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Fuell from Buell : Never Say Die

A life-long innovator, Erik Buell has never been one to simply roll over and play dead. Despite derailments, the man behind the brand is back in business, and the result is electric – enter Fuell.

Erik Buell’s passion for motorcycles knows no bounds and his history in the industry is by now an oft-repeated tale in the halls of motorcycle lore. First it was building Buells powered by a Harley-Davidson mill for an AMA racing effort back in the early 1980s. 

In need of R&D money he sold 49 per cent of the company to Harley-Davidson in 1993 before the Buell Motorcycles brand fell under the complete ownership of Harley-Davidson in 2003. 

There was a lot of development in the ensuing years as Buell bikes evolved from Sportster power to liquid-cooled Rotax engines while the range expanded from a couple models to sport touring machines, street-fighters, adventure bikes and intensely focused sportbikes. 

But the timing was off by perhaps about a decade. As the cruiser wave rode its peak, Harley-Davidson shuttered the Buell brands in 2009 amid the great recession of that era. 

It was tough to justify an expensive niche line while  cruisers still dominated the market amid signs that things were about to get worse. 

But Erik Buell soldiered on trying to make a go of it as an independent with Erik Buell Racing in a challenging industry at a challenging time. 

Buell machines in the late stages of Harley ownership became more focused and lacking in compromise as the company attempted to build sharply defined sportbikes pushing their place to the very thin edge of the wedge. Buell always seemed to be trying to improve, if not reinvent, the motorcycle and that may have been part of the problem. It was a tough sell when the market, at the time, was screaming for more and bigger and plusher cruisers of the traditional variety.

Erik Buell has long been considered “innovative” and that characteristic drove many unique features including oil in the swingarm, fuel in the frame, perimeter brakes and mass centralization. Some of these innovations did indeed move to the mainstream after Buell introduced them so in many cases the company was on to something.

In spite of all that unfortunate history, time may now have swung around in Erik Buell’s favour and his new venture with a European consortium of industrialists. The company is Fuell, a sadly confusing label, and the corporate goal is to build a modestly priced, entry level electric motorcycle to accompany an existing electric bicycle. Erik Buell always thought outside the box so perhaps this is what the electric motorcycle business needs more of. There isn’t a true definition of what an electric bike should be, so pushing the boundaries may face less resistance.  

The first true electric motorcycle offering is the Fuell Flow, powered by a proprietary 35-kw (or 48-hp) electric motor housed in the rear wheel which produces a factory-spec 553 foot-pounds torque, clocks zero to 100 kmh in 2.7 seconds and yields an urban range of 240 kilometres per charge. The recharge time is 10 hours on a normal home outlet or 30 minutes on a fast charging system. Safety features include traction control, collision warning devices, blind side detection and linked ABS. Fuell is taking preorders: $10,995US for the 11-kW version and $11,995US for the 35-kW bike. The scheduled arrival date is late 2020.

studio mock of bells Fuell electric motorcycle

There is a lesson here regarding Erik Buell, the bikes he once built for Harley-Davidson and the electric bike he is now cooperating on at Fuell. Considering that Harley-Davidson is planning on following the path of past Buells like the Ulysses and Lightning and a series of electric motorcycles commencing with the LiveWire the lesson to be learned likely has something to do with hindsight being 20-20.

• Canadian Biker Issue #343


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