Niu’s latest scooter falls short on built-for-the-city promise

The Niu Technologies KQi3 Max has the kind of specs that should make it the ideal scooter for urban dwellers — especially those who live in hilly terrain. The 46.5-pound scooter has enough power to wisk riders through city streets at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour, handle steep hills and sharp turns all while managing a range of 40 miles.

And yet, the Niu Technologies KQi3 Max lacks some key features that its city-dwelling consumer base will want.

After a month of testing the KQi3 Max, I found the scooter had plenty of zip, power and battery range. But it missed the mark on sturdiness, safety and security features and weight — areas that one would expect to be covered for the $999 price. Niu has other versions of the KQi3 in its range, including the Sport ($699, top speed 17.4 mph) and the Pro ($799, top speed 19.9 mph).

Can a scooter replace a car?

As someone who covers transportation, I’ve generally supported the idea that micromobility has the potential to transform the way we move, particularly through cities. Since my move from New York to Auckland, New Zealand, I have been seeking a micromobility unicorn in car-filled forest. 

Auckland’s hilly and sprawling landscape combined with sparse bike lanes and inconsistent public transit has made a 2009 Nissan March my go-to form of transportation — a surprising shift for this native New Yorker. 

E-bikes would be an ideal solution to at least curb my reliance on a car that is on the cusp of some expensive repairs. But the high cost of e-bikes— due to New Zealand’s reliance on imports — makes it a challenging proposition.

E-scooters could, in theory, provide me (and other city folks) a cheaper alternative to e-bikes for the purposes of at least getting to and from work and social engagements. So when Niu offered to send me a KQi3, which it deemed to be “the safest electric scooter,” I was intrigued. Could I, someone who doesn’t always feel safe on e-scooters, replace my car with one in a city like Auckland?

The TLDR is: Yes, but maybe not the KQi3.  

Nuts and bolts

Niu promises the KQi3 Max is a “city on your doorstep.” And in many ways, it delivers. Image Credit: Rebecca Bellan

The KQi3 Max is equipped with an electric motor that packs 450 watts of power, a 608 kilowatt-hour battery that can travel 40 miles on a single charge and dual disc brakes in the front and rear. That combo allows the scooter to reach an impressive top speed of 20 miles per hour, which it easily achieves on flat ground or when going down hill. The powerful motor also means it can scale hills at more than a crawl, usually at about 9 mph to 14 mph depending on steepness.

The range on the KQi3, which is double some of its competitors, is also boosted by regenerative braking that pumps energy back into the battery. Once that battery is empty, however, expect it to take about eight hours to charge. 

There are also bright front and rear LED lights, side reflectors and an LED display that clearly shows the speed at which you’re riding, how much charge you’ve got and a tantalizing suggestion of connecting the scooter to your phone via Bluetooth. Alas, the Bluetooth feature never worked despite my multiple attempts (more on that later). 

The scooter also folds, a sought-after feature for those living in apartments and one that suggests that it is portable. And therein lies one of the KQi3 Max’s shortfalls.

The scooter isn’t just heavy at 46.5 pounds, it also lacks a handle. In other words, this scooter isn’t going anywhere easily. And if you live in an apartment that lacks an elevator or want to try and take this scooter on a bus, good luck. (To compare another scooter I’ve tried recently, the Taur also folds, but weighs 38 pounds, is easily carried by its neck and can stand vertically when folded.)

The Niu KQi3 Max e-scooter has front and rear braking, a bell, and an LED display. Image Credit: Rebecca Bellan

Technology misfire

I write for TechCrunch, so I’m not a luddite, and I know how to troubleshoot. But after an hour of searching Reddit posts, binding and unbinding the scooter to the app, deleting and redownloading the app, I gave up trying to connect the two via Bluetooth.

This meant that I was unable to test out certain features, like the ability to lock the scooter from my phone. Without that, there is no obvious way to ensure that someone on the street doesn’t just hit the ON button and ride off. The shape of these vehicles really doesn’t lend itself to a bike lock situation (although a U-lock might work), so you really do want a smart locking or anti-theft technology. 

Without that Bluetooth connection, the app was rendered useless to me, particularly when alerts in Chinese popped up. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on too many other features, though. The app also displays rider stats, but if I’m not breaking a sweat and paring the data with my FitBit, I definitely don’t care how many miles I’ve ridden. 

Users can also use the app to access and switch the four rider modes: E-Save, Sport, Pedestrian and Custom. Three of the modes are also accessible on the scooter. Custom was only available through the app, which meant I was unable to test that mode.

I rode mostly in Sport because it was the fastest. The default mode is E-Save, which only allows you to ride up to about 9 miles per hour. The acceleration in that mode is less jolty, though, and since it reins in the torque, E-Save mode helps increase battery life. Without the help of an app, Pedestrian mode was hard to figure out (FYI you get there by pressing the ON button five times, something I figured out through Reddit), but I never felt the need to use it. Its sole purpose is to slow riders down to walking speed, 5 miles per hour, just in case you can’t trust yourself to slow down around pedestrians. 

KQi3 Max: fast and unstable

What stands out the most about the KQi3 Max is its speed. I found that it took me the same amount of time to scoot as it would to drive, but with none of the feelings of guilt about being one small person hauling around a 2,000 pound machine.

However, for such a heavy scooter (about 46.5 pounds – try lugging that up your fifth floor walkup!), it didn’t feel particularly sturdy on the road, despite the comfortable, wide foot base and the 75-degree tilt to the neck, which is supposed to make it more stable.

The handlebars shook anytime I encountered uneven roads and the 9.5-inch tires felt too small for many of Auckland’s sidewalk ramps.

The acceleration in Sport mode was perhaps even too effective, often throwing me back a bit. The front wheel lifted off the ground more than once as I accelerated.

Braking produced a similar joltiness. I became accustomed to the way the KQi3 rode with time, but at high speeds and while sharing the road with cars, stability is one of those must-have items. 

Maybe you’re reading this thinking, Well, she just doesn’t sound like a confident rider. That’s not the scooter’s fault. If so, you and my partner have something in common. So I asked him to ride the scooter to work and let me know what he thought. 

“I actually see what you mean about the safety concerns,” he texted me later that morning. “It’s pretty unstable, even with both hands, and close to impossible to take one hand off to do any kind of adjustment to headphones or pocket etc.”

I had a similar fear of removing one hand, which meant I couldn’t signal to cars behind me when I wanted to turn. This scooter (probably all scooters) would massively improve with turn signals.

My partner, who is a cyclist and confident road user, also said the roads were a little wet when he rode, so braking was “very precarious.” He said when braking at over 14 miles per hour, the wheels locked out and started skidding out. 

It is possible that there was a problem with the individual scooter that I tested, because I’ve seen other reviews online that praise the KQi3’s excellent brakes and its ability to handle most road types. 

Final thoughts

My pros and cons for the KQi3 Max are deeply tied to what I – a 31-year-old woman who lives and works in a sprawling, hilly city and occasionally uses stairs – would be looking for in a scooter.

The number one thing is feeling safe, which wasn’t always the case with this one. Second is speed and ease of movement, which the KQi3 definitely achieved. Third is something lightweight and easy to carry up and down stairs, so the scooter left something to be desired there. Fourth is a good intelligent system that offers a way to lock the scooter and prevent theft. While Niu does claim to offer this, I sadly was unable to confirm that offering.

All up, the KQi3 Max ticks some of my boxes, but not all of them.

Niu’s latest scooter falls short on built-for-the-city promise by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

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Photo and Author: Rebecca Bellan

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