The State of ESK8
The Exway Flex probably holds the title of the most hotly anticipated board for the first half of 2020. Why? Well, honestly it probably all comes down to the price. What you get in return for a $729 to $779 USD investment (at the time of writing this, before any promo codes are applied) is something the eskate community hasn’t seen before.
Look, we all know Boosted (RIP). The ultimate premium all-rounder production board in the eyes of many. But the ticket price of a Boosted board being such a tough pill to swallow was part of what led to the surge in popularity of budget boards in the first place. Not everyone has $16-$1700 USD to spend on an electric skateboard, and the fact that so many manufacturers started producing a lot more bang-for-your-buck boards in the eskate scene was one of the many reasons behind Boosted’s demise.
Exway is a company known for taking things one, maybe even a few steps further than producing a typical budget board. This is a company hell-bent on proving to the eskate community exactly what you can and should expect at certain price points, which largely signals to the remaining eskate manufacturers in the world, particularly those headquartered in China, that hey, you need to catch up!
The Exway Flex is a departure from the type of board that Exway has become traditionally known for. We’re used to seeing highly polished, highly sophisticated, slimline and unibody boards from Exway like the X1 and X1 Pro. The Flex is the first Exway board to feature far more typical deck mounted enclosures, whilst also being the first Exway board to be, well, flexy…
Form Factor, Aesthetics and Basic Features
What kind of board is the Exway Flex? This board conforms to a hugely popular form factor, that of the freeride/cruiser style electric longboard (37-inches) with a split enclosure design in order to maximise the use of a comfortable and flexy deck.
In the popular Riot configuration, the Exway Flex is a dual motor (under mount) belt drive, but it also has the added versatility of being able to be converted over to a dual hub drive. At the time of writing this no other electric skateboard brand offers this kind of versatility. These next-gen drive systems for the Flex are known as V2, which is important to note if you’re purchasing the drive systems separately from Exway’s website.
There are pros and cons involved with either choice between the belt or hub systems. The Riot belt system continues to offer maximum versatility in that four, full urethane wheels can be used on your board. This opens up unlimited customisation options in terms of wheel brand, size, durometer etc., all the way up to 120mm Cloudwheels. Just be sure you have the right pulley system with the right cores to match the wheels of your choice. Four, full urethane wheels offer a superior ride feel, but the system is loud compared to the near silent hubs. The hub system is quiet, has no protruding parts (like belts or satellite motors), is more stealth and requires less maintenance. Cons are of course a lack of versatility and an inferior ride feel; thin urethane sleeves will never trump a full, juicy, real wheel.
Both systems have their place, it’s just a matter of deciding which one is right for you. Or are you both?
As for me, I ride the Riot belt drive, so that’s what the remainder of this review will be centred around.
Designed for street-only commuting and light carving, the Exway Flex joins quite a large family tree, at the top of which sits the almighty Boosted (or at least it did).
The Exway Flex is a beautifully finished product. The shape of the enclosures is unique and aggressively gorgeous. The materials used are also clearly robust and are of high quality.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Exway Flex comes with an IP55 water and dust resistance rating and a 12–month warranty.
In the box includes the board itself, a remote and micro usb charging cable, a 2A charger, a skate tool and a user manual.
Make no mistake; although Exway call this their “budget board,” this is only in comparison to their highly unique X1 Pro and other future models. This is no budget board in terms of quality. The Flex even outdoes the mid-tier in this regard. Although we’re not quite reaching the heights of an outrageously high quality hyper board here, you have to remember the Flex’s price point. The quality offerings here just aren’t seen on other boards even close to the Flex’s RRP. Nothing here is off-the-shelf or generic. Everything is mindfully and beautifully created to be a part of a whole.
The deck is comprised of eight different layers (six of them functional) and the consideration given to what each one of them does can be felt under foot. The combination of both flexy and solid bamboo, maple and multiaxial glass fiber, honestly makes for one of the nicest riding decks that I’ve ever ridden. Of course it’s flexy, but it’s the right amount of flexy. By this I mean the deck doesn’t sag unnecessarily under your weight. It rebounds proportionately with your weight to ensure you are suspended in a Goldilocks zone of weightlessness. This is what you want. Not that horrible, bouncy type of rebound that makes you feel like you’re going to be trampolined off of the deck at the first sign of the slightest bump in the road. The Exway Flex’s deck responds to both you and your terrain gently and predictably.
The deck gifts a mild camber in the center and a super aggressive amount of concave at the ends to cradle and lock in your feet. This latter feature is perhaps one of the more controversial aspects of the board.
Exway wanted to produce an extremely versatile board. They want users to be able to install any size street wheels they desire. As such, the wheel wells are massive and create flairs in the deck that double as extreme concave for your feet. At first look you might think you’re in for an uncomfortable ride and I’ll admit it takes a little getting used to, but when you get your foot placement right you come to quickly realise that you can leverage these wheel flairs to sink into far more aggressive carves than you normally would on a board of this type.
Exway’s X1 and X1 Pro used Seismic Aeon 45° trucks. The Flex uses Exway’s own forged and CNC finished 45° trucks called Trist. These are every bit as high quality as the Seismic Aeon’s; actually even more so as the Aeon’s are cast, whereas the Trist’s are forged. They look awesome and they have the added benefit of being able to use regular longboard bushings instead of Seismic’s proprietary triangular ones. The Flex comes stock with double barrel bushings at 90A duro. Exway also sells extra, cupped CNC machined washers for the Trist trucks (for barrel bushings). The washers that come with the Flex are flat. So the option to further dial in your ride is there if you want to grab the cupped washers and experiment with those. For me, personally, the stock setup worked great. I currently weigh about 187lbs or 85kg. The 90A bushings with flat washers was perfect. I also run a pretty loose setup.
The Exway Flex comes standard with 85mm 76A wheels with their own unique core. This means if you want to switch up to something with an ABEC-style core or a Kegel-style core, you’ll need to get additional, appropriately shaped pulleys from Exway. You can also purchase 100mm Boa Constrictor wheels as well as 105D and 120D Cloudwheels directly from Exway.
The standard 85mm 76A wheels are Exway’s Gen2 formula. It’s a tidy wheel with a wide contact patch and nice, grippy thane. The wheels on my unit were actually 80A, but close enough. So far I have no complaints.
Topping the deck is a 2mm, neoprene, shock-absorbing griptape. How much this actually assists in shock-absorption is arguable, but I have no problems with it being there. Every little bit helps for us daily, middle-distance commuters.
Electro-Mechanical Nitty Gritty
Let’s talk batteries, motors and ESC here; the lifeblood of an electric skateboard.
The battery pack is a 12s2p arrangement (24 cells) of Sony VTC6 18650’s. A bloody good, high-discharge cell. No complaints. The entire pack totals 259Wh’s of power. For what this equates to in terms of range, please see the ‘Numbers’ section further below.
This is a modest sized pack compared to what we now commonly see in today’s electric skateboard scene, but we also have to think of things in relative terms. For a board of this type, this size pack (or similar) is pretty normal.
Exway’s fully custom ESC comes from Hobbywing and is one of the best in the business. This ESC is 30A and runs Bluetooth 4.0 and 2.4Ghz. Paired with the Exway remote, this ecosystem delivers a smooth, intuitive, reliable and predictable control experience. Further coupled with the many other dazzling features via the remote and mobile app, this ESC and the options available for users to configure to their liking goes virtually unrivaled at this price point.
Two of the most talked about features are stand-by mode and the Smart Battery. I talk about stand-by mode at length in the video posted in the ‘Other Features’ section. The Smart Battery, however, is a feature that senses when the board is in an extended period of non-use. In such cases the battery will automatically discharge to 60%, which is an ideal storage charge for lithium ion batteries, increasing the longevity of your board. How cool!
The Riot motors are a 4230 size, 160kv motor from Hobbywing. They output a max of 1500W each (totaling 3000W) and pack 5.2Nm of torque. These things are little pocket rockets! To put things in perspective, these little guys are packing the kind of power you typically see on 50mm motors, not 42mm motors.
Completing the picture are nice and wide 15mm belts. A step up from the 10mm belts that came equipped on the V1 Riot (X1 Pro).
The Exway remote has, so far, been a mainstay for the brand. It was awesome whet it was first released with the X1 and it’s still awesome now. It’s compact and minimalist, has a simple scroll wheel operation, a small LED/LCD display and a single multi-function button.
A few folks in the community have said they think the Exway remote is a little too small; a comment that is often made about the display screen too. Regardless of any of that, it’s important that the remote and the ESC work in harmony to provide a confidence inspiring ride, which is of course what the Exway chipset does in spades.
Other Features (The App)
The Numbers: Claimed vs. Reality
Exway claim the Flex can produce a 25mph/40kph top speed, a 20 mile or 32 kilometre range and a 30% hill grade climbability.
Depending on the rider and conditions, there is no reason to contest the 25mph/40kph top speed in my experience with the Flex. Most people will absolutely hit this number, which is plenty fast enough for a mid-tier commuter.
The claimed range, however, is the same old pie-in-the-sky number we too often see from almost every eskate manufacturer. Only a 130lbs/60kg person, riding in perfect conditions in speed mode 2 (of 4) would stand a chance of getting anything close to 20 miles or 32 kilometres. It’s just not the reality we live in.
Based on the 259Wh battery capacity of the Exway Flex, here’s a more accurate representation of what range you might get based on your weight and if you were really riding the board the way it’s supposed to be ridden (hard):
I subbed in another rider to conduct my hands-on range test. My rider on this occasion weighed around 165lbs/75kg and achieved a range of 13.6 miles or 22 kilometres. This was riding in speed mode 4, with turbo mode off, but the acceleration curve set to the maximum. An approximate 15.5mph/25kph pace was maintained and it was probably about 63 degrees (F) or 17 degrees (C) on the day.
As for the claimed 30% hill grade climbability, neither myself nor my substitute rider have been able to test this, as Adelaide isn’t particularly well known for it’s hills. But based on my testing and the feel of the board, there is a noticeable torque loss when turbo mode is off. In such cases the Flex felt a little underwhelming trying to climb anything close to even a 20% incline. With turbo on the issue was non-existent, but I would stop short of certifying the board as capable of climbing a 30% incline, even with turbo on. As with the claimed range spec, you would need to be a 130lbs/60kg featherweight for 30% to even be remotely close to the realms of possibility.
Can the Flex tackle the odd 10–20% incline? Sure it can. But I wouldn’t rely on it as a hill-crusher if that’s what you need or are in the market for.
The User Experience
In a word, it’s great! Once you crank everything up in the app and turn Turbo mode on, you’ve got one hell of a board for $779 USD!
Off of the board I was a little disappointed to see that the ‘mag safe’ charging port that featured on the X1 and X1 Pro had been removed (apparently due to quality reasons), but really that’s a pretty small complaint in the scheme of things. Ultimately it sounds like it’s possibly a change for the better for the time being.
On the board, with the Riot belt drive, you’re easily going to be one of the loudest, if not the loudest rider in the squad. If you like to keep a low profile it’s pretty much impossible with the Riot. People will hear you coming from a couple of blocks away. If this doesn’t sound like how you want to roll, perhaps opt for the hub drive system instead. But remember those pros and cons.
All-in-all the Exway Flex is an all-round thumbs up. In a perfect world there might be some small things I would improve or change, which I will detail in the next section. The only major con worth mentioning here is the matter of mid-range torque and battery sag.
The Exway Flex has a comparable launch power and a higher top speed than that of say, the Boosted Stealth. But the mid-range torque and acceleration of the latter is what really separates the two. The two boards are probably identical off-the-line, the Boosted would lead through the mid-curve, before eventually being passed by the Flex.
The other thing is that mild battery sag kicks in around the 40% battery remaining mark. This is not unusual by any stretch of the imagination, but again, the inevitable comparison to Boosted shows where Exway can still make improvements in the area of programming to try and mitigate this.
A word or two here should also be spent on the after sales experience, of which I have not experienced in any earnest way that I could report upon. However, from an observers point of view, Exway have a bit of a trend of expanding, and then their after sales service having to play catch up for a while in order to cope with their increasing popularity. They get to a comfortable place and then they expand again, leading to another few months of response delays and angry Reddit posts. Then Exway's processes and personnel improve and catch up again, and then the cycle likely repeats.
Exway are starting to build up agents in some countries (mainly Europe and the UK) that can help with minor service work. Though for most people it's important to be somewhat competent with a skate tool and a set of hex keys. In most cases, if something goes wrong with your board, you won't be sending your board in for repairs. That's not their model. In most cases, unless you live near an agent, you'll be sent replacement parts to swap out yourself.
What I Would Change
First, I’d make it longer. 37-inches combined with limited opportunity for varied foot placement makes the rider conform to a narrower stance that I’m usually used to on a typical longboard. An insistence on the wheel wells/flairs would make me, if I was the designer, shoot for more like a 40-inch deck.
A longer deck would also allow for a larger battery pack and thus more range. Exactly how much bigger? I don’t know, but imagine bumping it up to a 13s2p or a 12s3p (you wouldn’t be able to do both). Or maybe even keeping the 12s2p arrangement, but bumping the individual cell size up to 21700’s. These options would allow Exway to further look into how they manage battery sag and improve consistent torque delivery. Bigger or more batteries, however, would impact on the Flex's price. As I feel Exway may have been working to a dollar figure to deliver this board, I'll let this one slide.
Bottom line here is that there was a real opportunity for Exway to absolutely obliterate Boosted in terms of range. I think they took the opportunity to obliterate and slightly missed it by only being able to achieve slightly better results. Still not bad considering the Flex’s price point, but I think they could have done better.
Something else I mentioned above is torque delivery and battery sag. Boosted effectively eliminated this problem with creative programming and it was part of the reason why they were so popular. Riding a Boosted on 7% battery felt exactly the same as riding a Boosted on 100% battery. This is really the next frontier for Exway. They really are so close to filling the void left behind by Boosted, but battery sag and the loss of torque and top speed as the battery depletes still reminds us that we are riding a board from the mid-tier of the eskate market.
The last thing I would change is how over-the-air firmware updates are rolled out. The risk of user error is too high. It is natural for users to install any firmware update as soon as they see that one is available. The problem is with Exway’s app is that not every firmware update is suitable for your board. Many people blindly install firmware updates that aren’t for their board and end up bricking it or worse, making their board prone to critical errors (even whilst riding). Exway are trying their best to solve this by announcing on social media which firmware releases are for which boards, and by also including notices in boxes of boards alerting the rider what firmware version to be on, and whether or not they need to update. I do hope that these are temporary measures to fix the problem. A more permanent solution to this needs to be found and implemented.
Is the Exway Flex worth the hype it generated in the first half of 2020? In every possible way, yes! Remember we are talking about a $729 to $779 USD board here. After everything you’ve read, there’s no way you could look at what’s on offer here and say it’s not worth it. No other board right now is offering the features, benefits, quality and versatility of the Exway Flex at a comparable price.
We’re now about three quarters of the way through 2020 and the Exway Flex now arguably sits on top of the family tree for boards of this type (as the amount of available new Boosted’s inevitably continues down the road to zero).
If the Flex is Exway’s “budget” attempt at this style of board, imagine what a Flex Pro (total name guess) or something like that might look like from Exway in the coming years? Something tells me they’re just getting started over at Exway. They’re not done yet!
If you want to get your hands on an Exway Flex use THIS LINK and the promo code SAMJ20 for $20 off your board purchase. This will even work with other promo codes for an even larger discount.