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Kid Bike Chronicles: TaoTao DB10

dingerjunkie

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This is the third installment of my kid-bike posts, written while setting up for the next evaluation ride of King Moon Racer #1.  Pictures will be added to galleries for these posts as soon as possible.

The past two entries have been around bikes for my son.  Well, my daughter decided she was willing to try riding after a few family trips to Little Speedsters for my boy.  She took to it immediately.  Christophe and his instructors made it really fun, and I was asked by her to arrange her own bike by the end of the first lesson.

She’s a bit taller than my son, so I was thinking about possibly going past a TTR50.  Besides, the market of abused/neglected beginner bikes is rather thin in this area.  Most used bikes were in good shape and were hovering at about the $1000 mark.  Given this, and based on some curiosity I had, I decided to go a different route for her.

A local bike shop called Team Scream carries TaoTao trail bikes, from the DB10 up through the DB27.  The DB10 caught my eye:

  • Honda clone parts for the motor, body and frame. I can easily find non-Chinese spares for upgrades
  • Scooter-style automatic transmission, so my girl didn’t need to think about shifting when learning
  • Electric start always available due to the auto trans (still missed the kick-start)
  • 110cc motor, so it could grow a bit for/with her, power-wise
  • Thoughtful accessories, like a skidplate, included stock
  • Out-the-door assembled and properly prepped by a guy who has worked on bikes for decades at $650

This ended up being the ticket.  I made only four accommodating aftermarket purchases for my daughter on the bike:

My evaluation of the bike is going to be geared towards those many dads out there who are considering these as alternates to the mind-blowingly high prices for new 50cc beginner bikes.  Once all the shenanigans of “dealer prep” and “paperwork” are added in, a new CRF50 is just about four times more expensive than this TaoTao DB10, and a KLX 110 is even more dear.  So, I’m going to approach this from the perspective of overall value/quality, while mixing in the perspective of a “beginner’s bike” versus a “pit/trailer bike.”

First, the positive points:

  • Full-sized supporting gear.  The pegs were knock-offs of adult-size IMS Pro Pegs, though in a lesser steel.  the brake pedal matched to proportion, making finding it easy for a beginner.  The bars were full 7/8”, and of a taller profile than standard mini-fare.  These were really nice touches that worked well even with a child, and the allowed for easy upgrades/replacements down the line if needed from a crash or for growth.
  • Solid engine and electrical.  It was better than the 70’s-era bikes I started my wrenching on way back when.  Yes, the battery wasn’t a Yuasa, but it never failed to crank the motor since I kept it on a trickle-charger when not riding.  The wiring wasn’t modern-Japanese level, but the wire gauge was fine, and I never had a short or break during a full season of use.  No mechanical failures, no shavings during oil changes, and the valves stayed in spec.
  • Easy customization.  CRF stuff is available from mild to wild in any color or variant you can think of.  If she wished, I could get motor dress-up kits or any type of plastic, rims, tires, suspension mods, etc.  CRF motor stuff is interchangeable over decades.  I could even drop a complete manual motor into this chassis cheaply when it is time for her to start shifting.  I could even add an oil cooler to keep this protected during the unbearable Central Texas summers, though I don’t think she’ll want to be out riding when it is well over 100 degrees.

Now, the negatives…

  • Many street-oriented components and design decisions.  Yes, TaoTao has this street legal in some parts of the world, so they use the same steel tank on everything.  A plastic tank would have really helped the top-heavy feeling of this bike.  Also, the steering stops on the frame and triples were street-bike narrow.  At-lock turning radius of this bike was more than twice that of the TTR50.
  • Poor metallurgy, plating and paint.  The 11-year-old frame on the TTR50 looked better than the new frame on the TaoTao.  There were minor, under/through-paint corrosion spots on the frame, the skidplate and the rims as it came out of the crate.  Keeping the bike long-term would mean blasting and painting…or powdercoating…key components after the first season.  Fasteners were of the same frustrating quality as 1970’s-era Japanese bikes, meaning a garage mechanic would live and die by the impact driver…or would need to buy a ton of stainless fasteners
  • No limiters/governors.  I know this sounds crazy, but the mellow nature of the TTR50 and JR50 were engineered in for a reason.  Once my daughter got a bit tired, I could see her head snapping back and forth with the torque from the 110.  There were a few times when the bike shot out on that torque, causing her to move back and involuntarily whiskey-throttle the bike.  Since there was no throttle stop, she had to let the bike go, since pulling herself forward while NOT rolling the throttle was beyond her muscle control as a complete beginner.
  • Full-sized supporting gear.  Yes, this was a positive for the most part, but having an adult-hand-sized, un-adjustable brake lever on a kid’s bike is inexcusable.  It was only $12 to fix, but it would have only been $4 to fix at the factory.
  • Super-lean, non-adjustable jetting on a cheap carb.  I had to warm the bike up forever, blipping the throttle the whole time, on a bike stand due to the automatic transmission.  The wheel wanted to spin/engage while giving the bike enough throttle massaging to get it up to operating temperature, and it is a cold-blooded girl from the factory.

So, is the bike worth the price? Is it a value?  I would say definitely, yes…but not for the role of a beginner bike, and that was a correctible shame.  This bike is built with the mindset of al the other TaoTao (and dare I say, Chinese in general) minis.  It is a pit-bike that someone pared down for beginner use.  It would be a great fun-bike for kids who already know how to ride.  It would be a great pit bike or camper-bike (though the DB14 may be better for the latter), it would be a great foundation for a pit-racer or backyard-track bike.  It is a TON of bike and performance for the dollar.

However, it is NOT in the same arena as the TTR50, CRF50 or DRZ50/70.  Those bikes are tame for a reason.  They have ½” diameter bars for a reason.  They have tiny levers for a reason.  They are quiet for a reason. They have limiters/governors for a reason.  They are only 50cc for a reason.  They are built to hold value so they can be sold, or handed down, for generations…for a reason.

With a bit more thought at the factory, TaoTao could have made this a fantastic beginner’s bike at an incredible price-point that would sell like hotcakes.  Instead, they built a pit bike that is too much for a first-time rider under the age of 10.  My experience with this, and seeing my daughter’s reaction to the extra power, made me rethink thoughts of trying the SSR-70C or Suzuki DRZ-70.  In the case of beginning children less intimidating (less total) power is a good thing.

Ultimately, kids need to be able to grow out of a motorcycle, rather than being forced to grow into one, if they are going to have fun from the start.  It is a shame that nobody has figured out how to do that for cost-conscious families with multiple riders who don’t want to use debt to ride.

The TaoTao DB10 has since been sold to a family with three boys over the age of 10, who will use it for what it is good at, and intended for…pit bike thrashing by older, more aggressive kids.  My daughter has commandeered my son’s TTR50, and I’m in the market for a CRF50 for my younger/smaller boy

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