For many riders, motorcycling is a deep-seated passion stemming from the introduction of two-wheeled vehicles at an early age. If you want to gift your child his or her first non-pedal-powered two-wheeled vehicle but aren’t sure whether to go the gas or electric route, here are a few quick points about each to help you make the right decision.
Burning gasoline as a means for power is elemental when it comes to the idea of the motorcycle. The internal combustion engine has found its way into most every motorcycle platform since the beginning of the 20th century. For parents who grew up on minibikes such as the Taco hardtails or Honda’s popular Z50, the recollection of turning laps in the field behind the neighbor’s house seems like yesterday. Simple four-stroke engines seemed to run for hours on end, subjected to endless abuse. After all, there was no waitj-ust add pump fuel, switch the kill switch to the “run” position, and away you went.
Gasoline power is also a benefit when you’re riding in a remote area; if you run out of fuel in the tank, you simply add more and you’re good to go—no waiting for batteries to charge. There’s also the noise—and yes, to some, this is a draw, in the same manner as larger motorcycles. There’s still nothing quite like twisting a grip throttle and feeling the rumble of the magical internal combustion cycle. Plus, the simplicity of minibike engines means you can teach your child at an early age about oil changes and spark plugs and all the things “behind the scenes” that make their own motorcycle run.
To others, especially those in tightly knit residential areas, the noise associated with gasoline power can be disruptive if not downright annoying. Also, there’s a certain level of maintenance that will still be required to ensure that the gasoline engine continues to perform as it should. If you’re mechanically inclined, these engines will be a walk in the park, but for adults who aren’t excited about having to wrench on a greasy engine while your child begs you to “hurry up already” it might get old quick.
Here’s where the argument for electricity can be made: Electric-powered minibikes have far fewer moving components internally. Usually, it’s made up of a simple wound-armature electric motor that drives the rear wheel via a chain and sprockets. There’s no combustible fuel to be added, no mess, no choke to fiddle with, and no pull-start to snap off when you strong-arm the starting procedure out of frustration. Electric minibikes are also quieter, with the only slight noise coming from the chain and the slight hum of the electric motor spinning. They’re much more “residential” friendly, and will be less susceptible to scrutiny from law enforcement if riding on a bicycle path.
Electric motors are torquey, and still provide good—if not better—power off the line compared to gasoline power. They also don’t require any warm-up procedure, and will continue to run as long as the batteries hold a charge. The downside to this is exactly that—the batteries have to charge. This can take hours at a time, depending on the battery capacity. The larger the battery, the longer the bike will run, but the longer it will take to charge. This might be a bit of a bummer for the adventurous child always on the move, but may also serve as a needed break when it’s time to call it quits for the day.
So Which Should I Choose?
Here’s a simple breakdown of the positives and negatives of each, to help aid in your decision:
- Ease of use
- Efficient power delivery
- Less messy than gasoline
- No warming up or fiddling with idle settings
- Quieter operation
- Cleaner for the environment
- Charging the battery will take quite a while
- Lack of “traditional” motorcycle sound
- Unless you have a generator or outlet available, charging on the go is not an option
- “Traditional” motorcycle sound
- Ability to “gas and go” without much downtime
- Simple engines to work on should something go wrong
- Good power delivery
- Loud, which is not ideal for quiet residential neighborhoods
- Messy—they’re still combustion engines after all, in all their oily glory
- Burning gasoline means exhaust fumes—also potentially bad in residential areas
- More restrictive in terms of where they can be ridden without upsetting other locals or law enforcement
These are the main differences that can help you decide. If you don’t shy away from occasional maintenance, enjoy the same visceral feel that gasoline engines provide, and aren’t worried about annoying any neighbors, then a gasoline-powered minibike might be the right choice for you. If you’re less enthralled with the idea of working on a grimy engine and your child doesn’t mind the downtime while the batteries charge (a prime time to ask them to do their chores!), you may want to consider the electric alternative, which your immediate neighbors might appreciate.
Realistically your child will likely thoroughly enjoy either option. Some kids might enjoy the sound of the four-stroke, gas-powered engine, while others may be less intimidated by the electric alternative. At the end of the day, when they twist the throttle and feel the rush of acceleration and wind in their face, the ensuing smile and laughter will confirm that you made the right decision. Make sure they’re properly geared up, set up a few cones,and let them loose to create their own motorcycling memories.