I’m on a dirtbike, tearing over a pasture road in the Blackland Prairie southeast of Austin, Texas, kicking up a cloud of dust. There are several remarkable things here. One, I’m confidently riding a motorcycle on a loose surface — something I have zero experience with. Two, this machine can barely be heard a hundred yards away, unlike the dirtbikes that fill the air with rips and snarls for miles across rural America. That’s because this one is electric.
The exceptionally fun bike, called the “Grunt,” is the debut product from the Texas startup Volcon, and is unlike anything on the market right now. The $7,995, battery-powered Grunt isn’t road legal. It rides on custom-made, soft, oversized tires, and is made to take on tough, hilly terrain by backcountry adventurers of all stripes: hunters, fishermen, ranchers, farmers … and Instagrammers, of course. Volcon says that nearly 50 percent of its close-to-1,000 orders are from buyers with no riding experience.
That makes sense. Riding the Grunt is exceptionally easy. There’s no clutch pedal, no gearing to worry about, and no footbrake, either. The brakes are on the handlebars, like a mountain bike; your feet just rest on the pegs when they’re not reaching out for balance during a turn. Its throttle is controlled by rolling your right wrist, like a motorcycle or scooter.
Three drive modes are available on the fly. “Low” mode allowes you to creep up a steep incline without getting into a “whiskey throttle” scenario, where you would inadvertently unleash too much of the bike’s 75 lb.-ft of torque. “Explore” mode remaps the throttle for quicker acceleration and higher speeds, and “Sport” is more reactive still, topping out at 40 miles per hour. Using two swappable 60 volt, 26-lb batteries, the Grunt hits a range of about 75 miles, according to its maker, aided by the use of its regenerative brakes.
The 330-pound Grunt has a long wheelbase and a low center of gravity, so it feels stable even when taking on uneven terrain. An inverted front fork suspension sucks up bumps, so its ride is reliably soft. Take a short ride on it and you can imagine going alarmingly far into the backcountry. You’d better pack a lunch.
Tons of accessories are planned, including a rack for coolers, bales of hay, guns or fishing poles, a sport rack for surfboards, and a trailer hitch for towing up to 750 pounds of gear. There’s also a solar array in the works, which could charge a single battery in four hours. (Plugged into a standard outlet, a battery charges up in two and a half.)
The Grunt’s high tech bent doesn’t end with its electric powertrain. There’s a small digital readout that covers speed and battery life, but your phone can be used as a display, via a magnetic mount, where it can show maps and more in-depth mechanical details.
Volcon’s is a cool Texas technology story that you likely haven’t heard about. Their debut on the stock market earlier this month was overshadowed by the news one day later that Elon Musk will move Tesla’s headquarters to Austin. The startup, founded in 2020, assembles the Grunt in Round Rock, Texas, and a quarter of its parts are being sourced in state. According to Volcon CEO Jordan Davis, the firm will double its number of employees within a year, and will be able to produce up to 800 of the bikes a month.
The company’s plans include UTVs called the Stag and the Beast, which should join a white hot, $5.9 billion market with manufacturers like Polaris and BRP. In an outdoor-crazed COVID landscape, customers are waiting for months to get their hands on a machine.
Davis says that the goal isn’t just to become the electric player in the market. “We want to get to a place where we can say that we make the highest quality, best off-road vehicles — they just happen to be electric.”
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