In the previous installment of our profile on urban mobility company Fuell, we got the backstory on how the company came to be from CEO Francois-Xavier Terny. Now, we turn to the new electric motorcycle itself, the Flow, which will mark one of two brand-new models from the brand-new company.
The Flow was never intended to be a high-performance electric motorcycle or race-capable machine. From the outset, founders Erik Buell, Fred Vasseur, and Terny agreed that a more sensible and successful plan would be to create electric vehicles that met the needs of city-dwellers, commuters, those faced with extreme urban congestion. This is why Fuell simultaneously announced an electric bicycle, the Fluid, alongside the Flow. It’s about creating a company that provides a wide range of mobility solutions that tap into the sustainability zeitgeist of the moment while accessing a variety of markets worldwide.
“What we’re trying to express in an understandable way is freedom,” Terny explains. “Discovering the city, getting something that is going to move you around you’ll feel good about it. It’s an emotion we want to put into the machine instead of saying, ‘Hey here’s a new machine, we don’t know what they’ll be worth or how you’re going to use them, but here they are.’ ”
Understandably, Buell played a huge role in the engineering design of the Flow, drafting the earliest sketches of what a machine like this could be down to the mechanical function and design of the hub motor. According to Terny, there was never an inkling to create an electrified EBR or Buell-brand bike. This was all about the new and different; a purposeful design from the ground up.
“The initial brainstorm with Erik and the engineering team was about dimensions that would be constant. Things like the volume of the battery, the wheelbase and frame, the geometry, ergonomics.
“I worked with the designer and told him to first ignore the constants and show me some ideas. We talked about design direction in terms of modern, almost looking futuristic, in the sense that it should be very polished with flush surfaces because that’s the way new objects are. And so we started with a few conceptual designs which we shared with the team and once we had agreement on the overall design direction, that’s when we actually said to the designer, ‘Alright, same spirit but you’ve got to put all those constraints into the design so you have a conceptual design that includes some engineering feasibility items.’ ”
This led to a lot of back and forth between the mechanical engineering team led by Buell and the designer in Russia, but the objective to create a visually striking machine that was also reliable and easy to manufacture kept the project moving ahead at a remarkable pace. As we mentioned in the previous installment, it took just about one year from concept drawing to physical prototype.
“What is amazing about Erik is that we don’t lose any time. There’s such a wealth of experience and knowledge that they know where to go, how to go, and what will work, what won’t work. We knew from the onset for both products (Fluid and Flow) what we needed to do and get as far as parts and suppliers and levels of engineering and technical choices so we get both reliability and low cost. Which you know is key in addressing the market.
“And that is, I think, a competitive advantage. A double competitive advantage. It’s a competitive advantage compared to young, talented kids just out of college. They have amazing ideas but you can’t replace 40 years of engineering experience. And the other competitive advantage is that you have Erik Buell and three other guys in a room, with like tons of computers and a workshop next door and you say Erik, just do it, and the competitive advantage is there’s no internal politics. He’s not at Harley, Yamaha, or KTM. We need something done, you just do it. You have an idea, just draw it and your team is a yard away from your desk. These are two aspects of things that made us work on an incredibly low budget and with incredible speed.”
And without the need for things like fuel systems, transmission, or traditional drive systems, Buell and the design team were able to use three times fewer parts to build the Flow than the last motorcycle produced by EBR. Terny also explains that Fuell has its assembly process established and stations in place and that it will take 40 percent less effort to produce the Flow than the 1190RS.
As for the full specs of the Flow, we’ll have to wait until the prototype is officially launched later this year. But Terny did talk a bit about the battery setup and hub motor.
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“On the battery, there is no invention in battery in the sense that everybody uses a stack of cells coming from very large producers. There are four major cell manufacturers and a standard set by the industry. So you decide on a cell model and a capacity. Then the arrangement of the cells, the way they’re linked, and the electronics put on it is completely bespoke. There’s no magic in the battery.
“From the raw material we have our own design for stacking, linking, and all the electronics around it. We work with a combination of three suppliers that each have a specialty.
“The wheel motor is a different thing. Erik is at the forefront of that; it’s his pet project and he’s so excited about that. It’s about creating a powerful yet very light wheel motor that will address the issues of weight, torsion, and suspension. Fundamentally, one of the reasons for the wheel motor is that Erik has thought a lot about the wheel motor invention. The problem with the wheel motor is that it’s super heavy usually, so it can imbalance the riding of the motorcycle. Our hub motor has an incredible weight-to-power ratio.”
This also opens up the storage capacity of the Flow, which Terny says offers 13 gallons of space. That’s enough room to fit a computer bag and full-face helmet with room to spare.
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Once the final details are confirmed and the prototype ready for production, Fuell plans at the moment to go direct to consumer. That’s a fairly common way to go with the Fluid (e-bicycle) but will present some challenges for the flow. Ensuring that legal aspects for each market are abided by, and that channels are established to respond to customer needs promptly and effectively.
“The idea in today’s society is that the manufacturer is in direct contact with the customer. No more excuses. If something doesn’t go the way you want with your iPhone, you call Apple, for example. We have a product that’s going to be reliable and requires very low maintenance and we have to have a direct link to the customer and bank on our responsibility to be extremely quick to answer to the customer. At the same time it’s a physical product and needs physical relay. So in the major cities we’re targeting, there may be partners that can take care of the basic maintenance that would happen on the Fluid and the Flow.”
It’s still a fledgling endeavor at the moment, with the full reveal of the Flow and Fluid scheduled for April 23 of this year. We’ll be covering the company’s progress as new details are revealed, so stay tuned.