A Durable 2X2 Electric Utility Vehicle From UBCO
A few years ago we did a piece on electric motorcycles which proved to be quite popular with our readers. In that article, we looked at the Harley Davidson electric bike (now available for $30,000), the world’s fastest motorcycle which happens to be electric (built to order according to your specs and starting at $38,888), and some off-road electric dirt bikes from a company called Alta Motors (apparently they went bust). If you happen to be an experienced motorcycle rider who has done hard time on the streets and trails, you know that this electric bike stuff is cute and all, but only a total tool would be seen riding one. If you want a real road cruiser that turns heads and gives you that visceral feeling of power and class, pony up $35,000 and buy a brand-new Big Dog K9. For half that price, you can get a used K9 that looks something like this:
If you want to scream up trails on a high-performance off-road bike that’s best in class, buy anything from KTM. Real riders don’t sacrifice performance and ride experience for some overpriced electric bike that probably has a marginally better impact on the environment than an efficient gas-powered motorcycle.
That’s what we thought anyways, until we came across an interesting startup in New Zealand that’s selling an electric utility vehicle that appeals to some real-world use cases where having an electric bike actually makes more sense than having a gas-powered one.
We did a few searches on “electric utility bikes” and came across a bunch of overpriced junk that hipsters use to cart their groceries around some gentrified neighborhood. That’s not what we’re talking about here. The reference to a “utility bike” implies that it’s used by someone who showers after work, not before. That’s what UBCO’s electric bike is all about. Founded in 2015, New Zealand startup UBCO has taken in just over $7 million in funding to develop their electric utility vehicle which was originally formulated for use on dairy farms.
We weren’t overly familiar with how dairy farms operate until we spent some time at the Lincoln University Dairy Farm outside of Christchurch, New Zealand. A couple of fellows on some tattered Kawasaki motorcycles were tooling around the farm doing dairy farmer stuff while we talked to the farm manager about milk production. Turns out that milk production declines when the cows get spooked. The sound of a motorcycle engine isn’t exactly calming. (That’s why another New Zealand startup is developing collars for cows that lets you control them remotely.) Instead of driving noisy motorcycles around all day and disrupting milk production, dairy farmers can now opt for an electric bike that provides a better alternative to gas-powered bikes for any number of reasons. We stopped by the UBCO shop in Tauranga, New Zealand to speak with one of the engineers and check out the bikes.
The UBCO 2X2 Electric Utility Vehicle
First thing you’ll notice is that this bike doesn’t have a whole lot of moving parts. No clutch or drive-train, no emissions, and no noise. Each wheel contains a self-contained 1 KW motor that together provides the bike with electric power coming from both wheels. You can swap the battery in a matter of seconds if you need a fresh charge which will transport the 143-lb (65 kg) bike almost 75 miles (120 km). The color scheme for the bike was chosen by the company since no other major motorcycle manufacturer colors their bikes black and white. Accessory lugs allow you to attach anything to your bike from a holster to a trailer to storage bags.
It’s as modern as it is basic. There’s a digital panel on the bike that interfaces with an app on your smartphone. The bike’s battery also has a USB charger for your phone and a 12V outlet that will let you use power tools in the field.
After many design iterations based on customer feedback, UBCO has managed to create a durable electric utility vehicle that anyone would want to own. The question is, how much will one of these bikes set you back? They’re not exactly cheap at around $7,000 greenbacks. That’s only $500 less than a brand new gas-powered 2019 Kawasaki KX 250, but you need to consider what you’re using it for. If cows get spooked when farmers use gas-powered motorcycles, then for around the same price, they can use electric bikes that are arguably easier to maintain and likely cheaper to operate. Farming isn’t the only use case, and they’re using these vehicles now for all kinds of different outdoor applications where electric power provides a better experience.
We’ve talked about the farming use case, and the engineer we spoke with said that farmers beat the living hell out of these bikes and they run just fine under such abuse. No smoke, noise, chains, gears, or clutch means a whole lot fewer moving parts to worry about. One obvious use case that comes to mind is hunting. Spend some time in rural parts of America, and you’ll see dozens of men with rifles wearing orange vests, tearing around on four-wheelers and motorcycles looking for large animals to shoot at. If you’re one of those people, then you’re probably thinking this is a perfect way to avoid alarming those large majestic creatures before you blast them to smithereens. Likewise, the people who spend time in the national forests making sure there are plenty of animals to hunt – park rangers and conservationists – would find these vehicles useful for the same reasons.
The guy on the left in the above picture uses the utility bike for pest control – shooting possum, rabbits, and hares, giving him the advantage of near silence during pest eradication. The two guys on the right are a couple of conservationists in California that use the bikes to do conservation-type things. Other use cases the bikes are being used for include recreational applications like outdoor tours or as the perfect accompaniment to that overland vehicle you’re building. And don’t discount these rides as possible transportation for environmentally-conscious hipsters. The 2018 2×2 is a road registrable vehicle.
In addition to utility bikes, UBCO is testing the waters with a few other vehicle types. They partnered with hipster fashion company 3 Wise Men to produce something a little sexier for the road, and there’s also a free-ride version which looks kind of fun, but perhaps not as fun as a new KTM 4-stroke 250.
Their goal is to have a standalone power supply in the market this year, and a 4-wheel electric utility vehicle in the market next year to complement and extend their existing product range.
Going back to what we said earlier, there are much better alternatives for off-road bikes and street bikes than electric. It’s the use cases where gas motorcycles don’t offer optimal performance that have made these electric utility bikes successful. There is also a niche market of not-so-hardcore riders who are willing to sacrifice performance in favor of perceived sustainability benefits, and UBCO may be in the right place at the right time with these new models. The company’s expansion into the United States and Australia shows that there’s a market for their white electric utility bikes outside the Land of the Long White Cloud. They can’t keep them on the shelves at the moment, and it seems like this growing Kiwi startup has designed the first electric utility vehicle to go mainstream.