We test bikes with big wheels and we test bikes with small wheels, but we don’t often test machines with a big wheel at one end and a small wheel at the other. No pedals either.
The Kickbike is the sort of thing that pops up in those futuristic ‘ideal world’ cycling tableaus that occasionally appear in the less cynical cycle magazines. In principle one size fits all, and there’s sufficient street-cred for young Norman to hang out on the mall, the sort of practicality granny demands for cruising the shops and enough speed (down hill at any rate) for dad to scoot to work.We’ve tested the City Cruiser model costing £190.The company also produces a ‘touring’ Sport Classic at £200 and a lighter, more aerodynamic Millennium Racer at £230, with an off-road job due in the summer at a rather awe inspiring £250. Still, there are plenty of people willing to spend £250 on dafter things than an off-road scooter, so it’s bound to go down a storm.
What and Why?
A Kickbike is effectively a bicycle, stripped of drive system and somewhere to sit, leaving a very large scooter.The bike has a 28-inch wheel at the front and 18-inch at the back (fitted with the 40 x 355mm Cheng Shin tyre from the Birdy), which gives it something of the look of a Penny Farthing, but without the leg-over problem, because there’s nothing to get your leg over.
The Finnish designers suggest all sorts of applications from racing (yes, some clown has set a 38.9km/h record); touring (another banana has ridden more than 300 miles in a day); and BMX stunts (no records for this one). But in practice, this is a flat-country, short- distance, shopping or commuting machine.The UK importer claims that the Kickbike can be kicked for ‘20 miles… on flattish terrain in about 21/2 hours.’ With practice, you might achieve this sort of thing, but where a bicycle would involve a lot less effort, one is tempted to ask ‘why?’.
…where a bicycle would involve a lot less effort, one is tempted to ask ‘why?’
‘Why?’, we soon discover, is a common question. According to Kickbike, scooters are legal on footpaths as well as roads, which could help to broaden your route-to-work options, although it won’t make you any friends amongst pedestrians.Without saddle, pedals and other drive system paraphernalia, a Kickbike is also lighter than the equivalent bicycle, but not by very much. Our City Cruiser model (complete with front basket) weighs 10.4kg – a clunking 1.4kg more than claimed.
The wheelbase is quite long, at 112.5cm, and that, combined with the large front wheel, means that manoeuvrability is not what it could be. At this point another ‘why?’ looms…The 18-inch rear wheel is quite useful (see ‘leg-over’ above), but we’re at a loss to explain the big ‘un, which adds some 12cm to the length and a great deal to the turning circle.With an 18-inch front wheel, there’d be room for a bigger, lower (and thus more stable) load basket, and the bike would be both lighter and more manoeuvrable. Still it all looks very attractive, which is half the battle. Kickbike also makes the perfectly valid point that elimination of chains and cogs means no grease and oil on your clothing. And the step-thru platform and well-enclosed wheels allow you to ride to work wearing pretty well anything, from outrageous flares to diaphanous floaty numbers or shorty minis… all those things you’ve been dying to wear on a bike, but didn’t dare.
The gear ratio depends on the length of your legs and how muscle-ly your thighs are. Initial acceleration is well up to hub gear standards, but speed rapidly tails off, where a bicycle keeps accelerating.The practical terminal velocity on the flat is around 7mph, although ten is manageable for short distances, and speed can sail up into the twenties on steep down grades, especially if you have the nerve to squat down and assume a wind-cheating position behind the front wheel.The ideal situation is a gentle down gradient.We recorded a reasonable rolling performance of 14.5mph on our test hill, which is about half way between 18-inch and 28-inch performance, less the extra wind resistance from standing up. Progress on the flat can be reasonably sprightly too, with a following wind, but going uphill is hard work, even on modest gradients. If you’re not used to the kicking action, you’ll be doing a lot of walking.
Handling takes a bit of getting used to compared to a bicycle, although we never found the limit. At speed, the handlebars feel as though they are about to develop a ‘shimmy’ or wobble, an impression that rather detracts from the otherwise effortless progress downhill. Another interesting impression is the softness of the ride – this turns out to be flex in the frame, which bends by a centimetre or more on bumps.That’s only a problem if you’re a stickler for precise steering geometry and other esoteric things. More serious is the very limited ground clearance under the platform – 6cm unladen and up to 1cm less under a fatty.That’s low enough to ground on road humps and the like.
The turning circle of the Kickbike is much greater than a small scooter, and big even for a bicycle, which is rather disappointing. It can be turned in three metres, which is adequate on the road, but rather cumbersome on the pavement. Manoeuvrability is also hampered by the lack of a saddle, because on a crowded pavement you can’t easily swing the bike around.The technique is to hook your foot under the frame and lift it round.
In practice, a 16-inch folder will turn faster and quicker than a big scooter like this. It probably won’t be as stable though.Thanks to the powerful gyroscopic action of that big front wheel and the low platform, the Kickbike feels reasonably secure. But with no saddle between your legs (in other words, no means of bracing yourself), riding one- handed is tricky.
With a pair of Alhonga dual-pivot callipers (yes, they’re the predecessor to the current Brompton design) braking is powerful and reliable, although Brits should treat the levers with caution, because our Kickbike arrived with continental-style reversed cables. We managed a stop of .34G with the rear brake, which is well up to bicycle standards. At the front, the rear wheel tends to lift with a stop of only .69G, which is on the low side – partly because of a lack of weight at the back of the scooter, and partly because, once again, the rider tends to get thrown forward, because there’s no saddle to brace against. Squat down and back (not something you’d have time to do in an emergency, of course) and the maximum stop can be as high as .8G.The limit here is the brake callipers, which aren’t really powerful enough, and the brake blocks, which tend to twist in the calliper arms under severe braking.
…a full complement of disadvantages, most of which were licked in about 1890…
A bit limited.There’s a little bell which goes ping in a most satisfactory manner, and a useless vestigial stand that serves only to reduce the already limited ground clearance. Even without a full load in the basket, the stand won’t hold the machine up, unless the front wheel is turned clumsily to full right lock. And with no saddle, it’s difficult to lean the Kickbike on posts, tree trunks, traffic wardens and the like – a major disadvantage at the shops, you might think. The basket is useful, but as we’ve said, on the small side, so don’t expect to carry home anything bulkier than a small box of cereal and a couple of litres of milk.
In purely practical terms, there’s nowhere to mount lights either, although that need not be an insurmountable obstacle.The mudguards are good, but by the very nature of scootering, wet feet are guaranteed if the weather’s dicey.Talking of water, the Kickbike comes with a mounting for a water bottle – are they serious?
All things considered, it’s hard to imagine a day-to-day commuter scooting to work. Scooters come with a full complement of disadvantages, most of which were licked in about 1890 with the arrival of the dear old safety bicycle.The odds are stacked even higher against the scooter today: a compact folder will go further and faster, yet turn on a sixpence and fold away at journey’s end. On the positive side, a scooter is a good way of exercising muscles that wouldn’t normally see much use walking or cycling (Ow! We can vouch for that), provided you don’t expect to travel any distance.
Foolish young things will probably buy the Kickbike on looks alone, but stuff it at the back of the garage after a week, and good luck to ‘em.We’re not convinced the machine has a future as a commuter steed, and the jury remains out for the little-old-lady market. As one little old lady succinctly put it, ‘I could use that! I walk up hills anyway’.Then, after a moment’s thought, she added, ‘But I do like a seat for coasting down the other side!’ And that sums it up rather well.The question remains, ‘why?’.
Kickbike City Cruiser £190
Weight 10.4kg (22.9lb)
Roll-down Speed 14.5mph
Brake Force front .69G rear .34G
Manufacturer Kickbike web www.kickbike.com mail firstname.lastname@example.org
UK distributor Vroom Scooters Ltd web www.kickbike.biz mail email@example.com tel 07817 192652