Urban Transport

BMW StreetCarver - high speed, high thrill, high cost skateboard

BMW StreetCarver - high speed, high thrill, high cost skateboard
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July 2002 It looks like a skateboard but feels more like a snowboard. It costs between three and four times more than the previously most expensive skateboard.It is much larger than it looks, and it's heaps of fun. It is the BMW Streetcarver and it's one of the more bizarre brand extensions to come from the automotive segment in recent years, (see also the Chrysler Razor Concept Car and the Ford Tonka Truck) particularly given that the skateboard fraternity is hardcore, hard baked, irreverent and the $1295 price of the StreetCarver is a lot of money in any language. But the StreetCarver is not a normal skateboard. With the sport of snowboarding gaining instant legitimacy thanks to the winter Olympics, BMW's StreetCarver is reaching the market at exactly the right time. Though it gets its edge in a different way to a snowboard, it sweeps and carves in exactly the same way, and is an absolute hoot to ride.

At US$695, it is three to four times more expensive than the current top-of-the-range skateboards, and possibly beyond the finances of those who would most desire it, though carrying or riding the StreetCarver (SC) anywhere caused people to approach you. They either knew of the board, recognised the BMW name on the skateboard and were curious, or wanted to know what it was.

The StreetCarver has more crowd-pulling ability than Madonna.Of course, riding it is what it's all about.Seasoned skateboarders felt at home on the board within minutes, and after the limited turning abilities of a skateboard, were amazed at how tightly the streetcarver can turn. Going down hill, you use this turning ability to wash off speed in exactly the same way as a snowboard.

In fact, so manoeuvrable is the SC that when it was raining, we spent a lot of time playing with it indoors - try that with a skateboard. In terms of speed, the SC is blindingly fast. In skateboarding land, the bigger the wheel, the faster the board, and the SC has wheels much larger than your average skateboard.

Down hills, it is smooth and oh so fast, but everyone who rode it at speed noted that the steering was very sensitive. The slightest movement of the deck translates directly into turning, and unlike normal skateboards, there is no self-centring effect.

So a slight movement at speed can turn the board and unbalance you at the same time, which can be scarey. So instead of just unloading pressure on the deck to go straight, like you do with a normal skateboard, you need to learn to remain balanced and steer the machine.

Several experienced skateboarders suggested another stage in the Streetcarver evolution which would see the steering stiffened and some self-centring mechanism to help with the sensitivity at speed. Where the SC feels most comfortable is in medium and high speed sweeping turns, but there's not many ideal places with sloping, wide bitumen.

What's required is the equivalent of a bitumen ski slope, long and wide. One suggestion which bears merit is that the wheels are almost large enough to happily track on grass hills and it wouldn't take a lot of re-engineering to make the SC suitable for wide grass slopes which tend to be more plentiful (and grass is also more forgiving than tarmac). Then there's the wheels, which are like miniature car racing slicks complete with depth indicators - many of our more experienced riders thought that the rubber wheels didn't offer enough grip.

Some of them were doing huge drifts on the wheels, which may indeed have been the intention of the BMW designers - given that the SC can turn so tightly, added traction at the wheels could result in something which tips the rider off all the time. Just the same, if the SC were to become popular, we wouldn't mind betting that a range of different compound wheels would soon come to market.

Now the StreetCarver looks a million bucks. It's easy to spend time just lookimarvelling at the engineerng at the design and the linkages and marvelling at the engineering involved. It seems like such a logical evolution of the basic skateboard design that you wonder why someone hadn't thought of it previously.If looks translated to usability, then BMW would be set, but on a practical level the SC does have its limitations as a mode of urban transport.Perhaps one of the major setbacks for someone looking to do away with their regular skateboard in preference to an SC is the bulkiness of the thing.

The size is managable, but the weight of the trucks and the way they "hang" when you put it on it's side make it difficult to just tuck under your arm for a few hundred metres of pedestrian evasion on foot - and considering the area of clear bitumen you need to ride this thing, you're going to want to do that often enough for this to be a problem.Looking at the StreetCarver on a "fun" level, it's almost perfect.

Keep it in the back of your car for the time you stumble across a completely empty multi-storied carpark on a Sunday afternoon. Or for those who like to be looked at, take it to a more populated area and put on a show. However, for people who would prefer a skateboard for the more traditional transport purpose, stick with the old-school - the SC just isn't practical enough, and it'll turn out to be more of a hinderance than a help.

So this brings us to what the Streetcarver is, and who could afford one. We're not really sure. It is a exquisite plaything, but at $1295 (plus the knee and elbow guards you'll require if you don't wish to lose lots of bark), it is unfortunately an exclusive toy for the well-heeled.

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