I test smartphones and electric scooters among many other products here at WIRED. Unlike phones, escooters vary much more in quality. Most phones nowadays are pretty good—whether you buy from the low-end or shell out for a flagship—but escooters haven’t reached this level of development yet. Each massive box I have to haul up my stairs isn’t guaranteed to give me a thoroughly enjoyable and pain-free experience. That’s why I like Niu. The KQi3 Max is the second scooter I’m testing from the brand and, like the first, it’s a reliable, well-balanced ride for everyday commutes.
The KQi3 Max is a small upgrade over the KQi3 Pro I tested last year. They’re nearly identical, from the design to the components, but the pricier Max has a slightly more powerful motor, weighs a smidge more, and has a larger battery capacity. The Pro is enough for most people, but if you’re in a hillier area or you’re a heavier rider, it might be worth spending the extra $200 on the added power.
The KQi3 Max comes mostly assembled; you just need to attach the handlebars. Right off the bat, it looks and feels sturdy, with an air of intent. It’s not as light as a scooter you pluck off the shelf, like the Speedway Mini 4 Pro, nor is it as fancy and hefty as the Apollo City. It has a purpose.
The handlebars sit at a nice spot for my 6’4″ self, but you can’t adjust the height, so it may not be comfortable for everyone. They’re not as wide as the Apollo City’s, but I still wish they could collapse down to save some width when you pack the scooter down. There’s also not much room to comfortably attach a smartphone via a mount, though I’ve started using my wireless earbuds to listen to navigation instructions instead of having to look down at a screen.
Speaking of, Niu has the best folding mechanism out of all the scooters I’ve tried. Just undo the latch at the base of the stem and bring it down, and it’ll automatically click into a spot at the end of the deck. Time to unfold? Press the button above the rear brake light and the stem will unlock. Raise it and close the latch to secure it upright. It’s super simple. It’s got a reliably stable kickstand too.
At 46 pounds, this escooter is not something most people can easily carry, but it’s still not unreasonable for me. I definitely wouldn’t want to carry it up more than three flights of stairs, though. I do wish Niu would try and shave down the weight while preserving the power of this machine.
There’s a bell, a reasonably bright headlight, and a clear display that shows battery level, speed, and other ride data, but at this price, I’d expect to see turn signal buttons. It’s also IP54 water resistant, so it can handle splashes of water just fine. Just remember not to ride it in the rain, and wait for it to dry before you plug it in to recharge.
When you initially set up the scooter, you’ll be restricted to a lower speed. Ride a short distance and you’ll automatically unlock the faster speed mode (up to 20 mph). To unlock the top speed of 23 mph, you will need to choose the custom speed mode in the app.
The app itself isn’t cumbersome, even if it is an annoying extra step to ask users to download an app to unlock the scooter’s speed. You can also tweak the amount of regenerative braking you want and toggle on features like Cruise Control or the locking mechanism. But the Max doesn’t immediately connect to my phone via Bluetooth when I turn it on; it requires some prodding by refreshing the app.
Upgrading from a 350-watt motor on the KQi3 Pro to a 450-watt motor on the Max means you get a little extra power to work with. This escooter is really responsive when you hit the throttle, so it can climb to 20 mph fairly quickly. There’s no dillydallying when you punch it at a stoplight. It does a great job sustaining high speeds when tackling slopes, too. It had no trouble climbing the Williamsburg Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge here in New York City and maintaining speeds at 15 mph or higher.
The dual disc brakes do a good job of quickly coming to a halt, which I learned when a car in front of me decided to make a right without checking the bike lane. (Yes, I yelled, “Ey, I’m scootin’ here!”) The suspension system in conjunction with the 9.5-inch tubeless tires is solid—it can handle most bumps and small potholes fine, but it’s not going to knock your socks off.