Electrifying Motocross — the Stark Varg (Wolf)
Ripping around the motocross (MX) track, riders mainly care about power. This makes the niche MX sector ripe for disruption by electric motocross bikes. Especially one as powerful as the Stark Varg. In a recent interview with Tobin Page, founder of Australian Electric Motor Co. (AEMC), he discussed with me how he sees electric motocross bikes replacing their four-stroke competitors on dirt racing tracks throughout Australia. “Just as four stroke motors replaced two stroke, electric will now replace petrol models.” The choice of available electric motorcycles in growing in Australia, after a slow start. AEMC is the Queensland dealer for Stark. Stark has hired its own team for Australian and New Zealand headed up by Jeff Leisk, former CEO of KTM Australia.
It is a win for all involved in the sport. AEMC is based on the Gold Coast of Queensland, a tourist mecca with rapidly expanding residential areas. Racing tracks that were once deep in the bush are now so close to housing estates that noise complaints have shut them down or limited the hours they can be used for racing. Kids and young adults are sometimes riding on suburban streets and private properties, annoying residents and creating potentially dangerous situations. Some locals are looking forward to the tracks opening up for quiet motocross. The Gold Coast City Council attracted Tobin’s business to the area with the Business Attraction Fund, competing with other regions for promising new businesses. The Council is looking at tourism opportunities and revenue from tracks being reopened or available on more days due to noise reductions.
With quiet motocross now a possibility, Tobin is negotiating with the Gold Coast City Council to reopen tracks — some of which have been closed for a decade. The Reedy Creek MX track is a good example. Discussions are now taking place to see whether it can be reopened for electric dirt riding only. Electric MX bikes have been approved at every level of competition MX in Australia. The more powerful electric bikes will race on the same tracks as their petrol counterparts. The Stark Varg (Swedish for “Wolf”), manufactured in Spain and sold in Australia by AEMC, has up to 80 HP. Tobin tells me that “no petrol MX bikes have that. The acceleration is quicker and the bike is better balanced and more durable. The battery weight is in middle of the bike not on top like a petrol tank. The bike has less parts, and therefore less maintenance. The Varg beats the petrol equivalent in every category.”
The only caveat is the ease of topping up with petrol in contrast with the complications of charging. The Stark Varg is designed to race for an hour riding as hard as possible — the average length of two motocross races. On a trail ride, the rider can expect about 2 hours of use. The older tracks do not have any charging infrastructure — with electricity only available at the toilet block or the canteen. Queensland Moto Park has more charging options with lots of facilities, lampposts, and camping grounds. No tracks in Australia have dedicated charging bays for electric dirt bikes yet. AEMC is seeking corporate partners to sponsor charging stations at other tracks.
Tobin says: “The next iteration of motocross bikes will improve with expected battery power density increases. The bike will charge faster and race for longer, perhaps up to 4 hours.” While not in line with Stark Future’s company mission, some enthusiasts resort to using petrol-powered generators to top up their dirt bikes. Some tracks have power points available and negotiations are in place to provide chargers.
Ed Darmanin tells me that “the Stark Varg is in high demand as it has more power and torque than the leading 450cc ICE bikes, so much in fact that it needs to be detuned to legally race against them! Also, not having to change gears into and out of tight corners on a motocross track also leads to faster lap times. If you want to remain competitive in motocross, I believe you have to go electric.” Ed has ridden thousands of kilometers in Australia on his Harley Davidson LiveWire.
But what about the costs, you ask? I was amazed that an electric motocross bike costs only about 20% more than an equivalent petrol version. Once you take into account the fact that an electric bike doesn’t require the extra tuning work that the petrol version does to prepare it for racing, the price of the Varg is roughly equivalent to a racing Yamaha 450, KTM, or Husqvarna MX bike. The Varg comes customised to your weight on order with suspension and rebound tuned to your weight. So, no need for modification. The Varg comes with its own connectivity through an Android phone. Customize your ride with the touch of a button. Choose the exact power delivery you prefer. It’s all explained in this YouTube video.
What struck me most from watching the video was the sound. I asked Tobin if there had been any pushback from current enthusiasts. He told me that there are some in the tight-knit motocross community who are resistant to change. They would miss the noise and the smell of petrol. The quiet electric bike might pose a danger to novice riders, they say. “You can’t hear a rider coming up behind you. They aren’t safe, too powerful — the less skilled riders may have worse accidents.” Strangely, they cite the lack of gears and a clutch as a problem. However, if you want the power to win, you may have to give up the gas!
AEMC recently participated in the Australian Stark Dealer Day at Queensland Moto Park. The day was covered by 9News and received 5,000 comments on the news story about it in October. The demand is there from motocross enthusiasts, whether they are concerned about the environment or not. So far, over 100 test rides have been conducted. One rider commented: “I loved it. I’ve never ridden anything like it before. So much quicker than my 250. No clutch, no gears, you just go.” The biggest danger about doing a test ride is that you will end up buying one!
Tobin drives a Tesla and has enough solar on the roof of his business to charge the bikes he sells. He sees electric motocross as a way to demonstrate to the bike racing community the benefits of electrification. AEMC has ordered 52 Vargs from Stark and sold 38 so far. Tobin expects the first 18 to arrive in January 2024, with more arriving every month after that. I am sure there will be some excited customers. Australia is one of the first markets for the Stark Varg, which has achieved more than 20,000 pre-orders globally.
“Stark Future is a company founded with the mission to lead the motorcycle industry to sustainability and drastically reduce CO2 and plastic pollution,” the company writes. “We will inspire change through the production of electric motorcycles which outperform traditional combustion engine technology, from a class leading powertrain to a high-performance long-lasting battery, lightweight chassis and honest, performance-focused design.”
Concern for the environment is what got Tobin into the motorcycle business. After a successful career at Google riding his motorbike to work each day, and then running his own tech business, he decided to try to make an impact on Australia through his hobby — riding motorcycles. “I wanted to make a difference,” he tells me. He saw the gap in the Australian market and was able to tie his love of bikes with a desire to reduce emissions and slow climate change. He has got in early and plans to expand as the mass market moves forward. More power to you, Tobin!
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