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NZ HERALD: Sparks fly over new Kiwi electric farm bike

The Ubco 2×2 electric farm bike will be in production by Christmas with initial marketing aimed at New Zealand and Australia. Strong international interest means the company will bring forward plans to sell into North America, said Timothy Allan, managing director of Tauranga’s Locus Research.

Locus is a co-investor in Ubco and works closely with the bike’s developers Anthony Clyde, based near Whakatane, and Daryl Neal from Wellington.

“What’s happened is that interest overseas spiralled up from Ubco being featured on international gear site Uncrate. We’ve had a huge volume of email queries internationally, so to some extent we’ve had to look at bringing our North American approach forward.”

Ubco has begun working with NZTE on a North American strategy, he said.

The Ubco founding partners are two of New Zealand’s leading e-bike industry experts. Their first farm bike prototype debuted at the 2014 Fieldays, winning two Innovation Awards and they worked to test and improve their design to re-launch at 2015 Fieldays.

The bike is a quiet, lightweight, emission-free, off-road 2×2 that can carry tools and be used in an agricultural setting.

However, Allan said that, although the bike had been launched at Fieldays, potential buyers were looking at a range of applications.

“The responses include tourism operators, and a lot of people from metro environments who are interested in a commuter option. We will be moving very quickly to get road legal certification in New Zealand and Australia.”

Allan said it had been incredibly challenging finalising the production model and getting features and parts to the point where the team was happy. Recent developments have seen major improvements with an upgrade to the drive chain, controller and battery system, Allan said.

“We’re now at the point we expected to be by the middle of next year.”

Clyde said the key components had been upgraded to a higher level, providing much more power and range.

The bikes are designed in New Zealand, but the key components are made in China.

“The major change was to the motor,” said Clyde. “It’s bigger and that allows it to take more current.”

The system features a drive on each wheel and each motor has been upgraded by 25 per cent to 1kw. In addition to new controllers, the company has also taken advantage of developments in international lithium battery technology and pricing and has now opted for Panasonic as a supplier. The new battery system would deliver around 58 volts and 48 amp hours.

Allan said the publicity generated by the Ubco bike was unprecedented for any product he had worked on.

“I think a lot of it can be attributed to the concept, but the design is just as important. It’s got an appeal that has obviously resonated with a lot of people. The challenge now is getting out into the market fast enough to ensure we stay in front.”

By David Porter