I’ve been riding around the streets of Beijing for close to two years now on what could arguably be called a very standard Honda Joker clone e-scooter. From short trips to long trips, I pretty much solely rely on Black Betty to do all the heavy lifting and generally make few exceptions to this rule except for when I go by my other unpowered two wheeler.
In this author’s opinion e-scooters of all kinds are a joy to use and one of the many great benefits of living in the middle kingdom: a country that is facing escalating levels of road congestion in capital cities, and has largely outlawed conventional gas-powered motorcycles in places like Beijing.
For the purposes of this review I tested out the more expensive RMB 4999 (USD 770) Power Version of the Niu N1 for about 2 weeks placing it in direct comparison with the scooter I already own.
I will not be comparing this e-scooter to e-scooters that are available outside of China, I will instead be comparing this scooter to the high end China-made e-scooter I already own: my two year old 72v 2000w Da Gui Wang (King Turtle), a Honda Joker clone.
At first glance the Niu N1 has a slick exterior, with novel features like an original appealing design, a unique LCD display and LED lights. On closer inspection however, the scooter is largely built around componentry commonly available among Chinese e-scooters.
If you take a look at the handlebars they have a very similar layout to what can be seen on a standard Chinese style e-scooter: a fairly muted horn more fit for a bicycle, headlight and indicator buttons seemingly identical to those of other scooters, side view mirrors appearing of similar construction and style.
Yes, the scooter implements components already widely available, but they are built properly. The side view mirrors appear to stay fixed and useable. They do not swing around like those on my King Turtle.
The LCD is more user-friendly for first time riders, indicating directly the battery capacity left in percentage terms – warning users when running out – and indicating useful things like current draw, and economy mode for optimal mileage.
In comparison My King Turtle display on the other hand largely relies on voltage to relay power consumption. At peak charge the voltage readout will at about 80 resting volts. When it comes time to charge it should be at lowest about 72 volts. This is hardly practical for first time users and is not really that reliable a measure of consumption.
Additionally the scooter includes handy things like a usb charger in the front, a little spot for random things like water battles and mobile phones beneath the dash and a vehicle seeking button on the transponder, which makes the scooter light up and beep when you can’t remember exactly where you left it.
As for the ride itself, smooth acceleration, reliable and accurate stopping, a little stiff as far as suspensions goes, but overall, none too different from what I am used to.
Some have claimed the scooter is a little on the heavier side, to this i say: on average its about as heavy as any other scooter of equivalent size and specification, easily pushed especially without the battery and much lighter than a gas scooter.
Although Niu’s advertised mileage of 100kms is misleading, the battery that powers the Niu is among the best available.
The advertised 100km range touted by the advertisements is based on the assumption that a rider will be riding at 20km/h, the legal speed limit for e-scooters in China.
In practice, despite the rules, nobody rides an e-scooter this slowly and when you’re moving at speeds of 30-40km/h you can reasonably expect the scooter to last you about 50km. Yes, this is a substantial difference when compared with the advertised range, but it is consistent with other lithium batteries on the market and I feel that given the battery is so convenient to remove, this is easily made up for by the fact that it will last you 3 years and can be charged anywhere you go – much like a mobile phone.
The Niu battery is slotted conveniently in a purpose built compartment for the scooter beneath your feet, it has a rugged computer style power connector, it does not shake around and does not occupy the storage space underneath your seat.
By designing the battery to be carryable and making it light at 10.5kg, the battery is easily carried by all and can be removed and charged in all manner of locations from offices to homes and anywhere with a port.
With an average e-scooter, due to the weight and size of the traditional lead acid battery powering the machine, you’re basically expected to leave your battery contained in the scooter.
This poses a problem for a great majority of Chinese people chiefly for two reasons: Chinese people commonly live in apartment buildings without ground level charging facilities, and e-scooter batteries are easily stolen from scooters.
My current e-scooter battery is tall, less comfortable to handle and largely occupies much of the compartment space beneath my seat. Perhaps the greatest annoyance about lithium battery setups for typical scooters are that they are not really purpose designed for the area they occupy. My battery moves a bit within the chamber and its connections are susceptible to fraying at the point of connection.
The Niu scooter alarm is deactivated when the battery is removed, which kind of makes it pointless, also the alarm could do with being a little louder.
Another personal feature or annoyance, depending how you choose to interpret it, is that when you reach 15% battery capacity, the scooter cuts your speed down to 20km/h to get the most mileage out of the battery.
In comparison when my King Turtle gets down to about 70 volts you’re never really entirely sure when the scooters going to run out of juice – when it does it’s sudden and you’ll be stranded for the worse.
This I think is actually a very noob friendly feature for the scooter which ensures, despite the annoyingly slow speed, that users will hopefully not get stranded miles away from home and without a hope.
For those experienced scooter riders this is again arguably unnecessary but I think it will help with adjusting newer riders to the road. The N1 features three ‘gears’, the first capped at 20km/h and the last at the scooter’s full speed of 45km/h. This feature assures that new riders – especially children and the elderly – will not overreach on their first expeditions and get themselves into trouble.
Perhaps the most instantly useful smart feature included with the N1 is the GPS tracking feature. The N1 can provide location updates even with the battery detached. I suspect this is likely due to some kind of reserve battery hidden somewhere in the chassis or the GPS chip.
Other features included with the N1 include the ability to provide remote diagnostics. A basic multi-category summary of your scooter’s health. Mine reports all is well, and I haven’t encountered any problems with the scooter as yet, to know how accurate the diagnostics are.
The difference in performance is noticeable between my scooter and the Niu. The Niu tops out at a maximum flat speed of about 45km/h, my scooter can go up to about 65km/h. The Acceleration between the two is again in my favour but only marginally so.
To qualify the above statement my scooter runs on 72v with the Niu fixed at 60v. If a Niu were to run a similar specification, the performance would likely be similar but the battery weight and size would likely go up making it less convenient to haul around.
I will add here that with the factory controller my scooter was supplied with, acceleration was unreasonably quick making the scooter bolt with the slightest touch of the throttle, making for an uncomfortable and unsafe experience – an annoyance that would largely deter some users.
Notes on appearance/bodywork
Though my scooter has been going fairly solid for 2 years I will say its appearance has taken a bit of a beating. I’ve banged it a few times through general stupidity and there are now bits of frame missing from the chassis.
My scooter is mostly easily breakable plastic and sparse metal wrapped around a fairly solid metal skeleton.
The Niu appears at touch to be sealed better with what may be a higher quality plastic. In addition things like the handlebars are properly fixed together with the side mirrors and lights, instead of being held together by plastic cable ties as seen on my own bike. Time will tell as for its true durability but it does appear to be a little more solid.
The main points of criticism for this scooter are fairly minor.
If I were to buy a scooter again, or if i were to recommend a good starting scooter, I would most certainly recommend the Niu over other models. The scooter is simply made better.
Construction on the Niu is more solid, the scooter is capped at a reasonable speed of 45km/h which will make it friendlier for first time riders, the lithiums are light and will last several years, and at 5000yuan it is a very reasonably priced proposition compared with scooters of a similar category. Comparing the scooter like for like, the Niu is awesome.
The only thing I think that may deter some prospective buyers from purchasing a Niu over another scooter is the speed/acceleration offered in comparison to the competition.
I hope that Niu does make a larger capacity scooter in the future that would be something that would definitely seal the deal for me.