When the first race of the 2023/24 SuperEnduro World Championship season kicked off in Lievin, France, last November, there was one brand missing from the starting gate. That brand had built a team, hired a former world champion racer, and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to compete. 

That team had filed their entry for the series, built a bike that met FIM regulations, and had their entry confirmed by the organizing body. The team and its bikes were on the ground, ready to race, and yet Stark Future was not allowed to compete. 

Less than a day before the event was set to begin, the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) which runs the SuperEnduro World Championship, issued an unprecedented update, modifying its regulations to explicitly prevent Stark Future's Varg motorcycle from racing. 

Why? Because instead of burning fuel, Stark's bike ran on batteries. 

Three months later, on the eve of the final race of the 2023/24 season, there's still been little in the way of explanation. After an extensive investigation into the situation, contacting dozens of sources within the FIM and surrounding racing bodies, I’m still left with more questions than answers.

Stark Future's CEO
Stark Varg Beauty
Stark Varg on Dirt

Stark Varg on Dirt

On the Ground

As Sebastien Tortelli watched the first practice sessions at that first FIM SuperEnduro event in November of 2023, the smell of two-stroke oil filled his nose as the anger of the FIM's denial still coursed through his veins.

Tortelli is Stark's Test Manager and a two-time FIM Motocross World Champion. He's used to the smell of competition. This helpless feeling, however, was something new.

"I was in the pits, and we couldn't go through technical inspection. That was the main thing because they basically crossed us out of the rulebook," Tortelli said. "It was a big slap in the face at the end of the day."

The irony of denying an emissions-free bike from running while clouds of hydrocarbons filled the enclosed arena was not lost on Tortelli. 

"When you go to an EnduroCross you have a lot of two-strokes," he said. "The air quality becomes really bad." We all know that two-strokes aren't great for the environment, but it's striking to see just how bad. A single two-stroke bike emits more hydrocarbons into the air than 10 cars. Put a few series worth of bikes together in an enclosed arena and, predictably, it becomes an unpleasant place to be. 

Paul Soucy, Stark co-founder and CTO, was also at the arena in France. "I, personally, had never been to a SuperEnduro closed stadium race before," he said, "but when I was there in the morning, I got sick in my throat just from the training session."

Stark Varg Beauty 2

Nauseous and woozy, Soucy went out to get some fresh air. He bought an air quality meter, returned to the stands, and turned it on. The meter's warning light immediately blazed red. It gave a CO2 reading of 3,200 parts per million, a level numerous studies have shown causes inflammation, headaches, and reduced cognitive performance in the short term. Longer-term exposure can cause bone demineralization, kidney calcification, and depressive behavior. And that's before you consider the impacts of the hydrocarbons and various other pollutants shot from the exhaust of a race bike.

"Even if our bike would burn down, you will not reach the bad quality that we had in the air because of the fumes of the two-strokes and the four-strokes and the lack of ventilation they had at our arena," Soucy said. 

And yet, the one bike that emitted nothing into the stadium was not allowed to compete. It was, however, allowed on the track multiple times. The Varg never ran with other riders, but rider Taddy Błażusiak piloted the bike at speed with officials and safety workers looking on. It even ran an exhibition lap on Saturday with the full crowd present. 

If the bike was such a risk that the regulations needed changing at the eleventh hour, why let it run at all? 

Stark Future Bags Its First Win At The British Arenacross Championship
Stark Future Bags Its First Win At The British Arenacross Championship

Pulling the Plug

The old mantra of "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" is especially true when it comes to this class of bikes—except that SuperEnduro races typically run on Saturdays. Buyers of bikes in this category are intensely interested in how their rides fare in competition, and Stark co-founder and CEO Anton Wass made competition a key priority early.

"It was always the goal from day one," Wass said. "We read the regulations before we started development on the bike to make sure that the wheelbase, the brakes, all of these things align," Wass said. As soon as Stark's engineers determined the bike was ready to compete, Wass filed the necessary papers with the FIM. 

"After we got the written confirmation from the FIM, we signed Taddy, who's a several-time world champion," Wass said. "We built up a team, prepared to go to the race, and 22 hours before the technical inspection, the rules have changed."

The signing of Taddy Błażusiak, former factory GasGas rider, was something of a coup, a short-lived PR victory that could not have come cheap.

"The reason we signed him is because we had written confirmation from the FIM," Stark CTO Paul Soucy said. "But if our bike would pass electric FIM regulations, we would be good to go for racing. Otherwise, for us, it wouldn't have been worth the investment of recruiting such an expensive role that we couldn't take advantage of for marketing purposes."

Wass estimates that the company spent "several hundred thousands of Euros" building the team for that first year of competition. A loss like that would be a serious sting for the other major players in the space, like KTM, which globally sells over 30,000 motorcycles monthly. 

But for Stark, a 300-employee company selling closer to 1,000 bikes per month, that loss represents a brutal setback. 

Stark Varg Initial Shipment

Safety Concerns

In researching this article, I contacted numerous officials at the FIM as well as the FIM's International Technical Commission (CTI). Most did not respond. Those few who did directed us toward the FIM's communications manager, Isabelle Lariviere, who replied only with the following statement:

The respective Sporting Commissions, together with associated technical experts, are currently working on the required safety and technical measures for an electric motorcycle to be accepted in an FIM SuperEnduro World Championship event.

Several important considerations related notably to fire hazard response, electrical shock, prevention, personal protective equipment and quarantine zone establishment, gas and smoke emissions are to be taken into consideration, particularly for events organised inside a stadium.

The International Technical Commission (CTI) establishes equivalences between electric and internal combustion engines. To date, further work, tests and analyses still need to be performed by our electric and technical experts.

For the reasons set out above, electric motorcycles are not eligible for participation in the upcoming 2024 FIM SuperEnduro World Championship.

Yet the FIM's SuperEnduro regulations didn't prohibit electric motorcycles from competing in the series. In fact, FIM regulations quite clearly allow them. The 2023 version of a document published by the FIM titled "FIM Electric Regulations" lists numerous features required for entry by electric motorcycles.

Those additions include a secondary safety, a lanyard that will automatically cut the high voltage on the motorcycle should it become separated from the rider. The regulations also require additional lights on the bike indicating the state of the high-voltage system, similar to those seen in series like Formula E or MotoE. 

Stark Varg 1,000 Units
The Stark Varg Is A Powerful All-Electric Motocross Bike
The Stark Varg Is A Powerful All-Electric Motocross Bike

Stark personnel believe their bike met all those requirements. The company's engineers were in contact with the FIM during the Varg's testing and development to ensure not only that the regulations were sound and practical but that they were met. 

But they were never allowed to find out, as the bike was banned before technical inspections began. 

So what was the problem? To be fair to the FIM, racing electric motorcycles does present some unique challenges and risks. In 2019, the first year of the upstart MotoE championship, a short circuit caused a massive battery fire that destroyed the entire paddock of electric motorcycles.

But the FIM didn't shut down the series. It created new protocols for charging safety plus requirements for fire extinguisher size and fire truck availability. The series picked up again a few months later. 

Training and special equipment are also required to ensure that race officials know how to safely handle a wrecked bike powered by batteries. High voltage certainly has its risks, but those risks are no more significant than those posed by gasoline fire, and again, all that is covered in the FIM Electric Regulations document. 

Additionally, other racing bodies have had no problem with the Varg. Stark's bike competed in French SX Tour events in 2023, placing well against many of the gasoline-powered bikes. "The French Federation gave good information, a good talk to the marshals on how to handle an electric bike if there is some issue," Bastien Blanchard said. 

Blanchard, promoter for the FIM SuperEnduro series, had hoped for Stark to compete. "Stark offered every solution to the FIM because there was some concern, you know, if one bike starts to burn, something like this. Stark was bringing every possible solution to avoid that, or even if it's burning to have a solution."  

But it wasn't enough. 

FIM EV Rules
FIM Power Indicators
FIM Oceania Kicks Off 2022 Motocross Championship In Australia

A Shameful State of Affairs

There are endless unfortunate facets in this story, starting with the shame that Taddy Błażusiak didn't get to run that season, wasting his time and that of all the other members of the team. It's also a shame that Stark Future, a young company trying to find success without tripping over the tombstones of so many failed electric motorcycle startups, lost so much time and money in this pursuit. 

But the biggest shame is that the fans didn't get to see how the Stark Varg fared against the gasoline- and oil-burning bikes from established competitors. There is one round left in the 2023/24 season, the season closer in Newcastle, Great Britain. While Stark is ready to race yet again, it seems unlikely that they'll be allowed.

"I would love to see Taddy and the new brand of bike," FIM SuperEnduro promoter Bastien Blanchard said. "But we know that FIM rules now don't allow them. So, I don't see any solution about that, to see them racing." 

It doesn't look good in other FIM series, either. 

Adam Bailey, CEO at SX Global, the FIM World Supercross Championship, declined to comment on the FIM SuperEnduro situation. However, he did say that he anticipates the eventual solution will entail a separate competition class.

"My expectation is that electric will be pushed as its own category, much like in F1 and MotoGP. I think it's exciting to have an electric category and see a whole wave of new investment from manufacturers, in addition to them investing in combustion bikes, rather than instead of," Bailey said. 

FIM Signature

That would be a shame. Formula E and MotoE exist because those machines are uncompetitive with the top-tier, gasoline-powered alternatives. At the opening round of the 2023 MotoE championship in France, Matteo Ferrari qualified on pole with 1:40.971 lap time around the Bugatti Circuit. On the MotoGP side, Bagnaia's Ducati ran more than 10 seconds per lap quicker to grab the pole. The MotoE bikes are quick, but they clearly don't stand a chance. 

Stark's Varg, however, has shown it can keep up with the gas-powered bikes, at least when it comes to short-circuit series. Where it's been allowed to compete it has fared well, including British rider Jack Brunell winning the 2024 British Arenacross Championship, with Stark taking home the Manufacturers Championship, too.  

"We have the potential to be with them, and we should be with them because we are not different. We are electric, and that is the only difference. Our bike is the same as their standard," Stark's Tortelli said. 

The FIM has had months to clarify its concerns and determine any needed modifications to its already established safety protocols. Publicly, at least, it has done nothing for SuperEnduro, despite still running other electric-focused events, like the FIM E-Explorer series, which kicked off last weekend. The 2024 MotoE season opener is less than a month away. Meanwhile, the Motorcycle Sports Manufacturers' Association, representing the brands competing within various FIM championships, refuses to allow Stark a seat at the table. With no seat, Stark has no venue to plead its case. (MSMA Secretary General Biense Bierma declined to provide any insight as to why.)

All that leaves us with one overriding question: Is the FIM worried about the safety risks posed by the Stark Varg, or is it more afraid of what might happen if an upstart electric brand shows up and beats its most loyal members? 

Instead of answers, all I have is a pre-written non-response from the FIM, delivered via an email that, tragically, ends with the following signature: Do you really need to print this email? Think and Ride Green!

Got a tip for us? Email: tips@insideevs.com