MotoOnline.com.au reviews the Stark Varg due for 2023 release.
Words: Mike Sleeter
Reshaping the landscape of motocross technological innovation, the Stark Varg due for release in 2023 challenges and inspires the industry to sustainability with an advanced, high-performing electric-powered platform. It certainly is a game-changer and we Tested it in Spain at the international media intro for this review.
Every year we do multiple new bike launches and every couple of years we get a new model. To be honest, that model can look new and fancy, but it can be worse than what it was previously because the manufacturers need to work through some growing pains and gremlins to be able to get the bike to the next level.
When it comes to a brand new bike, there have been very few launches in the past couple of decades that could possibly change the trajectory or course of motocross as we know it. One that comes to my mind is the Yamaha YZ400F four-stroke, which ultimately killed two-stroke racing at the highest level, but since then we have had the addition of aluminium frames, electronic fuel injection (EFI) and other changes that essentially have refined four-strokes, the way we ride and race motocross as a sport.
Other manufacturers have put EFI on two-strokes, there are types of traction control that use the ECU and other electronic mechanisms on modern four-strokes, but in reality, it’s still the same platform we all know and love.
Alta attempted to change the game and they came close with their attack at the market developing a modern-day electric motorcycle. Josh Hill raced the bike at the Red Bull Straight Rhythm and I watched the team test week after week at Glen Helen, but nothing excited me about the bike because at that time they were using an outdated WP 4CS fork and production shock.
The power-plant was close to a 250 four-stroke, which wasn’t good enough to change the minds that motocross could go electric. There was no major press launch and the bike wasn’t raced in any major competitions. Ultimately, Alta disappeared and the thought of an electric motorcycle that could compete with the modern-day four strokes wasn’t looking likely.
That was until Stark Future went viral across social media and the web late last year. The Stark Varg – Varg meaning Wolf in Swedish – had the message boards and mainstream media puzzled. Who was behind this exotic bike with huge claims in horsepower and technology? And, secondly, how long has it been in development? I did some digging talking to industry leaders, but couldn’t get any proper answers at that point.
I was so intrigued by the claims, images and videos that I put a deposit down on two of them. Well, two and a half years ago, Anton Wass had a dream and vision to get motocross into a position to where we could ride like people play golf. What he means by that is when you play golf, you aren’t limited to small windows like at some motocross tracks due to noise complaints from encroaching communities or environmental organisations that look at moto as if we are all cowboys who don’t care about the planet or noise.
To achieve this Wass assembled a team from multiple different industries that he felt could be a group that would look at motocross in a different light and ultimately change the outlook as we know it. In terms of test riders, Hill was involved, as was the legendary former world champion Sebastien Tortelli.
After arriving in Spain and meeting the team, I got the impression that this was different. Bike launches are something I have done many times on both sides of the fence, but by the way we were greeted and treated with respect and a sense of confidence from the Stark Future staff, I could tell they knew they had something special.
We arrived at the MX Golf Club just outside of Barcelona. Yes, I said golf club… the track I was testing at was an old golf course that was turned into a motocross track! How ironic that this track was built and quickly shut down because of noise, right?
I was driven up to the pits where my bike was waiting for me with a team of four that would accompany me from the start of the day, until I pack my gear bag to head home, which provided a very personal experience. The team consisted of a static cameraman, a cinematographer, an engineer for chassis adjustments and a mechanic to make necessary changes needed to get me comfortable.
At first glance of the Stark Varg, I was extremely impressed – there wasn’t extensive photoshop used in the marketing leading up to this test. The Varg’s clean lines across the ergonomics, bold red plastics (you can also order it in Snow White or Forest Grey) and black rims make a statement on your eyes.
After looking over the bike and getting a briefing from the head engineer, it was clear they left no stone unturned when developing the chassis – a two-piece design with a chromoly upper section that is bolted to some aluminium that the motor sits low and cantered in the frame.
The V-designed battery that shares technology from the likes of Tesla and BMW is designed to fit in the chassis to balance out the weight as well. The swing-arm and linkage are very thought out, with the linkage sitting up higher in the chassis than current gas motorcycles to help it not pack with mud and not hit logs for off-road.
The swing-arm has a one of a kind chain adjustment clicker system, so you can count the clicks while adjusting it. That means you will not have to count the marks in the swing-arm to get proper alignment and it’s just one more thing that signals innovation from engineers.
When it comes to componentry, Stark Future went above and beyond with attention to detail with in-house product design from simple things like the brake, pedals and brake line guides. When it comes to other key components, the detail, fit and finish is like a factory race bike.
The triple-clamps are a billet split design that is similar to what most factory teams are using, but are designed and manufactured in house by Stark. The billet hubs and black 7071 alloy rims are also manufactured and designed in-house at Stark Future.
Another thing that is eye-catching are the foot-pegs with a polished finish and some razor-sharp teeth. I assumed they were titanium, but they are made from stainless alloy, so are lighter and stronger than titanium. Stark has also innovated the way you take the foot-pegs on and off since, instead of a pin and cotter key, they have a bolt that comes up from the bottom, which makes installing pegs safer with a unique design.
With the brakes, I was very excited to have Brembo on the bike for the traditional pedal and front brake set-up, but if you want to run the rear brake on the handlebars (in place of where a clutch is traditionally fitted) you will use a Formula master cylinder, because Brembo doesn’t make one for the left-hand side.
I didn’t try the hand rear brake option because I wanted to maximise my experience with what I’m used to and give the most accurate report on the motor and chassis that I possibly could. That said, I believe it will open up options for new techniques and trail braking into turns.
A critical component of any motorcycle is the suspension and the Stark Varg is equipped with industry-leading KYB forks and shock. The platform of the KYB fork and shock is based off the Yamaha suspension packages with Technical Touch components. The settings and spring rates have been developed and tested by Stark’s R&D team.
With the motor, it puts out 60 horsepower in Standard trim (there is also an Alpha model at 80hp), but the incredible thing about this package is it’s completely tuneable with its Stark military-grade phone that is placed in a billet holder where the bar pad would normally be.
You can tune the motor down to be as slow as a 50, for example, and even control the amount of engine brake you have in the faster modes. What makes this great is that you can tune the bike for a rider who wants less power, but with a quick tune it can be back at 100 percent.
I was extremely excited to hit the track for the first four-lap session. As I applied the throttle, my first impression was how smooth the power was. Honestly, I was half a lap in and I was feeling comfortable, which indicates just how easy the Stark Future is to adapt to despite being all-new.
Before I had the chance to ride, I was worried about how aggressive the power was going to be and that it would require clutch control to modulate it (which we obviously don’t have in this case). There was never a want or need for such clutch control with the power delivery being as progressive as it was, yet when I wanted to get aggressive, there was plenty of power.
That was good to know, considering it has 938Nm of torque on offer. After the first session, I wanted to start getting the chassis dialled in. I met with my team from Stark and it was mainly to get a little more confident on the fork and some movement out of the shock.
We decided to put a bit more engine brake in to get the fork to sit deeper under braking and get a bit more bite on the front wheel. In my next outing, right away the fork was better under braking, but my experience with the motor was slightly compromised. I made my way back to the pits and we ended up splitting the difference before I headed back out.
The latest changes were ideal for engine feel and balance when turning. I had two laps left in the session, so I opened up the rebound two clicks to get some more movement in the shock, as the stock feeling was a little dead for me. I also added two clicks in high-speed compression for more hold-up on the roller sections.
I went back out for the next two laps and those adjustments were what I needed to really feel comfortable and I finished off that session pleased with the balance and feel. It was obvious that the adjustments made a difference, both in terms of the motor and chassis.
The next session for me was to go out on a 2022 GasGas MC 450F to reference the Varg on the same day and at the same track. The MC 450F is what I ride for my personal bike, so I’m very familiar with this machine. When I pulled onto the track I was absolutely shocked by how heavy it felt. As I was wrapping my head around how bad I was riding a bike I was so used to and love, I watched as other media guys stalled their bikes…
I could not believe that it was such a weird feeling and that it was that hard to adapt back. By the end of that session – also four laps – I was getting comfy on the GasGas and I was happy that the Stark chassis felt similar in character, even if the differences between their technology is so extensive.
Once I finished the session on the GasGas I went straight back to the Varg for another four laps and I also couldn’t believe how light the Varg felt at 110 kilograms, confirming my opposite feeling directly prior. I was getting more and more ‘at home’ on the Stark and started to push the Varg harder and harder. One thing that I didn’t expect, was how good not having to shift gears was!
The Varg being automatic is amazing, because you are always in the right gear and can feed the throttle with ease. I rode hard for this four-lap session and was able to understand what the bike was capable of. It’s a natural feeling, but definitely takes some time to get your head around when on the bike and you have over 100 Ride Modes to work with as well, so there’s a lot of scope for fine-tuning.
A few key things that I want to note is that you can still hear the motor under you, but you do have to be careful of revving the bike up before you land because the wheel speed is extremely fast. When you panic on a gas-powered bike, the wheel will only go as fast as the gear you are in, but on the Varg, the wheel speed not under load is like having the bike in sixth gear, so you can change the pitch of the bike easy with some throttle.
The sound – or lack of it! – of the bike when landing can give you the illusion that it’s harsh, so having the GasGas to reference was very important to make sure it was in fact a sound, definitely not a feeling. You can really hear a lot of different aspects in comparison to a regular motocross bike.
Lastly, the plastics on the media bikes were extremely slippery and I almost had a big crash with my feet sliding off the back. The width and shape aren’t much different than the GasGas or a Honda, so I’m assuming it’s the finish of the material and something to be mindful of.
One important question that I didn’t get a final report on was overall battery life, because my sessions were short. From the information I got though, at a pro-level pace you can make a 35-minute moto, and the general claim is six hours of ride time (note that it should take 1-2 hours to charge). Another thing I didn’t get to feel is the top speed, because the fastest I got on the bike was third gear (on the MC 450F for reference).
In the world of electric dirt bikes, heat and wet conditions are a big question mark in my opinion. In saying that, throughout the day on the Varg I put some really hard laps in and the temperature reading on the screen never indicated it got hot, even at idle for long periods of time.
I didn’t submerge the bike in water, but watched the crew wash the bike with pressure and no unnecessary taping or protection of the battery components was required, so that’s encouraging consider their extensive experience during the development period so far.
In closing, Stark Future will change the game. The Varg exceeded my expectations and my riding experience was genuinely great. The components and technology featured on chassis really demonstrate the brand’s commitment to pressing technology with simple things, as well as the electric power-plant. Keep in mind, the bike I rode was a final prototype, so the production models are set to be even better.
With multiple tracks across the globe experiencing difficulties due to noise and other environmental issues, it’s getting harder and harder to ride the modern-day motorcycle. The Stark Varg could be the catalyst to re-opening tracks and bring circuits to locations we would’ve never been able to imagine previously.
My experience in Spain was amazing and the entire Stark Future team was more than honest and transparent with anything I asked while on location. And there is great news for Australians as Stark Future has brought on Jeff Leisk to lead the brand locally, so that can only be of value for dealers and customers. It’s anticipated that the first Stark Varg will arrive in the country from January 2023 and then flow from there, depending when ordered.
Motor type: Electric
Traction control: Yes
Launch control: No
Front suspension: 310mm travel KYB
Rear suspension: KYB
Front brake: Brembo with Galfer 260mm disc
Rear brake: Brembo with Galfer 220mm disc
Tyres: Pirelli MX32
Availability: 2023 (orders currently being taken)
Price: From $18,200
Further information: www.starkfuture.com