(Image Credits: Erik Schelzig)
The 2017 Alta Redshift MX may be a high-end, high-tech electric dirt bike, but it's not afraid to get down and dirty. I know this because I crashed a brand new one on a Florida motocross track, and it didn't even flinch. Actually, it didn't even stall. I could get used to this "electric dirt bike" thing.
AU Editor's Note: The Alta Redshift MX isn't sold in Australia — yet — but that doesn't make it any less interesting a vehicle. I dunno about you, but I want one. — Cam
(Full Disclosure: Alta wanted me to ride their electric bike so bad, they agreed to provide the Redshift MX, a place to ride it and didn't laugh when I fell off. They also supplied water and a tasty sandwich.)
With no exhaust pipe, radiator, tank or hanging hoses, there's not much exposed to trail damage. Shaking the dirt out of my helmet after my spill, I picked the bike up and simply set on my way. The next time around, I made it over the same feature without incident. That's a major takeaway from the Redshift: It's incredibly confidence-inspiring, especially for someone who knows just enough about off-roading to be dangerous.
Without having to worry about shifting gears or working the clutch, I could concentrate on manoeuvring the trails cut through subtropical foliage, or focusing on my balance on the motocross track.
And when endurocross promoter Eric Peronnard beckoned me over to take my first-ever crack and riding a bike over various obstacles, the only limiting factor was my own trepidation. The Redshift was more than happy to have its frame banged off of logs, and I never had to take Peronnard up on his promises to catch me if I toppled off.
What Is It?
The Redshift MX is billed as the electric equivalent of a traditional 250cc motocross bike. Alta designed the bike to compete on race tracks, but found that its seamless power delivery was also perfect for off-road trails. That's where the battery will last the longest- four hours at an expert pace (longer for the more, ahem, "deliberate" among us).
Alta says the range for the track is considerably less because of the harder acceleration, with the battery running out in less than half an hour in "Competition Mode." But that should be enough to complete heats before plugging the bike back in.
The Alta comes pre-programmed with four "performance maps" that can be changed on the fly to adjust throttle response, torque and battery regeneration. The first two maps are aimed at trail riding and the other two are motocross racing modes.
Plug the battery into your regular 110-volt socket, it will charge within about 4 and a half hours. At 240 volts, the charge time is about half that. Racers might consider bringing more than one battery, but swapping them out is a two-person job that takes about 20 minutes.
Why Does It Matter?
Alta was showing off the Redshift MX just down the road from the annual gathering of the "Loud Pipes Save Lives" crowd at Daytona Bike Week. And while the novelty of the near silence of electric bikes is bound to wear off as their popularity increases, it is definitely the first thing you notice when you turn on the bike is the near total lack of noise.
Hit the starter, and you get little more than a hum to let you know the dirt bike is actually on. When ridden in anger, the sound it emits a more urgent whine, but it's far cry from the roaring braaap of your traditional two-stroke motocross bike.
And that's a good thing in a world of ever-encroaching development and the neighbours' complaints about noisy dirt bikes. (Perronard purposely bought the land for his motocross track in the flight path of the Daytona airport under the assumption that nobody would be able to complain about dirt bike noise compared with the planes).
The challenge is going to be to get electric bikes into wider circulation before communities and off-road recreation areas decide to ban all motorcycles regardless of the decibels they emit.
The Specs That Matter
The Alta Redshift MX is designed to be the equivalent of a conventional 250 cc motocross bike. The battery-powered bike delivers 36.58m-pounds of torque (as measured at the countershaft sprocket) and 40 horsepower.
There is no shifter — all of the power is delivered through a single gear. Seat height is 94cm, the wheelbase is just over 145cm and the bike weighs in at 121kg.
On paper, the 94cm seat height looks a bit daunting (though not really out of the ordinary for a dirt bike). But once you get a leg over and put some weight on the bike, the forks compress and the narrow seat makes it easy to gain strong purchase on the ground. At least for a 1.83m guy accustomed to riding tall bikes.
Sitting on the bike at a standstill, I was struck by just how skinny the whole machine is, with no header wrapping around the frame or exhaust sticking out.
The ride modes are easy to adjust on the fly and make this a bike that you will be able to adapt to changing conditions and improving skills. And with all the power available from a standstill, the bike makes it a snap to transition from walking-pace to rapid acceleration with a quick twist of the wrist.
The biggest issue most potential buyers are going to have with the Alta is the price. At $US15,000 ($19,649), the Redshift MX is about double the price of the Yamaha YZ250F.
Alta makes the compelling case that their bikes are virtually maintenance-free outside of the chain and tires, but that extra $US7,500 ($9,824) could pay for a lot of top-end rebuilds.
At a claimed 121kg, the Redshift MX is also 35 to 50 pounds heavier than the rival Yamaha or KTM 250 SX-F. That's going to matter mostly if you intend to take it racing. But for regular riding, the Alta's battery gives a low center of gravity that adds to its easy handling.
Happily, this didn't happen to me, but the lack of a clutch also removes the "oh shit" manoeuvre for controlling unwanted acceleration or wheelies. If your whiskey wrist kicks in, your only recourse is going to be rolling off the throttle and stomping on the brake.
There's also no neutral, so the bike doesn't easily roll backwards if you change your mind about trying to work your way over that boulder or if you take a wrong turn.
What To Watch For
This motorcycle has been in the works for several years. Now that it's ready, Alta is building up its network of dealers. Right now, things are mostly concentrated on the west coast, but a southeastern distributor is in the works and Alta has plans to expand throughout the country and to Europe as well.
Alta is also releasing a street-legal Supermoto version of the bike, and recently showed off a street tracker concept that could be introduced soon. Can a dual sport be far behind?
As for the MX, it would be great to have a van, a generator and some extended trail riding to see how Alta's promises to next-to-no maintenance pan out in the real world.
We'd also want to see how realistic Alta's claims of the battery keeping 80 per cent of its capacity over 1,000 hours of use end up being.
But mostly we'd just want to register the looks on other riders faces when this eerily quiet machine appears over a berm or around a corner.
There's nothing gimmicky or half-assed about the Redshift. It's ready for the race track or for tooling around your favourite single track for several hours on end.
But where I see Redshift MX being the handiest will be for the rider who has some land to ride on behind the house, but would immediately be showered in noise complaints on a gas-powered bike.
Silent bikes save rides.