[Bikes]

WHY THE STARK E-BIKE LAUNCH IS LIKELY TO BE MEMORABLE

1 month ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: Stark Future

Travelling overseas to test new-model motorcycles never gets old – especially if you’re into motorcycle technology and design innovation. And for as long as I can remember, international media launches have been a three or four times-a-year thing. It’s one of the cool perks for poorly paid moto journalists.

This week’s international launch for the all-new Stark VARG in Spain promises to be no different. In fact, I can’t help thinking the entire experience of clapping eyes on and testing this all-new electric-powered MX bike will be memorable. Here’s why…

OVERSEAS TRAVEL
Tiptoeing around Covid restrictions to get across state borders within Australia has been trickly enough since early 2020, let alone being able to board a big bird to travel OS. Irrespective of what goes down at the Stark launch in Spain, dusting off my passport after more than two years feels like a novelty. Not to mention getting the hell away from Australia’s eastern seaboard, which has seen nothing but biblical rain since the end of February.

IT’S NOT JUST YOUR AVERAGE NEW-MODEL MOTORCYCLE
Most international media launches are reserved for landmark, new-generation year-models; machines that come with much-updated engine and/or chassis and/or bodywork and/or suspension components. The Stark VARG is not only a completely new machine, but it’s also powered by electric technology, not fossil fuel. It’s a 110kg, sleek-looking MXer with 80hp, several power modes, top-shelf Kayaba suspension, lots of innovative design elements, and a price tag that’s expected to be around 10% more expensive than the existing 450cc MXers. Stark’s entire schtick is about disrupting the motorcycle industry’s status quo, plus they openly speak about their intentions to challenge and inspire the industry to sustainability. That in itself is fascinating.

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE IT SET UP?
I’ve long argued that motorcycle manufacturers ought to match a new bike’s suspension settings to its purchaser’s weight (and even riding ability). If nothing else, it’s a safety issue. To be fair, some switched-on dealers actually do this for their best customers, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. With the Stark, on the other hand, the owner gets seven different suspension setting options – which come in 5kg increments between 65 and 100kg (spring rates only, I’m assuming, though it’d be even more impressive they were matched by different valving specs too) – before taking delivery of thing!

But that’s not where the pre-purchase choice ends. You also get the option of an 18-inch or 19-inch rear wheel, the choice of three different colour schemes – red, grey or white – and whether your rear brake is set up as conventional foot-activated pedal or MTB-spec bar-mounted lever. Even the brand’s sales model gives you choice: you can buy it online directly, order online for delivery through a nominated local dealer, or simply purchase it from your local dealer.

MARKET SHARE IMPLICATIONS
For some time now, electric-powered dirt bikes have been regarded as an interesting window into a likely future, albeit some years away from stealing serious sales from conventional, fossil-fuel burning machines. But the market’s reaction to the Stark VARG makes you think an electric-powered MX bike revolution is suddenly a lot closer than we all previously thought! No question, it’s bizarre that within six months of it first being revealed, Stark has become the world’s biggest-selling motocross brand – assuming the 10,000-odd deposits they’ve already received do in fact translate into bike sales.

THE SCALE OF STARK’S AMBITIONS
After developing the Stark VARG over a three-year period in Spain, Stark Future is currently in the process of building a production line with capacity for 150,000 units per year. That’s a hell of a lot for a well-established motorcycle brand, let alone a newcomer. But Stark has its sights set much higher than that. According to Stark Future’s CEO, Anton Wass, “First, we’re going to make Stark the market leader in motocross, and that’s going to happen quite fast. Our second ambition is to sell a million motorcycles per year, and that will take a few years. While doing that, we will also be focused on technical developments and looking at selling technology to other companies”. You sure can’t accuse the Stark lads of being half-hearted about this project!

SO MANY MORE QUESTIONS
Back in mid-March, the three-hour Gypsy Tales podcast with Stark Future’s CEO, Anton Wass, offered a fascinating insight into the ambitious project’s roots, conception, personnel, development processes and market share aspirations. But, for me, that conversation started me thinking, and it raised a hell of a lot more questions – many of which I hope my experience at this week’s media launch in Spain will answer. Try these Qs for size…

  • What’s an 80hp dirt bike actually feel like?
  • With the instantaneous torque that electric engines are notorious for, is it possible to dial the power on smoothly, or will it feel like a light switch?
  • How different will the power unit’s minimal rotating mass feel to ride?
  • What sort of engine braking effect will it have?
  • What’s it going to be like to have no clutch to help control the power delivery?
  • What range of adjustment does the bar-mounted power controller give you?
  • How robust and element-proof is this thing’s power unit?
  • Will being able to hear the tyres clawing into the earth a good thing?
  • Is the battery going to explode between my legs if I get T-boned in a turn?
  • With no gears to shift and a bar-mounted rear brake, what the hell do I do with my feet while riding?
  • How many moving parts are in its PU, and do they need oil for lubrication?
  • Is there a storage compartment where the fuel would normally go?
  • What’s its range in power-sapping deep sand and how long does a full recharge really take?
  • Does it tear through chains a sprockets quicker than average?
  • How long till its plastics are made from biodegradable material?
  • Will it really reduce the owner’s bike maintenance knowledge requirements to that of a bicycle?
  • Will the sport’s federations around the world integrate this machine into existing racing classes, as initially indicated, or will the existing manufacturers lobby to keep e-bikes in their own class for a while yet?
  • Who’s going to be the first rider to win a significant race aboard a Stark VARG?
  • And, probably most importantly, how user-friendly and fun will the entire riding experience be on this new machine?

And a few questions that are no longer relevant:

  • Will there be an electric start button on the handlebars?
  • How long do air filter and oil filter changes take?
  • Who makes the best aftermarket exhaust system and radiator guards for this bike?
  • Where the hell is this thing’s fuel cap?

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