With 2016 National Fieldays fresh in the mind, it’s timely to give a progress report on a star attraction: the promising New Zealand-designed 2WD Ubco farmbike.
The previous two years have seen the Ubco’s debut as a concept at the 2014 Fieldays, and that was followed up by a pre-production version appearing at the Mystery Creek event a year later, where several show-goers then placed the first orders for it.
Now, a year later, the Ubco can be bought directly from the showrooms of a 21-strong New Zealand dealer network, with a further 10 retailers located across the ditch in Australia.
The utilitarian two-wheeler costs an accessible $7999 and can roam for 100km on the energy stored in the 40-amp/hour lithium-ion battery. When the energy in the battery is expended, the Ubco can be fully recharged in six hours at the cost of 88 cents worth of electricity in this country.
Meanwhile, the further advantages of an electrically-powered farmbike will be obvious to many. The near-silent running of this cross-paddock transport creates less stress for stock, and maintenance costs are greatly reduced. There’s no need for engine oil and filter changes, valve clearance adjustments and so on, and only the brake pads and the frame and wheel bearings require further after sales attention.
When the Ubco buyer ticks the $1900 option of having a second back-up battery for an easy power source exchange that takes less than a minute, it’s likely that this electric alternative will give more consistent service to farmers than traditional petrol-powered farmbikes. No more yearly dealer visits for servicing must be a strong selling point.
The major components of the Ubco are cherry-picked from the many electric bicycle/motorcycle parts manufacturers clustered near Kunshan, China. The electronic drive hubs, their controllers, 17in wheels, suspension, the battery and brakes are all made within a two-hour drive radius in the same region that supplies big-name bicycle brands like Giant and Shimano.
They all come together in a sturdy symmetrical X-frame fashioned from 7000-series aluminium alloy tubing, featuring luggage racks above both wheels. It’s a beefy design that is capable of carrying 200kg (rider included), and a host of accessory carriers will aid the Ubco’s mission to be a zero-emission, two-wheeled farm ute – one that includes a couple of 12v sockets so that the user can power up electric tools out in the paddock. There’s also a USB port for recharging electronic devices.
Each wheel hub contains a 1kW electric motor, and there is up to 90Nm of riding force available, giving the Ubco a top speed of 45kmh. A set of 36mm ATF front forks and twin ATR shocks provide a decent amount of wheel travel, and both will be familiar to downhill mountain bike racers.
The disc brakes on either wheel also look bicycle-derived, but be warned, they provide a surprising amount of stopping power. The 70/100-17 tyres have a closely-spaced knobbly tread pattern that riders of trials-style offroad motorcycles will instantly recognise.
So what’s it like to ride? Given that the Ubco is arguably a hybrid of electric bicycle technology and a farmbike chassis, it’s perhaps no surprise to find that it is as undemanding as the former to ride while providing the hill-conquering and load-hauling abilities of the latter.
You get to choose one of two riding modes according to how quickly you require energy, Power and Eco. I suspect most will choose the former as the initial response to the twist-grip throttle (rheostat?) is quite impressive.
The Ubco reaches 20kmh relatively quickly, and its silent speed gave a trespassing dog-walker a bit of a startle in the private paddock I chose for my test-ride. Said paddock had a decent gradient and was saturated after a week of heavy rain, yet the Ubco made light work of slippery clay conditions, with both powered wheels sending out a satisfying amount of roost. Most surprising was the firmness of the suspension and the power of the brakes.
These might be components intended for MTBs, but they’re obviously tailored to higher speeds than the 58kg Ubco is capable of. The stoppers, accessed by a left-side hand-lever for the rear disc and a right-side lever for the front, have some serious haul-down ability for anyone using the Ubco’s generous load rating to the maximum. The firm suspension set-up also suits the workhorse focus of the Ubco.
However, the powertrain could use a little extra refinement. Stopping on a slippery upslope and attempting to take off again, the Ubco sent all the battery power to the motor up front, spinning the front wheel uselessly. A little front brake manipulation was required to get some rear wheel drive also engaged, and it would be nice if future Ubcos possessed adaptive torque distribution to enhance their abilities to gain traction.
Ubco is working on further improvements, and the one most requested at display shows like Fieldays is road-legal status. A road-registerable model will be available by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, although New Zealand sales have been steady, it’s the more voluminous Australian and US markets that will really put the spark into sales of the Ubco. This initial pioneering product is just the beginning for a fledgling New Zealand automotive company that appears destined for greater things.
Farmers, hunters, and national departments of conservation now have a great cross-country transport alternative.
AT A GLANCE
Powertrain: Wheel hub-mounted electric motors x2 sustained by a 40ah lithium-ion battery to provide two kilowatts of power and 90Nm of torque.
Transmission: No further transmission required.
Frame: X-frame and integrated luggage racks made from 7000-series aluminium alloy tubing, 36mm ATF front forks with adjustable rebound damping and 90mm of travel; twin ATR air-adjustable shocks with rebound damping adjustment and 120mm of travel.
Price: $7999 (quick-exchange second battery adds $1900).
Hot: Simple, durable design results in an electric cross-country bike that is essentially maintenance-free and won’t scare the stock; battery life is a healthy 50,000km.
Not: 2wd chosen more because it causes less demand on the battery than for traction-enhancing purposes; life-stylers will find the suspension set-up a little too firm.