This year the Dakar Rally marks a major progression; perhaps one of the most significant changes in the event’s 45-year history. For the first time, zero-emission vehicles will compete in their own category. As part of the Dakar Future program, the newly dubbed Mission 1000 category pits electric and hydrogen powered vehicles against the Saudi Arabian elements over the course of, you guessed it, 1000 kilometers.
As the idea of the program is to help manufacturers develop future technologies, the ten M1000 stages, each approximately 100 km in length, will take place separate from the other traditional racing categories.
And why are we covering this here on ECR? Well, because there are be electric motorcycles competing, of course! In fact, three different teams are fielding riders on three very different bikes.
First up is Fran Gómez Pallas’ bespoke electric rally bike, built by Jordi Altas. Pallas himself is a character, has his own sustainability-focused prefab tiny house company called Quechova, is a longtime advocate of electric motorcycles and generally seems to enjoy going against the grain. His one-off bike is the only entrant for the Green Power Energy Race Team, which is a collaboration between numerous companies and supporters.
Geared for Racing
Next is Italian startup, Tacita, which is relying on its unique platform that utilizes a rarely implemented design for electric motorcycles: a five-speed gearbox. Paired with a massive 44 kw motor and equally huge LI-PO 8.61 kWh battery, the claimed 200 km range of the T Race Rally machine should easily handle the 100 km stages. The motor and controller are also liquid cooled, which comes in handy on those long, open and high-speed desert stretches.
It should also be noted that Rigo was one of the leading voices in helping to make Mission 1000 a reality and his company’s first involvement in rally events date back to 2012.
Adding to their sustainability goals, the Tacita team has developed their own support power station that is also entirely solar powered… not a bad idea when you’re stuck in the desert for two-weeks.
Startup Starts Big
Then there is Arctic Leopard. The relatively new electric motorcycle manufacturer out of China has only been in existence for a couple of years, but make no mistake, their bikes have been designed to take on the challenge of the open desert.
When company owner, Gang Jun (Jack) Cai went looking for a capable electric motorcycle for off-road racing, he couldn’t find anything that fit his needs. So, he decided to build one for himself.
The first offering was a trials-based machine called the XT800. And while that bike helped get Arctic Leopard going, the new full-sized enduro/MX platform could establish the company as a front runner in the eMoto game. The Cheetah E-XE880 packs a 105v 58ah battery paired with a 37 kw motor and weighs in at a staggeringly low 238 lbs (108 kg).
On Dakar.com, Jack adds, “I wanted to make an offroad bike that’s lightweight, powerful, easy to operate, low noise and low emission. Most of these requirements can be met, but what’s available on the market comes with too many exhaust fumes. Since motorcycle factories weren’t making what I wanted, I decided to make it myself. I set up the Arctic Leopard Company to build my ideal off-road motorcycle. And the best way to test a high-performance bike is to race it, because only a good racing vehicle can achieve good results.”
Unlike the Tacita that was developed very much with the Dakar Rally and its lengthy stages in mind, the Arctic Leopard machine is using a slightly modified version of its E-XE880 platform. Similar to many of the ICE 450cc machines that are based on enduro and motocross bikes, the Dakar Cheetah is more or less a beefed up (larger battery, racing computers, lights, etc.) version of the stock bike.
What’s more, Cai himself is racing the machine alongside two other team riders, Wenmin Su and Willy Jobard.
The Future of Dakar Future
The Mission 1000 category isn’t simply a novelty; it’s a test of things to come. The Dakar Future program is very much about that: the future. And what do times yet to come hold for the world’s most prestigious rally race? The goal is that all vehicles competing in the event by 2030 will be zero or low emission racing machines. While that sounds like a tall order, consider this: The HySE (Hyrdogen Small mobility & Engine technology) SXS Team is a joint effort by the five major Japanese vehicle manufacturers. Yes, you read that correctly… Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Toyota and Yamaha are all working together to make hydrogen powered vehicles a reality.
Then consider that Audi’s high tech extended range electric car, the RS Q e-tron¹, is currently leading the overall event in the car division. In fact, German manufacturer’s second car is also in second place. So while 2030 sounds like the distant future, it’s actually only six short years away and the technology appears on track to meet Dakar Future’s low-emission goals.
Now nearing the end of their 10-stage journey, Dakar Mission 1000 competitors have so far completed every stage. To keep up to date on the racing and learn more about Mission 1000, head over to dakar.com