Sometimes there comes a bike. I won’t say a hero, because, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there comes a bike. And I’m talking about the Stark VARG here. Sometimes, there comes a bike. Well, it’s the bike for its time and place. It fits right in there. And that’s the VARG, in motocross.
If that statement makes no sense to you, then you probably haven’t seen The Big Lebowski. If you are that person, you might want to give it a watch after reading this article. All jokes aside, I’ll stop referencing Lebowski quotes and talk dirt bikes from here on out. But seriously, the Stark VARG feels like the right bike at the right time.
After Alta Motors left the scene in an abrupt manner in 2018, there was a massive void to be filled in the electric motocross scene. Alta proved not only that an electric dirt bike could be competitive against gas, but that there is also a demand for full-size electric dirt bikes. While all the major OEM’s seem to be waiting in the shadows, Stark Future has just stepped in and filled that void.
Be it the point in time, the striking innovation or simply the demand itself. Something clicked with the Stark VARG and it wholeheartedly captured the attention of the motocross industry. Having pre-sold more than 10,000 units in 3 months, which, I should add, is potentially the most popular motorcycle launch of all time, it’s clear that Stark Future may have just started a revolution in moto.
When I got the call to travel to Spain and test the infamous Stark VARG, I undoubtedly jumped at the opportunity.
If you follow Electric Cycle Rider on Instagram, you probably saw my travel difficulties after arriving in Spain. Our test had been delayed a few days because of some intermittent issues with one of the five test bikes. Apparently, the insulation around one of the phase wires had been causing the bike to abruptly shut off. Knowing that this could be a major problem if it happened on the face of a jump, the Stark Future team wanted to run through the fleet of bikes and double-check their wiring. Appreciative that they were looking out for our safety, I happily rearranged my travels to adapt.
I know you’re not here to read about my travel saga, so I’ll keep it brief. Long story short, I got COVID and had to quarantine in my hotel for a total of 10 days. On the 11th day, still a bit foggy and fatigued from the illness, I headed to Golf MX to take the Stark VARG for a first ride.
Golf MX is a stunning track located in the foothills about 45 minutes above Barcelona. It gets its name because it was quite literally a former golf course. Imagine that? The dirt bike kid in all of us has at one time or another imagined tearing up a golf course on a motocross bike. And, thanks to Golf MX, we actually got to do it.
The Stark VARG is available in two distinct packages. The 60HP Standard mode and the 80HP Alpha mode. It’s imminent that we will compare the bike to its internal combustion (ICE) competitors, and we’ll start here. Most modern 450cc MX bikes are making somewhere in the range of 55 horsepower.
To say that I was eager to try a dirt bike with 25 more horsepower than the fastest 450cc MX bike would be an understatement. It’s almost a morbid curiosity. The way a person feels compelled to look at something that they are not supposed to look at. I know that 80HP is way too powerful for a motocross bike, but I still need to try it for myself. Unlucky for my curiosity but likely beneficial for my self-preservation, we were only allowed to try the Stark VARG in the 60HP Standard mode. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed. That disappointment did not last long though. The Standard mode is still 5HP more than a Honda CRF450R, which by all accounts is an extremely powerful motorcycle.
Still bounding with excitement, I headed out with my fully charged Stark VARG to see what the fuss was all about. After a handful of laps aboard the bike, I had a realization that I was not expecting. This bike might actually be too powerful.
You see, there are very few humans that can truly tap into the full potential of a 450cc MX bike. They are designed for the absolute best motocross riders on the planet, or for the lazy vet rider who wants to lug the bike around the track 1 gear higher than he should. The difference with electric is, you can’t lug the bike around a gear high. There is no gear to shift up to. First through fifth gear are all available instantaneously, at the ideal RPM, with one the twist of the throttle.
For that reason, I found it hard to convert the 60HP of the Standard VARG into usable traction. I was lighting the rear tire up on the exit of almost every corner and felt like I was not being very efficient on the bike. I’ve learned over the years with motorcycles that sometimes, less is more. With that notion in mind, I brought the bike back to my mechanic and had him decrease the power by 10%.
While he was in the mapping, I also had him add more freewheel to the engine braking to make it react a little bit more like a 2-stroke. The track was ripped deep for our ride day and there were only two of us on the track, so I didn’t need all that engine braking on deceleration.
The mapping parameters on the VARG don’t end there. The production bike has a VCU (Vehicle Control Unit) to allow riders to fully customize up to 100 different ride modes. Riders can modify power curve, traction control, engine braking and a virtual flywheel. Because our test bikes were still pre-production units, we unfortunately didn’t have access to the VCU. Rest assured, I plan to dive headfirst into these mapping modes when I get my hands on the production model.
Returning to the track, I noticed the changes to the bike made it not only easier to ride but more efficient. I could be more casual with my throttle hand and I still had more than enough power to get around Golf MX with ease.
Stark Future is so confident that their VARG is superior to internal combustion bikes, they suggested we go out on the track on a 450 for comparison. They even went to the length of acquiring a brand new 450 MX bike from each of the leading manufacturers. Pick a color, any color. Having grown fond of the Austrian brands over the years, I designated the white Husqvarna FC 450 as my bike of choice.
I recognize that if you’re this deep in this article, on this website, you’re probably a serious fan of electric dirt bikes. Obviously, I am too. However, I’m also a big fan of gas bikes. And this Husqvarna FC 450 is one hell of a bike. Which is good, because it will serve as a logical comparison to the Stark.
It was interesting riding the bikes back-to-back. I immediately felt comfortable on the Husky. I also immediately noticed how mellow the power felt in comparison to the VARG. On the FC 450, I could be that lazy vet rider, lugging the bike around in a gear too tall. The power of the bike felt predictable. I would reach a specific RPM on the Husky and know where I was in relation to the peak of the power curve. The same was not true on the VARG. Peak power feels limitless on that bike. It’s akin to being in the correct gear and the perfect RPM on the ICE bike, all the time. This makes the VARG easy to ride but it also makes it difficult to predict your speed.
The VARG comes with Brembo hydraulic brakes and is offered with a traditional foot brake, but riders can also choose to have the brake up on the handlebar, where you would find a clutch on a traditional gas bike. It’s a topic that many of our adored members of the ECR audience have argued with me about and I have genuinely tried to keep an open mind on this. I think the handlebar brake is a great feature for lightweight eMoto bikes like the Sur Ron and the Cake Kalk. I have just spent too many hours on the KTM Freeride E-XC to know that I don’t prefer rear brake levers on the handlebar if the bike is over 200 pounds. I see the benefits, without a doubt. Keeping both feet in the same position on the pegs at all times is a wonderful option. I just don’t find it effective on the heavier bikes. For that reason, I chose to run the brake in the traditional manner, on the right foot peg.
In the suspension department, the VARG comes with a KYB fork and shock with triple adjusters for adjusting high and low compression and rebound. My test bike was sprung for a rider over 20 pounds heavier than me, so it came as no surprise that I found the setup to be a bit stiff for that reason. I made some adjustments to the clickers throughout the day and overall gelled with the setup. I know if I had more time with the bike and set it up for my weight, I’d probably fall in love with the kit. Dialing in the setup is something I will look forward to when the production bike gets here.
Stark Future has made some big breakthroughs with the frame of the VARG. Claiming it to be the lightest motocross frame ever made by incorporating the design structure into the motor and battery of the bike and shedding material when possible. The frame of the bike is made of chromoly steel, joined by a 7000-grade aluminum subframe and 7075 T6 forged triple clamps. When ridden, the bike feels decisive and true. I kept referring to the VARG as a “point and shoot” type of bike. It’s easy to get the motorcycle turned and it’s responsive when you get it there. Although I praised the Husqvarna FC 450 to have superb handling as well, once again, the bikes feel different when ridden back-to-back. I got back on the Husky after riding the VARG and it felt as though I was fighting the bike when coming into corners. It’s nothing extreme but it’s noticeable. I chalked it up to the inevitable rotating mass inside a 4-stroke engine. With an electric motor, you don’t have all that movement inside the motor working against you. The VARG just cooperates and lets you change direction with confidence.
The VARG weighs a hefty 242.5 pounds. This is roughly 9.5 pounds heavier than the wet weight of the Husqvarna FC 450 that I had been riding. Riders will notice this weight when loading the bike in the pits but that all goes out the window once you’re in motion. That rotating motor mass on an ICE bike makes it feel heavier than it is when you’re changing direction. Electric bikes have the reverse effect. While they may be heavier on the scale, the lack of rotating mass inside the engine makes the bikes feel pounds lighter when ridden and the Stark VARG is no exception to this.
Battery and Charging
Stark says their 6kWh battery, with its air-cooled honeycomb magnesium case, can provide comparable range to a full tank of gas on a 450cc motocross bike. Stark Future considers a full tank of gas to be equivalent to a 35-minute moto at MXGP pace or up to 6 hours of easy trail riding. This is a claim that I was most ambitious to calculate. Range is the biggest pain point for electric dirt bikes and if you can actually get a 6-hour trail ride in on this bike, our problems may be solved. Hell, even half of that range would be worth celebrating.
Due to the format, our test day was not conducive to a battery range test. Not to mention, readout on the VCU display was still in beta mode and we were told the battery on the production bike is expected to change some. So, with all that being said, we weren’t really able to get a good read on the true range of the Stark VARG. I will say that after running 8 laps on the 2-ish minute per lap MX course, mixed with a 30-minute session of mixed enduro riding, my display was touting a battery life of 66%. If the production bike is able to be in that zone or better, I’ll feel very optimistic that this is the longest-range electric dirt bike we’ve seen yet.
The bike comes with a 3.3kW charger, which allows the bike to be charged within 1-2 hours, depending on your outlet. The charger is designed with 220v European outlets in mind, which greatly affects the charge time. Here in the land of 110v, we can still operate the charger by utilizing an adapter, but it will negatively affect the charge time. You’ll want to source 220v if you want to juice your bike up quickly.
In my interview with Stark Future CEO Anton Wass, he disclosed that Stark Future is working to implement Stark spec superchargers at tracks where VARG sales are most popular. That might take a while, though. So, if you’re concerned about having enough power at the track, you might consider looking into a generator.
The Stark VARG comes in with a base MSRP of $12,900 for the 60HP version and $13,900 for the 80HP Alpha version. If you’re a moto rider, you have the option to select a 19” rear wheel or if you’re an off-road rider, an 18” is available for the gnarly trails.
So, would I spend my hard-earned dollars on a Stark VARG? Yes, I would. It feels like everything the former electric motocross best-in-class Alta Redshift was and more.