First ride – Niu GT electric scooter | ROAD TEST
Cities will become hostile terrain for petrol scooters – that’s my prediction for a few years hence, and I’m not talking about brain-fade drivers or potholes, which will always be with us. Slowly but surely, over the next few years, more and more cities around the world will tighten restrictions on petrol and diesel vehicles of all types, leading to outright bans.
London already charges pre-Euro 3 two-wheelers £12.50 a day to enter the low emission zone (though you can get an exemption by putting yours through an emissions test). Oxford’s ban starts in a limited way in 2020 and Bristol is banning diesel cars from 2021. And where diesel cars are forbidden to go, the rest of us will be eventually forbidden to follow.
The answer, if you live in a city – or commute into one, is to go electric – maybe not straight away, but it’s certainly worth thinking about, especially for commuting. Electric scooters cost more than the petrol equivalent upfront, but they’re much cheaper to run than a typical 125, so after a while (read on for details) they will save you money.
The good news (and there is some, quite apart from the sensible stuff like saving dosh and cutting pollution) is that there’s a better selection of e-scooters to choose from now. Until recently, there were only a few electric mopeds aimed at fast fooderies, BMW’s £13,500 C-Evolution and nothing in between.
Now, there are finally some faster e-scoots capable of zipping silently up to 60mph, with bigger batteries for a better range and a tad more sophistication. Vespa has just launched a faster version of the Elettrica, while in Spring 2020 Super Soco is adding the CPX, with a claimed range of 85 miles and top whack of 55mph. It already sells the 60mph TC Max, though that’s more motorcycle than scooter. Then there’s the Niu.
On sale in the UK for a couple of years now and imported by Brighton-based Sinnis, the Niu has created a little niche for itself as one of the smarter electric scooters, with Bluetooth connectivity. It also looks like nothing else – you’ll either like the clean boxiness of it, or not. Personally, I think it makes a change to ride something that isn’t trying to impersonate Vespa but still looks distinctive. Anyway, the GT is the latest variation on the theme, with a higher power 3Kw motor than the original (up from 1.8Kw), bigger twin batteries for a claimed 60-mile range and 45mph top speed.
In the Mode
Three kilowatts is not a lot of power, however you look at it – it translates into about 4bhp, or about the same as a good moped. But… and it’s a big one… like all electric motors the Niu’s power plant offers oodles of torque from almost zero revs. The official figure is 138Nm (101lb ft) which is way into Harley-Davidson territory.
In practice, acceleration isn’t as tyre shredding as that figure promises, but the Niu is still pretty quick off the line. In Dynamic mode, which limits top speed to 28mph, it’s OK, but in Sport it leaps away from green lights and has no trouble keeping up with fast food 125s on an English seafront main drag.
Dynamic mode has the usual moped problem of allowing cars to breathe down your neck in 30 limits, but it is able to keep up speed on hills, where some e-mopeds (and 50s come to that) start flagging. In Sport mode the Niu carries on accelerating up to an indicated 48-49mph, say fifty downhill, so it’s not really a 125 equivalent on outright speed, but easily quick enough for 40 limits.
Riding an electric scooter for the first time is a weird experience, especially in traffic. It’s not so much the quiet acceleration, as sitting in silence at red lights while everything around you is grumbling and buzzing away. The first few times you have a vague sense of panic – will the scoot actually move again when the lights change? But once you get accustomed it all feels quite serene. A lot has been made of pedestrians stepping out in front of silent e-scooters (and cars) though I have to say it’s never happened to me, so far.
Better than Claimed
Just about every other aspect of riding the Niu will be familiar to scooter owners everywhere. This is a short wheelbase scoot with 12-inch wheels, fairly basic front forks and twin rear shocks. It can feel twitchy and bouncy on bumpy corners, but the upside is quick steering and decent manoeuvrability. The slim dimensions and smooth power take up make it really easy to filter while the riding position is neutral, upright and reasonably comfy. The Niu does get blown about in strong winds, but on the day in question, I was riding the clifftop road between Brighton and Rottingdean, sideways on to an incoming gale.
The brakes are brilliant, the single disc at each end linked and operated by the left-hand lever – squeeze hard enough on dry tarmac and you get a little chirrup from the rear Chen Shing tyre, and adding the right lever brings in more front as well. Being electric, the Niu has regenerative braking, so a gentle squeeze on the levers puts some power back into the batteries rather than wasting it through the pads.
That brings us very neatly to the crucial question of range. A claimed 60 miles isn’t much by petrol standards, but the good news is that in this case, it’s realistic. I rode the Niu all through and outside Brighton on a mix of 30, 40 and 50 limits, with lots of traffic. After 44 miles, the GT had 35% battery left, which if my maths is right, translates into 65 miles before the battery gasps its last. As an aid to conserving energy, a green ‘Eco’ lights up on the dash when you’re riding very efficiently, but I can tell you it’s hard work to keep it ablaze.
The GT has two batteries, each about the size and weight of a car battery – one’s under the seat, the other under the floor, and both can be charged in situ or lifted out and taken indoors. Either way, there’s just one multi-pin plug for each one, so they’re easy to plug in. A full charge from flat takes 3.5 hours, according to Niu, although like any electric they can be topped up at any point. And that’s handy, because the Niu’s slow charger means it can take juice from any three-pin socket. The battery warranty runs to three years/20,000 miles, which is good news, considering they’re the most expensive items on the bike.
The Niu’s dash looks complex, but it really does a good job of conveying lots of information in a readable format. The battery gauge – let’s face it, the most important instrument on any electric – is big, bold and shows what you’ve got left in a nice steady percentage as well as segments. Seeing the percent count down tells you exactly how much juice there is left, and the gauge even tells how much regen you’re putting back into the battery. Plus there’s that Eco light. Use all of this as it’s intended and it’s all very handy for maximising range. Alternatively, you may want to ignore all that and enjoy the 101lb ft.
There’s also a speedo, clock and a connectivity status display. Bluetooth is one of the Nui’s selling points – basically it will link to your smartphone to show GPS, real-time diagnostics and an anti-theft alert. What the Niu won’t do is swallow a week’s worth of shopping, because all the underseat space is filled with battery. The floor’s flat, so you’ll just have to hold the bag between your legs, though there is a front cubby big enough for a phone.
So it goes well, has a decent range and is clever to boot, but how much does one of these cost? Fortunately, the Niu does qualify for the Government’s Plug-In Grant, which knocks 20% off the price. It still comes in at £3196 (batteries included, ho ho) or there’s a £73/month finance deal. That makes it about £1000 more than a modest 125… which is a lot.
But it could still be cheaper in the long run for commuters. A 40-mile round trip would cost almost £3 a day in petrol for a typical 80mpg 125. At a typical 15p/kWh tariff, the Niu would cost 37p to do the same job. It would still take two years to make your money back and start saving, but you would. In fact, it would be earlier than that, because the Niu has no motor or transmission to service, just the tyres and brake pads.
If you’re a petrolhead, then all this talk of saving money, cutting pollution and making silent progress will be irrelevant – you ride a two – or four-stroke because you enjoy it. But for commuters, going electric makes a huge amount of sense, and in the long-term, we’ll all have to get used it anyway. The Niu GT is reasonably quick (though 60mph for dual-carriageways would be nice), sophisticated and easy to ride. Sounds good to me.
Words and photos: Pete Henshaw
Niu GT Tech Specs
Motor type: Bosch electric motor
Power: 3Kw (4bhp)
Battery: 2 x 60V 35ah lithium-ion
Battery capacity: 4.2kWh
Front suspension: Telescopic forks
Rear suspension: Twin shocks – pre-load adjustable
Brakes: Front 220mm disc, Rear 180mm disc
Tyres: Front 90/90-12, Rear 120/70-12
Seat height: 780mm
Dimensions: Length 1815mm, width 725mm, height 1185mm