There’s a tension to riding any kind of bike, no matter what powerplant it uses—or whether it’s even powered at all. Basic pedal-type bicycles require you to go at least a certain speed, or else they’ll start to fall over. Powered bikes, do, too—only they’re heavier, and having one land on you if you fall will probably hurt more.
Dirt bikes have an additional tension, though. While good traction is essential for any bike, the traction challenge increases exponentially out in the dirt. It’s that challenge that the late, great electric motorbike company Alta Motors attempted to best. Balancing on that particular razor’s edge, and finding the optimal balance of power and traction to make MX riders happy, was where Alta lived.
It was arguably a master in its niche, and that’s why the fine folks at Fortnine dove in to examine what went wrong. Many of us have wondered what happened, and tried to piece together what information we could from what was available. Citing a mystery trove of information from an anonymous source (or sources), F9 offered some insight into what may have happened.
Unsurprisingly, for various legal reasons, no one who was at Alta at the time has so far been willing (or able) to publicly go on record and share their observations. However, just as a person living on this planet, you’ve probably observed that some people are extremely business-minded—and some just aren’t. Most often, that divide seems clearest with extremely creative people—but, as Ryan F9 argues, it can just as easily happen with a bunch of engineers. The point is, when you’re super passionate about something, it’s almost all you want to think about—to the potential detriment of everything else, even if you know somewhere in your mind that your peripheral concerns probably need some attention.
Thus, he says, while it’s low-hanging fruit to essentially blame Harley for Alta’s demise (and a quick glance at internet forums shows plenty of folks have done just that), there’s also another possibility. Harley, being a business, likely wanted to get its hands on Alta’s assets at the best possible price. So, it was willing to put pressure on (by seemingly walking away) in order to starve the smaller company out. That way, it could march back in and snap up those assets for a much lower sum.
The thing is, argues F9, that’s such a common business strategy that it seems almost painfully obvious—and not just in hindsight. Alta Motors was full of smart, passionate people—but those facts don't necessarily mean that they were the most business-minded people. Instead, they focused on engineering amazing products—which they seemed to be pretty good at, by all accounts. When you focus all your energy in one direction, it’s easier for things to slip in outside your radar.
All that set circumstances up so that BRP was able to swoop in and walk away with Alta’s assets when the latter company was finally on the ropes. The Canadian company wasted no time in making hay while it could, introducing six electric vehicle concepts later in 2019, only mere months after those IP acquisitions. By March, 2021, BRP confirmed that those EVs weren’t just concepts—and boldly stated that it would have EVs available in each of its product niches by 2026.
How much of the DNA in these upcoming BRP vehicles comes from Alta? We may never know for sure, but it seems disingenuous to think that there’s none. The point is, more than one thing had to go wrong for Alta to meet an untimely death. Don’t forget, the company had been around for over a decade by the time the end came—so it wasn’t the usual startup flameout story by any means. It’s still sad, no doubt—but the possibilities raised by F9 seem plausible.