Best adventure gear of 2014 for rock, dirt, snow and sand
It's been a triumphant year for adrenaline. The year hosted the introduction of wild, innovative adventure gear for every type of terrain and weather known to man. The new generation of hard goods, which encapsulates everything from mini snowmobiles, to high-powered electric thrusters, to super-fast two, three, four and six-wheelers, will ensure that the Earth's asphalt, sand, snow and rock remain thrilling playgrounds.
The Deska Board is one of those clean designs that glows with the shine of fast, slick high-tech design. The intriguing skateboard has three 200-mm wheels mounted onto a low-riding deck built from nearly every light, sturdy and responsive material out there, including carbon fiber, Kevlar, wood and aluminum. The board's front wheels move to provide a flowier motion, and a removable, hand-activated disc brake and stabilizing foot strap system give the rider full control. The board is even designed to accommodate a windsurfing sail, creating a surfy, wind-driven street board.
Deska squeaked past its Indiegogo goal in November, where it advertised its plan to begin shipping in April of next year. It's now offering the "world's first city surf" board for pre-order on its website for US$599.
Gibbs QuadSki XL
At first, we weren't sure if an amphibious ATV belonged on a list of land-based sports gear. But we reasoned that the all-new Gibbs QuadSki XL is biased toward land, since virtually every water outing will start and end on land, while land outings won't necessarily include water. So here she is.
As much as we loved the idea of the original QuadSki single-seater, a quad/personal watercraft offering 45-mph (72.4 km/h) speeds on both land and water, dropping $40K on a toy-for-one might prove rather excessive. With the QuadSki XL, the buyer is sure to feel much less guilty because he or she just bought a great bonding activity to share with a significant other, child or close friend. And $47,650 divided by two is a much lower per-capita cost than $40,000 divided by one. You did it for the family ... the small family .. of two. Like the original QuadSki, the XL tops out at 45 mph (70 km/h) on land, converts to PWC form in seconds, then revs to 45 mph on water, too.
Dreamscience Electric Thrusters
In a world where every outdoor sport and adventure has its own set of highly specialized gear, it's always nice to see things that are built for use in multiple sports. It's especially nice when those things are as ludicrously awesome as the Dreamscience Propulsion electric thrusters. Designed as a sort of high-tech, non-weather-reliant answer to kiteboarding hardware, the thrusters bring fast, ferocious forward momentum to air, land and water. As a taste, professional snowboarder Jamie Barrow (pictured above) put the lithium-polymer, handheld e-thrusters to the test by hitting 50 mph (80 km/h) on a flat, snowy straightaway.
On the downside, Dreamscience isn't ready to unleash its thrusters on the market and is still wrenching around with prototypes. Further bad news – when we spoke to the UK-based company in April, it was estimating a $5,000 to $10,000 retail price. The good news – the prototype it was testing at the time used a quartet of 10.7-hp (8-kW) motors to kick out 100 lb (445 N) of cheek-flapping thrust behind the snowboarder, surfer, skateboarder, paraglider, etc. So even if you can't afford them, there should be plenty of highly entertaining YouTube videos from folks that can.
Haibike Sduro AllMtn Pro
Electric bikes seem like a genuinely good idea for commuting and on-road use, but we're still not that sure they belong on mountain bike/multi-use trails. I had a lot of fun zipping uphill on an Ego-kit-equipped bike in the foothills of the Austrian Alps last year, and my colleague Ben Coxworth enjoyed his time of electrified trail riding at this year's inaugural Charged Up event. Still, there's something about an electric mountain bike that seems like cheating ... and possibly a misdemeanor. Is it really a bicycle, or are you basically just riding a quieter, slower dirt bike?
Long story short, we were loath to include an electric mountain bike on a list of favorites. However, Haibike's 2015 Sduro AllMtn Pro grabs a spot in spite of, not because of, the 250-watt Yamaha motor assisting the rider's leg muscles. The more interesting selling point of the bike's electrification is its e:i intelligent suspension system. With a hardware suite that includes a series of sensors and the onboard computer, the bike quickly analyzes the terrain below the front wheel, along with acceleration and cadence, then adjusts the damping of the rear shock to provide smooth, seamless riding. Assuming it works cleanly, the rear shock will automatically stiffen to provide no-slip traction on grinding uphills, then open up to eat up hard hits on fast, rough downhills.
We'll have to put e:i to the test to see if it really works as well as advertised, but electronic suspension seems like it could be the future of full suspension mountain bikes, e-bikes and all. Being able to enjoy just the right amount of shock absorption throughout a long, varied ride, all without having to constantly tweak settings, sounds like a solid step forward.
Big Wheel Drift Trike
Even with all this other adventure gear hitting the market and crowdfunding circuit, 2014 could rightfully be called "the year of the drift trike." Over the course of the year, we saw three distinct drift trike models: the Local Motors Verrado, the Big Wheel and the Tortuga Trike. Truth be told, we could substitute any of the three into this spot without losing much in terms of adrenaline overdrive, but the Big Wheel has a few features that show its designers were meticulous in creating a fun ride. Plus, it's called the Big Wheel, reminding us of childhood days of going kamikaze down the local knoll with a plastic, cartoon-themed three-wheeler.
The first thing that makes the Big Wheel immediately distinguishable from other drift trikes is its beefy 26-in front tire, significantly larger than the 20-in fronts on the other two aforementioned models. The Big Wheel also employs frame-mounted foot rests that are built to eliminate the pants-scarring tire rub that can occur with fork-mounted pegs. The extra-thick PVC rear-wheel sleeves, meanwhile, nullify traction, turning output from the 6.5-hp engine into heart-pounding drift action. The motorized trike starts at $2,000.
Every year, we see at least a few "snowboard/surf-inspired skateboards" launching on crowdfunding websites and in retail stores. However, none of the newfangled designs ever seem to give the traditional longboard any serious competition. When was the last time you saw a SurfSkate or Flowboard wheeling around your block?
We're not sure if the Leif board will break that trend, but it looks to have a chance. The board's primary four wheels are joined by two rotating powered wheels that loosen the board up and allow you to make sharp, snowboard-like carves, slides and stops. With input from its handheld remote control, the board's electric motors can drive uphill and push the rider to speeds up to 20 mph (32.1 km/h) and distances of up to 8 miles (12.9 km). The video we posted on our detailed look at the Leif made the board look like a genuine motorized "snowboard for the street."
Leif recently rebounded from a failed August Kickstarter campaign, hosting a successful Indiegogo campaign that will wind down later this month. It is still offering the all-season "eSnowboard" at the $1,199 pledge level, as well as in a $499 up front/$749 due next year package.
MTT-136 all-terrain electric drive
A lighter, more versatile answer to the snowmobile/ATV, the MTT-136, designed by Quebec inventor Yvon Martel, provides a new form of motorized, all-terrain fun. It's similar to the Skizee we covered a few years back, albeit all-electric, "front-wheel drive" and designed to tread over both snowy and dry ground.
The MTT-136 uses an electric drive to put its 136-in (345-cm) tread in motion, powering the driver to speeds up to 24 mph (40 km/h) over dirt trail and through white and drifting snow. The beauty here is that the device is just a drive unit without any seating, theoretically freeing you to use it with all kinds equipment – skis, skates, wagons, sleds, etc. Martel favored a large bucket sled in his video, creating a sort of loose, nimble snowmobile-lite. He demonstrated it being used for both work (e.g. hauling firewood) and play (e.g. carving through powdery snow). The integrated 110-volt socket serves as a mobile electrical outlet, letting you power tools and gadgets out in the field.
As of earlier this year, Martel was still looking for partners to bring the MTT-136 to market, so Santa probably won't be leaving it under your tree, no matter how good you were all year.
Can-Am Outlander 6x6 XT
Six wheels are fast becoming the new four wheels. Well, maybe not, but we have seen an influx of 6x6 vehicles in various sizes and shapes, including last year's Mercedes G 63 AMG 6x6 and this year's Can-Am Outlander 6x6 XT. Can-Am's new extended-length ATV gets an extra pair of powered wheels splitting output from the 82-hp Rotax V-Twin 1000 engine with the more traditional quartet up front.
With a rear bed in back and available modular storage accessories, the Outlander 6x6 is really more of grunting workhorse than an all-out recreational machine. And you'd probably have more fun on the shorter, craftier wheelbase of a traditional quad. Still, there's something to the idea of stirring length envy among the regulars at your local OHV park, and the six churning wheels of the Can-Am are sure to do it. The Outlander 6x6 1000 starts at $15,549, and Can-Am also offers the Outlander 6x6 in $13,649 62-hp 650 trim.
ATVs and electric mountain bikes too large and overwhelming? The BajaBoard packs all the all-terrain fun into a smaller, trunk-friendly package. This four-wheel-drive mountain board hit Kickstarter earlier this year, carrying the description "world's first electric skateboard to feature independent suspension and steering." It even lights up the night with a set of optional headlights and taillights.
With help from the wireless throttle, the BajaBoard's four independent motors put out up to 16 hp (12 kW), allowing the rugged tires to roll up hills and surge to speeds of 31 mph (50 km/h). The independent double wishbone suspension eats up bumps and jumps, preventing the impact from making its way to the carbon-composite deck. If something feels off, you can adjust power output by way of the master control unit, fine-tuning the ride to your preferences.
The BajaBoard pulled in an admirable AUD 116K on Kickstarter back in May, but that didn't quite meet the $200,000 goal. The board is available for pre-order via the BajaBoard website, with an estimated shipping timeframe of July 2015. The price is set at US$3,710, to which you can expect to add a few hundred dollars in shipping if you don't live in Australia.
Lest you think that we only get excited about motor-powered gear, we end the list with a wind-powered piece that we identified as one of the better winter gizmos of 2014. In contrast to the hardware used in flat-terrain kiteboarding, the round, parachute-shaped UpSki is designed to tow skiers and snowboarders up legitimate mountains, like a nature-powered ski lift.
UpSki calls it wind mountaineering. Not only does the UpSki provide a way of accessing the powdery faces, bowls and chutes of the backcountry without a lot of hiking, it can be fast and fun in its own right, letting skiers and riders carve up the mountain. According to UpSki, the rider maintains precise control and stopping power, even in high winds. Once at the top, the sail packs into a backpack, freeing the rider to enjoy downhill turns.
Just because the UpSki doesn't have a motor doesn't mean the innovative design comes cheap. The complete kit with wind sail and harness retails for $2,800.