For me, getting to RevZilla HQ by road is a 25-minute crawl from West Philly to the Navy Yard on the south side of the city. I could be in a Lamborghini Countach and I wouldn’t enjoy it. That might be a lie. Anyway, driving or riding that route is nothing exciting.
Commuter Andy is happiest on a bicycle. If I pedal, I can take bike paths instead of just city streets and my trip to work is about 10 miles one way. It’s slower, but the exercise and views are completely worth it. So even though I spend my whole day doing motorcycle stuff, I’m convinced my thrashed 1994 Schwinn Traveler is the best way to the office. Or, it was. “Now, this is a story all about how/My life got flipped-turned upside down…”
A few months ago, I wrote a story about Fuell, an electric mobility company cofounded by Erik Buell. Fuell’s Indiegogo campaign had exceeded its funding goals many times over, and that caught my attention, especially with Buell’s connection to the world of moto. After the article ran, Fuell got in touch and asked if we’d like to test one of their demo bikes for a few weeks.
Uh, yes, please.
Not long after, I arrived at the office to find a sleek grey e-bike waiting for me. The Flluid comes in two variants for America: the Flluid-1 (20 mph) and the Flluid-1S (28 mph). My test unit was a 1S, and I’d opt for the same model if I were buying one.
I know, this isn't a motorcycle, and I’m not sorry. Modern e-bikes can be a tempting alternative to small motorcycles, scooters, and mopeds, especially in urban environments. And this particular example has Buell in its DNA. So, as a bicyclist and motorcyclist, I had to know what the Flluid was all about. I put hundreds of miles on it over the next month, and let’s just say I didn’t want to give it back.
Flluid or Fluid? Is Editor Lance doing his job?
Fuell recently notified us that the name of their e-bike has changed slightly, from Fluid to Flluid. Here’s their explanation from the updates section of their Indiegogo:
“Two LL's for more FUELL: No, it is not a typo, we changed the spelling of "FLLUID" because two LLs are better than one. Don't worry, we gave you the second L for free ;)
Our unique e-bike deserved a name that stands out and it's as unique and as recognizable as the e-bike itself. So here comes the second L in FLLUID.”
According to their FAQ section, an update to their website later this month will show the new name across the board. Now back to the review.
Fuell Flluid-1S: What you need to know
This electric bicycle is the first vehicle to come from Fuell. Their next effort will be a small electric motorcycle called the Flow. The Flluid is an aluminum-framed e-bike that offers pedal assist for up to 125 miles on the lowest of five power settings. You can crank up the assist, but range drops off rather quickly. The motor gets power from a pair of large batteries that lock into the frame. (The bike can run on only one battery, and a lockable storage cover re-purposes the unused space where the second would sit.)
Power up the bike, hop on, and the Flluid uses torque sensors in the cranks to determine how hard you’re pedaling. The motor then gives a boost that scales up as you put more effort in. The assist on the Flluid-1S will help you as far as 28 mph, then you’re on your own. Controls on the handlebar allow the rider to make adjustments to the power delivery. You must pedal to go, so there’s no “throttle.”
The display provides a battery indicator, a watt meter, a speedometer, and a few other tools. The wheels are decently large for a smooth ride, and the Flluid does feature front suspension. Overall, the bike prioritizes sleek style, long range, and low maintenance.
Crash-course on e-bikes: You’ll usually find the motor in the rear hub (hub-drive) or between the cranks (mid-drive). It’s widely agreed that mid-drive is more desirable, so score one for the Flluid. The rest of the drivetrain is pretty unique, so let’s take a look.
First, you’ll notice the Gates belt-drive. (Same Gates that might have made the belt on your Harley-Davidson.) No chain, no mess, no maintenance, no grease on your chinos after pedaling to work. Not that Spurge or I would know anything about wearing chinos to work. Then there’s the Shimano Alfine eight-speed rear hub. Shifting takes place inside the hub, so that’s another low-maintenance item. A quirk: These hubs do not like to shift while under load, which the motor doesn’t help. So pedal, shift, pause your feet for a second, resume pedaling, and it works every time. Once I got the hang of it, I didn’t even think about it.
When the Flluid debuted, mid-drive/belt/hub-shift was uncommon. Since then, I’ve seen a few more manufacturers take a similar approach, and I’m not surprised. The whole package works well together.
As for the other running gear, the test bike featured a nice headlight, an average taillight, a horn, a mirror, aluminum pedals, and a mini front fender. No kooky Buell perimeter brakes here, just a pair of 180 mm discs, gripped by Tektro HD-E 350 hydraulic brakes. These are designed specifically for use with heavy electric bicycles. The Tektros were perfectly capable of managing the additional weight and speed, in my experience. And you could always add bigger brakes if you wanted.
There’s a very substantial kickstand to support the bike’s 69-pound heft. Remember that focus on style, range, and minimal maintenance? All that comes at the expense of some weight. Keep in mind that the Flluid packs two batteries, each of which weighs in at around 6.6 pounds. The frame is monolithic, in a good way. People ogle it. The overall appearance is pretty slick for an e-bike.
For reference, our test Flluid had a size L frame. It wasn’t a bad fit for me (six feet tall), but riders under five feet, nine inches will want to order an M, according to Fuell. Riding position leaned to the sporty side of neutral from the factory. The seat on the test bike was far too aggressive for a commuter, and I’m glad to hear that they’ll be equipping the production bike with a friendlier option. That’ll be more appropriate for most riders.
The wide, flat bar gave good leverage and made the bike feel lighter than it actually was. Now, if this were my personal bike, I’d want a narrower handlebar for threading city streets. Gaps I could shoot on the Schwinn were off-limits with the Fuell’s wider profile. I’m not going to spend any more time on rider contact points, though, since the seat, pedals, and handlebar on any bike can (and should!) be easily adapted to personal preference. Let’s go ride the thing already!
Riding the Flluid-1S
If you can ride a bicycle, you can ride the Fuell Flluid. Power up the bike (press and hold power button by the left grip), select your assist level, and you’re ready to go.
No sooner had I picked up the bike than I was pedaling straight into a thunderstorm. I wasn’t thrilled about that, but I was soon pushing the bike as hard as I could on level five… and loving it. The thing was quick. Not quick enough to get me across Philadelphia before the rain hit, but enough to make my soggy journey fun. Just stomp on those pedals, and the motor kicks in immediately. As a bonus, it makes the kind of sound you’d hope a boosted bike would make: “eeeewwoooooOOOOOOO!” The rain blasted me. I was drunk with power.
Halfway home, I remembered I hadn’t asked about any waterproofing on the Flluid, but I figured there had to be standards for these kinds of things, so I pedaled on. The Flluid didn’t seem to mind the rain at all. Its rider, however, discovered that with the assist turned up, it was all too easy to go 25 mph or faster, and rain really starts to sting the eyes at those speeds. Visibility becomes severely reduced. The bike survived the storm, and I later learned from my contact at Fuell that the bike’s electrical components are rated to at least IP65. Nice!
The Flluid rolls on 27.5-inch wheels, bicycling’s latest obsession, wrapped in Pirelli Cycl-e GT tires. Like the brakes, that rubber is e-bike-specific. I can’t comment on them because our test bike was wearing a set of Schwalbes. But I can tell you that big wheels are nice for commuting through Philly’s lumpy streets, if a bit… mountain-bikey. They’ll hop curbs and cross potholes all day. Very different from my skinny Schwinn, aboard which Rule Number One is, “Don’t hit anything, ever!”
As the Flluid became my daily commuter, I realized that I was shaving 15 minutes off the Schwinn’s time, each way, and I was getting to work almost as quickly as I could via car or motorcycle! I also looked a lot more presentable at the office when pedaling in since I wasn’t working as hard to get there. The Fuell was winning me over.
I was also learning to get the most out of the batteries. Since I had charging at both ends of my ride, I could prioritize speed and crank up the assist. I’d back it down to level three while on the Schuylkill River Trail, since that’s a shared walking and cycling path. I didn’t want to be the jerk flying past strollers at 25 mph. Besides, the trail has some tight corners and not everyone stays in their lanes. Eventually, I settled on level three for most riding.
How fast and for how long?
Those are the questions about anything electric with wheels. On level ground with full assist in eighth gear, the Flluid will do 25 mph easily, 28 with some effort, 30 if you’re pushing it, and 35 if you’re really cranking on it. Numbers higher than that were seen on steep descents, but that’s not really impressive for gravity and a bicycle, is it?
With both batteries topped up, I could get four commutes before I was dangerously low. That’s around 80 miles! Leave the assist maxed out, and that drops to maybe 40 or 50 miles. Again, Fuell says the bike can do 125 miles of assist on the lowest setting, and I’m inclined to believe them. If I had more time with the bike, I’d have tried it myself.
The Flluid runs down one battery, then switches to the second one, so don’t be alarmed if you’re in the red while you still have another battery to go. The indicator jumps back to full when it switches to the second battery.
Charging the batteries
Fuell lets you charge the batteries in the bike, or you can unlock them from the frame and carry them inside to charge. Removable batteries are a huge win. Each battery has to be charged individually, and each bike only comes with one charger. That’s a bit of a miss. You can buy another charger if you’d like to charge two at once. For me, it wasn’t a big issue.
I’d park the Fuell when I got to work, plug in a battery at my desk, and I’d be all topped up by the time I saddled up again at the end of the day. A Fuell Flluid battery can reach 80 percent charge in 2.5 hours, or 100 percent charge in four to five hours. These aren’t the fastest charge times out there, though Fuell claims they went with a 3A charger over a 4A to prolong the lifespan of the 500W batteries. Most stuff on an e-bike is easy enough to fix or replace. Motors, batteries, and electronics? Not always the case. I appreciate the foresight there, since extra batteries are $299 each.
Changes, upgrades, and service
After the couple hundred miles on the bike, I had a short list of changes I’d make to see. Turns out, Fuell was already making adjustments to their production models, and they checked almost every box with the revisions. The final product gets a better fork, a more appropriate seat, and a set of fenders. I’d still like to see a narrower handlebar, but that’s an easy change to make on my own.
All the non-proprietary parts are from brand-name bicycle parts suppliers, so your local bike shop should be able to handle any basic servicing, adjustments, or tuneups.
An unexpected comparison
The more I think about it, the more I could see someone cross-shopping 50 cc scooters with e-bikes like the Flluid-1S. I first saw how similar the two were when my brother wanted to take the Flluid for a spin, and I wanted to go along. I could have taken another bicycle… if I wanted to eat dust. I could have taken a motorcycle and idled along in a low gear. Not ideal. How about that 50 cc scooter in the shed, though? Like the Flluid, it’ll do 25 to 30 mph. Both vehicles carry one rider and prefer quiet roads or short trips across town. And who knew? They went together like Spurgeon and crashing. Our pace was just about the same all afternoon. Racing up a hill for a final challenge, we had to call it a tie.
Pedaling will wear you out eventually, but an e-bike offers a few advantages over a scooter, or even a small motorcycle. An e-bike better than a scooter or a small motorcycle? Isn't that heresy around here?
Hey now, I just said there were a few advantages. Let’s compare a Flluid-1S to a new Honda Metropolitan, a basic 50 cc scooter. Price-wise, the Honda’s got it at $2,499, plus $200 freight and some other miscellaneous charges. Call it $3,000 out the door. The Flluid-1 comes in at $3,895, and the Flluid-1S is $3,995, with $99-$299 shipping. $1,150 is a chunk of change, so what orange-blooded Common Tread reader would pick the e-bike?
It’s all about where you live and how you ride. If I were cross-shopping the two, I’d have to consider the Metropolitan’s insurance, registration, inspections, gas, oil changes, gear, security, and all that other motorcycle stuff we’re constantly buying. That $1,150 difference didn’t last long. Even worse, I’d still be stuck in traffic because scooters have to stay on the road and Pennsylvania doesn’t allow lane splitting. Doh!
Sure, there are expenses for e-bikes, too, like tires and brake pads. There just aren’t many of them. There’s no paperwork, either, no need for a license of any kind, and all the bike really needs is charging. Maybe you juice up the batteries at work for free! You get as much speed as a scooter, but can go wherever bicycles are allowed, so that opens worlds of possibility, like the trail I can take on the way to work. See where I’m going here? For the right person, an e-bike like this could be perfect. It’s all about where you live and how you ride. My commute isn’t your commute, and the things I’m accounting for here in Philadelphia may not apply to your area.
So you’re buying one?
Personally, I think a bike with all this tech and power is a little overkill for my commute. However… I rode every day I had it. I definitely don’t ride the ol’ free Schwinn every day. In all seriousness, motorcycles are my real passion, and if I was looking to spend $4,000 on something with two wheels, it would probably be a little bigger than an e-bike or a Metropolitan!
So it’s back to the Schwinn?
For now, but that’s not how I want this story to end. Back when I still had the Flluid, I took it out for a ride after work just to cruise around. The assist makes riding almost effortless, and it was a nice night, so out I went. While I was riding, I spotted one of those iconic Ikea chairs out by the side of the road for free. You know, the bent wood frame with the cloth stretched over the middle? I finished my ride, picked up the chair, cleaned it, and now I’m sitting in it, writing you this story. As Spurgeon’s so fond of saying, it’s all about getting off the couch and riding whatever you’ve got.
The Fuell Flluid-1S makes it easy put those knuckles in the wind without all the fuss of other two-wheeled vehicles. It isn’t fast compared to the bikes we normally feature here, and it’s not exactly cheap, either. But it’s basically maintenance-free, its range is about as good as the LiveWire’s, and it can beat a car from a dig in city traffic if you're quick with the shifting!
If not for this rad little e-bike, I wouldn't have this sweet chair, I wouldn't have logged all those miles, and I wouldn't have laughed until my chest hurt racing a scooter with my brother. I like things that encourage us to do stuff like that. To have fun and see what's out there. That's not so far from motorcycling, is it?