Kuberg FreeRider: The most joy I’ve experienced trail-riding so far.
by Patrick M.
I discovered Kuberg’s FreeRider in early 2016 while researching the current state of the electric dirt bike market – and was immediately smitten with its futuristic, sexy, Darth Vader-esque design. As I learned more about the bike, and the company behind it, my interest grew even more. Kuberg is a small manufacturer of electric motorcycles, based in the Czech Republic. While they source some parts from outside suppliers, much of the manufacturing work (including battery pack assembly and frame fabrication) is done in-house. And as I would later learn, the company is run by true dirt-biking enthusiasts. Kuberg currently offers three models in addition to the FreeRider, which are marketed towards both teens and adults.
What it’s Made Of
Reading the spec sheet, it’s hard to tell if the FreeRider is a downsized electric motocross motorcycle, or a high-powered electric mountain bike. Many of the Freerider’s components – including suspension, brakes, and handlebar – are sourced from mountain bikes, not motorcycles. But the custom-designed trapezoid battery pack, and huge bespoke 8kW BLDC motor tell you that this is no ordinary e-mountain bike.
The in-house built battery pack is a 48V / 22-Ah unit mounted in a metal enclosure below the seat. While detailed specs for the pack’s configuration are not advertised, I asked Kuberg to provide a little more information on the pack’s configuration and the cells used in the pack. They told me the pack is a 13S/10P layout, and while the exact cells used couldn’t be disclosed, Kuberg reassured me they are top-brand Japanese cells from leading producers, with a very high C rating. The pack’s BMS is spec’d at 150A continuous and 200A peak, and the Kuberg-designed controller on my test bike is designed for 140A continuous and 170A peak output.
The compact 48V battery pack can deliver a whopping 170A peak output
I’ll discuss the battery pack in more depth a few paragraphs down – for now, just keep in mind that any e-bike’s controller cannot put out more amps than the battery pack can provide – and that’s limited firstly by the cells used, and also by the BMS. In a related topic, the pack is guaranteed for a somewhat lower-than-normal 300 charge cycles (more about that, and the battery pack, later).
A huge, fan-cooled 10A charger is included with the bike that will fully charge an empty battery to 100% in 2.5 hours. Knowing that a very high charge rate like this can shorten a battery pack’s lifespan (for some batteries), I asked Kuberg about this. They reassured me that the pack is designed to take the high 10A charging rate, and that the pack’s lifespan is not reduced from such a high charge current.
The motor is a huge, heat-sink shod 48-volt brushless DC unit rated at 8kW. Kuberg says the bike’s top speed is 55 km/hour (34mph), and claims the FreeRider’s battery will last one hour at full throttle with a 75kg rider (165-lbs).
The frame, designed and built at the Kuberg factory, is tubular steel. The bike’s highly-regarded Manitou Dorado fork eats up terrain for breakfast with its 180mm of travel, and the DNM Burner RB-RCP shock provides tons of progressive, smooth damping. Brakes are Tektro Auriga, mated to 203mm discs – and they’re the best I’ve ever used (more on this later). The 20″ x 2.5″ Maxxis Creepy Crawler tires not only look cool, they provide impressive traction on a variety of surfaces.
First Experience – A Mouse was in the House
My first experience with the FreeRider, unfortunately, wasn’t a very pleasant one. But now in hindsight, it was one of the best things that could’ve happened. Because the problem I experienced made me get to know the people behind Kuberg, and realize what an amazing group of enthusiasts – and ethical businessmen – they are.
My first FreeRider wasn’t purchased from an authorized dealer. As a cheap-ass, I mean someone who can’t resist a “good deal” (even though in hindsight, it may not have turned out to be a good deal at all), I jumped on the opportunity to purchase a “new in open box” FreeRider from a large wholesaler who sells on eBay. The bike arrived, and I excitedly unpacked and assembled it. And at first, everything looked wonderful – it looked new, and despite the outside damage to the box, everything inside seemed to be in perfect condition. After an easy assembly (really just putting the handlebars on, and the foot pegs), I connected the charger. That’s when the first sign of a problem appeared – the charger began to charge the bike, but after only about 10 seconds the light turned off and charging stopped. To me, this should mean one thing – a fully-charged battery.
Strange, I thought, but it must be fully-charged. I turned on the power switch and my heart sank – nothing. After checking for any possible obvious problem signs – disconnected wires, shipping damage, etc., I found the likely culprit – mouse damage to the wiring. Or rat damage.
Or both. What appears to have happened is that the damaged box had a pretty large gaping hole in it – and while the bike was in storage, mice got into the carton and decided to have a feast on the main power wires going to the controller, as well as the phase wires near the motor. Looking closely, though, I could see that while the wires were damaged, none of them were cut completely or seemed to have been shorted. I wanted to eliminate the charger as being faulty before having to pack up the bike and return it as a total loss.
So I contacted Kuberg and explained the problem to them. Keep in mind that they had every right to tell me to buzz off – I’d not purchased the bike from an authorized dealer, and that excluded me from being protected under any warranty coverage. To my amazement, I got a reply the same day from Kuberg’s California rep – Kelly Knipe. He was incredibly helpful, and even sent me – the same day – his personal FreeRider charger, so I could test it on my bike to see if my charger was faulty. He didn’t even ask me to pay the UPS shipping cost. Amazing.
The next day, I was hiking with my wife when a call appeared from a strange number – I answered it and was flabbergasted to hear Michal Kubanek – the CEO of Kuberg – on the other end. He’d called me from the Czech Republic, to discuss the problem bike with me and to find a solution. I’ve never had a CEO of any company, large or small, call me directly after I’d contacted them about an issue with a purchase. I was blown away. Not only is Michal a super-sharp guy, I learned from speaking with him that he and his entire team are passionate about high-performance e-dirt bikes. And they’re dedicated to making the highest quality products possible. I explained the damage to him, sent him photos of the bike, and he immediately recognized the rodent damage to the wiring. He told me that he, and Kuberg, would do whatever was necessary to ensure that I had a working bike and was a satisfied customer. Wow, I thought – what amazing customer service. I’d never experienced anything like it before.
The replacement charger arrived, and my worst fears were realized – the bike was dead. It still wasn’t charging properly with the new charger connected, although strangely, with the charger on, the bike would power on, but it was being only powered by the charger, not the battery. It was clear the mouse damage had caused some internal shorting, and the bike had to go back to my discount eBay seller. Once I’d returned it, I was placed in touch with the man at Kuberg’s main USA warehouse, Marc Hansson. He worked with me to get a new, working, and warrantied FreeRider. An unpleasant and stressful situation had been turned into a revelation of amazing customer service – not just from one employee of the company, but from the entire team, right up to the CEO.
The 2nd FreeRider is Finally Here – and it’s Awesome
About 10 days after returning my first, mouse-chewed FreeRider, its replacement arrived at my house. To my relief, this one was perfect, with no mouse damage. The bike comes packed very securely, with lots of thick styrofoam padding protecting it inside the carton. After a quick assembly and 2-hour full charge, I was finally ready to start shredding on my FreeRider!
My very first impression: This thing is beautiful. Both in design and build quality, this bike is a huge step above any other e-transport I’ve owned (except, maybe, my beloved Evolve Carbon GT skateboard – it’s equally beautiful and well-built). The tubular frame design looks sleek, futuristic, sexy, and very Darth Vader-esque. It’s incredibly pleasing to the eye – like something that should have emerged from the Pininfarina design house. Size-wise, it’s more ‘super cute’ than big and brawny: it looks like an 8/10th scale 125cc motocross bike. The 34.5″ seat height fit me perfectly – I’m 5’9″ with a 32″ inseam.
I did notice a few inches of sag when I sat my solid 185# butt on the bike – it’s apparent that the bike is set-up from the factory for lighter riders. The 20″ wheels, shod with Maxxis Creepy Crawler tires, look very sporty, but small. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden anything with 20″ wheels (last was my Schwinn Stingray, about 35 years ago), and the juxtaposition of the small wheels with very long suspension travel looks a little strange at first. But I quickly got used to it – the bike is a thing of beauty.
Next, my eye moved to the battery and motor. The Kuberg-built battery pack is housed below the comfortable, narrow seat in a black metal case. This is a great design choice if you go down at speed, and some huge tree limb plows into the battery case. The 8kW BLDC motor is covered in heatsink fins, and looks great housed low in the tubular frame. Even the welds appear to be lovingly done – the weld quality is fantastic, and consistent throughout the bike.
170A peak controller is housed in the ‘gas tank’; charging port has been moved under the seat
Every aspect of the bike’s design showed me that it was carefully, and intelligently, thought out. Here’s an example: the custom controller sits high within the bike’s “gas tank” near the handlebar stem. Its exposed cooling fins face down toward the front tire – it’s in the perfect location for cooling, and keeping it high like that means it’s safely away from water as much as possible, too. Speaking of water, the entire bike is IP65-level waterproofed, with water-resistant grommets at every point of wire ingress. During my attempts to diagnose and fix the first bike, I saw that even the main battery cables – coming out the top of the battery pack, right under the seat – have IP65 waterproofing grommets. They did it right: putting these in, even where most owners will never see them.
My First Ride
By the time the bike had finished charging, it was almost dusk. It was too late to take the bike to my local trails. But I couldn’t wait to finally try the FreeRider, so I had to take it for a spin around the neighborhood. The first thing you notice about the FreeRider is how light and compact it feels – and from that, how ‘tossable’ the bike is – it changes direction immediately. Sitting on the bike, I immediately noticed several pleasant sensations. The riding position feels familiar and comfortable. The handlebars may be a little narrow for very long-armed riders, but to me they felt perfect. The narrow saddle seemed a bit strange at first – but after a few rides, I came to appreciate not only the narrowness of the saddle, but of the entire bike.
Coming from riding 80cc motocross bikes as a kid, then 250cc bikes as an adult (my ’95 YZ250 will always be in my heart), the FreeRider immediately impresses with its unusually narrow chassis. This makes it super-easy to grip and squeeze the bike with your knees when cornering or jumping. And it feels light and agile – more like an overpowered mountain bike than a full-fledged gas dirt bike.
Tektro Auriga brakes and 203mm discs provided massive stopping power
Special mention has to go to the FreeRider’s Tektro Auriga brakes, mated with huge 203mm discs – they’re the best brakes I’ve ever used. While riding in my neighborhood, one time I came up a little too hot to an intersection, and a car was headed right into my path. I mashed the brakes and was amazed at the stopping power – it brought me down from 30mph to zero in what felt like about 10 feet.
Off-road, at last
The next day, I finally got to try the Kuberg in its natural habitat. There are some great trails near me in the beautiful Santa Monica mountains. Being mixed-use trails, they are enjoyed by hikers, mountain-bikers (I’ve biked there weekly for the past three years), and dog-walkers. So, I was glad to be on the FreeRider – gliding along nearly silently – to not upset other trail users. Off-road, the first thing that struck me about the FreeRider was its awesome suspension – the bike ate up huge bumps and ruts in the trails effortlessly. On very uneven surfaces, none of the roughness was transferred to the rider. And believe me, I know – I’ve ridden these same trails hundreds of times on a hardtail mountain bike, and have the sore wrists and butt to prove it.
A super-smooth ride, thanks to the Manitou Dorado’s 180mm of travel and the DNM Burner shock
The ride, thanks to 180mm of travel in the Manitou Dorado fork (and the DNM Burner RB-RCP shock), was smooth and supple. But the suspension tuning was a little soft for my weight – I could tell the bike comes tuned from the factory for lighter / teenage riders (which, after all, are a big part of its target market). Some firming up of the suspension settings at both ends will be needed for heavier riders. My much-lighter-than-me wife rode the FreeRider, and she absolutely loved it. She said the suspension felt perfect to her.
80/10 gear ratio is perfect for this bike.
The heavy-duty chain uses a beefy tensioner, and connects an 80-tooth rear sprocket to the motor’s 10 tooth unit. The short 8:1 gear ratio is designed for acceleration and hill-climbing, and I’m very happy Kuberg chose this gear ratio. It was a smart choice, because it makes the FreeRider a hill-climbing monster as well as a playful wheelie machine. They could have easily geared it taller, to be able to advertise a higher top speed – which likely would have impressed some buyers and armchair spec-comparers. But that would have been a mistake – the factory 10/80 gearing is perfect for the bike’s power and its playful personality. Even with the short gearing, the bike still reaches a claimed 34-MPH (55 km/h) top speed. On flat ground, my heavy ass saw a top speed of 31-MPH, which still feels really fast on this little beast.
Let’s get back to the bike’s size, because I am sure this is a big question for a lot of potential buyers. The bike is small, comfy, and some may say, even cute. At 5’9″ (176cm), the FreeRider fits me perfectly. Its 34.5″ seat height may seem tall for those with only a 32″ inseam, however as soon as you sit on the bike, there’s 2-3″ of suspension sag – so your feet comfortably touch the ground. As I mentioned, the super-narrow chassis makes the bike feel compact and easy to hold with your legs. Once you are rolling, the cockpit area and reach to the bars feels very natural. So, if you’re about 5’11” (180cm) or shorter, and less than 200# (90kg), you can make the FreeRider work for you. The FreeRider is sized like a 1990s Ferrari cockpit – the perfect driver is 5’9″ and not too fat. Much bigger than that, and it’s going to be a bit of a squeeze!
Special mention needs to go to the smooth and progressive throttle control. This is an especially important facet of performance with me, because I’ve experienced so many crappy Chinese throttles in the past 8 years on my high-performance electric scooters. With all of them, throttle progression goes like this as you twist the handle: nothing, nothing, nothing – boom! Wheelie-popping torque! There’s no way to feather the throttle gently, because it comes on like an on/off switch. This has been the case with every throttle/controller combination I’ve experienced until the FreeRider. With this bike, it’s clear that a lot of time and development work went into both controller programming and throttle design. Its power build-up is smooth, linear, and gentle – exactly as I’d been dreaming about all these years. I couldn’t believe it at first – finally, a throttle that was linear and progressive, and didn’t work like an on/off switch.
The more seat time I had on the FreeRider, the more I realized that it wasn’t just the throttle that felt like it had exemplary build quality – the entire bike feels that way. It was solid, sturdy, rattle-free, and supremely well-built. Going from my rickety death-trap overpowered Chinese scooters to this was like trading in a Daewoo Lanos for a Mercedes SLS AMG.
Power! What about that 8 kW of power?
Finally – what you’ve been waiting for – how’s that claimed 8kW of power feel? Well, first – it has smooth, long, linear build-up throughout the throttle travel. The bike has 3 power settings – they don’t really change the maximum power output or top speed, but change how aggressively the power ramps up through the throttle travel. I kept the bike on power level 3 – the most aggressive setting – for all my riding.
This compact motor can put out 8kW all day long
First, it’s a little torque monster. It’ll wheelie at will – but what was most impressive to me was that even on steep uphills, the motor didn’t bog down, or slow down, or even feel like I was putting undue load on it. Even on 15-20% hills, the little bike didn’t feel like it was under much duress, even with my heavy ass on it.
But – does it feel like 8kW? That’s the $4000 question. And, sadly, I’m not really the right guy to answer this question – because I’ve not yet experienced any other 8kW e-bikes. I do have a 1500W (stock, for now) BBSHD. Does the FreeRider feel like 5 BBSHDs, all pulling me simultaneously? Not really. Does it feel a good 3-4 times as powerful as the stock ‘HD? Absolutely. The only definitive answers will come when the FreeRider can be put on a motorcycle dyno – which I hope to do soon.
8kW from a 48V battery pack is a pretty heady claim, and I’d like to prove (or disprove) it once and for all on the dyno. But the bike does feel fast, especially considering its diminutive size and incredibly light 79lb. weight. Being this light, not only does the FreeRider have an incredible power-to-weight ratio, it’s also super-easy to carry around, load into a hitch carrier, or even push back up the mountain after you’ve run out of juice. Ask me how I know.
Wait – What about that 8 kW of power – is the claim true?
This brings me to the Elephant in the room, as far as knowledgeable e-bike modders and battery pack builders are concerned – the 8kW power claim by Kuberg for this bike. I’m not questioning the BLDC motor – it looks like a monster, and even after super-hard riding, it wasn’t even very warm. And I’m not questioning the controller specs – I know Kuberg designed this controller, and they have updated and improved it since the FreeRider was introduced. So I’m confident the controller can supply all the power the battery can provide. But – it’s the battery pack I am wondering about. Can this diminutive battery pack really supply nearly 11-HP of juice?
I’ve learned from the best battery builders that you need to look closely at many factors to design a quality high-performance battery pack that’ll last a long time. Cell brand and type, cell maximum amp sustained output, pack configuration (14S / 8P, etc. – especially the number of cells in parallel) and continuous BMS capacity all must be considered when designing a battery pack for a super high-performance e-bike. Once I started looking closely at the FreeRider’s specs, they seemed pretty amazing for a 48V pack – maybe too amazing.
I knew from my research that when it was first being developed, the bike was part of a Kickstarter campaign. The original spec for its maximum power was 4kW – this was then changed, later in the bike’s development, to 8kW. I always wondered – how did they double the claimed power, late in the development cycle? Maybe we’re talking about peak output vs. continuous? Or maybe they changed the battery, to use super-high continuous output cells? Maybe just marketing? I was curious.
Battery Pack Nitty-Gritty
Let’s look at the numbers: The battery pack is 48V (nominal). Since volts x amps = watts, for the FreeRider to have a max. output of 8000W, the 48V controller needs to pump an incredible 167A to the motor. But more importantly, the 48V battery pack – and its BMS – need to supply that whopping 167A output to the controller without burning up. Depending on the cells used, 48V / 22-Ah packs are often configured as 13S / 8P, or 13S / 9P. (Very high-capacity cells, like the Panasonic GA, could provide this capacity with just a 7P configuration) Kuberg’s CEO Michal told me the bike’s pack uses high-quality, high C-rated, Japanese cells in a 13S / 10P layout. The exact cells used weren’t disclosed – I’m sure this is a trade secret, and I can certainly understand the company’s reluctance to give their competitors too much information.
So, let’s look closely at this pack’s 10P configuration. 10P means that, for 8000w of power, the cells used would have to provide an output of 167A/10, which equals 16.7 amps per cell. Only the highest-rated cells on the market can safely provide such a high continuous output current – the Samsung 25R cells being one of those with a 20A rating. The newer Samsung 30Q cells could not provide this output, since they max out at 15A continuous. And both of the popular Panasonic cells – the PF, and the new high-capacity GA, could not supply the amps this pack needs – since they both only have a 10A max. continuous output. However, some of LG’s 18650 cells, like the HE2 and HE4, are rated for a whopping 30A continuous. So, it is possible: a 13S / 10P pack, with Samsung 25R (or the LG) cells, could theoretically provide a mind-boggling 167A of continuous output!
Also, I was told Kuberg has developed an upgraded controller for the bike which allows an incredible maximum output of 350A peak. If my math is right, that’s 16,800W – yes, nearly 17kW – from a 79-pound bike. Combined with an upgraded battery pack, this (for now) racing-only combination must rip like no other e-dirtbike – I’d love to try it sometime.
So, with that question answered, how’s the battery life? Kuberg advertises battery life as one-hour of full-throttle riding, with a 75kg rider. I consistently saw between 85-90 minutes, and approx. 16 miles of range (25 km), using the throttle judiciously. Some of the time I was hyper-miling it, and at other times I had the throttle wide open. So with mixed throttle, a heavier rider can realistically see 90 minutes of battery life.
This brings me to another point: I was a little surprised to learn that the bike’s battery pack is only guaranteed for a rated 300 charge cycles. I love – no, I mean LOVE – riding my little FreeRider through the Santa Monica mountains. I’d do it every day if I could. But if I did, would that mean in less than a year of riding – more like 10 months – I’d have chewed through the entire lifespan of my poor bike’s battery life? Noooooooo, say it isn’t so! I think this reduced lifespan is a result of the cells – whatever brand they may be – being tortured a little bit with nearly 17A pulled from them on a regular basis.
Battery geeks know that the high advertised battery lifespan ratings (e.g., 700-1000 cycles) are given for very low amp drain – usually something like 2A continuous. Once the current drain goes up on cells (way up), their lifespan drops dramatically. I asked Kuberg about this, and they said that most users are seeing much more than the guaranteed 300 charge cycles in real-world use – but like other good companies, they prefer to under-promise and over-deliver. So I’m glad Kuberg are being honest about this – even if they’re using the strongest cells on the market, high current drain will reduce the pack’s lifespan.
If you take care of this little brute – and don’t pin the throttle all the time –
the pack should last much more than the rated 300 charge cycles
Knowing this, I recommended to Kuberg that they consider adding an 80%/90%/100% charge and discharge option for the bike – by charging to only 80% or 90% capacity, and discharging by the same factor (not fully draining the battery), you can extend the lifespan of the battery pack dramatically. I think a lot of riders – me included – would be willing to trade off a little bit of range/riding time, to have the pack last much longer. That said, I give Kuberg credit for not providing an unrealistic or inflated battery life claim just for marketing purposes. Kudos to them for telling the truth.
If it sounds like I’ve been gushing about the FreeRider – well, I have. It’s a joy to ride. Its small size and controllable power make it like a friendly puppy dog to play with. The amount of power is actually just right – it’s enough to go fast and get your heart racing, and climb up any hill easily on your local trails. But it’s not so big or powerful to be scary or intimidating. It’s really the perfect off-road weekend play toy (that’s built like a tank). But what about the negatives – there have to be some negatives, right?
Well yes, I did find a few. The first – strangely – is drivetrain noise. I noticed this right away upon my first ride. There was a lot of noise coming from the chain, sprockets, and tensioner – I thought it may need lubrication, but even after lubing up, it was still loud. To me, this noise goes against the design intent of having an electric dirt bike – one of the cool aspects of it is to be able to ride on mixed use trails and not scare / anger others there with a loud gas bike (and thus avoid the subsequent encounters with the police this would cause).
Even after lubing, the chain and tensioner were quite loud. This may be a blessing in disguise – the noise does alert walkers and mountain-bikers that you’re near, but I’d prefer a nearly-silent electric riding experience. Also, maybe it’s just me, but the loudness of the drivetrain makes me think there’s a lot of parasitic resistance going on there – and I hate wasted watts. I want everything from that battery pack going to propelling my butt forward! I wonder if Kuberg has considered a quiet belt-drive system for the bike – or if it’s even possible with a dirt bike. I can imagine a belt not surviving getting caked up with mud, like a chain can, under the toughest conditions.
Next, for me, the steering head angle felt just a little too flatly raked (a little bit Harley chopper-ish, I believe it’s called ‘slack’ in mountain bike circles). I’d have preferred a slightly steeper head angle and with quicker steering. But, this could have been a design choice by Kuberg for safety – the slower steering angle is safer for younger, inexperienced riders.
Truly, those are the only negatives I can think of. If I was wishing, I’d love to see the FreeRider be about 10% larger, with 25% more power and more battery capacity. But maybe that’ll be the recipe for Kuberg’s next model?
A Company Run by Enthusiasts
During my buying process, I was fortunate enough to communicate with the folks at Kuberg, including their CEO. From this, I learned that Kuberg – from the top down – is filled with people who are passionate about high-performance, high-quality electric motorcycles. They’re not just profiteers out to make a quick buck. The people who I spoke with at Kuberg were incredibly helpful in trying to resolve the problem I had with my first, mouse-chewed FreeRider, even to the point of the CEO himself calling me all the way from the Czech Republic. I learned that the guys love dirt bikes, and started the company making kids e-dirt bikes as a way for them to enjoy off-road riding with their children. They really are working to make the most advanced, best-designed electric off-road bikes on the market – and they’ve priced them ridiculously low for the tech that’s included. It’s funny – after I got to know the folks at Luna Cycle, and learned about their business model and customer service, I saw a lot of parallels between the two companies.
Conclusion – a Bargain Off-Road Fun Machine
Tearing up my local trails on the FreeRider gave me more moments of pure joy than I’ve ever experienced riding these trails. Sure – it’s fun mountain biking here. And I’m not against exercise at all, but let’s face it: when have you ever been smiling while riding, sweating your ass off in the summer, pedaling your butt up a huge incline? For me, that number is zero. Is trail mountain biking challenging? Yes. Great exercise? Of course. Rewarding? Certainly. But it’s not the same feeling as tearing along those same trails at high speed in near silence, ripping uphill and carving through the corners with almost no effort.
I remember one place in particular where I actually laughed out loud – it’s always been a ‘rest-stop’ about halfway up a big uphill section I frequently ride in the Santa Monica mountains. On my MTB, every memory I have in this spot is stopping to rest on the uphill, under the blazing sun. Drenched in sweat and out of breath, I would stand there for a precious few minutes to catch my breath before continuing up the ascent. Smiling was not one my facial expressions at this moment. After tearing up this hill on my FreeRider, I stopped in that same spot. Refreshed, exhilarated, and not sweaty or exhausted – I laughed out loud. It’s the first time I’ve ever been happy – no, joyous is the right word – in that exact location while biking or hiking. It was quite a revelation. Riding the FreeRider is also what made me get into the world of high-performance e-biking, because I realized I wanted to also build a mountain bike – for more stealthy riding – that has performance as close as possible to the FreeRider.
I’m sure that – at first – some potential buyers will balk at what seems like a very steep $4k price for what is basically a big-kids electric dirt bike. But when you start looking closely at the components Kuberg included in this bike, and the quality that’s gone into it, you quickly realize what a smokin’ bargain the FreeRider really is.
That top-shelf Manitou Dorado fork alone costs over $1000. The battery pack is built by Kuberg themselves, to maintain quality, in the Czech Republic. If you were to purchase a similar pack, with real name-brand cells and a super-strong BMS, you’ll be looking at $750 to $1000 and above. The brakes are top-notch, the wheels and tires are superb, and the frame is custom-built by craftsmen who are passionate about making the best quality bike possible. Not to mention the huge 8kW motor that must be designed to take the abuse off-roading will dish out.
Add up all these components, and keep in mind that Kuberg’s dealers need to make some profit to keep the doors open as well, and you’ll quickly realize what a bargain the FreeRider is at its $3995 MSRP. I’d argue that it is actually underpriced – but I won’t do that here, because I may want to get another one soon! And Kuberg can’t know how much they have underpriced this wonderful bike.
LONG-TERM UPDATE: November 2017 – almost one year with the FreeRider.
I took my beloved Kuberg out for a mountain thrashing today, the first time I’ve ridden her in nearly 5 months. I’ve been in Europe, and other e-bike build projects took precedence…. so the beautiful FreeRider has been just adorning my hallway, enticing me for a ride every time I walk by.
The FreeRider got me started into high-performance e-bike building, and electric bikes in general. When I first wrote this review, I had much less knowledge and experience in the world of e-bikes. So I thought it might be informative to re-examine the FreeRider, now that I have much more experience under my belt (as well as some very high-powered e-bike builds to compare her to). I can now look at the bike through the lens of a more seasoned rider & builder – and compare her to some high-power builds I’ve put together over the past year.
Here are my updated impressions about the FreeRider, in order of how much they stood out to me:
1. Build quality / integrated package: The FreeRider is built so well, engineered with such grace and strength – it feels solid like a tank when riding. Nothing feels Frankenstein’d here, nothing was slapped together, and there is no ‘DIY’ vibe that you get with even the best DIY homemade e-bikes (mine included). Every component is matched perfectly. There’s no flex from those Manitou Dorado forks at all, no torque twist from the swingarm when power’s applied, and no delicate/breakable parts to worry about – it just feels solid and strong. The bike feels like you can whip on it as hard as possible, all day long, with no worry. Chalk that up to the bike’s motorcycle-like components – thick spokes, strong wheels, a much beefier chain than most e-bikes, and again that wonderful fork. It all feels so solid and confidence-inspiring: while I have to ‘walk on eggshells’ a bit when really pushing my e-bikes, the Kuberg can take any abuse you can throw at it. Besides that, everything on the bike just works so well together – you can tell lots of time was put into engineering and design of the bike. The suspension, geometry, power ramp-up, even the tire choice, all work together perfectly with a great synergy – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
2. Suspension and brakes: I mentioned these in the original review, but they deserve another special mention here, because I was just reminded how fantastic they both are! Starting with the suspension, again, that Manitou Dorado fork is just wonderful. That, combined with the DNM Burner rear shock, provides such a soft, supple ride for the bike. Granted, both are set a bit soft for my weight – but the way they soak up the very rough terrain of the Santa Monica mountains is just wonderful. I know these trails like the back of my hand now, and have ridden all my e-bikes here hundreds of times. After riding this same section of trail with the hardtail/Rockshox Bluto Canyon DUDE fat bike (which I also love), my butt, my wrists, and my back are all sore and aching from the constant pummeling of traversing jagged rock and rugged hardpack over sand surfaces. After a 70-minute long spirited ride over the same trails, I felt invigorated, not sore at all, fresh as a daisy. I could ride 2 more hours here without fatigue, due to that great supple suspension. I didn’t realize how much less rider fatigue there is with great suspension, until I got re-acquainted today with the FreeRider. Now, to the brakes: six e-bike builds later (since the original article), the FreeRider’s Tekro Auriga brakes, combined with 203mm rotors, are still – by far – the best e-bike brakes I’ve ever experienced. Progressive and strong, they can stop you instantly with only a 2-finger tug. I love, love, love these brakes. And I don’t understand why they are so much better than the brakes on all my other e-bikes. 203mm rotors, maybe?
3. Power: Here’s the really interesting one. When I first tested the FreeRider, I hadn’t experienced any really high-powered e-bikes before it. So as a newbie, I was very impressed with the bike’s power, torque, and even top speed. Now that I built a 6kW Tangent-powered bike (Canyon Strive) and two 3300w/84v BBSHD bikes, I’m not so easily impressed by power as I was a year ago. There are some long, steady, uphill mountain sections in my nearby trails. On these, I started with a slow roll and then pinned the throttle for the entire uphill section. While I didn’t measure the grade, it looked to be about 15% all the way up. The bike’s torque still felt great, and it topped out about 40-45km/hour going uphill – not bad at all. But here’s the funny thing — it felt no more powerful than my 6kW Tangent bike on its 120A max power setting. In fact, due to having gears, I’d be willing to bet the Tangent bike could even go a little faster up that same hill than the Kuberg. While it still feels fast, the FreeRider now doesn’t impress me as much with its power as it did a year ago. Even more interesting, I’d be willing to bet that my 3300w BBSHD bike could almost keep up with the FreeRider through this same uphill section. My ‘seat of the pants dyno’ tells me the BBSHD bike feels to have about 70% of the power of the Kuberg, while the Tangent is very nearly its equal. Now that I have all three here, I think we need to do a long uphill drag race to settle it once and for all! What do you think?
4. Speed and durability: The FreeRider is a single-speed machine, geared for acceleration and hill climbing. When I first got the bike, it topped out around 50km/hour, which is about 31mph. That felt more than adequate at the time. Now, riding the bike after having experienced all my e-bike builds, its top speed does feel just a wee bit slow. Of course, all the other e-bikes have the benefit of gearing, so they can be geared to beat the Kuberg’s top speed by a wide margin. But I do love the FreeRider’s one-speed gear reduction and beefy motorcycle-grade chain and sprockets. Why? They’re bulletproof. I never have to worry about grenading a freehub, tearing up a cassette, or snapping a chain at the farthest point of the trail (which just happened to me on the Tangent bike). Because it has such heavy-duty components from head to tail, the FreeRider gives me confidence to beat on the bike, completely unlike how I feel when riding my overpowered DIY e-bikes.
Other positive impressions: I love how the FreeRider’s frame feels so svelte and thin. You can really ride it like a motocross bike, squeezing it with your knees through rough climbs, or sliding far forward on the seat and putting your foot out and forward for a fast, sweeping turn. I also love the 20″ Maxxis Creepy Crawler tires. Over the terrain I rode today (hardpack with a light dusting of fine sand on top), they did slide around a little – but losing traction happens in a predictable, linear, progressive manner. It’s very easy to control, and supremely fun – about mid-way through a tight, sandy turn, just pin the throttle and smile as a rooster tail of sand flies off the rear tire while the bike has a nice, progressive and controllable slide.
Negatives, now that I know more about e-bikes: The battery capacity isn’t great. When new, I was getting about 90 minutes of spirited trail riding from the pack. Today, the power LED was flashing red after only 70 minutes of riding. I’m able to get much more distance/time with some of the larger e-bike battery packs I’ve built (but, to be fair, on my e-bikes I’m able to pedal at times, contributing watts and taking load off the battery). There is no display – I really miss having all the detailed info that my CA3 provides about watt usage, temp, battery capacity and use, etc. My next upgrade for the FreeRider is to install a BattMan, so it’s possible to at least have some basic information displayed. The FreeRider’s power and torque, as I mentioned, still feel great but aren’t as impressive as they once were. My Tangent bike subjectively equals it, and the 3300w overvolted BBSHD isn’t very underpowered in comparison. Next – the pedals are missing! Now I would never ruin the gorgeous design and lines of my FreeRider by trying to add pedals (and I hope nobody ever does this), but being used to e-bikes, I found myself wanting to pedal along many times. It’s just a built-in instinct now – going up really steep inclines, my body was programmed to pedal and help take some of the load off this poor girl! Also, it feels really small, even more compact than I remembered. And at 5’9″, I’m not a big guy, either – but if I was any taller, the diminutive Kuberg would really be too small for me. And finally, the main reason I started building e-bicycles over riding the Kuberg all the time: reaction from other trail users. While I chose a time/day that I knew wouldn’t be busy, I did encounter a few other trail users. (Actually, most riding today was done on a huge, long, series of gravel fire roads that are also used by cars and motorcycles – so not exactly like riding on a narrow singletrack.) I slowed way down, glided by at 5mph or so, smiled and said hi. No problems at all. But I’m always a little nervous that somebody will complain or yell about riding a motorcycle on these trails/roads – so far, nothing negative has happened.
Conclusion: I still love the FreeRider. I appreciate it even more now, as far as being a cohesive, synergistic package where all the parts were carefully thought out and designed, and work perfectly together. I appreciate how I can beat on it ruthlessly – without ever having to worry about killing some expensive part (unlike my other e-bikes). True, in the nearly one year since I got the FreeRider, I’ve become a jaded, power-crazed, harder-to-impress, e-bike freak. And even though I’m not as wowed with its power or speed as I was a year ago, the FreeRider is still a total joy to ride.
MOTOR – 48V, Peak power >8kW
TOP SPEED – Approx. 34 mph (55 km/h)
RANGE – up to 1 hour
CHARGE TIME – 2.5 hours
BRAKES – Hardened 203 mm brake disks with sintered brake pads
FORKS – 180 mm Manitou Dorado Expert with air pump
SHOCK ABSORBER – DNM BURNER RB-RCP
WHEELBASE – 48.5″ (123 cm)
SEAT HEIGHT – 34.5″ (86 cm)
WEIGHT – 79 lbs (36 kg)
WIFI OPTION – set up and control your bike with our mobile app (WIFI adapter sold separately)
Most of the pics in this article have been courtesy of the Kuberg website, which can be found here.
About the Author:
Patrick M. is a A former coupon-book entrepreneur and travel agency owner, and Patrick developed one of the first consumer-review web sites way back in 1996. In the early 2000s, he worked as a journalist, serving as contributing editor for two home theater magazines. Now, Patrick splits his time between producing documentary movies and renovating homes – but his true passion has always been anything with wheels and ultra-high performance.
Written by Patrick M, January 2016