This week there was big news in the world of electric motorcycles with the announcement of a new eBike brand called Fuell and its two forthcoming models, the Flow and Fluid. Apart from adding to the growing list of battery-powered production motorcycles, Fuell marks the return of American motorcycle engineer and entrepreneur Erik Buell, who is a co-founder of the company. He along with Francois-Xavier Terny and Fred Vasseur have embarked on a project that aims to change the way riders and commuters deal with congested city traffic all over the world. Fuell is all about urban mobility.
The Fluid is an e-bicycle and the few specs released on it indicate it will come in two variations, a 250W and 500W, and be capable of 125 miles between charges. The Flow is an electric motorcycle, also available in two sizes, an 11 kW and 35 kW, capable of 125 miles and able to charge in around 30 minutes. The full specs and capabilities of the Fluid and Flow will be released later this year, but the initial announcement was so intriguing that we went hunting for more information on the company to learn how Buell came to factor into the equation and get a sense of the strategy and direction of Fuell in the months and years to come.
Terny, the CEO of Fuell, hopped on a call with us and explained how the project got started.
“It was interesting because it was at pretty much the same time that Erik came to me and Fred came to me. Actually Erik came to me because we had some interaction in the past and had known each other for a number of years. He enjoyed talking about different things with me and having my views and I remember he said, ‘Francois, have you considered electric motorcycles?’ ”
This was back in 2017, but at the time Terny didn’t have much experience in the segment and was hesitant to get involved in an industry he didn’t know. According to Terny, Buell quickly assuaged those fears.
“At Harley he (Buell) was in charge of a study group about the possibilities of electric and how electric is going to change motorcycling. And he had also done some research on urban dedicated electric commuter-type vehicles in Asia when he was partnering with Hero during the EBR years. So he had a number of very interesting ideas on the subject.
“I was honored. For me Erik is a great guy, an amazing guy, both on the professional side and the personal side. I’ve always had really good interactions with him and respect him tremendously.
“And then at pretty much the same time a longtime friend, Fred Vasseur, came to me and asked to brainstorm about all the technology and knowledge and the patents that had developed for e-racing, to explore other avenues for the technology and the knowledge that he had after being a successful racing entrepreneur for many years.
“He said, ‘I know a lot about racing for sure, but not everything else.’ Not being into industrial companies and whatever else, he wanted to know if I was interested. And basically right away I said if I were to bring Erik to the table to do some electric two-wheeler, you’d be the person.”
So from there the three men got together and immediately Fred and Erik hit it off according to Terny, owing in large part to the fact that both men are insatiable engineers with years of experience in racing.
“There was an instantaneous mutual respect,” Terny continued. “And I was like, ‘wow,’ I was in the middle of that and thought it was really cool.”
Despite the long history in racing for both Vasseur and Buell, the conceptual starting point for Fuell had nothing to do with performance machines or sportbikes whatsoever. Rather, the team agreed that exploring more approachable applications, places where an electric bike has a real chance to compete in the market, would be the way to go.
“So basically from the outset we said alright if we’re going to do something together with electric two-wheelers it’s going to be an urban vehicle to address the fundamental congestion, noise, pollution issues in the city centers. It’s a rational thought to start doing this rather than saying that we’re racers and we’ve got great brands so we’re going to do a $100,000 superbike, super powerful and fast. No, no, no. From the very beginning they said this is bullshit, this is pie in the sky. We need to do something that has a reality. Reality in terms of usage, reality in terms of cost, reality in terms of design and engineering.”
And that’s where it started. Terny brought on a designer he’d worked with from Russia, Buell brought on a few members from his former EBR team, and they also picked up some experts in e-bicycles from Germany to start building the senior Fuell team. The primary objective was to get people with the knowledge of engineering, design, marketing, and markets together to avoid any unnecessary missteps at the outset.
Having such an experienced team has also allowed Fuell to work relatively fast. The initial brainstorming and team assembly work took four to five months to complete while the process from whiteboard concept drawings to prototype machines has taken just about a year.
Terny also attributes the pace and positive workflow to the clear objectives the team set early on.
“One thing that I think was really great is from the very beginning the entire story was, ‘Hey, let’s make this work,’ not making the traditional mistakes or the obvious mistakes that others do by trying to pretend an electric motorcycle today can replace a gas motorcycle, especially a sportbike. I mean you know, one on one, the internal combustion engine will always win. If you want to cross the US in comfort you need gas and all those things, so that was really interesting that from the very beginning we focused down onto city usage.
“I also must reckon for the American side of the team, it’s something that’s less obvious than if you lived in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Milan, Rome where the cities are more congested and polluted. I mean it’s horrible. If you live in Wisconsin, obviously it’s a different story. But they know and have a broader view of where the different markets are and what is needed in those different cities. Basically it’s more about finding a solution to a problem and thinking about the evolution of the two-wheeler and how the younger generation are going to look at it, and what they would expect.”
That has led the folks at Fuell to not imagine themselves as a strict motorcycle-only brand, but a more all-encompassing urban mobility company. The release of the Fluid bicycle alongside the Flow is obvious evidence of that, but it also comes from the variety of voices in senior management.
“A guy like Fred, he’s not a motorcycle guy, he’s a racing guy,” explains Terny. “The head of a Formula 1 team and a high-profile guy, but he’s not a motorcycle guy. It was about mobility and very early on in the discussion Fred was sitting in the meeting and says, ‘Hey, you guys know so much about motorcycles and that’s fine, but I love bicycling. I bought myself and my wife and my kids electrical bicycles.’ He lives in the suburbs of Paris and to go get the bread it’s a couple of miles and he’s not taking a car, he’s taking the electric bike. And we’re like, ‘Yeah, absolutely, you’re right,’ because there are bike guys and motorcycle guys, [they’re] different populations, and we should be talking to both.”
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At the bottom of it all is the fact that already, Fuell has a well-functioning, enthusiastic, and experienced team. It’s a good foot to start on.
“After a year of work with those guys what I can say is I’m really proud and honored to work with a guy like Erik and the team and the other guys. We’ve assembled a very senior team, and these guys aren’t just experienced but they’re simple, straightforward and honest. They’re the people you’d dream to be working with. I’m not surprised because I knew they were like this, but it’s still really cool.”
In the next installment, we’ll take a closer look at the Flow itself. The process of design that brought the machine to reality, some of the technical aspects riders can look forward to when the bike is launched, and how riders will be able to get ahold of a Fluid or Flow for themselves.