You think this is going to be an awkward conversation; you’re going to have to explain the concept of electric motorcycles to someone who doesn’t quite understand long division. It’s going to be weird, and the kid might freak out and reject the concept completely. If it’s not cool to be seen with the wrong color socks, what’s going to happen if his buddies see him on an electric bike?
“You don’t have to start it. Just twist the throttle and go,” you say.
He does just that. No drama, trauma or trouble. He never questions the concept again, and the whole electric bike thing becomes irrelevant. It turns out that adults are the ones that are thrown off their game by bikes like the Kuberg Trial E. Kids accept the concept automatically. When you think about it, the concept of a smoking hot machine between your legs seems more unnatural. The Nintendo generation gloms onto all things electric quite easily.
Kuberg is one of a small but growing group of manufacturers that believes that kids and electric motorcycles are a perfect match. This is a company with a factory in the Czech Republic and a U.S. importer in the heart of Silicon Valley. Right now, the offerings include three kids’ bikes: the 24-volt Start with 12-inch wheels, the 36-volt Trial E with 16-inch trials tires, and the 36-volt Cross with 16-inch knobbies. Coming soon are the Trex, which is a more dedicated trials bike for kids, and the Free-Rider for teens. A trials bike for grown-ups is in development.
The Trial E shown here isn’t an especially high-tech product, at least not by the standards of a Chevy Volt. It’s designed with a budget in mind. It has three conventional AGM 12-volt batteries connected in series—no lithium atoms in sight. For this type of application, that’s perfect. The biggest issue with conventional lead-acid batteries is range. For a kids’ bike, that’s not a problem. First, the attention span of a 6-year-old is about as long as an episode of “Sponge Bob.” Second, you’re never far from the truck. Most of the components come from the bicycle industry. The brakes are Tektro Draco 2 hydraulic discs. They’re made in Taiwan and regarded fairly well in the mountain bike world. The fork is a Spinner Grind, also from Taiwan. The handlebar and stem are mountain bike items, but the wheels and tires are from the motorcycle world.
The motor is a compact 750-watt unit, but the heart of any electric motorcycle is the controller. As we all know, electric motors are either on or off by nature, so the challenge for a motor vehicle is finding something in the middle. The Kuberg has a twist throttle that meters out power gradually. It also offers a means of altering the top speed. When you first flip the bike on, it communicates with a series of LED flashes. Five flashes means it’s set at full speed, which is about 17 mph. If you hold down a well-hidden button, you can select any of five settings. The lowest of these restricts the bike to walking speed—slow walking speed.
As the name suggests, the Trial E is supposed to be a trials bike, but that’s more or less irrelevant. It has the same basic chassis and motor as the Cross model. The only differences are the wheels, tires and styling. More important, it has an optional seat. In our experience, young riders don’t understand the concept of standing up on the pegs without a lot of coaching.
THE ULTIMATE JURY
We immediately threw the Kuberg at an angry pack of wolves: 9-year-old kids with very little experience. At that age, an average-sized kid already makes the Trial E look a little small. At the other end of the age envelope, a 5-year-old could probably handle it easily. The greatest thing about the bike is that it opens up new possibilities. It’s absolutely noiseless. There’s only slight sound from the tiny chain. You can get away with rides in urban environments where motorcycles would result in helicopters and sky hooks. If you have a big backyard, all the better. The neighbors will never hear a thing.
Another big advantage is the size. It’s physically similar to a Yamaha PW50 but much lighter. The Trial E is about 65 pounds, whereas a PW is over 90. Anyone can pick it up, including Dad when he wants to throw it into the trunk. The Kuberg doesn’t have any liquids and the batteries are sealed, so it can be stored sideways or upside down. If you live in an apartment, it could even stay in little Ralph’s bedroom every night. What kid wouldn’t love that?
Before you turn the kids loose, you should decide how much power they can handle and adjust the output accordingly. Even though the Kuberg has a good system for this, it still has very sudden throttle response compared to a gasoline-powered machine. Start on one of the milder output settings and move up. It kind of works the opposite of a throttle limiter on a gasoline machine. On those, turning the throttle adjuster inward limits acceleration but not top speed. On the Kuberg, it alters top speed more than acceleration. Kids will quickly learn the value of throttle control. The Kuberg’s throttle also exhibits a trait common among electric vehicles. As speed increases, the throttle seems to develop more free play. Again, kids learn to deal with that quickly. Adults learn more slowly.
One of the few criticisms we have of the machine involves the damping in the rear shock. There ain’t any. It’s also very stiff, so the bike can be quite the pogo stick on bumps. For the backyard crowd, this isn’t much of a factor, but for real trails, it’s a good idea to upgrade to Kuberg’s optional premium shock. It’s a $95 add-on but worthwhile.
In light of the Trial E’s suggested retail price of $1299, there’s probably some room left over in the budget. Compare that to the PW50, which costs $1440, and dad has to kick-start it. The Kuberg was a hit with our 9-year-olds, but you need to understand that it is a gateway drug. They’ll want more of what the motorized world offers very quickly. That’s fine; the bike has great hand-me-down potential. There are few moving parts to wear out, and the U.S. importer already has a good supply. The Kuberg will probably be in the extended family for a very long time.