Upgrade Your Nintendo Switch Joy-Con with a D-pad

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I recently bought a Nintendo Switch, and it is awesome. So far, I’ve finished Super Mario Odyssey, gotten to 2BC in Dead Cells, and made it about half-way through Super Mario Bros. U.

Super Mario Odyssey was a joy to play, for the most part. It is probably my least favorite 3D Mario game so far, but the controls feel great.

That pair of 2D platformers are challenging without a D-pad. I knew this would be a problem when I bought the Switch. In fact, this is the main reason I considered saving myself $100 with a Switch Lite. The Switch Lite has a D-pad. The full-size Switch has four buttons instead.

The four buttons do make for a serviceable D-pad, but the situation isn’t ideal. I was making mistakes all the time in Dead Cells. I could feel myself missing the button I intended to hit during intense situations.

If you want a D-pad for your Switch, what options do you have?

The Switch Pro controller

The Nintendo Switch Pro controller looks like a fantastic controller. I’m not quite sure why its retail price is $70. That’s $10 or $15 more than a Dualshock 4!

If my goal was to sit in front of the TV most of the time, then the Switch Pro controller would be the perfect option. It is comfortable, well made, and has an excellent D-pad.

The Switch has been awesome. I can throw it in my laptop bag or my shoulder bag, hop on my electric unicycle, and ride to the park. I want to be able to use my D-pad on a bench at the park. I don’t want to have to carry a Switch Pro controller around and find a place to set the Switch up on its kickstand!

HORI D-pad controller

At first, the HORI D-pad controller seemed like the best option. Everyone says nice things about its D-pad, and its $25 price tag is quite reasonable.

The HORI controller only works when attached to the Switch. It has no wireless functionality at all.

This would probably work out all right for me. I haven’t really played any multiplayer games that use just one Joy-Con yet.

I didn’t like the idea of carrying an extra Joy-Con just in case I felt the need to play a multiplayer game at the park or while waiting for a plane at the airport.

This seems like a great option, but it just isn’t the option for me!

eXtremeRate Soft Touch Joy-Con Housing

In my opinion, this is the way to go. I’m extremely happy with how this setup feels. The $20 price tag may make this appear to be the cheapest option, but you’ll also have to invest about an hour of your time and a hearty amount of confidence to get this thing up and running!

This is just a set of replacement housings for your existing Joy-Cons. This is awesome, because it means you’re still using Nintendo’s high-quality hardware inside the controller. Everything still feels stock.

The bummer is that you have to take your controllers apart, and these controllers go together like a puzzle. If you’re not confident in your abilities, then you may wind up ruining a $70 Joy-Con. This is unlikely to happen. You may have trouble reassembling everything, but even if you can’t, I bet you can find a friend that can help bail you out!

I had my replacement housing in my hands for about a week before installing it, and I’ve still only replaced the housing on the Joy-Con with the D-pad.

I’ve been using the D-pad for about a week so far

It is such a nice upgrade. It is also a much better D-pad than the tiny D-pad on the Switch Lite.

I was encouraged to do the upgrade because I was having a lot of trouble finishing 1BC in Dead Cells. I could feel so many of the mistakes I was making, and I knew a D-pad would help me out.

I acquired my second boss cell a few hours after installing the D-pad mod. It made such a big difference for me!

The eXtremeRate housing feels quite nice

I’m still playing with only one housing installed. The aftermarket shell is made of some sort of plastic that feels soft to the touch. It isn’t a huge difference, but I do find it to be nicer than the stock Joy-Con on the other side of my Switch.

I’ve used a lot of cheap controllers with crappy D-pads. This isn’t one of them. This D-pad is top-notch.

This doesn’t surprise me. The mechanical parts of this D-pad are all stock Nintendo parts. The pushbuttons on the PCB are still stock, and the rubbery bits are still stock. eXtremeRate’s D-pad just sits on top of the high-quality hardware.

I was a bit worried at first. Most D-pads have a little rocker protuberance underneath. This keeps you from pushing left and right or up and down at the same time. This D-pad doesn’t have anything like that. You can easily force all four directions at the same time.

I understand the reasons why they would do this. They couldn’t add a protuberance to the mold if they wanted to use Nintendo’s rubbery piece. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there are 2-player games where you might need to hit opposing buttons at the same time. I guess you’d still be able to do that with the eXtremeRate D-pad.

This hasn’t caused any trouble for me. Nintendo’s springy rubber under the D-pad is stiff enough that you won’t even notice that there is no rocker. Unless you’re putting a lot of effort in, it feels like a normal D-pad.

Which design should you choose?

I chose the classic NES design. The NES was really my third game console. It wasn’t my last, but it was the last game console of my childhood. It made sense to me to go with the original NES look.

The classic SNES design looks much better. Even though I never really got into the SNES, I should have chosen it anyway. The NES design isn’t quite authentic enough. It is pretty much just a black controller with red buttons.


If you’re like me, and you play a lot of old-school games, then you absolutely need a D-pad. If you want or need a portable, wireless D-pad that you can use while on the go with your Nintendo Switch, the eXtremeRate D-pad housing is most definitely the way to go. It is worth the effort to get it installed!

What do you think? Do you play a lot of D-pad-heavy games? Are you using the eXtremeRate D-pad shell, or are you using something else? Did I make the right choice? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

Five Weeks with My InMotion V5F Electric Unicycle

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It will probably be closer to six weeks by the time I manage to actually hit publish on this blog post. Math says my electric unicycle (EUC) arrived at my house 36 days before I started writing this paragraph. The 10-day forecast lists rain for at least the next seven days, so I won’t be riding for the next week. Even if I’m late getting all the photos and videos together for this post, I definitely won’t be exaggerating my riding time!

NOTE: While writing this, I clicked past 100 miles on my EUC’s odometer!

I almost feel like I know what I’m doing!

I can ride more than two miles without stopping. I can ride on grass. I can ride on rough pavement, and I can handle bumps and potholes. I can transition from riding on pavement to riding on grass. I can ride slowly and negotiate tight turns. I can get on and off the unicycle without looking like an idiot most of the time too!

I also find myself triggering the max speed alarm on my InMotion V5F quite frequently. This wheel is only rated for 15 mph, and I hit that speed on just about every trip I take now. I’m not unhappy with this limitation, though. I don’t really want to be going any faster than this on my local bike paths!

I’ve managed to travel 6 miles on a single outing. I’ve managed to travel 9.5 miles in a single day.

I’m able to ride with a 12-pound backpack while drinking a latte out of a foam cup. When I started learning to ride, I would get wobbly just trying to adjust my glasses!

Who can ride an electric unicycle?

I’m nearly 43 years old. I weigh about 200 pounds. I’ve never ridden a skateboard. I spent a ton of time riding my bike when I was a kid, but I’ve barely ever even touched a bike since I was 14.

I’m not athletic. I don’t think I have an above average sense of balance. If I can learn to ride a unicycle, you probably can too!

You’re not just going to get on and be riding in an hour. It isn’t intuitive. It takes practice. Lots and lots of practice!

Hey, Pat! What is your use case for the InMotion V5F unicycle?

My hobby is flying FPV freestyle miniquads. I want to be able to load up my backpack and head to a fun spot to fly!

I already have a Hover-1 XLS folding electric scooter. It is a lot of fun, and it does this job well. I’m two houses away from the bike trails that connect many of the parks in my city. I can hop on the bike, ride for ten minutes, fly for a while, then ride home.

The Hover-1 XLS does a great job getting me to nearby flying spots. I have put nearly 400 miles on it already. My problem is that the e-bike is heavy and bulky. It is difficult to get it in the car.

I’m hoping to replicate my success I’ve had with my bike, but I want to be able to start my FPV freestyle miniquad adventures from a location other than my house. I’d like to drive the car 20 minutes away, then ride the EUC three more miles, then fly from there!

You’ve had this thing for a month already! Is it going to meet your needs?!

Yes. I’m still almost entirely convinced that the inexpensive little InMotion V5F is the perfect fit for me.

The InMotion V5F weighs only 25 pounds. That’s half as much as the Hover-1 XLS. The InMotion wheel has a handle on top. It takes me five seconds to toss it in the car. I don’t have to fold it up. I don’t have to figure out how to heft it up and into the trunk. I don’t have to unfold it when I take it out of the car. It is ready to ride immediately.

I haven’t taken it on one of these away missions yet, but I rode two miles into the park with my laptop backpack for the first time a few days ago. I didn’t even notice the backpack. I’m not sure I’d want to take my fully loaded 25-pound backpack with me, but my 12-pound FPV backpack will be no problem at all!

I was also hoping I could use the unicycle to help me retrieve crashed miniquads more efficiently. I’m able to ride in the grass pretty well already, so this is almost certainly going to be possible!

What downsides are you noticing, Pat?!

When I ride the unicycle or the e-bike to the park, people are always stopping me to ask me about it. This is awesome, but it didn’t take long before I figured out the most disappointing problem with the unicycle.

Every time someone asks me about the e-bike, I offer to let them take it for a spin. I’d say about 1 out of every 3 people take me up on the offer, and every single one of those people have had success. They all seemed to have a good time too.

I wouldn’t even consider offering to let someone ride the unicycle. It took me 20 minutes or more just to learn to stay on long enough to ride 15 feet. I’ve let friends try, and some of them got scared immediately when they couldn’t balance even while holding on to their car.

The learning curve is the major downside.

Getting over the hump in the learning curve is rewarding

There are several points during my training where I had a great feeling of accomplishment. Just being able to ride 10 feet without holding on to a wall felt amazing, and that took at least 20 minutes of practice!

I can’t explain how to ride better. Something just happens in your brain. You go from barely being able to stay upright on the damned thing to just being able to ride until you decide it is time to stop. Once you hit that point, things seem to progress so much faster.

What’s the payoff here? Almost any adult can ride an electric bike. It is supposedly an awful lot easier to learn to ride a OneWheel XR. Why put in the effort to learn to ride such a difficult mode of transportation?

It comes down to some combination of cost, performance, and form factor.

My e-bike is big, heavy, and cumbersome. My refurbished unicycle cost less, weighs half as much, and performs similarly to my e-bike.

The OneWheel XR beats or matches my little InMotion V5F in almost every measure except price. Where the OneWheel beats my unicycle, it doesn’t usually beat it by a lot. The OneWheel is 4 mph faster, and the published specs say it has 5 miles more range than I’m expecting to see on my InMotion V5F.

Where my unicycle really beats the OneWheel XR is on price. My refurbished V5F cost me $399 shipped. Full price is still only $649. Either price is so much cheaper than the $1,849 price tag on the OneWheel XR. Not only that, but my little $399 unicycle beats the OneWheel Pint’s specs in almost every way at half the price.

The OneWheel XR is the upper limit for a OneWheel too. There are plenty of unicycles, like the Gotway Nikola, that can reach speeds of nearly 40 mph, and these machines have a range of something like 70 miles on a charge. They’re big, heavy, and ridiculous.

I think the best part about unicycles is the number of available options. I’m riding one of the smallest, cheapest unicycle options. There’s a lot of choice, so there’s more likely to be a wheel that meets your needs at a price you can afford.

What about an electric skateboard?

My friend Brian has an Exway X1 Riot Pro longboard. It looks like a lot of fun, and the price, performance, and range of his skateboard are all quite good. Better still, his e-skateboard has as much range as my InMotion V5F, but it weighs about half as much!

Brian’s Exway X1 Riot Pro Skateboard

My biggest problem with skateboards is the tiny wheels. You feel every tiny bump in the road, and there’s no chance you’re going to ride well on grass.

They closed a short stretch of the bike path for construction at my local park, and you have to sneak through 20 feet of grass to bypass the closure. On my electric unicycle, I’m able to just ride through the grass as though it were pavement.

A refurbished InMotion V5F is a no-brainer!

I keep saying this. I’ve written it several times, and I’ve said it to quite a few people in person.

I ran into a EUC enthusiast while I was riding at the park last week. I forget which wheel he’s upgraded to, but he told me he started with the InMotion V8, and he was wondering why I chose the V5F.

I told him I was waffling on whether or not I should buy a EUC at all, then I saw a refurbished InMotion V5F in the InMotion store for $399. It was cheap enough that I couldn’t pass it up. I can tell by the face he made that he was quite surprised at how low the price was.

You’re going to fall off your new EUC. It is going to hit the pavement, and it is going to hit the pavement a lot. You have no idea what you’re doing. My InMotion V5F has so many scars!

If you can snag a $399 InMotion V5F, I would highly recommend doing it. I haven’t seen one in stock since I bought mine, though.

I don’t think I would pay the full price of $649 for a brand new InMotion V5F. The InMotion V8 is a pretty significant upgrade for a few hundred extra bucks. There is also the King Song 14D in this price range.

Lots of people recommend starting with a used electric unicycle

This seems like fantastic advice. My wheel has been dropped on the pavement so many times. I’ve dropped it. My friends have dropped it. My wife has dropped it. I’ve definitely dropped it the most, though!

Your first wheel is going to acquire quite a few battle scars. Why make your $2,000 purchase look ugly? Start with something cheap, right?!

I checked around. I couldn’t find any unicycles for sale. I’m not currently seeing any electric unicycles listed on Craigslist anywhere in the Dallas/Fort-Worth metro area.

Do you regret purchasing one of the cheapest, slowest electric unicycles?

I’m starting to hit the speed limit warning beeps several times on every trip I take. I believe the warning goes off at 15 mph, and the WheelLog app tells me my top speed has been 16.4 mph.

If your goal is to go fast, the InMotion V5F is probably not the right wheel for you. I don’t want to go fast. I want to be able to ride a few miles with my backpack, and I want to get to my destination faster than walking, and I don’t want to be tired and sweaty when I get there.

For my use, the 15 mph speed limit of the InMotion V5F is almost perfect. If something goes wrong while I’m riding at 20 mph, I am almost definitely going to fall. The slower I ride, the more likely I am to stay on my feet in the event that I need to rapidly dismount. I think I can run for a few paces at 15 mph, but I’d be in trouble at 20 mph!

I should mention the Gotway MTen3

The Gotway MTen3 looks like it would be a great fit for my use case. At $599, it costs less than a new InMotion V5F. It has a higher top speed, more range, and it weighs a few pounds less too.

The only downside is that 10” tire. The bigger the tire, the smoother the ride.

I lucked out when I snagged the InMotion V5F for $399. That made the decision easy for me!

If I had to buy new, I would have had to choose between the InMotion V8, the Gotway MTen3, and the King Song 14D. I would have been very tempted by the MTen3!

Have you gotten hurt?

I have fallen off my EUC a lot. I have yet to land on anything other than my feet.

During the first few days, I wasn’t always good at falling. Sometimes I would dismount, and the wheel would swing around and drive directly into my right shin. That shin was pretty bruised up, but I certainly wouldn’t call it a serious injury.


If you can walk, run, and ride a bike, I have every confidence that you can learn to ride an electric unicycle with a few hours of practice. I am confident that you can go from barely being able to stand on the thing to riding down sidewalks and through parks in two or three weeks.

Learning to ride a EUC has been fun, and now that I’m able to ride pretty well, just riding is a lot of fun too! This thing is a handy mode of transportation, and I’m excited about having it available to me.

What do you think? Did I choose almost exactly the right EUC for my needs, or am I going to be wanting to go 40 mph on a Gotway MSX Pro in a few months? Are you already one of the rare unicycle riders, or are you looking to buy your first EUC? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

I Finally Bought a Nintendo Switch

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I had a Nintendo Entertainment System when I was a kid. Depending on how you measure, this would have been my third video game console. I’ve been a fan of just about every game in the Super Mario Bros. series ever since, and I do my best to play through every important game in the series.

The last Nintendo console we owned was the original Wii. Super Mario Galaxy parts 1 and 2 were both fantastic. New Super Mario Bros. Wii was awesome, as was the extremely well executed fan-made hack titles Newer Super Mario Bros. Wii.

Nintendo Switch in the dock

I’ve been contemplating finding a used Wii U for a few years just to play New Super Mario Bros. U, but this wasn’t high up on my list of priorities. I’m skipping ahead in the story a bit, but I should mention that an updated version of this game exists on the Switch, so I no longer have a reason to need a Wii U!

Our niece and nephew are going to be visiting us next month, and I’ve been saying we should have a recent gaming console on the TV to help keep them entertained. There are a handful of PlayStation 4 exclusives that I’d like to play, so I figured it was a toss-up between the PS4 and the Switch.

While chatting about this choice I needed to make with a friend of mine, he said, “Dude! You should just borrow my PlayStation 4!” That PS4 is running in my living room right now. In theory, this solved my problem, but I bought a Nintendo Switch two days later.

Should I buy the Switch or Switch Lite?

If you’re the same sort of gamer as me, you’ll be drawn directly to the Switch Lite, and it will have almost nothing to do with the much lower price. I play precise platformers like Super Mario Bros. or Super Meat Boy. I play old-school shmups like Gradius and Zanac; these are the sort of games I play on my custom arcade cabinet. I’m currently up to 4 boss cells in Dead Cells on the PC, and Dead Cells is available on the Switch.

These aren’t the only types of games I play, but these are some of my favorites, and they all have one very important thing in common: they all require a good d-pad.

Nintendo Switch on my desk

Last month, I played some Dead Cells on a friend’s Switch with the joy con. It felt clunky. Sure, you can use the four buttons on the left controller as a d-pad, but I didn’t enjoy it.

The Switch Lite has an actual d-pad, and it feels pretty good. You’re telling me that I can save $100 AND have better controls at the same time? Sure, the screen is a bit smaller, but that also makes the entire Switch Lite with controllers roughly the same size as the full Switch without its joy cons attached. It seemed like a no-brainer to me. Sign me up for a Switch Lite, right?!

I didn’t buy a Switch Lite!

Chris’s favorite game ever is the original The Legend of Zelda, and she is excited about being able to play Breath of the Wild on the big screen. She’s also interested in being able to spectate.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the lack of a d-pad. I’ve played four or five games of Dead Cells so far. I ended the first life early, because Breath of the Wild had finished downloading. On my second play, I made it past the concierge and died in the Stilt Village. One the fourth or fifth play, I got my first boss cell and completed 0BC.

I have to be honest. The fake d-pad isn’t as bad as I expected, but it does take some getting used to. It is definitely better than playing Dead Cells with the analog stick!

We haven’t even had the Switch for 24 hours

I’ve played through one level of Super Mario Bros. U. I believe I just started my fourth kingdom in Super Mario Odyssey. I’ve beaten the Hand of the King in Dead Cells and acquired my first boss cell. Chris has made some progress in Breath of the Wild, but I don’t know how to describe how much! We’ve also played some Tetris 99, which happens to be quite cool!

When I was writing that heading, I assumed we’ve had the Switch for two days. I had to check my email. All the confirmation emails from Nintendo for my game purchases happened yesterday. Only 22 hours ago!

If you buy a switch, you will be sending a lot of money straight to Nintendo!

As has been the case for a long time, the best games on Nintendo’s consoles are made by Nintendo. The switch costs $300. So far, we’ve spent $200 on Zelda and Mario games. I imagine we’re going to have to buy Mario Kart, and it will be difficult to avoid Super Mario Maker.

It looks like you can get a PlayStation 4 for roughly the same $300. I can tell you with great certainty that I would not even be able to spend $200 to $300 on games today for the PS4, let alone on first-party titles.

Nintendo Switch joycons on my couch

Most of the games I would eventually buy for the PlayStation 4 will go on sale. Sales on Mario and Zelda games are few and far between.

This isn’t meant to be a complaint, and I am comparing apples to oranges. These just happen to be the two consoles I was debating the merits of for the last week or two!

What am I going to do about the lack of a d-pad?

The most obvious answer is the Switch Pro Controller. Let’s not ask why it costs nearly twice as much as a Sony DualShock 4 controller. Let’s talk about whether it is a good fit for my needs!

Why would I play Dead Cells with the Pro Controller? I can just continue to play Dead Cells with my DualShock 4 on my computer. If I’m playing Dead Cells on the Switch, I want it to be portable!

I’m not ruling out the idea of buying a Pro Controller. I just don’t think it does a good job of solving my problem.

There are some options for joy cons with d-pads. HORI makes an officially licensed left joy con with a nice-looking d-pad, but it doesn’t support wireless operation. This would probably get the job done, but it seems like it could be limiting when on the go.

There are some replacement shells available for the stock joy con that swap out the four individual buttons for a d-pad. I think this eXtremeRate Classics shell looks neat, because it is available in designs that mimic either the original Nintendo or Super Nintendo controllers!

I think modifying the stock joy con is the way to go. I don’t want to lose the wireless functionality. I can play on the porch. I can play on the TV from the couch. We wouldn’t have to give up the two-player joy con option when on the road, either.

I need to do more research, and I’m not exactly in a hurry to start taking apart my Switch. I’m having enough fun playing games that don’t even need the d-pad for now. I’m sure I’ll get antsy at some point, and I’ll be wanting to play a bunch of Dead Cells!

I didn’t buy my Nintendo Switch from Amazon!

Not too long ago, Nintendo refreshed the Switch hardware. They both play games exactly the same, but the new edition of the hardware has an updated CPU and GPU. The updated hardware isn’t faster, but it is much more efficient.

Nintendo says the original hardware has a battery life of 2.5 to 6.5 hours while the new hardware can manage 4.5 to 9 hours. I had heard this stated as being a 2-hour increase in battery life, and it didn’t sound like a big deal, because I thought the improvement was from something like 6 to 8 hours.

Going from 2.5 to 4.5 hours is HUGE. You need the new hardware. Most of the listings on Amazon either have the old part number listed in the description, or they don’t actually say one way or the other.

I don’t normally like to waste my time shopping in brick and mortar stores, but two extra hours of battery life seemed worth a trip to Target!

If you want the much better battery life, look for model numbers starting with HAD. The model numbers that start with HAC are the old ones! I’m sure that in a few months, this won’t matter. For now, though, many vendors still seem to have old stock!


The Nintendo Switch is fantastic, but I am certain you’re already aware of this. As I’m writing this, I can hear my wife hollering at Mario in the other room. She’s playing New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, and it sounds like she’s having a good time.

I’m already tempted to buy more of my favorite games. 10tons Ltd. makes some of my favorite top-down shooters, like Neon Chrome and JYDGE. I’ve been wanting to play Time Recoil and Undead Horde, and I will definitely be picking these up for the Switch. I already have quite a few games in my library that I need to make some progress on, so I’m doing my best to wait!

What do you think? Should I have bought a Switch a long time ago? Am I missing any important games? Am I going to stop worrying about the missing d-pad in a few weeks? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

Two Weeks with My InMotion V5F Electric Unicycle

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I don’t know if I’ve been riding my electric unicycle for two full weeks yet, but I must be getting close. I know the refurbished Solowheel Glide 2 that I ordered was supposed to arrive on a Thursday, and as I am writing this, it is currently Thursday. This seems close enough to me!

NOTE: It took nearly 5 days to get the photos, videos, and links added to this blog post. I wrote most of this on Thursday, but it didn’t get polished up and published until Tuesday!

I didn’t think I’d be posting an update so soon, but I feel like something is really starting to click for me. In a week or two, I’ll probably be riding without giving it much thought at all. I’d like to write down how things are going while I’m right in the middle of things, and while everything is fresh in my mind.

What do you mean when you say things are clicking? How do you know?!

Riding a self-balancing electric unicycle (EUC) is a lot like riding a bike. You can’t explain how to do it, and while you’re doing it, you shouldn’t be thinking about what you’re doing. Your subconscious should be balancing for you, just like when you walk or run.

When you go from wobbling around a bunch to riding smoothly, something has clicked in your brain. You can’t really explain why you’re riding smoothly now, or what you’re doing differently.

The first time you stop wobbling and start riding your EUC smoothly, it will be an exhausting experience! You will be tense. You will be working much, much harder to balance than you need to. You will work up a sweat, and you’ll be tired after riding a few hundred feet.

After a little more practice, something else will click in your brain, and you’ll be able to ride a mile without quickly becoming exhausted.

The arches of my feet get sore!

Two days ago, the farthest I could ride was about half a mile. Leaning forward and putting my weight on my toes makes my feet sore. Do I need to build muscle in these parts of my feet? Am I doing something wrong? Am I just not getting enough circulation to my feet?

I think it is a combination of all three.

When I tried pushing past half a mile, I was getting into trouble. I found it more difficult to turn, and I had a lot more trouble safely dismounting. I stopped trying to push past the discomfort.

Something changed yesterday

I went on three practice rides yesterday. The first two each added up to a total of 1.6 miles. I dismounted approximately every half mile. I don’t really need to rest when I stop. I just need a bit of walking to loosen my feet up.

Then I decided to take one more practice ride before dark. I very nearly made it 1.1 miles without dismounting and without any significant foot discomfort! I was turning and following the narrower and bumpier parts of the path with much more confidence than usual.

I did have to dismount somewhere around the one-mile mark. There was a gentleman walking towards me on the narrower part of the path. I’m not confident enough in my abilities to stay on my half of the sidewalk, so I decided it would be best to walk past him instead.

I was catching up to him on my return trip, so I took one more break before finding a slightly different route to go home.

This was my longest journey so far!

Smooth and level pavement is so much easier to ride on!

The first place I rode my InMotion V5F was the parking lot of our local abandoned golf course. It seemed fine at the time, but I didn’t realize how much more challenging it is to ride there. It is ancient, bumpy asphalt, and the whole parking lot is on an incline.

I live in Plano, TX, and the bike trails through our parks are phenomenal. They’re wide and super smooth. After riding on the bike trails, going back to the golf course the next weekend was quite a surprise! Getting started going up the incline of the golf course parking lot is challenging. Riding down the incline is a bit scary at first. Riding across the incline isn’t all that easy, either!

This shouldn’t surprise me. I have to ride on the street past three houses to get to the bike trail from here. I don’t notice the difference on the way to the trail, but the contrast is huge when I’m riding home!

Our streets here aren’t like the terrible asphalt and blacktop of the streets where I grew up in Scranton, PA. They’re fairly smooth concrete, but they’re not as smooth as the bike trail.

Switching back to the street does feel like more work, and there is a bit of a hill coming up the street to my house. I tend to lose speed when I make the turn onto my street, and I used to have trouble building it back up. This is probably due to my wheel being rather underpowered.

When you’re learning to ride, try to find the smoothest parking lot that you can!

You’ll need to learn to ride on rough, uneven surfaces with bumps and potholes, but you don’t need to learn right away.

Don’t forget to check your tire pressure!

When my InMotion Solowheel 2 arrived, the first thing I did was pump up the tire. I inflated it just past the recommended 40 PSI. I figured it would be like my bike tires, and it would lose air fairly quickly, so it wouldn’t hurt to get ahead of that by a few PSI.

I checked the pressure again yesterday, and it was down in the mid-20 PSI range. I was surprised that I lost more than 15 pounds of pressure in less than two weeks! Maybe this is normal. Maybe I have a slow leak. Who knows. I will keep an eye on it.

Why the pressure is low isn’t important. What is important it that I learned just how much easier it is to ride the wheel with adequate pressure!

The unicycle was much easier to mount on my somewhat roughly paved street. I was able to get up to speed more with noticeably less effort. I was able to turn around on my street with less effort.

I’m not an expert. I’ve seen it recommended that new riders should lower their pressure down to 20 PSI. I understand why this might help. You will have more rubber in contact with the pavement. It should be easier to balance. It probably takes a bit more effort to turn, so you won’t be accidentally changing direction.

If lowering your tire pressure is a good idea when you’re just starting out, I would have to imagine that you should only do this for a very short amount of time. Once you can get on and ride in a straight line, I think you should go straight up to full pressure.

Once you’re able to ride, you don’t need the wheel fighting your purposeful inputs.

Was an electric unicycle a good choice?

I feel like I’ve written this section of the blog three times already, and I have. Most of this isn’t my opinion. I’m just regurgitating published specs of OneWheels, Exway electric skateboards, InMotion EUCs, and my old Hover-1 XLS e-bike.

All these options have advantages and disadvantages. Absolutely anyone can ride my e-bike, but is difficult to put in the car. The OneWheel XR is much easier to ride than an EUC, but its specs say it isn’t quite as capable as my $399 InMotion V5F at more than four times the price. Brian’s Exway X1 Riot Pro electric longboard has similar range, but weighs a lot less than my unicycle, while still costing less than half as much as a OneWheel XR.

You’re probably not going to look as cool riding my unicycle or folding scooter as you will riding a OneWheel or skateboard. I’m sure that’s an important factor for some of you!

None of that data directly answer the question. Was an EUC a good choice? For me, it is the perfect choice. The range, speed, and weight of the InMotion V5F are all perfect for my use case. I may need to put quite a few hours in to make use of my wheel, but I am not bothered by that at all. I’m having a blast learning!

The unicycle I chose was the least costly option. It will handle grass, dirt, and gravel almost as well as a OneWheel. It will cruise even more smoothly on pavement than the Exway X1 longboard.

If you really do need a ton of range, the unicycles have you covered there, too. For a few hundred dollars less than the price of a OneWheel XR, you can get an InMotion V10F with 40 to 60 miles of range! If you want to be able to go 35 MPH, there are $2,000 unicycles from Gotway that can manage that, too.

Was the InMotion V5F a good choice?

I haven’t stopped researching unicycles. Now that I’ve been riding a bit, I feel like I have a better understanding of what I should be searching for on Google, and what I should be reading and watching.

If you can get a used EUC for a good price, I think that is a fantastic idea. Everyone says that a more powerful wheel is easier to learn to ride, and my gut says that they’re right. I’ve read in several places that you should be able to find an older 800-watt unicycle for $200 to $300. I haven’t figured out where to find these deals!

Tanner rides my InMotion V5F electric unicycle

The bigger, more expensive wheels look like a ton of fun, and I can totally see the appeal of something like a Gotway Nikola or the InMotion V10F. I’m also pretty certain that these aren’t the wheels for me.

If your goal is to go out riding for riding’s sake, these heavy, powerful wheels would be awesome. If you’re looking for a ride to take you on the last mile of your journey or commute, then you probably don’t want to lug around a 40- or 50-pound unicycle!

I’m extremely pleased that there was a refurbished InMotion V5F in stock for $399 shipped. We are beating the absolute snot out of this poor thing. The aluminum pedals have hundreds of scuffs and gouges in them. The padding is getting torn up. The plastic shell is a mess of scrapes and scratches.

You almost definitely don’t want to learn to ride on a $2,000 unicycle.

Is the InMotion V5F fast enough? Does it have enough range?

I’ve learned something very important in my many failures at riding my EUC. When something goes wrong at jogging or running speed, it is quite easy to hop off, jog for a bit, and stop without falling over. I have no trouble aborting a ride while going 10 MPH. I’m 200 pounds, about 6’ tall, and I am in terrible shape!

I imagine I can dismount at about 15 MPH if I had to, but the faster you’re going, the more likely you are to have to actually fall. I can reach those less safe speeds on my V5F, even though I’m 40 pounds over the recommended weight. For me, the V5F is definitely fast enough.

I’m less confident about the range. If we assume the battery percentage readout in WheelLog is accurate, my last few days of riding would give me about 10 miles on a single charge. I’m averaging just under 10 MPH while riding with top speeds of around 15 MPH.

I also just learned that this was with an underinflated tire. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if a properly inflated tire gave me an extra 2 miles.

Is that enough range? For me, it should be. Twelve miles is about as far as my e-bike can go, and that always seemed quite reasonable. I haven’t managed to ride more than 2 miles on a single trip yet, and that is with at least three stops. It should be quite a while before I can make it 6 miles out and then need to make it 6 miles back!

I think it is safe to say that I don’t have enough data to understand the real-world range limitations of my InMotion V5F at this time, but what I’ve learned so far seems to suggest I will be doing just fine!

What’s next?

I’m trying to ride every day, and I feel like I’m getting more comfortable and capable each day, too. For most of my short time so far riding the unicycle, I have had to stop when transitioning from the road to the bike trail. The transition from the road is a 4’ or 5’ wide rough brick ramp with a wooden post in the center. I didn’t feel confident lining up that turn, squeezing into the gap, and transitioning to the weird bumpy bricks. I’ve negotiated this transition without much trouble that last three or four times I rode, and I get better at it every time.

I suppose that leads me into what’s next. Practice, practice, and even more practice! I’m good at riding fast, at least for some definition of fast. I’ve been trying to make an effort to slow down. I set an alarm in WheelLog to let me know when I’m going over 12 MPH, but that’s still plenty fast enough that the wheel acts as a gyroscope to keep you up.

At even lower speeds, you have to work much harder to stay upright. I’m trying to ride more at those slow speeds. I’m not sure exactly how slow they are, but I have a good idea of what it feels like!


I am extremely pleased with my purchase. The refurbished InMotion V5F at $399 was cheap enough that even if it was a mistake, at least it wasn’t an expensive one, and I absolutely believe that it wasn’t a mistake. I feel that the InMotion V5F will be a fantastic last-mile vehicle for me, and it has been a ton of fun already!

I’m already having no trouble managing to ride about a mile. The V5F’s light weight is making it easy to throw in the back of our little SUV. My friend Tanner has been able to push the little V5F hard enough going up an incline to get the top-speed alarm to go off, but I have yet to hear it in my riding, so I think the maximum speed should be plenty for my immediate needs!

What do you think? Are you riding an EUC or a OneWheel? Do you think I made a good choice? Do you think I’m going to be wishing for more speed in a few months? If I’m eventually hankering for more speed, do you think I’ll still be as appreciative of the light weight of the V5F as I am today? How long do you think it will be before I can run the battery down in one riding session?

Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

I Bought an Electric Unicycle: I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

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Hello! My name is Pat. I’m 42 years old. I’m about 6’ tall and weigh 200 pounds. I’ve never ridden a skateboard, and I bought an electric unicycle. It has been in my possession for nearly a week. I am the opposite of an expert.

Maybe you’re an older, tubby guy like me, and you are thinking about looking at e-bikes, e-skateboards, OneWheels, and EUCs. I’m here to tell you that I believe in you. I am confident that you can ride one of these unicycles.

I chose the InMotion V5F SoloWheel Glide 2 electric unicycle (EUC)

Don’t just go out and buy what I bought. I did even more research after I started learning to ride, and I found out that everyone says your first wheel should probably be a used wheel. They say it is easier and safer to learn with a heavier, more powerful unicycle. It sure sounds like you can find beefier unicycles than mine for $200 or less on the used market.

I checked Craigslist for used unicycles before I ordered my refurbished InMotion V5F. I either don’t know what to search for, or there just aren’t any unicycles for sale near here!

That said, I’m quite happy with my choice. I bought my refurbished unicycle directly from InMotion. It was $399 shipped. They said it would have fewer than 150 miles on it, and the app says it had 13 kilometers on the odometer. It had a few scuffs, but nothing serious.

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My electric unicycle arrived. I tried it out in the back yard before I plugged it in to charge. Getting on is tricky. It probably too a half dozen attempts before I could ride ten feet while holding onto the side of the house. I've never ride a skateboard, but I did have an actual pedal powered unicycle what I was a kid. I've already ride this thing farther! It weighs 25 pounds, has 15 to 20 miles of range, and a top speed of 18 mph. It is as fast as my ebike, has more range, and weighs half as much. Should be much easier to load this into the trunk for #fpvfreestyle adventures! #fpv #fpvracer #drone #drones #droneracing #droneracer #fpvdrones #fpvrace #multirotor #quadcopter #fpvfreestyle

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I own a Hover-1 XLS folding electric bike. I wanted something lighter, easier to put in the car, but with similar or better range.

I looked at the OneWheel XR. These cost $1,899, weigh more than my unicycle, and they have less range. This didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I might look cooler riding a OneWheel, though that is unlikely. They also seem to be much easier to learn to ride. For less than $1,899, I could have bought InMotion’s biggest, fastest unicycle.

I also looked at Brian’s Exway X1 Riot Pro longboard. The Exway weighs quite a bit less than my unicycle. It has about as much range as my e-bike, but not as much as the InMotion V5F. The X1 has a higher top speed, but I doubt I’d ever be able to use it.

That 14” wheel is so smooth!

Learning to ride a skateboard like Brian’s Exway X1 was tempting. The weight is right. The range is good. The price of an Exway X1 Pro is pretty comparable to a new InMotion V5F, and Exway has cheaper models that would suit my needs, too.

The giant diameter of the unicycle is what really sold me. The $399 price tag might have been a big influence, too, but the giant wheel really does make the unicycle a great fit for my use case.

When I followed Brian on his skateboard last month, he told me that could feel every bump on the bike path. Every time you transition from one slab of concrete to the next, the skateboard’s tiny wheels get caught up a bit. The 7” air-filled tires on my Hover-1 XLS don’t feel those bumps, so I figured a 14” wheel would do even better.

I would also like to be able to ride on grass. Electric skateboards can kind of manage this, but not really. I’d like an electric vehicle that I can ride out into the field when I crash my FPV freestyle quad 1,200 feet away.

I’ve already ridden my InMotion V5F on the grass, and it moves along just fine.

How proficient are you after a week, Pat?!

I haven’t quite had the EUC for seven days, and I didn’t ride it the first two days. I also didn’t keep track of how many hours I’ve put into this. I can say that I don’t feel like I’ve spent all that much time at all, so most definitely fewer than eight hours. I’d guess something more like four hours.

Friday: I farted around in the back-yard, and my skills plateaued rather quickly. I used the side of the house to help get myself up on the unicycle, and I propped myself up while I moved 10 or 15 feet along the wall.

The narrow sidewalk next to the house was beyond my skill level. I couldn’t ride in a straight enough line. This problem ended my practice.

Saturday: I took the EUC with me when I met my friends to fly at the local abandoned golf course. The parking lot there has some incline to it, which definitely slowed my progress. It didn’t take long before I could get up on the unicycle by holding on to the car, then ride 100’ or more in a straight line.

I managed to turn and ride rather a few times, but on Saturday, I never made it back to my starting point. Coming down the hill was scary and difficult.

My friend Tanner did better than me. Saturday was the first time he’d ever seen a EUC in person. By the time we went home, he was able to hop on without holding on to anything for support, and he was circling the parking lot.

We used about 1/3 of the charge of the battery on Saturday.

Sunday: We were back at the golf course again. I learned how to climb onto the machine without holding on to something. I am not successful every time, but I’m getting there. I rode much farther on a single attempt, and I was able to make a lap around the parking lot.

At this point, Tanner was doing top-speed runs. He managed to get the V5F to squawk at him, because he was going too fast.

Monday: I was rained out, I think.

Tuesday: Our city has some amazing bike trails running through its park system, and I happen to live about two doors away from those trails. I was able to ride to the trail, and follow the trail. I did stop a few times on each trip, but only one of those was due to the wheel getting out of control on me.

It was cold and gloomy. I didn’t go too far. I was worried that I would get tired. On each trip, I went about half a mile out. At the beginning of the trail, there is quite a long stretch going down hill. It is enough of a hill that my e-bike can only climb it at about half of its top speed.

It was scary going down that hill the first time. Going up the hill on the way home was murder on my feet!

Wednesday: It is cold and damp outside, so I’m writing this blog!

Riding the unicycle is REALLY tiring at first!

I didn’t mention this above, but I didn’t practice nearly as much as I anticipated on Saturday. I was going to be out there flying for three or four hours, and I didn’t bring any water. It was warmer than I expected, and riding the unicycle was much more tiring than I expected!

I knew that if I rode too much, I’d get thirsty.

Once Tanner started to get the hang of it, he was making laps around the parking lot, and he was sweating quite a bit. Once he got more comfortable with riding, he wasn’t using much effort to ride at all.

For your first few miles, you’re going to be tense. You’ll be balancing hard when you don’t need to. You’ll be waiting for bad things to happen. We got through the worst of that rather quickly.

I’m no longer sweating or getting thirsty when I ride. I am not doing so well going up hills, though. Each of the three times I rode home from the park, I had to stop at the top of the hill.

My feet start to hurt quite a bit from all that heavy leaning forward I have to do to get up the hill! I hope this will get easier as I ride more, and I’ve heard that it might help if I put my feet an inch or two closer to the front of the pedals when I ride. We’ll see how that goes!

My electric bike is awesome because anyone can ride it

Most of my friends poked fun at my e-bike. It is big. It looks silly. I’ll look like a goof when I’m riding it. The first time I took it to the park when we went flying, every one of them rode my bike, and they all had smiles on their faces the entire time.

Whenever people on the bike trail at the park comment on my Hover-1 scooter, I offer to let them take it for a ride. Some of those folks accept the offer, and every single one has been able to ride the bike.

Nobody will be able to ride my unicycle. It takes 10 minutes of practice just to figure out how to stand on the thing.

This is a bummer.


I’ve already written about my new electric unicycle three times in less than a week. At least I’m spreading the words across two different sites, right? I’m just too excited!

My next goal is to be able to ride with a small backpack, so I can take my flying gear to the park with me. I’ve already charged some batteries for my diminutive TinyHawk Freestyle, and my little 9-pound backpack is filled with gear and ready to go. I’m just waiting for some warm, dry weather.

I’ll try to keep my excitement off the blog until I manage to discharge the entire battery on a single trip. In the interim, you can follow my EUC shenanigans on Twitter and Instagram!

What do you think? Was the InMotion V5F a good choice for my first unicycle? Do you think I’ll need to upgrade in the future, or will this meet most of my needs just fine? What should I have bought instead? Do you think I’ll ever use my e-bike again? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

What Should You Bring When You Go Flying FPV Miniquads?

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We’re not going to talk about any of the obvious stuff: quadcopters, batteries, goggles, or radios. We’re going to talk about all those ancillary things you might want to pack in your backpack when you meet up with your friends to spend an afternoon flying!

Almost nothing in this blog post will talk about anything specific to flying quadcopters.

You should bring a chair

When I go flying with my friends, it isn’t just to go flying. It is to spend time sitting around shooting the breeze. If you’re going to spend a few hours talking, you should have somewhere comfortable to sit. If you prefer to fly while sitting down, that’s another good reason to bring a chair.

Most of my friends keep folding chairs in their cars. I try to pack lighter than that. I have two types of similar-looking chairs that fit well on my backpack, and they don’t weigh a lot.

Moon Lence folding chair

My favorite is the Moon Lence ultralight folding chair. It is light, compact, and extremely comfortable. Make sure you get the newer model with the large feet, because you don’t want to sink into the grass or dirt!

Moon Lence Folding Chair

The Moon Lence chairs are rather inexpensive: $37 for one, or $55 for a pair. So far, I have torn the fabric on three of these chairs. They come with a lifetime warranty, and I haven’t had any trouble getting replacements.

The CLIQ Chair

This one just confused me. Brian ordered a mess of these chairs during their Indiegogo campaign, and I just spent five minutes trying to find them on the Internet. I had to go out to the car to make sure. My folding chair is called a Go Chair, but it has the same logo as the CLIQ chair, so I’m assuming they’ve rebranded!

This chair looks like it should be just as comfortable as the Moon Lence chair, but it isn’t. It has the same basic shape, but it is a little off. Whenever I sit on it, I feel like I’m going to slide out. If you park it on a very slight incline, it feels awful.

NOTE: How do I not have an action shot of this chair in use?! I will correct this soon!

So why would you spend three or four times as much on a chair that is less comfortable? Well, let me tell you why!

The CLIQ Chair packs up tidier and much more quickly than the Moon Lence chair. It looks cleaner in my bag. If I’m riding my electric bike, I usually stop to fly at three or four different places. It is nice to be able to unpack and repack the chair in about 10 seconds. It is OK if it is less comfortable. I’m only sitting in it for 15 minutes or so at a time.

Upon reading this section, I realized that I’m being a bit disingenuous here. When the Moon Lence chair is properly folded and stuffed into its carrying case, it may look even tidier than the CLIQ Chair. I rarely pack it up this neatly, though. I collapse the Moon Lence chair’s legs, fold over the seat fabric a few times, then wind the whole thing up in its Velcro strap.

You need a big stick!

I carry a Mr. Longarm painters’ pole in the car. It is about 8’ long, and it extends to almost three times that length. We use it to knock quads out of trees, and it works quite well.

There’s a similar pole on Amazon that I wish I had instead. It is a 6’ pole that extends to about four times its length. Having just as much reach while saving 2’ in the car would be awesome.

If I’d prefer the pole from Amazon, then why do I keep a Mr. Longarm in the car? I got stuck in a tree, and we needed a pole as soon as possible. We went to Lowes and picked up a Mr. Longarm, and it has been in the car ever since!

Alternative quad retrieval tools

I also keep a basketball in the trunk. It is easier to carry, and if your quad is only stuck 10’ or so up in a tree, the basketball is heavy enough to knock it loose.

I also keep a 300-yard spool of 50-pound test fishing line in my backpack. It is light enough that you can fly the strand up over the tallest tree using another quad. If you do it right, you can attempt to floss the stuck quad down.

This is a bit riskier, because you might get a second quad stuck in the tree.

Get yourself a nice Thermos!

I have two. A 24-oz and a 68-oz Thermos Stainless King. They keep my water quite cold, or my coffee quite hot, and they do it for a long, long time.

My 24-oz Thermos is quite beat up. I’ve used it as a quad retrieval tool! It still works well enough, but the dented spots must be close to the inner wall, because they usually feel pretty chilly when the Thermos is filled with ice water!

It doesn’t matter how you bring your drink. I prefer to load up a Thermos with ice and water, especially on our 106-degree summer days here in Texas. Just remember to stay hydrated!

Sunscreen and bug spray

I don’t know where you fly, but I’m in north Texas. There’s lots of sun here, and we have more than our fair share of humidity. If I spend much time outside, I turn a bright red color. I’ll also be eaten alive by mosquitoes.

I used to keep a bottle of sunscreen and bug spray in the car. I still do, but I also recently learned that single-use sunblock and insect repellent is available. This is genius!

Bug Wipes and Sunscreen

I keep two or three of each in my backpack. I use travel packets of Banana Boat sunscreen. These would almost remind you of fast food ketchup packets. I also use Bug X Insect Repellent towelettes. They work exactly as you would expect.

Be careful if you’re going the single-use route. I had to shop carefully for individually wrapped insect repellent. Most products were a resealable pouch that contained 10 or 20 wipes. That wasn’t at all what I was looking for!

I prefer insect repellent with DEET. It is probably nasty stuff, but it is actually quite effective.

USB cables, power banks, and hand warmers!

Cables are handy. My ancient phone still uses micro USB. My GoPro HERO5 Session and HERO6 Black both use USB C. My flight controllers all have micro USB ports. I do my best to make sure I have cables to charge or interface with all these devices. It is a bummer when your last GoPro runs out of juice, but you still want to fly!

My Hand Warmer Charging Some Lipo Batteries

On a whim, I bought a little USB hand warmer contraption last month. The pink model was on sale, so I figured it was worth a try. I figured I could power it up and stuff it in the compartment where I store my flight packs to keep them warm. On the coldest days, I’ve been transferring it from one hand to the other while I keep my hands in my pockets between flights.

It is actually pretty handy. I haven’t used it to keep my batteries warm yet, but it does double duty as a USB power bank, so I have used it to charge TinyHawk batteries and my phone!

You need a good way to carry all your stuff

The best bag to carry your drone gear is the one you already have. Just because I think my $200 backpack is one of the best things I ever bought to help with my hobby doesn’t mean you should run out and upgrade!

That said, I use two different backpacks depending on the situation. Nine times out of ten, I carry my giant ThinkTank FPV Airport Helipak. That name is a mouthful, and so is the bag. It is ginourmous.

An Old Photo of My Backpack

When fully loaded, my backpack weighs about 25 pounds. That is with two or three 5” freestyle quads, a pair of 3” Kestrels, eight 6S batteries, a dozen small 4S batteries, my goggles, Taranis X9D+, my giant field-charging battery, and all sorts of tools and spare parts inside. That also includes the CLIQ Chair and my 24-oz Thermos in the side pockets.

Everything I need to fly for several hours is in that backpack, and I have enough spares to survive a few heinous crashes. I don’t always need to bring that much gear along with me, though.

When I take my electric bike for a ride to the local park, I usually bring my AmazonBasics DSLR backpack. I have to pare down a lot when I take this bag, because it is so much smaller, but that’s the entire point.

With the smaller backpack, I am able to my Taranis, Fat Shark goggles, and one of my chairs. Then I either bring a 5” freestyle quad, one or two of my Kestrels, or my Emax TinyHawk Freestyle and a bunch of batteries appropriate for the quad I’m carrying.

With the TinyHawk, the backpack weighs about 8 pounds. With the 5” quad and six batteries, it weighs about 12 pounds.


When I’m out flying, folks often ask me about the stuff I’ve brought with me. I figured it would be a good idea to do a write-up about it. That way I can point people to this blog post if they need to find any of the gear I pack with me!

The next post in this series will be about the gear I pack in my bag that is very specific to the hobby: tools, chargers, and things.

As for this list of gear, do you think I missed anything? Am I carrying something I forgot to list? Am I not carrying something important, because I don’t even know it exists? Or am I just forgetting to pack something important in my own backpack?

Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

What I Learned From Just Two Attempts at Cinewhooping

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I am stretching the truth just a bit when I say I’m recording footage with a cinewhoop. I’ve been messing around with the idea of mounting my GoPro HERO5 Session on my 3” and 4” Kestrel freestyle quads, flying them slow and smooth, and running the footage through ReelSteady Go.

The biggest problem with this setup is that I don’t have prop guards. I’m thinking about designing some prop guards to fit the Kestrel, but for now, I’m happy enough to maintain a safe distance from the soft targets!

I’ve only set out to record proper cinewhoop footage on two occasions. The first attempt was following Brian Moses around a lake while he rode his Exway Riot Pro electric skateboard. A few weeks later, I attempted to follow my friend Alex while he rode his Onewheel around a parking lot.

I did some testing and tuning in my front yard before attempting to follow Brian, and I did more testing and tuning before I followed Alex. This means I’ve put more than two batteries through my cinestyle setup, so I do have a bit of practice!

My 4” Kestrel is working well, my 3” is problematic

I’ve tried a few different configurations with my 4” Kestrel and its Emax 1606 motors. I’ve tried Emax Avan 3.5x2.8x3 and 4x2.5x3 props. I’m pretty sure I get smoother footage on the 3.5” props, but I haven’t used them since my earliest tests.

I’ve tried my 4S 650 mAh freestyle batteries, an old 4S 1,300 mAh battery, and an old 3S 1,300 mAh battery. My little freestyle packs are pretty beat up, but I can manage about four minutes of skateboard follow footage with those batteries.

The two bigger batteries both work great, and they both provide similar flight times. Seven to eight minutes chasing skateboards is no problem with these packs. I think the 4” Kestrel feels better for cinewhooping on the 3S. It is easier to maintain a stable altitude, but it isn’t tremendously easier.

My 3” Kestrel with its 1306 motors and HQ 3x2.5x3 props isn’t doing well with the GoPro. It feels fine in the air, but it is transferring too much vibration to the GoPro. I haven’t gotten clean output from ReelSteady Go with the 3” build yet.

Is the gyro in my 3” Kestrel going out? My 3” Kestrel is mostly made from the original prototype parts. Those arms are weak compared to the 4” Kestrel. Maybe they’re getting a little soft with all the crashes they’ve survived. Maybe the 3” props just transfer a different frequency that resonates with something. I just don’t have the answer yet.

I’m supposed to use an extremely soft mount for the GoPro HERO5 Session

I might have lucked out with my Session 5. It is pretty beat up now, so maybe its gyro is loose enough inside the case that it is soft mounted, because I’m having very little trouble getting clean video out of ReelSteady Go.

Even in the rigid TPU mount on my 5” freestyle build, ReelSteady Go has no trouble smoothing out my cinematic footage. It only has trouble there when I fly backwards or run into propwash.

I’m excited that the built-in soft mounts on my 4” Kestrel seem to be enough to keep ReelSteady Go happy with the footage from the GoPro HERO5 Session. I just have it strapped to the top plate with a battery strap!

I’m hoping this is the fault of my Kestrel frame and not some luck I’m having with my particular GoPro!

Plan your route before shooting

When I filmed Brian on his skateboard, I told him to make laps around the pond, and I would follow him. Then I immediately proceeded to do a bad job.

I took off to late, and I didn’t really understand how fast he was moving. I flew about ¼ of the way around the pond before realizing that I would never catch up, so I turned around and landed near myself. That ate up nearly half my battery!

As you can see in the video, I did a reasonable job picking him up as he started his second lap, but I had to abort after about 90 seconds. If I kept going, I wasn’t going to make it back. In hindsight, I realized that I should have just kept going. Brian is a smart guy. If I flew ahead of him and landed in the grass next to the path, he would have recovered the drone for me!

What could we have done better at the lake?

There are so many things we could have done better! Nurk has a lot of good cinewhooping tips. Maintain a stable altitude. If your flight could be done by a guy carrying a gimbal, why are you flying? Go through obstacles that a guy on a gimbal wouldn’t be able to.

I’m better at maintaining altitude today. It took me a few batteries to get the feel for the throttle response on the 4” while carrying a GoPro!

I realized half-way through my chase that I could just as easily have been riding a skateboard and carrying a gimbal. I needed to do something a skateboard couldn’t do, so I gained a bit of altitude to get a higher shot.

With planning, we could have done so much better. I should have flown over the water. I should have flown through the covered seating next to the dock. I should have gotten a strafing shot with water between Brian and myself.

It wouldn’t have taken much to elevate my first cinewhoop chase video to the next level.

Always shoot in 4K!

I haven’t remembered to take this particular piece of advice, but I’m pretty sure it will be extremely valuable!

My old GoPro Session isn’t in the best of shape. The screen doesn’t work. The back cover is falling off. The button on the back is gone. Not only that, but it is paired to my old phone, so it is very difficult for me to change settings!

I usually leave it set to 1080p SuperView with the flat color profile. This is just fine for my freestyle footage, and it wasn’t a problem when following Brian on his skateboard.

That wide field of view and low resolution was terrible when I chased Alex’s Onewheel. Alex was quick and nimble. I had absolutely no idea which path he was going to take around the parking lot. Trying to make smooth course corrections meant I was separated from him by quite a distance most of the time.

When I was editing the video, I wound up cropping in quite a bit. I didn’t have the extra resolution available to make that look good, though. Do I want blocky, grainy video, or do I want a good view of the action? I did my best to compromise somewhere in between.

If I recorded at 4K with a tighter field of view, I wouldn’t have had to crop as much, and even if I still had to crop, I wouldn’t have given up so much quality.

I think I did a better job following Alex

I didn’t manage to stay in tight most of the time, but I think I managed to take some more interesting lines. At the start of the video, I flew over that pile of landscaping stuff. When Alex rode under the covered valet area, I took an exit over the wall where someone on a skateboard wouldn’t be able to follow.

We didn’t choreograph anything. Alex rode around, and I followed him with my cinewhoop.

Just like the flight with Brian a few weeks earlier, a little planning would have gone a long way!

I might have to pick up a GoPro HERO6 Black

There’s something different about the HERO6. I don’t know if it uses a different gyro chip, the gyro is mounted differently, or the filtering is just better, but the HERO6 Black is supposed to work just fine when strapped to a vibrating quadcopter. No need for any of this soft-mount nonsense!

I’m about to go off on a bit of a detour here. Before the GoPro HERO8 Black was released, my plan was to switch all my quads over to TPU mounts that fit the HERO7 Black. That mount will work for the 5, 6, and 7.

That would give me a lot of options. I could fly the GoPro 7 when I need hypersmooth, or when I just need to want to capture better footage. Then I could fly the GoPro 5 when I’m just knocking around the golf course for fun. Why risk smashing a $400 GoPro when you’re flying the same lines that you fly every week?

The GoPro HERO8 goofed up my plans. They changed the form factor. That means when I upgrade from my HERO5 Session, it will be time to go straight to the newest camera and just hope I don’t smash one every month!

My recent if limited cinewhoop adventures have me rethinking things. I am going to ignore the HERO8 Black for the time being. I just ordered a refurbished GoPro HERO6 Black with a two-year Asurion accidental damage protection plan. My plan is to get cinewhooping with this over the next couple of days, then figure out how I’m going to be mounting and swapping between a Session 5 and HERO6 Black on my 5” over the weekend!

I look forward to more cinewhoop shenanigans!

Cinewhooping is more fun that I expected, and I didn’t think it would be so easy to capture such amazing cinematic footage. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been putting in 10 or 20 packs per week for most of the past three years. I should be pretty good at this by now!

As I said, I ordered a HERO6 Black, and I’m excited about trying it out. I won’t be terribly surprised if that simple change smooths out the footage on my 3” Kestrel, and it will be a general upgrade for all my cinewhooping, so I’m super excited about it!

Brian wants to take another stab at recording some cool footage of his new skateboard. If the weather cooperates, we might work on that over the weekend.

I think I’m doing a pretty good job on my first few attempts at cinewhooping. What do you think? Do I need more practice? Do you agree that my footage will reach the next level by just applying what I’ve learned from these first attempts? Are you cinewhooping? Do you think I’m crazy for not using prop guards?

Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

ReelSteady Go Works on Linux with Wine

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Google didn’t turn up any results, so I had to test this out for myself. ReelSteady Go works just fine on Linux with Wine. It didn’t work with the ancient version of Wine that ships with Ubuntu 18.04, but it does work with the wine-platform-4-devel snap package. The only caveat is that ReelSteady Go doesn’t work correctly in its own window. You have to run it in a virtual desktop.

What is ReelSteady Go?

ReelSteady Go takes your shaky, jarring GoPro footage and turns it into smooth, buttery footage. The full version of ReelSteady is an Adobe After Effects plugin. That version works with any camera, but it is much slower and much more persnickety than ReelSteady Go.

ReelSteady Go uses the accelerometer data that your GoPro encodes in each video to render a smoother version of your clip. I’m using ReelSteady Go to create buttery-smooth Cinewhoop-style videos using my 4” Kestrel micro drone and my GoPro HERO 5 Session. I’ve had success with footage from my 5” freestyle quad, too, but the solid mount I use on the 5” transfers too much vibration into the GoPro, and this goofs up ReelSteady Go’s algorithm a bit.

How to use ReelSteady Go on Ubuntu

This is Linux, so there’s definitely more than one way to do it. For simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to tell you what I did.

I used snap to install the latest development version of Wine:

snap install wine-platform-4-devel

Then I installed ReelSteady Go using this command:

unzip ReelSteadyGoSetup.zip
/snap/wine-platform-4-devel/10/opt/wine-devel/bin/wine explorer.exe /desktop=name,1920x1080 ReelSteadyGoSetup.exe

Then I created a ReelSteadyGo.desktop file in ~/.local/share/applications:

[Desktop Entry]
Name=ReelSteady Go
Comment=ReelSteady Go
Exec=sh -c "/snap/wine-platform-4-devel/10/opt/wine-devel/bin/wine explorer.exe /desktop=name,1920x1080 ReelSteadyGo.exe"
Path=/home/wonko/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/ReelSteadyGo

You’ll have to replace my username with your own. It didn’t let me use a tilde or $HOME in a desktop file.

Why are you telling us about this? There’s a demo, so anyone can test it!

This is true. This is what I did. I just figured it would be worth documenting so you can just ask Google about ReelSteady Go and Linux and quickly find an answer!

What’s Pat doing with ReelSteady Go?

I’ve mostly just been goofing around in my front yard pretending my 4” Kestrel is a Cinewhoop even though it doesn’t have prop guards. I figure that practicing at home can’t hurt, because I need to do a better job at maintaining altitude with the 4” build. ReelSteady Go does a fantastic job at making my movements seem smooth and at leveling the horizon, but it can’t do anything about me bobbing up and down like an idiot!

I’m reasonably happy with the job I did following Brian and his Exway skateboard. On our first and only take, we managed to record nearly 90 seconds of chase footage. For long stretches, I think I maintained altitude quite well. I was also keeping an eye out for pedestrians and branches, while trying to find interesting lines.

I’d like to practice more before we revisit that flight!

Do you really need to soft mount your GoPro HERO5 Session?

The Kestrel’s built-in vibration damping seems to work well. I’ve tried running footage from my 5” freestyle quad through ReelSteady Go, and the results have been mixed.

Most footage on the 5” comes out just fine. ReelSteady Go tends to do odd things when I do a 180-degree yaw and start drifting backwards. It also does weird things during propwash sometimes. The original footage looks clean through the propwash, but when you can hear the motors fighting to keep the craft smooth in the wash, you will almost certainly see ReelSteady Go add oscillations to your footage.

I imagine I could have chased Brian with the hard-mounted GoPro HERO5 Session on my 5”, and the video would have been smooth. I didn’t do any maneuvers that seem to mess things up in that clip.

I’d say you’re better safe than sorry. If you soft mount your GoPro, you’re less likely to be disappointed when you get home!


ReelSteady Go works on Linux. It does a fantastic job, and it is well worth the $99 price tag.

I’ve been more than a little jealous of other pilots’ footage when they use HyperSmooth on their GoPro HERO7 Blacks, but it seemed disappointing that you can’t use an ND filter with HyperSmooth.

With ReelSteady Go, it seems like I can have my cake and eat it too. I can fly with an ND filter, and I can still smooth out my footage. Even better, I don’t have to make that choice before I fly. If I decide that something needs smoothing while I’m editing, I can run the clip through ReelSteady to see how it looks!

What do you think? Are you using ReelSteady Go? Are you using it to smooth your flight videos? Are you using it on Linux? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server and chat with me about it!

Prepping My 3-Inch Freestyle Kestrel for Long-Range Flights

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Let’s start this blog post out with a summary of what I’m excited about. My 3” Kestrel with its little 1306 motors has just barely enough room to squeeze on a set of 4” biblade props, and using the Outcast Droneworks 3250 mAh 2S Lithium-Ion pack, it is getting some amazing flight times. So far, I’ve had a 19-minute flight while cruising at a pretty good pace, and a 12-minute flight that covered just over 6 miles on a day with 21-MPH winds!

In its current long-range configuration, my 3” Kestrel weighs in at 248.5 grams with a Caddx Turtle, TBS Crossfire, GPS, and Zoe FPV’s 3250 mAh battery.

This is all exciting, but at this point I have more questions than answers. I can’t give you a definitive guide to building a sub-250 gram long-range quad. I can tell you what I’ve learned so far. I can tell you about what I’m hoping to learn over my next three or four flights. I can also tell you about how I got to this point.

I’m going to be repeating a lot of information from [my previous post on this topic][e4o]. With any luck, I’ll only repeat the bits that are directly relevant to my new findings!

My Kestrel is not designed to be a long-range quad!

I did not set out to build a long-range micro quad. From the moment I began designing the Kestrel frame, I knew that I wanted an amazing HD freestyle quad. The goal was to keep the build under 250 grams, but if I went a little over, that wasn’t a big deal.

Just because a quad is good at one task doesn’t mean that it can’t pull double or triple duty. The front end of the Kestrel is set up in such a way that it is easy to use a battery strap to mount a GoPro on top. I’ve done short flights on both my 3” and 4” Kestrel builds with a GoPro Session.

You aren’t going to fly like Mr. Steele with all that extra weight, but either of my builds could do the job of a Cinewhoop. In fact, I think my 4” Kestrel with 1606 motors would do an amazing job at getting that buttery Cinestyle footage. Maybe I should design some prop guards?

I was hoping my 4” Kestrel build would be a good long-range quad

I hoped that 4” props would add enough efficiency that it would be easy to get a 10-minute cruising flight out of my 4” Kestrel, but it didn’t work out that way. The bottom-end power and the general feel of my 4” build is better for the type of freestyle I fly, but if anything, it wound up being less efficient than my 3” Kestrel.

I put heavy, overpowered VTX modules on both my Kestrel builds in the hope that they would one day make a long-range flight.

If the 4” was going to cruise for 10 minutes, it was going to need a bigger battery. A bigger battery would push it way over 250 grams, though, and that was going to be a bummer. This encouraged me to shelve the idea of going long range.

The Outcast Droneworks 3250 mAh High-Discharge Lithium-Ion battery pack

Zoe FPV’s amazing 2-cell battery changed everything. I quickly learned that my quads will fly on 2S. They didn’t fly smooth at first, but it didn’t take much to tune out most of the wobbles. My tuning isn’t quite done. I noticed that as the battery drains enough, when it gets close to 6 volts, the Kestrel doesn’t fly as smoothly. I’m sure I can compensate for that.

WARNING: The video above is the entire 19-minute flight.

Zoe’s battery weighs in at almost exactly 100 grams. My 650 mAh 4S packs are 85 grams, and the extra weight very nearly pushed my 3” Kestrel over the 250-gram limit. For testing purposes, I wasn’t too worried about the weight. I was just glad it was in the right ballpark.

My 3” Kestrel is forced to land when the Outcast Droneworks battery starts showing about 2.8 volts per cell in my OSD. When the load is removed, it bounces back to 3.2 volts per cell. This is nice, because it means I’m not ruining the battery when I take these long flight.

The new HQ 4x2.5 biblade T-mount props are awesome

These props are amazing. They’re quite gentle. They weigh less than the HQ 3x2.5x3 props. On my 3” Kestrel, the 4” props managed to fly almost 20% longer than the 3”. I think that’s impressive.

They actually feel great for freestyle on 4S, but my little 1306 motors just don’t have enough torque to manage propwash with such a long propeller.

The combination of Zoe’s battery and the new HQ props is a game changer for me.

I lucked out. I’ve designed three different arms for the Kestrel. There are 4” arms with a ton of clearance. There are compact 3” arms, which have just barely enough room to keep 3” props from rubbing on the fuselage. The arms I fly on my 3” build are the long 3” arms.

Kestrel with HQ 4x2.5x2 biblade props

I wanted the Kestrel to be light, but it doesn’t need to be tiny. The farther apart you can get the props, the better a quad flies. The extra distance helps with leverage, and getting the rear props farther away means they have less turbulent air to work with.

I lucked out. My long 3” arms are just barely long enough to fit a 4” prop. The arms on the Kestrel have a tiny bit of play because each arm is only held on by a single screw. I had to pivot each arm to keep the 4” props from rubbing on the frame. If I crash, they may pivot the other way and get stuck!

If all this experimenting works out, I will need to adjust the design of the arms to eliminate this problem!

Let’s talk about the 19-minute flight

I don’t have a lot of data on the 19-minute flight. At the time, I didn’t have a GPS module on my 3” Kestrel. I do have one on the 4” Kestrel, so I used the 4” to calibrate my brain. I flew for five minutes to get a feel for how fast 15 MPH is.

My plan was to fly the 3” Kestrel with the 4” props in roughly the same manner. Was I really flying at 15 MPH the entire time? Probably not. In fact, I’m starting to think I was at 20 MPH or more a lot of the time. For now, I’m going to assume that my average speed was indeed 15 MPH.

If that’s true, that first 19-minute flight should have covered about 5.75 miles.

I had a 16-minute flight on HQ 3x2.5x3 props

There isn’t a lot to say here. I flew at the same pace on the 3” props as I did on the 4” props. I didn’t have GPS to verify, though.

This flight was 3 minutes short of the previous flight. That means the 19-minute flight covered nearly an extra mile of distance.

I’ll be repeating both these flights with GPS.

Adding GPS and getting back under 250 grams was hard work!

I’m using a 5-gram GPS module from Banggood. It is a fantastic little piece of hardware, but I was right at the 250-gram limit. This pushed my to 253 grams, and shaving 3 grams was really difficult!

I wanted to save a bit more than 3 grams, though. I wanted to be far enough under that an error on my scale wouldn’t be making a liar out of me!

I removed extra zip ties. I removed two screws from each motor. I took off my gummy battery pad. I even used a pair of scissors to make my battery strap more narrow. The last bit got me under 250 grams, but only by 0.04 grams. That didn’t feel right, and I had another problem. The ND filter doesn’t weigh much, but it definitely pushed me over 250!

I got my old PH145 out of the closet, and I borrowed four aluminum M3 screws. Swapping out my steel screws for aluminum brought me down to 248.5 grams.

That’ll do it, right?!

Flying slow might be the wrong idea

To have this discussion correctly, I need to watch the amp-draw readout in the OSD. I haven’t done that. I only have estimates for throttle position. Throttle position doesn’t scale directly with power consumption, but I’m going to pretend that it does. It is close enough to help illustrate my point.

When I think about efficiency, I assume slower is better. That’s why I decided that 15 MPH would be a good cruising speed. While it is true that you’ll get a longer flight at a slower speed, I’m not so sure that’s the point of this exercise.

If my goal is to fly up the side of a mountain, I don’t want my flight to last as long as possible. I want to cover as much distance as possible!

Here’s what I’m thinking. With my long-range setup, it takes about 30% throttle to hover in place. Then it takes a total of about 45% throttle to cruise at 15 MPH.

That means about 2/3 of my energy is being used just to keep the Kestrel in the air, and only 1/3 of the energy is being used to propel the craft forward. If the goal is to cover as much distance as possible, this doesn’t seem like a good plan!

What if I cruise at 60% throttle? That would mean half my energy would be propelling the craft forward.

Comparing throttle position isn’t accurate here. I need to compare amps at different speeds. In any case, I think the concept is sound.

My first GPS flight with the big battery

I was hoping to make several test flights over the weekend. It was way too windy to get good data, so I only took one flight.

I was cruising at about 62% throttle for most of the flight. When I flew south, I was going at 15 to 20 MPH. When I turned around to fly north, I was flying at 50 to 60 MPH! The wind was pretty constant, but there were some gusts. I’m hopeful that the directions of my flight canceled out the wind assists, but I’m not all that confident.

This needs to be repeated on a calm day, but I’m going to tell you how things went anyway.

The flight lasted 12:41, and I covered 6.01 miles according to the GPS. If I had known that this was 9.67 kilometers, I might have tried to push it past 10 kilometers!

Should you build a long-range micro quad?

I’m not sure. Even with the Kestrel’s extremely long fuselage, it has been difficult to get enough separation between all the various radio components.

When I put my first Kestrel together, I mounted the Crossfire Nano module under the VTX board. Even though the antennas weren’t close to each other, this was still horrible for my video signal. I’ve since moved the Crossfire Nano to the opposite end of the quad, and that helped tremendously, but I’m running into new problems.

My GPS wouldn’t even pick up a single satellite when it was mounted near my Crossfire antenna, so I moved it to the front of the quad. Now it is directly above my Caddx Turtle board, and I have to be careful to mount my battery farther back to keep it from blocking the GPS module.

A friend of mine told me that he can’t mount a GPS module too close to his Caddx Tarsier, because the Tarsier is noisy, and prevents the GPS from locking on. I might be in trouble if I upgrade!

Getting enough separation between these three radio modules and antennas is difficult enough on my rather large micro quad frame. Things will be even harder on a smaller, lighter build, and I’m not even sure how well this will all work if I actually managed to fly two or three miles away!

Why use a micro quad for long range?

I always tell people that my Kestrels are my hold-my-beer quads. The last time I priced one out, either of my Kestrel build comes in at around $250 including props and the battery. The addition of the GPS module and the more expensive 3250 mAh battery probably pushes that number up to $280 or $290.

My pricing spreadsheet includes a whopping $45 for the cost of the Kestrel frame. If I ever manage to put them up for sale, I sure hope I don’t have to charge that much!

This is where I usually say that the entire Kestrel costs less than a GoPro. While this is true, I’m still flying with a Session 5, so it isn’t quite true for me.

Why send my $500 5” miniquad that carries a $150 to $400 camera on a risky mission when my $250 Kestrel could get the job done just fine? That risky mission could be crossing a stretch of ocean to reach an island, flying freestyle in a sketchy part of a bando that you could never climb up to yourself, or maybe even just scoping out a new spot when you’re uncomfortable.

I’ve been examining all sorts of compromises

I’ve been ignoring the Runcam Hybrid. I don’t want to spend $90, take a Kestrel apart, solder in the new camera, then realize that I’m almost as disappointed in the HD footage from the new camera as I was in the old camera!

My newfound long-range excitement has me rethinking this. The limited field of view of the Turtle looks awful when flying freestyle. When going on a slow, steady, long-range cruise, it doesn’t look bad at all! The new problem is that the Runcam Hybrid is 5 to 10 grams heavier than the Caddx Turtle.

Where do I save another 10 grams? My heaviest component is the massive RaceDayQuads 1,000 mW VTX and the MMCX antenna. The lightest replacements wouldn’t be suitable for long range. A light VTX with reasonable output power for long-range flights will be something pricier like a TBS Unify of some sort, and that bumps up the cost of my hold-my-beer quad!

I’m sure I can cut a frame that is a few grams lighter. There are four M3 screws left that can be swapped out for aluminum. I’m sure I can puzzle out a way to get a Runcam Hybrid on here and still manage to get under 250 grams.

I don’t really have to stay under 250 grams, but I think the build is more interesting if I do. I’d like to have a good, reasonably priced parts list. If you live in a country with a 250-gram weight limit, and you want to replicate my success, I would like to make that easy for you to do. That is assuming that this long-range Kestrel stuff is truly successful!

What’s next for the long-range Kestrel testing?

I need to take more flights! We have some nice-looking days coming up, and they should be free of wind.

I need to replicate that 19-minute flight, but this time I need to do it with GPS. Most of that flight happened at around 45% throttle.

I’ve done a flight at around 62% throttle. I’d like to do another at around 75% throttle.

I need to do more tuning. The Kestrel is pretty solid now when the 2S battery is full, but it has a big case of the wobbles towards the end of the battery. For most of the flight, the voltage stays above 7 volts. The last mile or so is at 6 volts or less, and that’s where it gets problematic.

These test flights are long and boring, and I have to wait for a battery to charge between flights. With any luck, I can get the 45%– and 75%-throttle flights in during a single session.

I also need to burn through an entire Outcast Droneworks pack on my real 4” 1606 Kestrel. She comes in at about 275 grams with the 2S pack. She flies fine on 2S, but the voltage dropped quickly enough on my 5-minute test flight that I can see that it won’t compete with the 248-gram 1306 Kestrel.

Update: List of flights, times, and distances

I’m not sure this is the best place to keep track of this data, but it is definitely the best place for now!

Flights using Outcast Droneworks 3250 mAh 2S Lithium-Ion battery:

  • 11/23: 19:01, unknown distance, 45% throttle
  • 12/09: 12:41, 6.01 miles, 60% throttle
  • 12/14: 10:06, 6.05 miles, 75% throttle
  • 12/15: 16:00, 5.5 to 5.75 miles, 45% throttle (forgot to DVR!)

Flights on 650 mAh 4S:

  • 12/15: 4:29, 2.58 miles, 25% throttle

My 4S 650 mAh packs are old and tired, but they save me about 25 grams of weight. These are very different batteries, but I figured I should include the data.


I have absolutely no idea where I’d fly some sort of long-range mission. Maybe flying from one end of our abandoned golf course to the other and back would qualify. Google Maps says it is about 4,800 feet, but I’d have to cross a street at about 3,000 feet.

It is possible to fly under the bridge, but that’s a long way to fly so close to the ground, and there’s no way for me to get a height advantage on my end. I’m a bit bummed out that this is the most exciting and interesting long-range flight I can imagine taking.

If that works out, maybe I’ll drive out to a nearby lake and attempt to fly across!

What do you think? Am I on the right track? Is sub-250 gram long range interesting? Do you think the Outcast Droneworks battery is as awesome as I think it is? Do you think I’m going to have any use for a long-range micro quad, or should I just stick to freestyle? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

We Are About to Order OoberLights Prototypes!

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I first posted about this in May. We’ve been working on this for nearly six months. How can that be possible? To me, it feels like we just started talking about the idea a few weeks ago!

Life has been getting in the way. We’ve gone through some redesigns, but things are looking good now. I was handed a copy of all the work today. In theory, I could send this off to have a handful of OoberLights boards manufactured right now. In practice, I’m going to stick these in front of a few eyeballs to make sure everything is really ready to go.

What are OoberLights?

Is one board an OoberLight? Is one board an OoberLight board? Or should it always be plural, because there are lots of lights on the board? Maybe each ring is an OoberLight, and the board with two rings should be referred to as OoberLights? This is something we’ll have to figure out.

I’ve already written about where the idea came from, but I figure I may as well talk about it again. A long time ago, I learned of the existence of dekatrons. I’m pretty sure I saw one or two LED dekatron imitations on hacakday.com. At around the same time, I had also learned of something called charlieplexing.

With this newfound knowledge, I thought it might be fun to wire up a ring of red LEDs to replace the indicator LEDs on my IBM Model M keyboard. At the time, I didn’t even own a 3D printer. I had no idea how I could ever make something like that look nice, so it never came to fruition.

I chatted with a friend about doing a PCB. I was thinking we’d do one ring of WS2812 RGB LEDs with the intention of putting one or two of these rings into a 5.25” drive bay on my virtual machine server. In that form factor, I believe we would have been able to make a circle of about a dozen LEDs.

Then we thought about doing concentric rings. The 5mm LEDs are pretty big, so the smaller ring isn’t all that circular looking. Then something awesome happened. 2mm WS2812 LEDs started shipping!

If you count the single LED in the center as a ring, we are now able to fit four concentric rings within the height of a 5.25” optical drive bay. There are now 24 LEDs in the outer ring, and a total of 90 LEDs in the pair of rings on the board!

What do you do with something like this?

When the OoberLights were less uber, my ideas were pretty simple. You could send a pixel spinning around the ring at varying speeds to indicate network throughput. You could have pixels spinning in opposing directions to indicate the direction of network traffic. You could light up LEDs like a progress bar to indicate disk usage or CPU load.

Then the OoberLights got a whole lot more uber! We should be able to draw hands like a clock. We will be able to pulse the concentric rings like a raindrop on water. We can have each concentric ring displaying different information. I’d like to be able to have several of these animations running at the same time. The possibilities have gotten quite large!

What if I don’t have 5.25” drive bays? Can I put this on my desk?

The OoberLights board receives 5-volt power via a micro=USB port. We are using an ESP8266 microcontroller to control the LEDs. You will be able to communicate with the Ooberlights using either the USB cable or WiFi.

Ooberlights Front

If you want to use your OoberLights as a status display on your NAS server, you will probably communicate with it via USB. If you don’t want to put your OoberLights display near a computer, that will be fine. We want to make sure you can still access all the functionality via WiFi as well.

I want OoberLights on my desk!

We have some concerns

I have been using the word “we” a lot. Sometimes I have concerns. Sometimes our hardware designer has concerns. Sometimes we share those concerns to varying degrees. Let’s focus a bit on the concerns our designer has had over the course of the Ooberlights project so far.

He isn’t a professional electronics guy. He’s a software guy. This is an interesting learning experience for him, but he will tell you he’s not an expert. As far as I’m concerned, he’s doing a fantastic job, but that doesn’t mean I know that he knows what he’s doing!

Ooberlights Jumpers

When the initial layout was done, he had a pretty serious concern. What if he goofed, and one of the power supply components was set up incorrectly? What if we’re accidentally sending 5 volts to the LEDs that require 3 volts? We might plug the first board in, and immediately burn out every WS2812 LED. There were a few similar concerns.

How we thought we might address those concerns

Our designer wanted to break each piece of the project down into its own prototype board. A few power supply boards, and ESP8266 board, and a handful of LED ring boards.

Smaller boards cost less to manufacture. This way, we could connect things up one at a time while keeping an eye on things with a multimeter.

How we’re really going to address those concerns

We are back to a single board, and it is almost identical to what should be the final production PCB. Instead of breaking the Ooberlights PCB into physically separate pieces, our designer is cutting around a dozen traces on the board.

At the cut points, he’s leaving solder pads. I will be able to bridge those gaps with solder to test more and more of the board. I can plug the USB cable in and verify that the voltage regulator is regulating correctly. If it is, I can connect that up to the ESP8266 and verify that it powers up correctly.

One step at a time.

Assuming everything checks out, this means that our prototype boards will be completely compatible with the production run. That’s exciting!

The Ooberlights hardware specifications

Here’s what I can tell you about the Ooberlights so far:

  • The hardware and software will be open-source
  • 2-layer PCB
  • 229 surface mount components
  • 90 WS2812 LEDs
  • ESP8266 micro controller with 4MB flash and WiFi
  • USB-to-serial interface
  • 5 volt power input

I don’t know how he managed to get us down to a 2-layer PCB, but he did it. This may not be impressive to you, but it is impressive to me. I think it is neat, because this is potentially something I could mill on my CNC. I could never place 229 tiny surface-mount components, but I could mill the PCB!

We haven’t released any source code

We’re not trying to be secretive. In fact, I believe that being more open is better. No one has asked to see the source code, and we haven’t had a lot of discussion about exactly which license to use.

If someone else wanted to get involved, I’m sure we could settle on a license pretty quickly. I figure there’s no reason to work on something that we don’t desperately need at this point. We’ll have a license in place before we start sending prototypes out for testing and review.

I’ve been open-sourcing my quadcopter frame designs. I don’t like to push changes to the public repo on Gitlab.com until I have a chance to test the physical parts. Sometimes changes sit in my private repository for a month or two. Compiling code is fast. [Cutting carbon fiber on the CNC][cf] can be slow!

I’m taking a similar attitude here. I don’t want anyone paying to have a completely untested PCB made. I would feel terrible if it didn’t work!

We haven’t written any software

The hardware is nice. The hardware is fun. The hardware is completely useless without software, and we don’t have any software written.

If there’s zero software, the audience for our hardware is tiny. It will only be the people that want to write their own animations using the ESP8266 SDK or the Arduino IDE.

If the Ooberlights hardware is running just enough software that it can accept some simple commands, then our audience expands quite a bit. Any system admin can figure out how to send commands over a serial port to make the Ooberlights blink or spin when needed.

If we can integrate the Ooberlights with iftt.com, then our audience becomes huge. Anyone can start counting likes on Facebook or Instagram, flashing the lights when there’s a retweet on Twitter, or use their Ooberlights to keep track of subscribers on YouTube.

What’s next?

I have to sit down with a friend of mine that is an actual professional electronics guy. He’s offered to take a look at our design to make sure there aren’t any glaringly obvious mistakes.

Once that works, it is my job to order some prototypes. For me, ordering prototypes is the scariest part!

How much will Ooberlights cost?

I have a pretty good idea, but I’m afraid to tell you! I’ve never had a PCB manufactured before. We’re going to need to have drive bay enclosures made, and I’ve really only considered how much they’ll cost me to manufacture myself in the garage.

The cost of the populated circuit boards go down as the quantities go up. Even at relatively low quantities, the prices are quite reasonable.

What if the enclosures cost more than I think? What if we have to change the design? What if something goes wrong?

Ooberlights Back

If I suggest a price today, and things change, people will point back to this post and yell, “But you said it would cost half as much!” and I don’t want to worry about that. I have enough things to worry about!

At the highest price I can imagine us charging, I’d buy one for my virtual machine server at home. At the price point I’m hoping we can hit, I’d buy one for each of my computers and one for my desk. I’m really hoping we can reach the lower price point. I imagine we’ll land somewhere in between.


The next time I write about the Ooberlights, I expect to have a prototype in my possession. That will be so much more exciting! Showing off screenshots of the rendered PCB is fun, but that doesn’t really go far towards explaining what these Ooberlights are for!

Am I saying Ooberlights enough? Are you excited about Ooberlights? I am aware that there’s only so much excitement I could ever manage to drum up with diagrams and descriptions. Any real excitement won’t get here until there are videos and gifs, right?

If you think we’re on the right track here, leave a comment, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with us about Ooberlights. I said Ooberlights again!