The Vestar Board is a Budget Beast

The Vestar Board is a Budget Beast

For a Chinese budget esk8, the Vestar is an unusually interesting proposition. It’s belt-driven, albeit via familiar and generic components, it’s equipped with a large 10s3p battery (10s2p is standard for budget esk8s), and, with a price tag of $720 (with 90mm wheels), it’s about $300 more than the typical budget board. Perhaps in part due to our bias towards novelty (reviewing essentially the same hub board over and over gets tedious quickly…), we had a particularly fun time playing around with this quirky esk8. However, as you’ll soon see, each of the Vestar’s impressive features is accompanied by an irritating design flaw, making this board a blast for some and a headache for others.

To elaborate, let’s start with an examination of the Vestar’s most impressive aspect, its straight-line performance. For the uninitiated, we plot acceleration against speed because a board’s ability to accelerate varies as a function of speed (for reasons beyond increasing drag forces), and because this single visual indicates top speed, hill performance, and general excitement. The measure of success for an esk8 powertrain is its ability to maintain strong acceleration with increasing speed, and the Vestar does just that. As one can see in the plot below, the Vestar’s acceleration at cruising speeds (those between 10 and 20 MPH) comes impressively close to that of the $1600 Boosted Stealth and handily beats that of the Meepo.

Graph

To better appreciate how impressive this result is, observe how quickly the Vestar can accelerate from 10 to 20 MPH relative to its competitors.

Chart

However, observant readers may notice a catch. The Vestar’s acceleration falls short of both boards at speeds below ~10 MPH, exhibiting strange ripples/dips in its acceleration curve. This is not just a quirk of our measuring equipment; the board actually experiences brief, unpredictable power cuts at low speeds if pushed too hard. Surprisingly, this design flaw causes fairly little trouble for ordinary riding—it rarely presents at speeds greater than ~5 MPH, and the cuts are too brief to disrupt one’s balance—but it does undermine performance on particularly steep inclines.

And this is just the first of many minor (but significant) irritations that make the Vestar a poor choice for practical applications (eg. joyless commuting). Its ESC, like that of the Meepo and a myriad of other budget products, is poor at providing intuitive and predictable control. Yes, the board’s RC7 remote does make the board somewhat easier to tame by low-passing input, but the result is still pretty unimpressive.

Many readers have found our analysis of this control interface confusing, so here’s a more complete and (hopefully) intuitive explanation. The aim of a good esk8 control interface is to provide predictable torque delivery. In other words, when the rider moves the remote’s throttle lever, he should be able to easily anticipate how hard the board will push so he can adjust his stance accordingly.

The ESC used in the Vestar, Meepo, Yeeplay, etc is very poor in this respect, delivering nearly 100% of available torque for small throttle actuations at low speed, and generally lacking the precision to give the rider precisely the desired push even at speed. The result is that it’s very challenging to predict what you’ll get when you go for the accelerator.

The “solution” to this problem utilized by the Vestar’s RC7 remote (along with later iterations of Meepo’s remote) is input ramping. In other words, the board still won’t give you the torque you ask for, but it will bring the torque on slowly so you have more time to adjust your stance in response. Obviously this is, at best, a crude hack that makes the powertrain more manageable, though still unpleasant to interface with.

For those who primarily enjoy eskating for the novelty of automatic propulsion and engage less with the skate aspect, this isn’t necessarily such a huge inconvenience, but for technical riding, it’s unpleasant and even scary to be negotiating with a tempermental ESC while simultaneously focusing on balance.

And while we’re on the subject of inconveniences, we should mention that the board will need frustratingly frequent belt replacements. This is a maintenance requirement common to all belt-driven boards, but it’s particularly demanding with the Vestar because its motor arms don’t allow belt retensioning.

On a brighter note, the board’s 10s3p battery pack is an outstanding performer. While we’ve seen a number of larger batteries shipped in budget esk8s before (remember the Winboard Panther?), all have been accompanied by massive, rigid enclosures, which obviously render flexible decks useless. In contrast, the Vestar features a more conventional dual enclosure setup, which significantly improves ride comfort and offers greater deck swapping potential.

Our base model 6Ah pack pushed the board across ~12.5 miles of hilly terrain in the cold, winter weather. What impressed us more than total range, however, was the lack of noticeable voltage sag. While our Meepo and Exway boards began to suffer from severe sag at around their 50% battery marks, the Vestar showed no obvious signs until nearly 12 miles into our ride (this is the benefit of increasing the parallel cell count, rather than pushing a smaller number of high-capacity cells to their limit).

And endurance and raw power aren’t the Vestar’s only sizable advantages over budget rivals. The board’s belt-driven powertrain also allows it to use ordinary longboard wheels, which soak up vibrations from imperfections in the riding surface. Compared to more popular hub-driven Chinese giants such as the Meepo V2 or WowGo 2S, the Vestar feels like a Cadillac as it glides over cracks and bumps. Admittedly, we’ve become increasingly appreciative of the practical advantages of in-wheel drive systems, but we still really enjoyed this luxury.

Regarding the skate hardware, there’s little here to report on. The trucks are, unsurprisingly, familiar generic components, and their performance is on par with competitors’ in the market. Likewise, the deck isn’t meaningfully distinct from those of rivals. We were, however, somewhat irritated by the extra risers needed to prevent the board’s motor arms from colliding with the deck. These elevate the rider and make the board feel a little more responsive and squirrely. They also make mounting, dismounting, and kicking somewhat less pleasant. Overall, it’s a relatively minor issue, but it bears mentioning since these risers can’t be removed without introducing worse problems.

And this brings us to a mixed conclusion. To us, the best analog for this board is a fairly inexpensive, powerful grand tourer—a Chevy Camaro, for example. It’s not the pinnacle of refinement, versatility, or even performance, but in its intended environment, it does remarkably well for its price. Grand tourers are best enjoyed on the open road, and the Vestar, by analogy, is most comfortable cruising along trails and bike lanes. This is not a board for aggressive carving, sidewalks, or hectic urban environments. This is a board for long, suburban weekend rides. It’s by no means a Boosted Stealth, but at less than half the price, it’s well worth checking out.

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