UBCO, a rising maker of fun and friendly 2-wheel drive electric motorcycles, apparently has a wild side.
The company, currently based in New Zealand, has over 100 dealers world-wide and is currently producing and reliably selling their “2×2” (”Two-By-Two”), a farm, neighborhood and RV-friendly Utility Electric Vehicle, or UVE. It’s a slick, innovative rig, with 1,000-watt electric motors in both wheels, giving it fantastic traction under adverse conditions. It’s also street legal in many places (U.S. included), usually as a motorcycle-endorsement evading moped, since it can’t go faster than 30 miles an hour.
But UBCO’s newest fun machine most certainly can.
It’s called the FRX1, and what exactly it is, besides a ton of fun, isn’t clear at first. The somewhat menacing machine looks like a very slim electric dirt motorcycle, but then you quickly notice: It has pedals.
When you look at UBCO’s future plans, including a new round of funding to the tune of over $3 million, the radical FRX1 comes a bit more into focus. UBCO’s American arm is headquartered in bucolic Eugene, Oregon, which seems to be a hotbed of electric vehicle efforts these days. There’s also a lot of bicycling going on there.
Forbes was the first media outlet to ride an UBCO FRX1, of which there are currently two prototypes.
Ethan Ralston, President and CEO of UBCO’s U.S. market efforts, told Forbes that technically, they didn’t come up with the FRX1, it was already in development by Lithuanian company Neematic, but Ralston said it seemed like a good fit for UBCO as they begin to eye future product plans beyond the popular 2×2. CEO Tim Allan traveled to Vilnius, Lithuania, to personally take it for a spin and returned duly impressed.
Ralston said UBCO is now in the process of acquiring Neematic and bringing the FRX1 to market, all while expanding UBCO’s reach in European markets through Neematic’s already established presence. “They came up with the design and reached out to us looking for a partner to get it into production,” Ralston said. He added that UBCO’s familiarity with the steps needed to bring the original 2×2 machine to scale production and market standardizations is helping speed up the process for the FRX1.
But the FRX1 does exist in a sort of odd space in the electric vehicle market. For an electric bicycle, it’s hugely powerful – far beyond the legal limits in most countries. The 15,000-watt mid-frame mounted electric motor is about 30 times more powerful than the typical 500-watt motor found in many current electric bikes you see on the street today. It makes about 20 horsepower and can propel the 115-pound bike and rider to 50 miles an hour. Quickly.
A 2.2kWh battery is slung under the Ducati-esque tubular space frame (painted in trademark UBCO white), and for now, the seat is an off-the-shelf mountain bike saddle. A longer, more dirt-bike-style perch is in the planning stages. Ralston says the battery is good for 62 miles of range and recharges in a few of hours. At present, the FRX1 can only legally be ridden off-road.
Forbes rode the FRX1 in full-on high-power-only mode, and if you’ve ever ridden a “freeride” mountain bike with long-travel suspension down a steep hill or mountain course, you will have some idea of the experience. Except, the FRX1 can also go up the hill at a ferocious clip as well.
The FRX1 truly feels like a bicycle while you’re riding it, with brakes set up like a bicycle (rather than a motorcycle), yet it has a standard twistgrip throttle… like a motorcycle. Again, it’s a prototype, but Ralston said production machines would hew close to the current design. A clean but somewhat complicated series of chains and sprockets let riders choose either form of motive power, so you should be able to ride it in electric bike mode, with the motor assisting while you pedal, or just pedal it outright, like a bicycle, albeit a fairly heavy one. For that, there’s an enclosed nine-speed gearbox – for the pedals. The motor uses a direct chain drive to the rear wheel.
Fortunately, the FRX1’s premium hydraulic disc brakes, stiff frame, motorcycle-style tires and long-travel suspension are up to task when speeds get a bit looney (and they quickly can), and I never felt out of control while blasting around on the gravel roads and forest floor at UBCO’s secret testing location. Fifty miles an hour on a bicycle under its own power is an amazing experience, even for this somewhat jaded owner of numerous performance-oriented motorcycles capable of three times that speed. The ultra-slim profile, quiet operation and twitch-fast response of the FRX1 make for an exciting, nearly transparent riding experience, and could open up a whole new category of riding, although powered mountain bikes with any sort or electric motorvation have become a point of controversy.
How the FRX1 performs on actual mountain bike trails is another question, but Ralston is confident, and closer to product launch, he is hoping to unleash the bikes on the legendary forested singletrack surrounding the Oregon mountain town of Oakridge, which is recognized as an international mountain biking mecca. He also said that a street-legal kit might also happen at some point in the future, but for now, the FRX1 is focused solely on off-pavement riding.
Current pricing for the upcoming FRX1 is $8,999, which is expensive to be sure but not out of the ordinary for specialty bikes with this kind of power. Ralston said they hope to be selling units come June of 2020. Other bikes in the mix include Stealth’s $12,000 B-52 (from Australia), and Cake with their Kalk& electric bike, which is street legal and goes for $14,000. And there are more competitors popping up with similar machines while officials wrangle over what can be ridden and where.
UBCO could be curling into the wave of electric mobility at just the right time, and they have several new products in the pipeline for 2020 besides the FRX1, including a more adventuresome off-road-focused version of the 2×2, and a stripped-down, non-street legal version aimed more at agriculture and industrial use. Since their products use big (and often removeable) batteries, portable power solutions are in the mix as well, including the capability to run electric tools and other gear off the vehicle batteries using a built-in or snap-on optional 120-volt power inverter. An electric 4WD side-by-side (yes, the “4×4”), is also in development.
UBCO has also secured additional financing to move ahead with their product expansion plans. Ralston told Forbes the company has received $2.1 million from venture capital fund GD1, and an additional $1.56 million USD ($2.48 million NZD) from New Zealand crowdfunding site Snowball Effect. The funding will also consolidate UBCO’s U.S. LLC operations into the main corporation. “UBCO now has three key markets segments globally: recreation and adventure; urban and metropolitan; agriculture and farming; selling to a network of more than 100 UBCO-approved dealers,” UBCO CEO Timothy Allan said in a press release.
As for that good timing aspect, Ralston said that a few weeks back at the most recent AIMExpo, the premiere motorcycle/motorsports event in the United States, there were nearly a dozen vendors showing electric vehicles, including Harley-Davidson with their LiveWire bike and Zero with their range of electric road-going offerings. There was even an indoor riding track for electric bikes at the show, because EVs can do that.
Ralston said that last year, it was just UBCO and a few other small players. “Now, dealers are coming up to talking about starting an “electric strategy,” he said. What a difference a year makes. That and 15,000 watts of power. Look for a full Forbes ride review of the FRX1 later this year.