It's been a long time since I've ridden anything motorized on dirt, but I do remember the noise. The growl of the ATC I rode as a kid, the dirt bikes that sounded like lawnmowers with the muffler replaced with a megaphone. That racket is such a fundamental part of the off-road experience that children put playing cards in their spokes to recreate the sound. But that might change, thanks to the Alta Motors' Redshift MX. The Bay Area-based company is electrifying the race track, and if you can handle the $15,000 price tag, the results are tremendous.
Across the street from Alta Motors' factory, on a dirt trail, through a tunnel and along the Caltrain tracks of Northern California, the company let me ride the Redshift MX motorcycle. The bike is meant to be the equivalent of a 250cc petroleum-powered engine. With 40 horsepower it's right on par with offerings from all the major bike makers. But then there's that electric torque. The Redshift MX delivers 120 foot-pounds (about 100 pounds more than gas-guzzling competitors) that you feel right away when you get on the bike and twist the throttle.
At least, I did. Again, I haven't been on a dirt bike in decades. (I ride on the street nearly every day, so I'm not a total noob.) But like electric cars, the Redshift MX doesn't have a transmission, which lowered the time I needed to acclimate to the bike. The expectation that the lack of a clutch would lead to slow take-offs or other performance-issues hits never materialized. Down the straights, coming out of corners, no matter how fast I was already going, if I twisted the grip, the power just appeared.
That power is controlled by the bike's four power settings, which Alta calls "maps." Map 1 has the most grip and is for low-speed trail riding. Maps 2 and 3 are for recreational track rides, and Map 4 is for all-out pro racing. I stuck with Maps 1 and 2.
What's nice is that you can switch between Maps on the fly. For example, coming out of a corner, if you want a little extra juice, you can switch up to the next power level via the up and down buttons next to the left-hand grip. During my tests, it was seamless as I switched up to Map 2 and then tumbled over the handlebars after approaching a corner too quickly and locking up the front tire in the mud.
When you ride in the dirt, you fall; that's what happens. But while I was (and still am) a bit sore, the bike was no worse the wear. That might seem like a no-brainer, but for a company that's new and producing four to five bikes a day, it's important to know that if you throw down your cash on its vision of the motocross future, your investment can handle the crashes you'll encounter. Because it's not if you crash your bike -- it's when.
As for ways to minimize those accidents, the bike is outfitted with Brembo brakes and WP suspension. Both are names that most riders should recognize. Because the Redshift MX is silent when on, Alta added a pulsing green light around the dash cluster to let the rider know the accelerator is active. My ride was during the morning and afternoon on a sunny day and the display and throttle indicator were both easy to see.
One issue I did have was the rear-brake pedal, which could have used a bit more traction. A few times my foot slipped off it ahead of corners. It's a small quibble, and after a few days on the bike, I'm sure I would have acclimated. Needless to say, it's always nicer to be brake-ready as soon as you get a bike.
While the bike was outstanding, it's important to remember it's electric and built in the US, which explains its high price. Alta says it can't yet compete on price with other MX bikes on the market, so it made sure that performance-wise the bike is on par with what you'd usually see ripping around tracks.
Even with a premium price tag, there are upsides of having an electric bike -- like never having to deal with oil changes and exhaust or fuel-system issues. But the trade-off is a bike that takes about two-and-half hours to recharge via 240 volt outlet. Alta rates ride time at about four hours in Map 1 mode and 20 minutes in Map 4.
Before you write off the Alta Redshift MX because it's a few grand more than a comparable bike from Honda, Kawasaki and KTM, find a local dealer and give it a ride. The bike is in 13 showrooms out West, but the company expects to be in 55 to 60 throughout the nation by the end of the year. Schedule a demo ride and whip it around the corners and over the whoop-dee-doos. You might be surprised how much you don't miss the clutch and, of course, the noise. I know I didn't.