Sunday, March 16, 2014

Kuberg LiPo Install - The Easiest Mod Ever Done

     Sorta stuck on kid's bikes at the moment.  Apologies.  As I mentioned in my review of the Start, I was going to swap the stock lead acid batteries for LiPo's.  Did it, and spent a whopping 30 minutes doing the conversion.

     I got the idea from the Oset owners over on TrialsCentral so I owe them all the trial and error.  I ordered two 5000mAh batteries for about 20% more range than the stock ones.  My Start had 8Ah SLA batteries even though the Kuberg website says that the Start comes with 9Ah.  Oh well no matter.  Anyway the Kuberg already uses XT-60 connectors so all I had to do was solder XT-60's to the batteries toss them into some LiPo charge bags and drop em in.

     LiPo's are a bit more maintenance than SLA's and require special chargers so don't undertake this if lack of maintenance is your favorite aspect about an e-bike.  They don't last as many years, require special chargers, and they can catch fire if used improperly - mostly just during charging but it is possible to start a fire if the battery is shorted or damaged.  I spent just under $200 including chargers and a power supply to run them and ordered everything from Hobby King.

You'll need:
Tool kit that came with the Start
2x XT-60 female leads
XT-60 Parallel connector
2x Zippy 5000mAh 6S LiPo batteries
2x LiPo safe small charging bags
2x battery monitors (optional, but a good idea to prevent excessive discharging of the batteries)
2x XK balancing lead extensions for monitors
Misc solder and heat shrink supplies

     Remove the seat and plastics and the upper bolt to the rear shock.  Prop the bike up on a stand and let the swingarm drop to the floor.  Disconnect the battery leads, release the battery strap, and slide the batteries out the back where the shock used to be.  Pop the new batteries in their bags and slide them in.  Use the battery strap to hold them in place.  Plug the batteries into the parallel connector.  Plug the speed controller into the parallel connector.  Connect the battery monitors to the balancing leads (if you bought monitors).  Bolt everything back up.

     For now I just shoved the monitors in the back next to the bags.  I'll mount them more permanently if needed but they're rather handy there - just a bit ugly with all the wires from the balancing leads exposed.

     With a slightly higher voltage the bike is a tiny bit quicker, although with my kid still on speed setting 2 its maybe 1/3 mph so hardly noticeable.  With the larger 5000mAh batteries I gained 20% more range, but didn't save as much weight as I could have - only 7.7 lbs including wiring, bags, and monitors.  But still, that's a nearly 18% reduction in weight over stock.  That would be the same as shaving 45.5 lbs off my KTM for $200 so that's extremely significant!  Aside from that the bike performs the same as before so nothing really to report.

     I bought 2 chargers and a power supply big enough to run both so that I could charge both packs simultaneously.  Charge time is about an hour although I could have reduced this to 30 minutes if I'd opted for a larger power supply.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Teaching Your Kid How To Ride A Motorcycle

     Following in the tire track left from my review of the Kuberg Start, I started to think that maybe some folks might stumble onto here searching for information after having their kid tell them that he wants to ride motocross.  I say 'he', but girls are just as capable at riding so don't feel like you should have bought more dolls when your daughter expresses an interest.  Now I only have one kid and he's 3, so some of this is geared toward a really young rider, but a lot will apply to any age child.  So here's a few tips that I've learned so far:

    How old can my kid start riding motorcycles?  It depends on the kid to be honest.  Mine is intrigued by all things with wheels so we got him a Strider balance bike when he turned 2.  A balance bike is one of those things that you say, "now why didn't I think of that?"  Its really nothing more than a stripped down bike - no brakes, no pedals.  Just 2 wheels, a seat, and a handlebar.  I'll admit I thought the whole idea was a bit gimmicky but when we saw a display at a motorcycle show, my son jumped out of my arms and onto guessed it - PINK Strider!  They had a little obstacle course set up and he spent the next 30 minutes navigating the ramps and turns.  He was pretty clumsy and we had to help him a lot, but I could see this was something he enjoyed.  We bought one and took it around the neighborhood on our daily walks.  Within a few months of owning a balance bike he was already coasting down hills with his feet up.  We graduated to the dirt hills around our house and he would bomb down stuff with an ear to ear grin while dad was chasing behind with a nervous grimace.  So in answer to the question, if your kid is pretty comfortable on a bike and is big enough to reach the controls, give it a shot!  Worst case it sits in the garage for a few months until he feels ready to try it.  Your kid will want to ride it if both you and the bike don't scare him, so therefore a few general rules apply: 

1) Keep it light - a heavier bike is harder to control so they'll fall more and its harder to pick back up. 
2) They will be more confident if they can touch the ground with both feet.
3) Give them a positive reason to ride.  Don't say "if you don't ride it we're going to sell it".  Instead try "Lets go for a ride. I'll take my bike, you take your motorcycle and lets see how it runs".  Figure out what works with your kid and go from there.  With mine its usually "lets go ride your momo and find some sweet jumps!"  -Mind you my kid has never had even one wheel off the ground but he still calls it jumping, and therefore so do I.

     Which brings me to the most important part of this post.  If you take nothing else away from this read, remember this:


     I've been riding moto's for 23 years, and of course I've been picturing myself exploring the trails with my child since before he was born.  Its tempting to try to "train" them how to ride so you can get to the good stuff.  Don't!  Remember that you started riding because it was fun.  If you take that aspect away, your kid isn't going to want to ride anymore.

     So how do you keep it fun but teach him at the same time?  I try to let him go at his own pace.  Error on the side of expecting less from your kid and it will be more fun for everyone.  We don't go out to practice.  Instead we ride his momo (as he calls it) to the local park.  I bring toys in a backpack so when we get to the park he plays on the swings and throws Hot Wheels down the slides.  There's a big dirt lot on the way so we ride across that as part of our trip to the park.  Sometimes he wants to go explore the dirt hills and other times he just wants to ride to the park - with maybe a few doughnuts on the way.  I let him pick the path and I'll just ask things along the way: "Do you wanna go down the hills?" "Want to go off that jump?"  I bought a cheap BMX bike so I can ride along with him and lead by example.  This has been by far the best method in getting him to try new things.  When I say "Watch daddy!" I know he's gonna be right on my tail.  When we go out to the desert we follow the same routine.  His bike is there when he wants to ride it and we let him explore on it - with me or mom following.  When he wants to play in the dirt with his cars, that's fine too. 

     This brings up one of the best reasons to get an electric motorcycle: Ride time.  Nothing is going to make your child improve their confidence and abilities on a motorcycle more than riding a motorcycle.  My son is a pretty good rider because he rides nearly every day - and this is in a highly developed urban area!  He's not even allowed to drive a Power Wheels car around our neighborhood, but nobody complains about his Kuberg.  He gets as much time riding in 2 weeks as most desert family kids in Southern California get in a year.  Even if your kid has a 50 that he rides in the desert, I'd highly encourage parents to get an e-bike for around home.

     Keeping them safe:  Gear is readily available for ages 5+, but not-so-much for a barely 3 year old.  Most online guides will tell you to make sure a helmet is DOT and SNELL approved - I actually think that weight is a more important factor.  I've seen plenty of kids that ride their motorcycle whichever way their helmet is leaning - I'm not sure why their parents can't see it.  You're better off putting your kid in a good bicycle helmet than a heavy MX helmet.  They'll crash less and have more fun.  We found an off-brand helmet (THH) on Amazon that's pretty light and its full-faced.  Even better, it is DOT approved.  Boots and gloves are the next big thing you want.  Fox makes a pee-wee line of gear, which includes boots for kids size 10 and up, but they discontinued their gloves.  We bought XX-Small youth gloves and he MIGHT be able to wear them in another year.  If he grows a lot.  I mean a lot!  I'm still on the hunt for some tiny gloves so if anyone has a suggestion let me know and I'll add it.

     The extra stuff:  Just like everything else you do with your kid, there's more stuff to bring.  At 3, mine doesn't venture far from home or camp, but I still bring a few supplies.  Snacks, some water, and maybe a juice box can make the difference between riding back and carrying a kid while pushing a motorcycle back to camp.  Also, a couple cars and a plastic shovel can add some extra fun to a ride.  Remember us adults usually ride to a destination.  We might ride 50 miles to get to a burned out house just so we have a destination.  Your kid is wired the same way.   You'd be surprised at how much more your kid will ask to ride when he gets to build a mound of sand 150' from camp and call it a "jump".  Better yet, get him to help you build a race track in camp and watch him wear the knobs off.  Make it just large enough that you can try it too and he'll be beaming as he goes around "just like daddy!"

     Which brings me to my last bit of advice: Encouragement.  You're going to hear "Dad watch this!" about 54 million times over the next few years.  Watch.  Every. Time.  And don't follow it up with a canned "good job buddy".  Pull one from Crush and get into it: "DUDE YOU TOTALLY ROCKED THAT!!"  And pay attention to him while he's riding - 2 reasons for this.  Motorcycles have moving (and hot) parts that can actually injure your kid so you need to actually be a parent when he's on it.  And then when he rides down a 6" tall hill and looks at you grinning, take a knee and give him 5 - congratulations you just made that kid's day.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Kuberg Start Review

Cost: About $1,100 USD
Weight: 45lbs/20.5Kg
Seat Height: 16" (40cm)
Age Range: 3-5, but bike is rated to handle up to 220lb riders
Where to buy?

Been sorta meaning to do this for awhile but just haven't gotten around to it. I bought my 2 year, 10 months kid a Kuberg Start this past 2013 Xmas and think I've had enough time playing with it to give a summary. He just turned 3 and is riding it nearly everyday.

About the Start: Kuberg suggests this bike for riders aged 3-5 but I can see where slightly older or slightly younger would be fine - really just depends on your kid and you know them better than I do. Mine is a little bruiser and has been bombing big dirt hills on his Strider for months now - without brakes! His mom is forbidden to come with us on these rides. I wouldn't have hesitated getting him the Start a bit earlier but Christmas is a good excuse to drop $1200 on your kid. A lot right? Well a new gas powered 50 is about the same price, but there's a huge market of used gas 50's will run you around $600, and you can sell it when he's outgrown it for probably about the same. These electrics are in short supply in the used market, and from what I've seen are usually only about $200 cheaper than new. So most likely its a small investment to get your 3 year old on a bike 2 years earlier than the other kids. Even if you plan to go with a 2x heavier gas bike, the lowest seat height I found was 19.1" on the PW50, so you're looking at age 4 or 5 being the youngest you can start your rider on a gas bike. Plus unless you live out in the sticks, your kid is gonna get a ton of seat time on an electric bike. Garage? Backyard? No problem. Living room? Eh maybe when mom is at the store...

1st question: Oset or Kuberg? I did a lot of research beforehand, and while the Oset is vastly more popular (indeed I was 100% sold on getting one), once I'd seen both bikes in person the choice was obviously Kuberg. The construction is of considerably higher quality and the cost is only $50 more. Don't get me wrong, the Oset is a nice bike and its good for the industry to have brands competing. I just personally felt that the Kuberg was a nicer bike for the money.  For the smallest bikes, both brands are trials bikes - which is great since this gives them a much lower seat height than their gas cousins.  For the rest of the product line, Oset has stuck with trials while Kuberg has gone a slightly more motocross route, although currently Kuberg and not Oset has an adult sized trials bike coming to market.  Confused?  Just look at the product line of each bike and you'll understand what I mean.  

Kuberg customer service is amazing. I've heard that Oset shares this trait so with either bike, rest assured that any issues or questions you have will be dealt with usually the same day.

Packaging: Although well packaged, mine still came damaged. The box appeared to have been dropped repeatedly on the front forks. They were rolled over/rotated, but I was able to [mostly] straighten them. They don't travel very well but my kid is still too light to really make them travel so its not a huge concern just yet. Good thing too, as UPS is still figuring out how to handle my claim. The front wheel and front fender which aren't attached to the bike during shipping were also damaged but I was able to true them up to useable condition.

Assembly: Handlebars and front wheel/fender pretty much sum up the assembly. I think I spent about 7 minutes once I'd gotten all the parts unbent. Assembling Ikea furniture is harder than getting one of these bikes assembled.

Manual: Very good IMO. Instructions are very clear and cover basic maintenance and upkeep as well as tips for teaching a 1st time rider.

Mods: Despite having ridden a Strider since he turned 2, my kid was pretty nervous about the Start at first. He'd putt around but didn't like that he couldn't touch very well and the throttle/braking was rather lost on him. On the lowest speed setting balance is a serious issue since top speed is only about 2-2.5 mph on flat pavement. On hills/dirt/grass setting #1 is useless. The bike just sits there and hums. Setting #2 is great for hills/dirt/grass but is about 6-7 mph on flat pavement.

The speed selector button requires a 2 hand process. Its unlikely the little ones will be able to figure it out if you keep it subtle. Mine is a little problem solver and presses the button all the time trying to make it faster but doesn't realize it must be done in conjunction with the handlebar switch. The bike will remember the last setting used so you really won't have to mess with it. We did since we had to stick with #1 for pavement, then bump it up to #2 once we got on grass at the local park. Kuberg lists the top speed of the Start as 15mph/24Km/h. I stuck my 100 lb wife on it to test that on speed #5 and would say that's about accurate. Sustained use at max speed, you can expect about 1 hour of battery life for a child rider, less if your wife refuses to get off. At setting #2 (about 6-7 mph on flat concrete), we ride about 0.5 miles to a park, tear up all over the soccer field and some small grass hills for about an hour, and 0.5 miles home. The battery is usually around 60% full after that and is recharged in about an hour.

Anyway my solution was to make some training wheels until he got used to the power and controls. He's ready to remove them by now, so we're having chats about it every time we go ride. He gets his stubbornness from his mother.

He also thinks its funny to try and ditch us. He'll take off on his strider and try to find a way to lose you. Obviously then, we got a remote cutoff switch for his Kuberg from I went with the universal one that comes with a 4AA battery pack but it looks as though they have one that will run on a 24v system now.

That's the cutoff mounted to the front of the upper battery (right side of pic), and the battery pack mounted to the rear of the lower battery. The charging plug is mounted under the subframe on the left side of the pic, directly above the motor. Its well protected during riding although it is in the most natural position to grab when you have to pick the bike up. Thankfully the mounting tab is pretty stout so I haven't bent it yet.

And the remote:

Weight loss: If nothing else, this is why you go electric and not gas!  Even as a 33 lb 2 year old, my kid was able to pick the bike up off the ground by himself.  However, at 44lbs, the Start is still 11 lbs heavier than my kid. I found some info on converting it over to LiPo batteries for a 9.5lb or 23% overall bike weight reduction. Cost is about $200. Plus the batteries are smaller so they'll only take up the bottom half of the lower battery tray, thereby lowering the center of gravity a fair bit. Going to be doing that in the next month. Many thanks to the Oset owners for doing all the R&D to come up with a way to do this conversion. Also I'm thinking of hacking off the kickstand since its steel and not really needed IMO.

Controls: It took my kid a couple rides to the park to really figure out the whole throttle/brake idea. The Kuberg has allen set screws to really adjust the levers down to the bars so don't worry about your kid's hands being too small to reach. Mine has rather dainty hands and he can use both brakes without taking his hands off the bars no problem. Just be warned, if you snug these levers up this much, you better have some very true wheels or your front brake will be rubbing. The rear is a band brake so no biggie there, but keep it true anyway.

Kill switch and battery level indicator

But we're in the US where MX is KING!
No problem. For about $80, we added a MX seat. Swapping em out takes a 3mm allen wrench and about 90 seconds. But it does add some considerable height to the seat putting it more on par with the seat height on the 50's:

More on Battery Life:  Kuberg sells 12v, 9Ah batteries for about $50 each and the Start requires two.  You can find the same batteries on Amazon for $20 each.  In case you're not really fluent in electrospeak just think of it like water.  9Ah is the capacity, or size of the bucket.  12v is the size of the hose on the bottom of the bucket, but since the batteries are wired in series, its actually a 24 volt hose leading to the motor.  Don't worry about it too much, just know that you can use any 12v battery that fits in the tray.  9Ah batteries will give you stock run time - which is more than adequate for kids.  If you have the odd kid that rides non-stop all day, then invest $40 for a second set of batteries.  Hook them up to a battery tender while he's wearing down the pair in the bike.  Swapping out batteries is a 10 minute job.  Likely however, you'll find that your kid will want to take breaks occasionally - when he does, just pop it on the charger and it will most likely be full by the time he's ready to ride again.  They're sealed lead acid batteries, so you're not going to hurt them by charging too frequently or when they're barely below full capacity.  Using this method, my kid has yet to drop the batteries even to the last warning light (1/3 capacity) despite riding all over camp all weekend long. 

Overall Impression: Great little bike for the young ones. At less than half the weight, nearly no maintenance, and no hot parts - I'm definitely sold on electric instead of gas. The 50's are dead IMO, electric is such a better platform for young riders. As far as Oset vs. Kuberg goes, I really truly hope that Oset gets away from Chinese production so that I have a competitive choice to make when my son outgrows his Start. My only complaints about the Start is that power setting #1 is just a bit too anemic, and #2 is a pretty considerable increase. I'd like to see #1 increased by 1mph or so just to make it usable without training wheels. Secondly the suspension is pretty hefty for young riders. I'm not sure if new forks will improve the front or not. As is, they're stiff and sticky. The rear spring is just too heavy for kids. Even my 100lb wife doesn't bottom it out when standing on the bike with the preload dialed all the way out.  Finally, I've noticed a bit of excessive twist on the swingarm with the training wheels installed.  I'd like to see the rear motor/swingarm brace replaced with square tube instead of flat bar to rectify this.

I wanted to add some action shots and some pics of the plastics removed so folks can get an idea of what's involved on these bikes:

Chain guard does a nice job of protecting your offspring from the rotating parts, but good parenting does an even better job. Chain adjustment is a 2 minute affair and since the motor is mounted on the swingarm you just snug it up just right and call it good. Spin the wheel after you tighten it, if its noisy, loosen it a bit.

Even with the preload fully loosened the suspension is really stiff for my 33lb kid. He doesn't seem to mind but a lighter spring option would be nice. The front forks are non-adjustable and mine stick a lot, although I suspect this is due in part to the damage done by UPS. Good view of the charging jack located under the seat on the right side of the bike.

Magnetic kill switch lanyard. A nice touch. Comes standard with a wrist lanyard. We added a small carabiner to ours so we can attach it to his waistband and leave his hands free.

Heim joint swingarm pivots. Really a nice touch. I've read that Oset has some issues here as they use a cheap plastic sleeve rather than a bushing.

Two 12v 8Ah batteries supply the power. Being sealed lead acid they're maintenance free and you can plug the bike into the charger after every ride if you choose to. Unfortunately at 6.5lbs each, they're pretty heavy. You can DIY swap in a pair of 5000mAh 6S LiPo's (at about $50 each) and drop 9.5 lbs. Unfortunately they're a bit more needy when it comes time to recharge so you really should remove them from the bike and you have to use a LiPo specific charger. Its more involved than the stock SLA's, but a nice option if you don't mind the added hassle. The bundle of yellow/green/red wire on the left is leftovers from the remote cutoff that I left stock length in case I need to move it to his next bike and need a longer run.

Gavin has discovered that he can spin the rear wheel on wet cement if he turns hard and punches it. He spent an hour doing it (notice all the tire tracks). Bike was still going strong when we got home but I put it on the charger anyway. Recharge time: about 15 minutes. We live in a gated community with a lot of retirees. Our HOA actually has a ban on Power Wheels types of toys because of the noise. No issue with the Kuberg. I've even had an HOA member come out and ask what I did to make it so quiet. "Spent a lot of money," I replied. Haha.

This is why you want one of these bikes. Can't get any more genuine than that.