It won’t win any awards at a beauty pageant, but for practical innovation, this machine is almost in a league of its own. We check out the future with UBCO’s 2018 road legal 2×2 electric bike.

Words: Broxy Pics: Alick Saunders

 

So much about this bike is extraordinary. Here I am connected through the Bluetooth of my iPhone, setting a bike into stealth mode. It is already mostly silent, and ready to take me most places that a dirt bike could and some places a dirt bike couldn’t.

Getting off for the tenth time to open a gate, the Ubco reminds me of a postie bike, and why they are still the number one seller of all motorcycles. The center of gravity is around axle height, with room to swing a leg through only just a little higher than that. The whole bike is only just over a meter high, and you can literally pick the back of it up with one finger, yet the 2018 model will take you 120km on a single charge.

My first introduction to this concept was in the innovations tent at the Fieldays in 2014, where I met Daryl Neal and his two-wheel-drive electric bike. He actually let me have a little ride – and I mean little, because the cubicle was only a few metres across – yet it was enough to see that he was on to something. Grunty little motors in both hubs were attached to a frame that looked like it had been modeled using rope and duct tape – yet the concept worked. There was a feeling of practicality at all costs, which meshes well with the Kiwi “number 8 wire” mentality.

A brand was formed around the bike in 2015 with the first real production units arriving a year later – now the biggest challenge is to keep up with demand.

Being a dirt bike rider at heart, my main question was less about safety and more about how capable it was, especially up hills. Reading the technical specs, the area Ubco calls “Performance” is perhaps a little misleading. To translate the numbers into something more meaningful, 2.4kWh is just over three horsepower. Yet if you compare the Ubco’s max torque of 90Nm to the CRF250R of yesteryear at 28Nm, you really comparing apples to oranges.

Within moments of twisting the throttle for the first time, you’ll find this bike can really move. It gets up to speed quickly and will cruise along a farm track faster than you really need to go. The brakes are classic mountain bike components and at 203mm, are plenty powerful with good feel, even on the tarmac.

The suspension is much firmer than I was expecting, but I assume this is partly to help when the bike has a little load on the front and rear carriers that come standard with the bike. Aside from changing the preload of the springs, only the rebound has adjusting knobs. The suspension’s saving grace is that low center of gravity, which helps the bike to handle just fine. That’s combined with a large and generously padded seat able to handle a couple of hours without hurting your rear. The extra-large foot-pegs are another plus, and probably came about as part of Daryl’s downhill mountain bike experience.

When it came time to head uphill, the bike did slow down as you would expect. Without giving you an exact slope angle, anything you could walk up without breaking into a big sweat is fine for the twin ‘lekky motors. You slow right down, but you keep moving.

In saying that though, extra body weight and loaded carry compartments would make a difference in what you could handle, and – as we discovered – you don’t want to load the motors for long when the going gets too steep. They overheat, and once that warning light is on, you either give it a good chance to cool off or resort to paddling Flintstone-style.

The idea of physically helping the bike up a steep hill is actually quite intriguing as it means you can get up hills that a normal dirt bike couldn’t.

After finding some hills the Ubco couldn’t handle, I got off and pushed, which actually worked well. I tried to see what kind of inclines I could walk it up. Basically, if I could walk it, then I could get the bike up it, provided I could handle the front wheel spinning.

Getting back to the bikes themselves, a surprise was seeing how clean they had remained. Unlike the first prototype with its small mudguard mounted up near the handlebars, the production model has a design that reminds me of my father’s 10-speed from back in the day. It might not look as cool, but it kept all the grass, mud and sheep poo off the bike in spite of my antics.

We shouldn’t overlook such Kiwi design elements. As Daryl mentions in one of his videos, if a bike can handle NZ farm conditions, then it should handle most anything. Cow muck is brutal, and if the extent of your battle with rust is limited to replacing the axle nuts, then that is a big win.

Apart from the axle nuts which had already gone off colour on the 2017 demo bike, all the white components are made of aluminium alloy, which keeps them from corrosion. Stainless steel spokes and copper spoke nipples are the only exceptions I noted.

Most impressive are the forks, custom built for this bike and improved with 40mm more travel for 2018.

There were just two tweaks that I would like to see. Farmland is not always flat, including when opening gates, which makes parking the Ubco on the side stand a little more complicated. On a petrol bike, you could turn it off and leave it in gear with the front wheel facing downhill, but with electric power, you either need to point the front wheel uphill or lay it on its side. Some kind of hand brake would be a nice option.

I also found the indicator switches to be potentially embarrassing. With no automatic indicator off function, there is no ticking sound either and the green arrow on the dash is small and hard to see.

Mechanical plusses include the option of a cigarette lighter style charger along with two parallel ports. The 2018 version is also equipped with regenerative braking to keep you running for longer, along with giving that “engine braking” feeling that we all like. Backing off the throttle or engaging the brakes is all it takes.

When it comes time for a charge, getting back up to 90% apparently takes 6 hours from dead low, with a total of 8 hours for 100% charge. Probably best of all, that charge will cost you less than $1 worth of electricity, which really is quite ridiculous.

Included in the catalogue of pannier racks and bags is one of the handiest accessories you will never see for a normal dirt bike: a tow-ball bike rack. Ubco recommends you travel with the bike’s battery removed, which must mean it is fairly easy to take out. Removing one wing mirror would also be advisable but this is well worth the effort when you don’t have to think about bringing a trailer.

Who’d buy an Ubco? Think of a DOC worker who needs to duck out and check the trails after a big storm. Tight tracks and sharp turns are no problem, with the worst-case scenario being you have to lift the machine over some windfall, but at just 63kg, even this is not impossible.

Another example is the market gardener, hopping on and off the bike all day to check on plants and staff. “No gears, no kick starting, if it falls over it doesn’t flood.” There are also plenty of legitimate safety features they mention as well, including being able to hear when a tractor is coming around the corner.

Versatility is definitely the by-word for this bike and the further illustrate the point – you only need a learner’s license to ride this bike from the farm and onto the road.

Your choice of Ubco is limited to two options. There is the 2017 model at 58kg with a top speed of 45kph which is for dirt only, or the 2018 road legal version at 63kg with its more grunty battery and top speed of 50kph.

You pay more for the 2018 model, but with added durability, versatility and the Bluetooth capability, it is an attractive option.

The Ubco guys – and girls –have been very busy indeed, with over 30 dealers around the country, making this bike easier to find than some mainstream motorcycle brands.

Joan Barreda was forced to retire from the most 2018 Dakar Rally after being unable to support the knee pains resulting from a crash in the heavy downpours in Uyuni. Possibly most painful of all,  the Monster Energy Honda Team rider had clawed back ten minutes from the overall race leader. However, it was not the knee, but the left wrist (which had been fractured in the testing for the Route 40) which meant that he had been unable to recover and compete in the Dakar at full fitness. Two months after undergoing operations for these injuries, the Castellón rider was able to get back in the saddle and triumphed in the Merzouga Rally in Morocco’s arid deserts.

Congratulations Joan. You’ve made a great comeback, winning in Merzouga a few weeks ago. How is the left wrist that they operated on three months ago?
Thank you. I am happy to be back riding the way that I want to. Just a few weeks after the operation, the two bones that hadn’t consolidated after the quadruple wrist fracture at the Route 40, have finally done so. Although they still cause some inflammation, they now allow me to hold the handlebars tightly once again. In a few days I will be back on the bike again and hopefully the inflammation will disappear for good and I’ll be able to ride constantly.

Was the Merzouga Rally the best place to test your physical condition? And to put your navigational skills to the test?
Exactly, despite being happy with the final victory, the rally made me realize that I’m still at only 70% of full physical fitness. The difficult navigation of this rally played in my favour and allowed me to win. The good thing is that I now have a few months to get back to the top level before the summer.

How did you view the Honda CRF450 RALLY?
The bike worked perfectly. But if I have to be honest, it’s something that no longer surprises me. We have worked a lot in recent years to improve the reliability of the bike and now know that it doesn’t give any problems. I’m happy that the pieces of this puzzle have started to fit together.

Last year you competed very little because of the injuries. Do you feel like taking part in more races this year?
Exactly. Last year I had two injuries during racing time and that made me miss all the rallies I had scheduled to prepare for the Dakar. This year the main objective is not to get injured and complete the preparation programme that we have planned. After the Merzouga Rally we will race in the Baja España, the Atacama Rally in Chile, the Desafío Ruta 40 in Argentina and the Morocco Rally. However, these are still to be confirmed depending on how the season goes.

What is your training schedule after the Merzouga?
The objective for these three weeks after the rally is to completely recover the wrist 100%, than continue with the physical training (gym, running, bicycle, motocross bike, paddle surf…). Afterwards, I’ll be back on the rally bike, as I still need to put in some serious kilometres aboard it.

You set up home in Andorra. How is the preparation in the Pyrenean country going?
I like Andorra a lot and I am very happy. I have more and more people around me here, and after five years that makes me feel even better.

We are a few days from the announcement of the new 2019 Dakar. What do you expect the next Dakar to be like?
I would like it to be along the same lines as the last one, and above all I hope that it continues to play out on new terrain where it hasn’t been before.

Taupo’s Nathan Tesselaar (KTM 350 XC-F), on his way to winning on Sunday, that result boosting him into the series lead. Photo by Andy McGechan

The 2018 New Zealand Cross-country Championships will now very definitely go right down to the wire at the fourth and final round after several top riders experienced mixed fortunes at round three near Taupo on Sunday.

With two wins from two starts before Sunday’s third round of four, Taupo’s defending champion Brad Groombridge appeared to have everything under control.

But then came a huge dose of bad fortune for Groombridge on Sunday, the Suzuki man running out of fuel while leading on the 13th and final lap.

Groombridge was credited with ninth overall, as one of only a handful of riders to exit the timing zone before the three-hour race duration had elapsed and so one of only nine riders to actually start a 13th lap.

But his 1-1-9 score-card after three rounds of the series has put him second on the points table, behind new series leader Nathan Tesselaar, the KTM rider from Taupo who inherited the lead and won the day on Sunday. Tesselaar’s score-card for the series so far is 4-3-1.

Runner-up on Sunday was Coatesville’s Sam Greenslade (KTM), his first ride in the series, after only recently arriving back in the country following a year in the United Kingdom, and so he is not a realistic contender for the national title this season.

Third on Sunday was Raglan’s Jason Dickey (KTM).

 Dickey and Hamilton’s Phil Goodwright (Husqvarna) should also be considered title contenders because, with only three of four rounds to be counted as riders discard their one worst result, it puts Dickey (0-2-3) and Goodwright (2-5-7) right in the hunt at Mosgiel. 

Meanwhile, in the 90-minute junior grade race held earlier in the day, Hamilton’s Caleb Richardson (KTM) was the runaway winner, crossing the finish line 20 seconds ahead of Napier’s Bryn Codd (Yamaha), with Cambridge’s Michael Henry (KTM) claiming third, just eight seconds further back.

This finishing order caused a reshuffle also in the junior grade, with Codd taking over the top spot from Eltham’s Adam Loveridge (Husqvarna), who managed only seventh on Sunday.

However there is virtually nothing to separate Codd (3-3-2) from Loveridge (2-1-7), or even Raglan’s Coby Rooks (Honda, 4-2-6), Richardson (10-4-1), Henry (7-5-3) or Cambridge’s Callum Patterson (Yamaha, 1-20-4) once “discarded” results are taken into account.

The fourth and final round of the series is set for farmland near Mosgiel on May 12.

 

Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com

Taupo’s Nathan Tesselaar (KTM 350 XC-F), one of those locked in a tight battle for a podium finish this season. Photo by Andy McGechan

Throttles will be pinned to the stops at the third round of four in the 2018 New Zealand Cross-country Championships near Taupo this weekend.

With just 12 points to separate the top three senior riders and just seven points to separate the lead trio in the junior ranks after round two near Ormondville last month, it means there’s no margin for error and the slightest mistake could prove costly for those seeking a podium finish to the championship. 

Defending champion in the senior grade, Taupo’s Brad Groombridge (Suzuki RM-Z450), simply picked up where he left off last season when he won the opening two rounds of the 2018 series and he will again be hard to beat this Sunday, particularly with him racing so close to home.

But Hamilton’s Phil Goodwright (Husqvarna FX350) and Taupo’s Nathan Tesselaar (KTM 350 XC-F) are both within catching distance, these two men locked together at second equal in the standings at this halfway stage to the competition.

Napier’s Mackenzie Wiig (KTM 300XC) and Stratford’s Josh Hunger (Husqvarna FX350) are fourth equal and also in a mood to move up.

However, if the relentless progress of Groombridge can’t be stalled this weekend, then it’s likely he’ll wrap up the 2018 with a round to spare on Sunday, earning him a third consecutive national cross-country crown.

In the junior grade, Eltham’s Adam Loveridge (Husqvarna TE150) has taken charge so far, finishing runner-up at the series opener near Huntly and then backing that up with a solid win at round two near Ormondville.

Raglan’s Coby Rooks (Honda CRF250) and Napier’s Bryn Codd (Yamaha YZ125) are within striking distance of Loveridge, second equal and just seven points behind.

Meanwhile, Cambridge’s Michael Henry (KTM 250 XC-F), Hamilton’s Caleb Richardson (KTM 250 SX-F), Dannevirke’s Ben Paterson (Yamaha YZ125) and Eltham’s Josh Loveridge (Husqvarna FE250) must also fancy their chances, these four riders in a tight battle for fourth overall and separated by just two points.

Racing on Sunday is on farmland at 6204 Western Bay Road, Waihaha, west of Lake Taupo.

The fourth and final round of the New Zealand Cross-country Championships is set for farmland near Mosgiel on May 12.

Only three of the four rounds are counted towards the championships, with riders to discard their one worst score, but there is a stipulation that riders attend the final round, and this means the battle for a coveted podium result could last right until the final lap at Mosgiel.

 Words and photo by Andy McGechan

Napier’s Mackenzie Wiig, sure to be among the frontrunners at the Husqvarna Hard X event in the Kinleith Forest, near Atiamuri, on Saturday. Photo by Andy McGechan

It could be New Zealand’s ultimate of extreme cross-country race, but don’t be frightened off by the event’s daunting title, because it will appeal to all levels of ability.

The Husqvarna Hard X event in the Kinleith Forest, near Atiamuri, this Saturday is a four-hour cross-country race that will “feature all the great trails and hard bits of a Husqvarna Hard Adventure Enduro, but on a compact course, with hard sections deemed suitable for the grade that the rider enters”.

Organiser Sean Clarke said the event, from 11am until 3pm, would have mass appeal.

“This is the first time we have held a Hard X event,” said Clarke, who has previously run the difficult Husqvarna Hard Adventure Enduro Events in the same area of the country.

“This Hard X event is to show riders what the three-day hard enduro is like but in a compact way,” he explained. “It will be a lot easier to enter and ride. Riders don’t need a GPS device on their bikes, they don’t need head lights or tail lights and they don’t need to be concerned with the thought of six hours of gruelling riding, like what they might encounter at a hard enduro.

The course is approximately 25 kilometres in length, that riders will traverse several times during the four hours, and it will feature a “good mixture of single trail, firebreaks and a few hard bits thrown in for good measure”.

Riders classify themselves as either Gold, Silver or Bronze grade competitors and the course they’ll face will hopefully reflect that level of proficiency.

“Entries are still open, although riders may still enter on the day if they are waiting to see what the weather is going to do, but it is looking like it will be fine, with maybe just a few showers.

“Everyone is probably thinking it’s going to be a psycho-hard event, but it’s not.”

Clarke said the Bronze class would be about the same level as a hard section at a trail ride, with the Silver and Gold class courses will be just a little bit harder than that.

Wainuiomata’s Jake Whitaker, Napier’s Mackenzie Wiig and New Plymouth’s Tony Parker are among the leading riders so far entered.

Cambridge’s Dylan Yearbury, who won the Husqvarna Hard Enduro last October, is currently sidelined with injury.

“If you have ever thought what the world-renowned Romaniacs enduro (in Romania) is like to compete at, well the Gold class at this event is about the same as the Bronze class over there. So we call for riders to come and give it a go,” said Clarke.

“It will also be an awesome event for spectators because there is plenty to see that is handy to the pit area, which is an old quarry.”

Saturday’s venue will be signposted on State Highway 1, 30 kilometres south of Tokoroa.

The Husqvarna Hard X cross-country race is supported by Husqvarna New Zealand, Satco NZ Ltd, Michelin Tyres, Kiwi Rider magazine and Forest Trail Events.

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan