just make sure you aren’t overtaken by any speedy six-year olds en route.
4. Horseback. Commuting by horseback is surely a ludicrous indulgence? Not so, says myracing.com, who have run the data and found that owning and operating a horse is cheaper than owning and operating a car. Although the research has been disputed, not least by the equine experts at Horse and Hound, it seems riding to work only makes commercial sense if you’re prepared to dismount to collect manure produced enroute. “If you feed the horse the right diet and sell the manure for a very reasonable 25p per kilo, you’ll be in for £3,000 per year, covering the running costs of the horse and more,” a spokesman for myracing.com said. But where to stash it when you get to the office?
5. Don’t go. Work from home. Tell your boss, via video conference, it’s 2019 and there’s pretty much nothing you can do in an office that you can’t do at home. Plus, even though they massively increase your productivity, you can’t wear your comfy slippers at work. Working from home is the future.