An EV startup based in Texas has beat the big bike makers to the American market with an electric motorcycle that uses swappable batteries. Volcon’s all-terrain electric bike, the Grunt, is not vaporware; it’s not a concept. It’s an EV that’s being delivered to buyers right now, and it’s a fine first step.
That said, the Grunt is not street legal; it’s an off-road only bike. Volcon called it a utility vehicle during my walk-through. It’s a work bike, like a short Suzuki Trojan that runs on electricity. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun on this work bike, which rides like a Honda Grom with gobs of torque and big knobby tires.
(Full disclosure: Volcon invited me to Austin to test the Grunt on a farm outside city limits. The company flew me out, paid for my hotel, and fed me. I was given permission to ride for as long as I could stand the muggy morning. My ride lasted through the afternoon, when it was time to recharge. Not the bike but the rider, who runs on barbecue and Topo-Chico.)
The Grunt I rode had UTV tires from Kenda, but Volcon says it developed a custom tire for production models. These tires will be six-ply rubber, and will be sized at 26x8x12 inches. The size means the tires act like passive suspension on the trail. Combined with the rear coil spring and front inverted forks, the knobbies help the Grunt float over rough terrain.
The Grunt’s traction is also a product of its 25kW electric motor, tuned to deliver up to 75 lb-ft of torque, and max speed is 40 miles per hour. Torque delivery depends on which mode you choose, with the option to switch between Stroll, Explore, and Sport. When you start the bike, you have to press and hold a mode button before rolling away. A digital gauge tells you what mode you’re in and how fast you’re going. It looked like an OLED screen combined with a rotary controller in a single housing.
Volcon added the mode failsafe because, when idle, the Grunt is silent, making it too easy to have an accident. It’s one more step to operate the bike, yes, but the learning curve is gentle. The Grunt is as easy to ride as a mountain bike, and because there’s no clutch or gears to cycle through, the handlebar levers operate the front and rear brakes.
It took me a second to get used to that, but the Grunt is so friendly that adjusting takes just a short lap. The bike’s saddle is narrow but comfortable, and it’s 32 inches tall, which is fine even for a short rider like me. The ease of use is also due to the Grunt’s 330-pound weight. Volcon claims the mass is low-slung, and that feels right when you ride the Grunt, which feels flickable but planted.
The Grunt has a payload capacity of 400 pounds, and it’ll tow up to 750 pounds. Again, this is a work bike, and it can be outfitted for different tasks with a trailer hitch and cargo rack. Towing and heavier payloads will, however, affect the range, which maxes out at 75 miles. That sounds generous, but it’s also based on two batteries packs, while the Grunt comes standard with one. So slash that range by about half unless you plan on adding a second battery to your bike.
This highlights my only frustration with swappable batteries. Manufacturers will cite max ranges based on modular batteries that will always cost more than the base price. The Grunt’s range already accounts for regenerative braking, which comes from the twin-piston front and single-piston rear disc brakes. There’s no ABS on the Grunt.
Volcon calls the Grunt’s frame an “Exo-Arch”, as in an arched exoskeleton for rigidity, and initially, I wasn’t a huge fan of the looks. The Grunt seemed lost between wanting to look like a Honda Grom and a Ducati Monster, without capturing the charm of either. I wasn’t a fan at first, and I probably wouldn’t be if I hadn’t low-sided trying to bomb through the trail.
Not long into my test ride, the muddy ruts got the better of me. Of course, it being my first time there, I let off and tried braking instead of throttling out. The Grunt bucked me away, and we went down at a decent clip. I might have been hurt beyond scrapes and bruises, but the Grunt broke my fall. I thought, “Oh, well! Ride’s over!”
I was convinced I had damaged the bike. Maybe twisted a bar, bent a peg or damaged the battery packs under me. Nope. Nothing. The Grunt had no damage. The only evidence of my fall was a dirty frame, where mud caked under the bike. That ugly frame works! It absorbed the impact, just like the designers intended. I picked up the Grunt, grinning stupidly.
Not simply because I hadn’t damaged it but because I could keep riding. I jumped back on and started her up. I held the button to set the mode to Explore and caught up to my riding buddy, which required getting close to top speed.
I know 40 MPH doesn’t sound like a lot but riding off-road on the Grunt, you feel like you’re flying. You sound like you’re flying! The Grunt made a low, steady zoom that took on a higher pitch as it gathered speed. It sounds almost like Kirk riding through Iowa.
We explored the rest of the farm trails, racing over dirt roads that went far enough for us to go WOT. On these stretches, I could change the mode on the fly. Going from Stroll to Sport is jarring. The bike is snappy when set to Explore mode, but it surges in Sport. I toggled to Explore during rough sections because I was afraid if left in Sport, the Grunt would shoot out from under me.
The deep trails at the farm we rode were more or less carved out for two-stroke dirt bikes. There were sections of ruts and drops, with curves cutting into these. There were plenty of slopes for us to throttle up. It’s a decent mix of terrain, and I didn’t expect that kind of a ride. I thought we’d stick to the flat, wider dirt roads. The easy roads. The typical roads you see on a farm, but the Grunt was happy over most trails. When you combine the Grunt’s low saddle, light weight and beefy tires with its torque, you get a capable and fun bike.
My criticisms are minor. There’s chatter from the front plastic fender, which was initially distracting on the trail. I stopped worrying about the noise as I eased into the ride and gradually picked up speed. I could hear it throughout the day, but I stopped thinking about it. I hope Volcon can eliminate the chatter altogether.
The finish of the materials is also not premium. The bike’s plastics are durable, but don’t look or feel nice. The digital gauge is the exception; the controls and the screen do feel and look great. The frame looks OK, if boring. But the bike’s fit is better than I’ve seen on ones from companies like Hyosung or CSG.
When we first saw the Grunt, it surprised us with its $5,995 price. That was for the 2021 model. Volcon added a couple of grand to the price of the ’22 Grunt, which will now cost $7,995. That’s a lot more considering that the Grunt’s estimated specs went down in key places. Range dropped from 100 to 75 miles, and top speed decreased from 60 to 40 miles per hour.
Those were introductory figures, but range going down and price going up isn’t great! I’m unsure this bike is the bargain it seemed like at first. But the Grunt’s price is the result of a few of things, such as its production being based in the U.S. and its use of new(ish) tech. I may not like the price, but I do like the bike!
This is an e-moto with what seems like a narrow set of uses, but its appeal is broad. The Grunt would be just as fun to bomb around Big Bend or South Padre, as it is useful on a farm in Hill Country. Take it hunting with a spare battery and a rifle strapped to the rack. Throw it in the back of a truck, and go camping. As long as you’re not on public roads, you’re good. The fact that it’s an electric motorcycle with batteries you can carry is almost besides the point.