Derek Dorresteyn | Alta Motors

Interview with technical officer of electric motorcycle brand


The competition debut of the Alta Motors Redshift MX bike by Josh Hill was a highlight of the 2016 Red Bull Straight Rhythm. Designed and produced in Northern California, the electric machine is the first true attempt by anyone to take a gasoline burner in motocross. Hill proved that the bike is competitive with his runs in the 250 class and by the end of the night, the MX world was abuzz about the future of the sport.

Before the gates dropped at the Straight Rhythm we learned all about the bike from Alta’s CTO and Co-Founder, Derek Dorresteyn. A technical whizz that knows the ins and outs of MX, Dorresteyn shared the details and plans for the company. If you’re interested in getting one for yourself, contact the company and put your name on a waiting list. Bikes are currently shipping to customers and production will increase in the coming months.

Straight Rhythm was the competition debut of the Red Shift MX bike. How and when did you decide to do it there?

It was a lucky break. We had talked about how we wanted to assault top flight motocross and we're basically written out of the rulebooks as it stands now. One of our advisors, Eric Peronnard, thought that it was possible for us to do this event. We talked to Red Bull and they were excited about it, so the rest is history.

Your racer is Josh Hill and he is probably one of the most talented motocross racers, ever. For him to have confidence in it and to race it is huge. How did you meet him?

It's a really funny story. Apparently, Josh sent us emails that we didn't respond to and phone calls that we didn't answer so he hit up his buddy Kris Keefer, who he was testing with us. Eventually, he got our attention by doctoring a photo of our bike with his number on it on his Instagram, I reached out to him and he was genuinely excited about the bike and wanted to know if it was at all possible to ride it.


Kris Keefer's role was huge and he is one of the best test riders in the sport. How did you find out about him?

I've read some of the things that he's done over the years and as I did research, he's one of the only guys that is a real testing service with Keefer Inc. He has insurance and is a real pro tester. I approached him in the early days, more than two years ago now, to help us do development riding and he's had a huge impact on the program.

We all know that it's trial and error on any project. How much as the bike changed from its first blueprints until now?

I like to think of it as refinement and optimization [Laughs]. It's changed a lot. We did an initial prototype in 2011 and it looks nothing like this bike. After building that, we saw the potential and promise and did a new clean sheet design. That saw life about two years ago and there have been thousands of additional engineering hours into it since then to get it refined.

How did you find partners in WP suspension and the proprietary companies that produce your motors and battery cells?

We have some industry partners. WP is certainly a big one and so is Acerbis plastic. We looked around and saw who we thought could be a partner and started those conversations. Those conversations were better with some companies than others, so we went with WP and are very happy with the products. The rest of the bike is really a clean sheet design, so we are buying battery cells from one of the big battery companies but the rest is our own engineering and design. And that's where the real innovation has come from. Our approach of the motor, inverter, and battery pack is what made it possible for the bike to compete with 250F motocross bikes.


Right now this is not AMA legal, but you are going through the steps and all sides are coming together. Could we see this on the line in 2018 or 2019?

I would love to see it as soon as possible. I think the conversations with the promoters and the AMA have been very positive, and the consensus is that this is coming and that we should try to include electric propulsion into the rules. I observed in some of the rule making as a manufacturer rep at the AMA for amateur racing recently and surprisingly everyone is excited about it. We are working on it.

When we post things about the bike online, we get a very mixed reaction. People either think it is great for the sport while others still want gas and oil. How difficult is it for you to show people that this is legitimate and not a novelty?

I see the same challenges pop up, on the forums especially. Guys like Josh Hill make this conversation easier because they show that the bike is legitimate and about performance, not about other things. Over time, I think especially as people get a chance to ride the bike, more people will get it.

Right now all of the design and assembly of the bike is in California. What is the cost of the bike and if someone is interested in purchasing one, where do they need to go?

We are assembling bikes in California and about half of our parts come from America, while the rest are from international suppliers. It's truly an American product and it's all engineered in California. We have some amazing talent doing the work.

Right now you can go to the dealer in San Francisco, Alta Motors of San Francisco, and go on a test ride or put a deposit down. There is a waiting list, so the deposit is the path to getting a bike faster than someone else.


What is the price and what's the average runtime that the average guy, not Josh Hill, could expect to get out of the battery per charge?

The bike is $14,995. Some people are surprised and raise an eyebrow at that number, but it's related to the technology in the vehicle and that's what drives the price. For that price, you get value, which is a drivetrain that is low maintenance, and performance attributes that have never been on a motorcycle before. The responsiveness of the throttle, the traction, and the feel of the bike is something to behold.

The bike was engineered to do a thirty-minute moto plus two laps without going back to the track. If that was possible, we thought that the program was worth pursuing. The bike can do that with a pro rider on it, so everyone else that doesn't ride it the same way as a pro rider gets more range. When we go to a track with amateur riders, we see fifty minutes to an hour on a motocross track. Trail riding is another world and our record right now is five hours of trail riding, but we regularly go out and do two or three hours of trail riding.

Every now and then Tesla will issue a software update for their cars. Is that something Alta does as well?

That's an interesting point because this is a new aspect to all of this. This is a digital motorcycle that is driven by software and in addition to having some changeable on the fly throttle maps that have traction control, engine braking, and other features, we have something that is continuously working to improve the firmware of the bike with new features. If you drop it off at the dealer, they will flash it with software you have a new motorcycle.

If someone needs brake pads or new gearing, are their interchangeable parts from other brands?

The brakes are Brembo and they are very similar to the European brands that use those brakes. The wheels are proprietary and there may be some crossover with sprockets, but tires are all standard sizes with a 21-inch front and 19-inch rear.