The Brakeboard trucks have recently been released and Ben Newman, the inventor, shares with longbboardism the story of his obsession.
The development of the Brakeboard truck.
Ben Newman, Brakeboard inventor
– By Ben Newman
An obsession over 14 years has finally seen the Brakeboard trucks come to life. It has been a long twisted road I would never have imagined at the outset. From a few sketches in 1999 to the finished product today, it has been a long haul.
Those years saw 8 house moves, one interstate, 5 girlfriends, 4 career changes, 3 design awards, and a large amount of cash outlaid. (Mostly from my long suffering Mum and Dad, bless them.)
Someone once said “If you have an invention idea, sleep on it. With any luck you’ll have forgotten about it in the morning.” I never did forget, and the project remained haunting me in the background for the entire time. It was simply a device I wanted to use; a way to commute on my skateboard down my home-town hills with control and ease.
Digging through those 14 years of design developments to collate this article, I stumbled across stages of the truck development I’d forgotten about. I’ve got boxes deep with random metal pieces. All the parts of the early tests no longer complete. Cut up for the proceeding design changes, too numerous to count.
My original sketch books are still intact. I must have spent thousands of hours picturing possible configurations, jotting them down when the ideas were fresh. Solutions that seem so obvious in hindsight took years to perfect.
I started with a hobby lathe in my bedroom and armed with a rudimentary knowledge of metal work and technical drawing from high school, I machined components in the evenings and the weekends outside of my regular working hours as a graphic designer.
The first working brake was like an on-off switch, putting the board into an uncontrollable skid, destroying wheels in the process. These early brakes always stopped me but it was a controlled, smooth braking I was after. I wanted one that didn’t eat your wheels and that could cope with speed and long steep hills.
As a perfectionist, I needed the design to be flawless. I was never satisfied. If there was a little quirk that arose, each would have to be overcome.
Over time, I began to learn the language of machining and metal casting. I used local machining workshops to make the things that I couldn’t with my home lathe. In the beginning, access to the tools and training materials for things like CAD software was not really affordable. Talking with local workshops and foundries was the only way.
The early prototypes were crude hand-shaped hangers from modelling putty. Then I cast one-offs in sand moulds, followed by sintering of cast-iron gravity die blocks, using simple geometry by an experienced old-school machinist. CNC milling was only in its infancy and out of my financial reach.
I made 300 sets of the first production run in 2001.They all sold, back when longboarding wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today. A minor success I guess. Though all profits were absorbed by patent fees and the like.
The next stage was to tool up for full production, but I needed outside investment. This went wanting. Longboarding was an unknown market for investors it seemed.
For a number of years it lay dormant for a lack of funds. Large-scale manufacturing production was completely foreign to me. I’d convinced myself that only experts could manage this next stage, and experts don’t come cheap.
2006 saw another push for funding by entering various design competitions, resulting in 3 awards and winning a small amount of cash. Also I appeared on a TV inventors program, winning that episode. But more importantly the recognition fueled the drive to keep going. Full funding was still elusive, particularly when the global financial crisis hit in 2007.
Out of necessity and an unflappable desire to continue I decided to teach myself ‘AutoCAD’, in particular ‘AutoDesk Inventor’. It was now 2010 and these tools are easily accessible within the miraculous world-wide web.
Over six months I ploughed into ‘Inventor’ and remodelled the trucks from scratch. I found an off-shore CNC milling factory and they produced my first new prototype which worked perfectly! All for relatively small change! This was a huge step. I’m now proudly proficient in CAD, loving nothing more than 3D modelling in a virtual space.
My first day out on this newly reborn prototype was captured on video: YouTube “Longbo ard Gentle cruise”. Over 50,000 hits later this was enough to get investors inspired.
Realizing the potential of self-propelled knowledge gathering and the web, I sourced a reputable manufacturer on my own. Travelling to Shanghai and various industrial regions of China I found excellent sources.
After a year or more of negotiating the transition from prototype to production, overcoming cultural and language barriers, I have seen the birth of the first full run of the new Brakeboards in Jan 2013.
It is now my hope that the trucks are enjoyed by many as much as I enjoy making and riding them.