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#17 Start-up STERN is going to prove it: an electric off-road motorcycle that can compete with internal combustion engines

STERN Motorcycles unveils a revolutionary electric enduro motorcycle with a distinctive interchangeable battery pack. Their mission? A motorcycle world that embraces electric riding.

As a little girl, Anne Bulten, COO and co-founder of STERN Motorcycles, spent her Saturdays at the small dirt track of the local motorcycle club in Vorden, Gelderland. Her whole family “breathes off-road motorcycles.” Meanwhile, this track has been gathering dust for ten years. It is no longer allowed to be ridden because residents objected to noise and environmental pollution. “The motorcycle club was like a close family; we saw each other every Saturday. We can’t get together because we no longer have our own place. Noise and environmental concerns weigh more and more heavily. So the sport has to switch to electric,” Anne said.

That is precisely why she, CEO Tim Veldhuis, lead engineer Thomas Maas, and CTO Jan Veenhuis spend every spare minute in STERN’s workshop and office on Hengelosestraat in Enschede. Together, in addition to a close group of friends, the four form the founding team of STERN Motorcycles.

Why this is important

STERN Motorcycles is developing an electric enduro motorcycle with a unique interchangeable battery pack shaped like a banana. The team wants to bring the motorcycle world and electric riding together and aims to become one of the top three motorcycle brands worldwide for off-road riding within five years.

University of Twente (UT) spin-off builds enduro motorcycles for non-enclosed tracks. A brief lesson in motorsports: where motocross races take place on a closed track, participants of enduro races ride a pre-determined route over unpaved roads, arable land, and through the forest. The sport of enduro is small in the Netherlands, but it’s wildly popular in countries with more unspoiled nature and less densely populated areas such as Scandinavia and southern Europe.

Beautiful and a tad aggressive

It all began when Tim founded the UT student team Electric Superbike Twente in 2017. There, he meets Thomas and, two years later, Anne and Jan. The team is developing an electric road bike. “Being part of the student team is cool. You gain an enormous amount of knowledge, but after a year, it’s over. We wanted to commercialize all that knowledge.”

Thus, in 2022, STERN Motorcycles was born. The choice of that name is twofold. First of all, the Stern is an adorable long-distance bird. Second, Thomas was once attacked by this bird on a vacation. Anne: “That’s what our bike should be: beautiful, suitable for long distances, and a tad aggressive.”

A battery pack in the shape of a banana

Anne cannot show exactly what the bike looks like. The start-up is in the middle of a patent process. She can, however, tell you what makes their bike so unique: the interchangeable battery pack. This pack is shaped like a banana, ensuring the bike’s center of gravity is favorable.

Anne: “The big disadvantage is that batteries are hefty and often sit high up in the motor. When the motor’s center of gravity is high, steering is difficult. We want to compete with non-electric competitors and have designed a battery pack with a favorable form factor, putting the center of gravity in the middle of the bike.”

To do something about the weight of the battery, the start-up has divided the package into two separate modules that account for 60 horsepower. The battery can be changed quickly (within 30 seconds) and efficiently due to the ergonomic shape of the battery pack.

Enduro: the ultimate test of battery pack endurance

Enduro races usually consist of three or four rounds of sixty to eighty kilometers on public roads, forest trails, and farmland. Along the way, there are technical trials where speed is timed. The average internal combustion engine has to refuel about every sixty kilometers. “We took that as a guideline as well. The battery has to last one lap, and as soon as you return to the refueling stop, the second battery must be full again. A race easily lasts about six hours. So an enduro race tests both the endurance of the bike and the rider.”

Deadlines, investors, and competition

During the interview, which takes place on a Friday afternoon in January, muffled voices and tinkering can be heard in the background. Tim should have joined in as well. “Our prototype has to be finished by the end of this week, so the guys are very busy with that at the moment,” Anne apologizes, keeping a slanted eye on developments. The work has to be done mainly in the evenings and weekends.

They are building the prototype with the help of grant support from the province. The next step is to develop the production model further, for which the start-up is looking hard for investors. “The goal is to collect pre-orders by the end of this year to start production in 2025. We want to outsource the individual components, but we want to do the final assembly ourselves.”

Then, the competition. Last year, STARK Future – a completely new company – introduced an electric off-road motorcycle. Two major parties, Honda and KTM, developed an electric bike for the closed circuit. But an electric enduro motorcycle hasn’t arrived yet.

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How do they plan to stay ahead of their competition? Anne: “First of all, through our expertise and experience with electric motors. In cooperation with AE-Racing, we develop our electric motors so we are on top of innovation.”

In addition, STERN wants to make the interchangeable battery pack centrally suitable for all models. With one battery pack, customers can use multiple motorcycles, making the purchase of a new bike a lot cheaper. “Many motorcyclists have several motorcycles in the shed. Think of a dirt bike, enduro bike, road bike, and motorcycle for the kids. The most expensive part of those motorcycles is the battery pack. So someone with that package can buy a second or third motorcycle for much less money,” Anne explains. In five years, STERN aims to be one of the top three motorcycle brands worldwide for off-road riding.

Saying goodbye to roaring motorcycles

There is still a lot of work to be done. In addition to securing investment, many motorcycle enthusiasts still need to be convinced to ride electric. The sound of roaring engines is an integral part of the hobby. Many people also need clarification on the distance electric motorcycles can travel. STERN emphasizes enduro competitions with their bikes, where it’s all about endurance and long distances.

Anne notices that attitudes toward electric motorcycles are changing. “When I joined the Superbike team, my dad said, ‘Nice that you’re going to do something with motorcycles, too bad it’s electric.’ Meanwhile, his name is already on the pre-order list. And if you ask the younger generation, they’d rather ride electric than not riding.”