We finally got a chance to ride the electric Stark Varg here in California this week. Last year we were invited to a global press launch in Barcelona, Spain to ride a pre-production version. The trip fell apart at the last minute because Mark Tilley tested positive for Covid before getting on the plane. So it goes. Now there are a handful of full production models in the country, mostly in the hands of district sales reps and a few dealers. The guys who placed pre-orders online will start receiving their bikes before the end of the year, but the on-line order program is being phased out as real dealers are being set up. If you want one, you can probably go to a dealer like Temecula Motorsports and have one in your garage by January.
It’s wild to get used to riding a motocross bike that makes virtually no noise. you get used to it, then learn to love it.
Up front, we’ll admit we were blown away by the technology and the performance. It’s a different experience, though. Riding the Stark Varg will require a significant adjustment for anyone in both riding technique and lifestyle. Justin Bellerose is a full-time Stark sales rep on the west coast of the U.S. and he gave us a couple of days with the bike to shoot it in the studio and ride it at Glen Helen. In our time with the bike we got to run it out of juice a couple of times and charge it up at the track with a generator. Up front we’ll admit that will be the hardest part about the electric lifestyle to come to terms with. It’s possible to get a day of racing out of one charge at the amateur level. You will have to manage your power setting and it will have to be the right track. Glen Helen is probably the most challenging track for that. It usually has loose, deeply tilled dirt and really steep hills. In the course of shooting our video on the main track, we ran it out of power in 40 minutes of stop-and-go riding. The bike has the range for practice and one moto in the hands of an expert, but you’ll have to figure out some sort of charging program for a full day of racing at a high level. Justin had a Harbor Freight generator in his van with 110-volt capability that charged the bike in 4 hours. If you have a 220 outlet you can do it in 2 hours. On a side note, there’s talk of installing superchargers at various tracks. It will probably happen at Glen Helen first.
The Stark Varg has a base price of $12,900. Early orders were placed on line, but dealers are being set up going forward.
Setting aside all that, we have to say that the bike is an amazing piece of technology. It’s hard to believe that a start-up company like this can get so much right on the first try. The most impressive part is the sheer horsepower and power delivery. Not only is it fast, but it hooks up and gets the power to the ground. The bike has what looks like a detachable cell phone as its primary interface, and with that you can adjust the power output and engine braking. It allows you to save five settings, which can then be selected on the fly with a handlebar switch. The max output on this model is what it claims to be 80 horsepower. We were skeptical at first, but when you use that setting, it feels every bit as powerful as a big adventure bike on the pavement. We had a 2024 Husqvarna FC450 on hand for comparison. In every practice start, roll-on and drag race we did, the Varg pulled away easily. Keep in mind that most of this was done on un-prepped, hard-packed soil where you would think that an electric bike would spin wildly. The Varg hooked up every bit as well as the Husqvarna. It probably was most effective to use the 60-horsepower setting.
The Varg is a powerful bike. The 80-horsepower configuration is an option.
On the track, it takes a while to wrap your head around the bike. It’s a new experience and there are a lot of new things to deal with. Our demo bike was set up with a traditional foot brake on the right, but of course it had no shifter or clutch lever. If you have ridden a bike with a Rekluse automatic clutch, you’re halfway there. That’s combined with an automatic transmission. The result is a massive reduction in the rider’s work load. It takes a while to stop reaching for the imaginary clutch and stop dabbing at the imaginary shifter, but it’s a welcome change. The tricky part is that you probably don’t understand how much you use the clutch to modulate power output on a normal bike. Typically, a big bike like a 450 requires you to do most of your hard braking with the clutch lever pulled in. Every rider is different in how he applies the power, but most of us bring up the revs first and then feed out the clutch. It’s a complicated dance that we do subconsciously. With the Varg, you have only one control: the throttle. The engineers have done a remarkable job of making the power delivery smooth, but you still have to have very good throttle control. Once you get that figured out, you can work the throttle in a way to find the best traction. As you might expect, it’s more difficult in the higher power settings. For the dry summertime conditions at Glen Helen, the 50-horsepower setting was our happy spot.
Charging the battery takes 2 hours if you have a 220 volt outlet. With 110 it takes about 4 hours.
Aside from power output, there’s another issue that’s harder to understand: flywheel effect. One reason that a conventional 250 is easier to turn than a 450 is because smaller engines have less rotational mass, and therefore less gyro effect. The crank and flywheel are essentially giant gyroscopes within the motor and they like to keep the whole motorcycle from changing direction. With the Stark, there is no crank, flywheel or gyro effect. That makes it extremely easy to drop the bike into a tight, rutted turn. In that respect, the bike feels lighter than it is. In other ways, like braking and jumping, you feel the bike’s full weight, which is around 252 pounds.
The detachable cell phone on the steering head allows you to tailor the power output. There’s a handlebar-mounted button that allows you to switch between predetermined settings.
Not everything is good news about the missing gyro effect. A very important benefit of flywheel weight is that it stores energy. We use that all the time. When you drop the clutch in a deep, powdery berm, what you’re really doing is storing up energy by spinning up that crank and flywheel, then releasing it. The result is a sudden, massive increase in torque at the rear wheel. This is what allows a 125 to blow up a berm despite not having much engine torque. The Varg doesn’t have that capability. All the horsepower in the world can’t match the sudden torque output produced this way. That means you have to change the way you turn in some situations. If you want to kick the rear out, you have to do it with the throttle alone–essentially, you’ve lost one of the control tools you use on the track. In the trials world, where electric bikes have had a head start, they are already learning to mimic the clutch and flywheel issues to make electric bikes feel more conventional. Technology never sleeps.
Mark Tilley got 40 minutes of riding out of one charge at Glen Helen.
One of the most impressive things about Stark’s accomplishment here is that not only did they have to develop new technology in the powertrain department, they also had to make a completely new chassis from scratch. The frame is minimal; the Varg is more or less a battery with a swingarm connected to one end and a fork connected to the other. When you think about how difficult it has been for Yamaha, KTM and the others to develop the right frame flex characteristics, it’s nothing short of amazing that this bike handles as well as it does. It’s a stiff-feeling chassis, but the suspension is very good. It has a KYB fork and shock that are well balanced. It’s apparent that Stark’s test riders know how to set up a bike–reportedly Sebastian Tortelli did most of the work. Admittedly, in our short encounter with the bike, we didn’t do nearly as much suspension testing as normal, but it wasn’t something we felt we needed to concentrate on.
All of the parts are top-notch, from the machined clamps to the KYB suspension and Brembo brakes.
We were just beginning to get to know the bike when our time was done. We know very little about how life with an electric bike will be. This isn’t a no-maintenance bike by any means. You have all the chassis and suspension maintenance issues you would have with a normal bike, plus, it has gearbox oil and coolant to deal with–yes, the motor is liquid-cooled. The radiator is located under the seat and uses an electric fan to keep cool. Once supply loosens up, the Stark guys have promised a long-term test with the bike. We are especially excited about the off-road configuration. You can order the bike with softer spring rates, a side stand and an 18-inch rear wheel. We’re all over that. Stay tuned.
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