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Stark Varg – tested!

Stark Varg – tested!
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The review of the most eagerly anticipated dirt bike of the year is out – the Stark Varg! Our guy Richard Loos takes you through the machine:

Which new dirt bike was ever launched with as much hype and high expectations as the Stark Varg? That’s exactly why I went to the global launch of the Stark Varg with a heavy dose of Dutch sobriety, yes even skepticism. The key question was whether an electric crosser could offer as much fun and performance as the ‘regular’ combustion engine.

Electric crossers have not been new for a long time. Attempts to market an electric motocross bike had been made before. In 2005 the Swiss Quantya came up with the FMX, the Italian Tacita changed tack and at the end of 2011 KTM launched the Freeride-E, still the best selling electric motorcycle.

Although Alta ‘tipped the scales regarding the potential of electric motocross bikes, the Americans had to throw in the towel back in 2018. Ex-supercross rider -now social media phenomenon- Josh Hill played an important role for the Alta Redshift at the time. That same Hill was also a test rider for this Stark Varg, along with two-time world champion Sébastien Tortelli. The latter was also present when we finally got to test the long-awaited Stark!

Healthy nervousness

Being one of the first outsiders to drive the Stark. That prospect doesn’t leave you cold! I felt a certain healthy nervousness from the morning onwards. And I knew it was no different for my fellow test driver Tristan. Quite a few questions went through my head: How does the engine react in the air? How is the power delivery? Can you still correct mistakes with gas?

At Stark, they pride themselves on doing things differently and we had noticed that before. The first videos, the look and feel of the brand and the swagger of founder and ex-24MX top man Anton Wass. It all made you think of a promising tech company rather than a new motorcycle manufacturer.

The way this test was arranged was also slightly different. Fair is fair, every brand always goes out of its way to please journalist test riders. Stark, however, clearly went further. With just 5 riders at the beautiful Golf MX circuit (just outside Barcelona), one engineer and mechanic per rider and an extensive media team, conditions were absolutely perfect. In addition, the entire management and development team was present to tell us more about their pride and joy, the Varg.

Superior product

The ambitions of this Swedish-Spanish company are not exactly modest. Stark Future as the brand is fully named, wanted to create a premium product in order to make the turnaround in the traditional motorcycle sector. From top to bottom, everyone in the company is therefore convinced that with their first product, they have built an engine that is superior to traditional internal combustion engines.

At Stark, they pride themselves on doing things differently and we had noticed that before. The first videos, the look and feel of the brand and the swagger of founder and ex-24MX top man Anton Wass. It all made you think of a promising tech company rather than a new motorcycle manufacturer.

The way this test was arranged was also slightly different. Fair is fair, every brand always goes out of its way to please journalist test riders. Stark, however, clearly went further. With just 5 riders at the beautiful Golf MX circuit (just outside Barcelona), one engineer and mechanic per rider and an extensive media team, conditions were absolutely perfect. In addition, the entire management and development team was present to tell us more about their pride and joy, the Varg.

Superior product

The ambitions of this Swedish-Spanish company are not exactly modest. Stark Future as the brand is fully named, wanted to create a premium product in order to make the turnaround in the traditional motorcycle sector. From top to bottom, everyone in the company is therefore convinced that with their first product, they have built an engine that is superior to traditional internal combustion engines.

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First meters

After the introduction by the Stark team it was time for action. I ride mostly Yamaha so it took some getting used to when I sat on the Varg and noticed how slim the bike felt. After adjusting the suspension I let my red wolf (Varg is Swedish for wolf) loose on Golf MX. Remarkably, I felt relaxed on the bike pretty quickly. Beforehand, each rider had passed on what his or her favorite setup is: brake lever or pedal for the rear brake. Also smart: when you buy a Varg, you specify your weight as a rider. That way, the bike comes standard directly with the suspension adjusted to your needs.

The Kayaba suspension, with 310mm of front and rear travel, felt very comfortable. What was perhaps most striking was the way all that power was grounded. Instead of a ferocious viking on a plundering expedition, I was faced with a sporty but well-behaved Scandinaaf. It reminded me of a modern two-stroke. In terms of power, by the way, we didn’t get the “Full Monty” during this test. All engines were set to 60hp, the standard power. I expected beforehand I would miss the clutch and shifting but I must say that after two laps I didn’t even think about it anymore. Over 25 years of mx habits apparently change faster than you would think.

Actually the whole experience is a mix of familiar and different. With the absence of the engine noise, your attention was now more on the clacking of the suspension and the wringing of the tires. The narrower engine offers a lot of freedom of movement, which makes it feel more like a big mountain bike than a 450cc dirt bike. After about 20 minutes I left the track to rest because I had pretty pumped up arms from the nerves I must admit.

Comparative research

Although more and more brands come out with a smartphone application -think of the Yamaha Power Tuner app- Stark goes much further in this as well. You can’t think of anything or you can set it to your preference through the more than 100 different driving modes. From the power output to the setting of the traction, driving conditions, the balance of the engine brake and the virtual flywheel effect. In fact, you can recreate the feeling of a 125cc two-stroke to a 450cc dirt bike or a mix of different features.

That customization to your liking is done with a proprietary shockproof and waterproof Android phone; the Stark VARG Phone. Clipped on the handlebars of the bike it’s a dashboard, take it off and it’s a full-fledged smartphone. Thanks to the VARG phone, you can also easily access your riding data: such as lap times, speeds, G-forces, fuel consumption, etc… Not unimportantly, many of these extra features are only accessible to those who opt for a premium subscription.

But enough telephoning now. Via the Varg app I chose low engine braking in the next session. The suspension was made a little smoother going in so I could cut the dusty short corners a little more sharply. What’s hot. Pay attention because now it gets really bizarre! At Stark, they are so confident that they made all of their current competitors, the 2022 450cc racers from Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, KTM, GasGas and Husqvarna, available to the press to compare with the Varg!

Sharper than sharp

I myself got on the YZ450F, the bike I know best. A few laps on my own machine are a revelation. Compared to the internal combustion engines, the Varg steers many times sharper. I feel that the movement of the crankshaft automatically pushes you forward rather than around corners. Whereas with the Varg I really had the two-stroke feeling that you could steer sharply and still come out of the corner with 450 power.

Because it had been pretty dry and warm in Spain, the track was covered with a fine layer of dust. This made the hanging corners in particular very slippery. In direct comparison, I have to say that the Varg performed very well here. I was able to keep short lines and still jump long tables without having to worry about whether I had enough drive. Just as nice is that you can also steer the bike with the rear wheel. The low weight, the excellent suspension and the V-shape of the battery that guarantees an optimized center of gravity all combine to produce a very precise and pleasant ride.

That interplay between the mass and the very high-performance chromolybdenum frame are a point where this Varg excels. The world’s lightest motocross frame -less than 6kg- provides a predictable and comfortable feeling that offers great confidence. Without any problems you can correct in the air.

Putting it to the test

After an extensive Spanish lunch we had another 2 hours to test the Varg version.
What I noticed is that I was getting used to the engine and the lack of noise that you are so used to. As a result I was now better able to pass on what the suspension was doing and after the necessary adjustments this resulted in a top riding experience. Remarkable was also the use of panic rev if you went too far forward on a ramp. One blip on the throttle was enough to bring the bike back to balance. I found this to work faster and more effectively than with an internal combustion engine.

Because I only did a few laps on a track that was new to me, the comparison in terms of lap times was not one on one. But on a bike that was completely new to me, I was at least as fast or even several seconds faster per lap on the same track. Without pushing, without taking any risks.

The last session started and I decided to simulate a race situation. I went out on the track with a not fully charged battery and a specified driving time of 35 minutes. At 17% capacity, I suddenly noticed a loss of power. At first I thought it was a flat tire. In the end, it turned out to be about the safety device being activated, my Stark engineer for the day explained. As I understood, this safety device was set to very safe margins for the occasion and it would be possible to drive normally at full speed up to 10% capacity.

This brings us to an important subject that is difficult to estimate for the time being: battery capacity. Between each session the 6kWh battery was charged on the stand with the charger installed. Stark claims that a Varg could easily complete a full MXGP moto. That would be an immense improvement over, say, the KTM Freeride E, which with its 3.9kWh battery is good for about 12 to 14 minutes of race speed. However, the Stark is much more powerful, weighs more and has “only” 53.8% more capacity. Mathematics was never my strongest subject but we will come back to this later. For example in Lommel or Lierop!

Final conclusion

Progressive insight seems to be a popular term that I have to subscribe to. I have gone from a skeptic to an optimist with regard to electric motocross bikes.

Whether cross/enduro bikes like the Stark Varg will replace current crossers, I don’t see happening right away. But I do see opportunities for enduro and for races at venues in a city for example. That’s also the concept that the new FIM E-Xplorer World Cup is aiming for. Electric motorcycles are also an opportunity to bring our sport to a wider audience. And to attract more sponsors so that we can continue to invest in our talents and facilities.

I think the Varg will be particularly strong on hard tracks and supercross tracks. How competitive the sandy tracks are in Northern Europe is an open question. There will probably be some development required to reach the same level as the current generation of internal combustion engines. Behind the scenes, however, Stark is lobbying hard for the Varg to be allowed into as many competitions as possible.

Both the FFM, ACU and Motorcycling Australia have already changed their rules. And the Italian FMI has already promised a wildcard for the last Italian Prestige race in Gallarate. Now we have to wait and see when also the MXGP and the AMA will go for it.

Ordering?

One thing is for sure. Whether you are a rider or an off-road fan, there are exciting times ahead with many changes. We are also well aware that this electric revolution raises many questions and controversy. On the other hand, there are already many riders who believe in this new chapter. Without having driven the Varg, some 9,000 buyers signed up for their Stark. Subject to a down payment of 100€.

It shows how much persuasive power this new manufacturer has shown. Those interested can sign up for their Stark Varg online or through selected dealers. This exceptional motorcycle is yours at 12,900€. At the moment, we can only call that price very reasonable for what is on offer. Disadvantage: those who buy now will have to be patient until the end of July 2023.

Text: Ricardo Loos
Photos: Stark

You can also watch/listen to our interviews with Sebastien Tortelli and Anton Wass below:

Get Anton’s interview on iTunes here or Spotify below:

Listen to Seb’s interview on iTunes here or Spotify below:


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