“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” - John F. Kennedy
We’ve all heard it for some time… Electric is the future. Well, we are not quite there yet but Stark Future wants to be the tip of that spear. With two-strokes changing the face of motocross in the early 70’s and four-strokes doing the same thing in the early 2000’s, motocross is ever changing. In the eternal quest for the best bike possible, OEMs are constantly testing and developing new systems and technologies and each year’s models are another opportunity to see something completely different.
Stark Future (Stark meaning ‘Strong’ in Swedish) has seemingly beat the established OEMs to the punch with the introduction of the Stark Varg (Varg meaning ‘Wolf’), a fully electric motocross race bike designed from the ground up by the Stark team to be, in their own words, “an electric motocross bike to outperform all other combustion-engined MX motorcycles on the market.”
That is a pretty big goal but before anyone can outperform anyone else, a bike has to exist. When we first heard about the Stark Varg, there were some bold promises that seemed too good to be true. A full-size electric motocross bike that is more powerful than any other production mx’er, about the same weight and about the same price? Plus a smartphone as the dash, the lightest frame on the market, steel footpegs that are lighter than titanium and stronger than other steel pegs, among other claims. Along with these, we saw a few photos but as we all know, photos aren’t reality and we’ve been waiting to see, and ride, a Varg in the flesh.
And we got that chance…
Off To Barcelona
Members of the motorcycle media are spoiled rotten, us included. Any moto journalist that says otherwise is lying. Yes, bike launches are a lot of work and stress. We have to make sure we get all the photos and videos and interviews and assets and all the stuff we need to do our job, but on the other hand, we get to go to Barcelona to ride a dirt bike!
OEMs like to make sure we are in nice hotels, have nice food, and show us a good time. Stark was no different. And we bring this up just to say that this intro was on par, if not a bit fancier, than other bike intros to show that Stark isn’t, or at least doesn’t seem to be, a smoke-and-mirrors operation.
Something we’d like to mention in full transparency, and in effort to say that while there was a lot of kool aid offered, we can maintain a neutral, journalistic perspective, is that our original trip to Spain was called off just hours before we were to board our flight. We got news that one of the test bikes had a speed controller issue and in an effort to fully understand the problem, Stark “grounded” all their machines for a couple days. For us, that meant grabbing our bags off the plane and heading back home from LAX. After a phone call to Delta, we had new flights for the following week.
The track in Spain was a converted golf course with a flowing layout and natural elevation changes. As far as track condition goes, it was pretty standard for European standards, but not really what we are used to here in the US. It was extremely hard-pack and covered in marbley, loose chunks. Traction was hard to come by, as were ruts and moisture of any kind.
With the scene set, Stark started the day by mic’ing us up right from the word go. That way, pretty much all of our questions and interactions with the staff would be recorded. Getting to the actual track-side pit area, there were tons of staff; three staff members per bike with five bikes, plus a video person for each rider, photo guys, and coordinators. It was quite the production.
We got a walk around of the machine where we learned all the details about the bike. The best way to describe the design philosophy of the Stark Varg is, since they were creating a bike from the wheels up, they saw fit to address some of the smaller ‘issues’ that motocross bikes have had since the beginning. These are things that have nothing to do with the bike being electric, just things that were designed with purpose.
The first example is the chain adjuster, which has been the same on all OEM bikes forever. On the Varg, it has a one-screw, click-type mechanism that allows you to count how many clicks of adjustment you need on each side to make sure both sides of the axle are at exactly the same length. Another example is the footpegs, which are steel, but designed in such a way that they are lighter and stronger than Ti footpegs. The other part of their design is how they’re mounted, which is a one-bolt system with no cotter pin or the need to compress the spring as you put it on.
The frame is a semi-open chromoly design that uses the battery pack and motor as structural components. The seat and body work can be removed all together, which is only really necessary for a deep clean (no airbox, ecu, or anything else to access under the seat). There’s a small amount of oil in the transfer case which needs to be changed at 500 hours… So pretty much never.
The display for the bike is a military grade android smartphone. You can use the phone as an actual phone if you slide in a SIM card, but if you want to just use it as a dash, it can just live on the bike. It is wirelessly charged from the bike’s battery and if it ever gets low on charge while the bike is off, it will wake up the battery and charge automatically. It shouldn’t be something that you ever have to worry about charging or maintaining on its own.
They’ve also designed their own wheels that use KTM specs, if you want to buy a replacement wheelset this will give you an idea what fits. Stark also makes its own triple clamps - billet aluminum and split design. The swingarm (and frame for that matter) were developed with strain-gages in real world testing as well as computer modeling to determine the shape and dimensions. The linkage is mounted through the swingarm rather than below it, increasing some of the ground clearance in that area (log hoppers everywhere rejoice). There’s one radiator under the seat rather than two up front and it’s a closed system, so it should never need to be changed or maintained.
Some of the non-Stark pieces of the bike are KYB suspension (essentially the YZ spec with different valveing), Brembo brakes, Galfer rotors, DID chain, Renthal bars, and Pirelli tires. Pretty much everything else on the bike is ‘stock.’
Riding The Lightning
When it came time to actually swing a leg over the Varg, unfortunately, things were very controlled. With most bike intros, we are given the bike and pretty much free reign for the day. Not so with the Varg. We were given a strict schedule of riding only four laps at a time. Luckily, the lap times were over two minutes. Between the sessions, the engineers and mechanics checked for error codes and plugged the bike in. To be fair, it makes sense to err on the cautious side when introducing an all-new, never-before-ridden motorcycle… But to us editors, it did put us in the mindset that things aren’t 100% finished. Which they aren’t.
What the smartphone dash actually showed us isn’t what Varg owners will see. To us, it was letters and numbers on a white screen. The production rider interface will be completely different and it is where you’ll be able to not only see bike data but where you will be able to make changes to the bike. We had to go through the engineers to make changes to the power, throttle, and engine braking.
The first lap on the Varg, there was a distinct feeling that was very similar to riding a downhill mountain bike for the first time. I had a hard time deciding how to jump the bike. With minimal noise, no vibration, and no gears, it was a bit of a guessing game on how far I would launch off the ground. Also, I didn’t know if it would jump like a two-stroke, or a four-stroke, or neither. To be honest, it was more like a mountain bike because, with little to zero reciprocating mass, ‘moment of inertia’ is extremely low. Changing the bike's attitude in the air is as simple as leaning and the bike moves. More on that later.
The biggest learning curve on the Varg is the no-gears, no-clutch thing. The Stark guys are not wrong when they say that riding a bike without those things is much simpler and allows riders of all levels to ride the Varg… But for established riders who’ve only ever ridden a bike with gears and a clutch, it is a challenge to ditch those factors of manipulating a motocross bike because we’ve all learned how to use them to help us ride. Downshifting before a turn helps slow us down and flicking the clutch coming out lets us blast down the straight. Knowing that a certain jump is a 2nd gear, half throttle, or a 3rd gear 3/4 throttle jump can help us be consistent.
I found that shifting the way I thought about the lack of gears/shifting from “I only have one gear” to “I have infinite gears” was very helpful in riding the bike. Because that is actually true. You are not in one gear. With a whack of the throttle you are running through the RPM and you can think of it as constantly upshifting. On a normal bike, you shift to get the proper ratio of torque to RPM. On the Varg, the torque is always there so you don’t have the sensation that you need to shift.
While riding, not once did my foot reach for the shifter for an upshift. I just gave it throttle and I got more power. More out of muscle memory than anything, I did try to downshift a few times. The next time I went into the pits I asked for more engine braking, which can be as abrupt as slamming on the brakes or can be literally zero like pulling in the clutch (on an ICE bike).
How much power was there? A lot. We were riding the (claimed) 60 HP version of the bike, while an 80 HP version is also offered. At first, it was hard to tell how fast the bike actually was. The reference points we usually use were all missing… Riding a familiar track, jumping jumps we know, riding with other people, etc. But in an unprecedented move Stark brought out a 450 from each OEM for us to ride (minus the yellow one). I hopped on the KTM 450 SX-F and while I was more comfortable jumping the ICE bike, it definitely felt slower.
“How can a 450 feel slow?” I asked myself as I made my way around the track. Back on the Varg, I now had a solid reference of power and could understand how the electric motor made the bike feel so much faster. It is not that there is more overall power, both bikes can go the same speed, but the Varg accelerated up to that speed much faster, without wheel spin. On the 450 or any ICE bike, you are riding the line between traction and acceleration. If you wanted to you could click up to 4th gear, pin the throttle wide open and let the motor catch up. You wouldn’t lose traction but you’d accelerate ‘slowly.’ Or in 1st gear you’d just spin out.
On the Stark, there’s obviously some very complex software giving the power a familiar delivery and giving the rider control over full access to all the torque the bike has at any RPM. The rear wheel will eventually break loose, and if you just go full throttle from a stand still, it will dig holes if you want, just as an ICE bike would. With deliberate, but heavy handed throttle usage, the bike accelerates faster than a 450. It would be even better if we had better traction since the dry, marbly track was lacking in that area.
Since I jumped much more confidently on the 450, it was suggested that I try 90% power and mellow the throttle response a bit to see if I could gain a little more ‘normal’ feeling. In that configuration, the bike wasn’t any slower, but a little bit more controllable and I was able to jump much more confidently.
Overall, with one day on the Varg, I did struggle with getting used to the way the bike made power, but I’m sure two-stroke-only riders had plenty of adjusting to do when they first hopped on a four-stroke.
Again, not to blame the track, but it was difficult to really push the bike on the hard-pack surface. There weren’t really any gnarly chop, holes, or bumps, just mostly hard sections with a few soft, powdery bits. That being said, the suspension worked great as far as I could tell. It was balanced and YZ-ish. I prefer to steer more with the front of the bike and want more of a stinkbug feel than chopper. I raised the fork 2mm in the clamp since it started off flush. I also added more engine braking to make it more ‘four-stroke’ comparable.
With such a radically different chassis than anything else out there, the fact that the fork and shock just felt like a normal bike is very impressive. Other than softening the fork two clicks (mostly looking for more front in traction) and softening the shock LS compression one click, I didn’t make any suspension changes.
As I talked about earlier with jumping the Stark Varg, the bike feels exceedingly light and nimble. Without radiators in the front it is the slimmest full-size moto bike I’ve ridden. And without much rotating mass, initiating a turn is easier than any ICE bike. You are not fighting a gyro effect, which is really only noticeable when it isn’t there. The bike’s handling is in large part to the work that Stark did in finding the optimal center of gravity.
All moto bikes focus on trying to get the best CG (center-of-gravity) feel but all ICE bikes are constrained by specific locations that parts of the bike have to be in. Those constraints aren’t really applicable to an electric bike. Stark analyzed all the rider cockpits and CGs of modern motocross bikes and came up with their own rider triangle and center of gravity that would give the Varg the lowest ‘moment of inertia.’ This means that initiating any change in momentum, whether up/down, side/side, or forward/back takes very little input. In the real world, this makes the Varg feel as light, agile, and flickable as a 125, if not more so.
With less effort needed to turn the bike, the engineers wanted to move the footpegs back a few mms compared to other OEMs because this increases traction. Pro riders often run footpegs that are offset to the rear of the bike because they are strong enough and talented enough to not need the pegs forward to turn the motorcycle. This way you get the best of both worlds - a bike that is very easy to turn and a bike with increased traction.
Brakes - Foot or Hand?
I did both. That is, since there is no clutch, there’s no clutch lever. With no clutch lever, there’s an option to run a rear brake lever on the left side of the handlebar. At first, they asked which I would like to test… A bike with the standard right foot rear brake, or a hand brake. To make a fair comparison to other bikes I opted for the standard foot brake. But at lunch I asked if there was an option to switch. The second half of the day I rode with a hand rear brake.
If Stark said “You are taking this bike home with you today, which way do you want us to leave the rear brake?” I would honestly choose the hand brake option and here is why. I see an incredible potential to ride with a lot more control with a hand brake. For one, the fact that there are no foot controls means that your footpeg boot placement can be perfect; on the balls of your feet all the time. You never have to move them to click a gear or apply the brake. You can lock into the optimal foot position any time you don’t have your foot out to turn. This was a huge difference in riding and a change that I loved. Second, you can drag the rear brake in any turn. This isn’t necessarily the optimal way to ride, but it gives way more control than just the front brake in right-hand sweepers.
Again, out of muscle memory, I did use my right leg to stomp on a non-existent rear brake pedal coming into tight turns, but that’s where seat time and familiarity comes into play.
Leaving Spain, taking the whole experience into account, I have some true excitement and hope, as well as some serious questions. Number one is range: with the bikes being plugged in between each session, we didn’t get a taste of real-world battery life. According to Tortelli, at his ex-pro level pace, he could get about 35 - 40 minutes of riding out of a full charge. In what conditions or temps or soil type? He didn’t say.
Another question is what the rider interface will look like. That’s a huge factory with an electric bike where almost every aspect of the power delivery is adjustable. You will be able to change throttle response, engine braking, overall power delivery and more, but HOW you will be able to do so is still up in the air.
If you asked any moto rider, “Would you want a bike that has the handling characteristics and agility of a 125 with the power of a 450?” the answer would most certainly be in the affirmative. That is pretty much how the Star Varg feels.
Will the bikes be delivered on time? Will they stay the same price? Will any corners be cut? Will OEM support networks be able to service owners when issues arise? All of these questions will have to be answered but we just have to wait and see.
View key specs, compare bikes, and rate the Stark Future VARG in the Vital MX Product Guide.
STARK VARG - Technical Specifications
|110 kg 242 lbs
|1 - 5 hours riding
|54 min or 1.8 hours depending on charger and outlet
|260 mm hydraulic disc Brembo
|220 mm hydraulic disc Brembo
|310 mm travel KYB
|Linkage, 310 mm travel KYB
|CRMO Steel tube, open style
|Pirelli Midsoft MX32
|Aluminum 7075 T6 28.6mm Fatbar
|5 Standard switch options, fully adjustable in app
|5 Standard switch options, fully adjustable in app
|5 Standard switch options, fully adjustable in app
|Internal gear reduction
|Chain gear reduction
|Torque at countershaft
|Torque at rear wheel
|Battery max voltage
|Battery nominal voltage
|Stark charger max inlet current
|Charging time to 80% at 120 V
|Charging time to 80% at 220 V