The unkillable Erik Buell is back, with a new electric mobility company that’s called Fuell – despite the fact that its vehicles don’t use any. Fuell has just opened pre-orders for its first e-bike, as well as an electric motorcycle that Buell calls “the most radically innovative design I’ve ever done.”
The name Erik Buell will be very familiar to motorcycle folk, his original Buell brand under Harley-Davidson’s umbrella established him as one of the most creative and lateral-thinking innovators in the two-wheeled pantheon. Built around heavily-flawed Harley motors, Buell bikes handled like little else on the planet, and showcased some very cool and original ideas (fuel in the frame, oil in the swingarm, underslung mufflers, rim-mounted single disc brakes, etc) that made these bikes refreshingly unique as well as a ton of fun to ride.
When Harley unceremoniously dumped the Buell brand in 2009, Erik rebounded by starting his own company, Erik Buell Racing, which gave birth to a brilliant sportsbike in the EBR 1190RX, and a highly-strung streetfighter in the 1190SX. Sadly it didn’t last. Buell was heartbreakingly forced to shut EBR down in 2015, to the great dismay of hordes of motorcycle fans who adored his work and wished him success.
Thankfully, it seems Buell has the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that can get him back off the floor after a knockout punch, and it’s great to see him back at the coal face as Chief Technology Officer of a new company dedicated to electric urban mobility. Originally called VanguardSpark, it’s now known as Fuell – a weird metaphor to choose for an electric bike, and one that extends to the names of the company’s first two products: the Fluid and the Flow. Hey, at least it’s not another Spark or Volt, I guess.
The Fuell Flow electric motorcycle
Fuell has gone for a reasonably economical, fun build with its first e-moto, a step away from Buell’s racer roots, but without being as underpowered as the really cheap stuff. The Flow is a 400-lb (180 kg) bike with a great big chunky rear hub motor, a low-slung 10 kilowatt-hour battery box and a neat waterproof, lockable storage space under its fake tank lid that’s big enough to stick a full face helmet in.
Fuell’s proprietary motor comes in two flavors: 11 and 35 kilowatts (15 and 48 horsepower). Not a huge amount, you might think, but that’s continuous output, with peak output likely much higher. And the torque rating is colossal – the 35 kW motor makes 750 Nm, or 553 lb-ft, of torque. Read those figures again if you have to, they’re correct. This bike makes as much torque as a Ford GT supercar. Indeed, it can probably put a bit more to the ground, since there are absolutely no drivetrain losses with a hub motor, and this thing is geared low for a top burst speed of 85 mph (137 km/h).
Sustained top speed is just 55 mph (88 km/h), but the Flow will accelerate your face off to get there. We’re talking 2.7 seconds for the 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) sprint, proper shoulder-dislocating grunt that’ll leave the vast majority of traffic far behind you at the lights.
The battery gives the Flow a range somewhere around 150 miles (240 km) in urban riding, meaning most people will knock off a week’s commuting without needing to plug it in. Of course, you probably won’t need to test the range limits, since plugging it in to a wall socket in your garage is such a low barrier to charging that you might as well do it every night or every other night. A wall charge at home will take around 10 hours from 0-100 percent, or you can jack in to a Level 2 CCS fast charger and get it done in 30 minutes.
As well as a smartphone app and a huge touch screen dash, there are some other interesting electronics around the bike including blind spot detection, front and rear collision warnings, and a rear view camera, to go with ABS brakes and an integrated regenerative braking action through the back wheel. Electronic traction control is a wise inclusion given the Flow’s rampant acceleration figures, and there are two ride modes, Urban and Audacious, the latter of which makes us smile. The Flow uses keyless ignition – a nice touch – and offers walk and reverse assist to help you move it around in tight spots and on slopes.
The Flow is an elegant and fun, if not particularly beautiful, solution to urban commuting. But we suspect this venture is going to live and die on the bottom line. Scooters are cheap as chips, and while they don’t offer monstrous acceleration like the 35 kW Flow does, there are plenty of happy scooter commuters out there living without it. So what’s the price? US$11,995 for the 35 kW model and $10,995 for the 11 kW version.
Time will tell, but this feels like a swing and a miss to us. The kind of performance-oriented folk that’ll prick their ears up at the Flow’s colossal torque and acceleration will probably find the top speed, continuous speed, range and friendly looks of this bike a bit naff. And the urban commuting crowd will probably balk at the price. We fear that in all its practical cleverness the Flow might be pitched a bit too high. We hope to be proven wrong. Pre-orders are open now on the Fuell website for a $500 deposit, with deliveries scheduled to begin at the end of 2020.
The Fuell Fluid electric bicycle
Continuing with the oddly petrol-focused naming scheme, the Fuell Fluid takes another approach to urban commuting, and one that’s growing in popularity all the time. I am an absolute convert to electric bicycle commuting. It’s fun and quick, there’s no rego or insurance to pay, and it’s a chance to steal exactly the amount of exercise you want at the start and end of the day.
The Fluid is a practical and well-specified e-bike with plenty going for it on paper. The motor is a 500-watt pedal assist mid drive – or 250 watts if you buy it in the sadly strangled European or Australian markets. It’s Fuell’s own motor design, with a decent 100 Nm (74 lb-ft) of torque on tap. We don’t know if it uses torque or cadence sensing.
Its battery pack is an impressive 1 kWh capacity, neatly split into two removable cartridges. That’s enough for a pedal-assisted range of 126 miles (203 km) if you run it on the lowest of five power modes, and the split battery means you can take a light half-pack upstairs to charge if you need to, instead of carrying the whole battery.
Drive to the rear wheel is via quiet, maintenance-free carbon belt, which runs back to an 8-speed Shimano Alfine geared hub. That means no grease, no chain popping off the cogs and basically no drive train maintenance. It also looks nice and clean.
Suntour XCR34 suspension forks, Tektro 190 mm disc brakes and Schwalbe Moto-X tires round out the basic specs. Those hoops are some big ol’ Bessies for commuting, and are half way to fat bike tires in terms both of adding a little comfort to the ride and in adding rolling resistance that decreases the energy efficiency of the solution and can rob you of a bit of speed. But they do look cool.
In terms of security, you can lock the Fluid with a PIN on the dash, or stump up extra for a GPS/LoRa tracker in the frame, or a foldable lock accessory. In terms of practicalities, it comes with what looks like a really solid set of purpose-built fenders for wet riding, and you can accessorize with a phone holder or rear rack.
Curiously, the company has chosen to crowdfund this e-bike through Indiegogo. That means there’s early bird pricing available, letting you grab the 500 W, 1 kWh Fluid-1S for around $2,800 – a 24 percent discount on the expected $3,800 retail price. Mind you, it also means you’re not technically buying a product, and while both Buell and other members of the Fuell team have established solid reputations, it’s up to buyers to do their own due diligence before putting money down on a crowdfunding campaign.
Still, it looks like a solid, practical contender in the e-bike space with nice looks, good components and excellent battery range at an impressive price. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in August this year. Check out a video of the Fluid below.