Tarform Makes the Right Electric Cafe Racer Motorcycle

·6 min read
Photo credit: Nirupam Singh/Tarform
Photo credit: Nirupam Singh/Tarform
  • Founded in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Tarform makes an electric motorcycle unlike anything else on the market.

  • A trellis frame, 120 miles of range, and sustainable material construction make up the character of the hand-built motorcycle.

  • Citing performance, Tarform has equipped the bike with adjustable Ohlins suspension, biting ISR brakes, and a Triumph Bonneville-like geometry.

Once a hub for World War II-era warships, the Brooklyn Navy Yard is reminiscent of the old school, from dry dock steel workers to rubber goods production. These days the ultra-desirable plot of land along the East River is mostly home to tech startups, film production, and rooftop gardens—the new school. And while these new businesses may seem antithetical to the original mission of the centuries-old shipyard, they're exactly what will carry on its industrious lineage.

Tarform is one of these businesses that carry on the manufacturing legacy. Situated on the eighth floor of a new building in the Navy Yard, the electric motorcycle startup operates out of a medium-sized block space overlooking the skyscrapers and suspension bridges of Manhattan. A small group of engineers, programmers, and technicians work to create what seems like the right electric motorcycle for today.

Photo credit: Emmet White
Photo credit: Emmet White

The specifications of Tarform's Racer and Scrambler models are largely identical, with slight differences in tire choice. A trellis frame that could win a beauty contest against a 1990s Ducati 900ss creates the backbone of what is a relatively light electric motorcycle, weighing in at 440 pounds. Power levels are adequate, with 75 hp produced by a 55-kW electric motor, and the three ride modes (City, Cruise, and Cheetah) accentuate the relative ease of electric power tuning. Though it is not DC fast-charger functional, the 11.8-kWh battery packed is compatible with Level 1 and Level 2 charging, claiming a L2 charge rate of 0-80% within 50 minutes. In an impressive show of symmetry, 120 miles is both the top speed and maximum range, with a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds.

A billet aluminum handlebar and integrated 3.4-inch digital dash bolt to inverted and adjustable Ohlins forks with an accompanying Ohlin mono-shock in the rear. Wire spoke or billet aluminum 18-inch wheels come equipped with beefy ISR dual-disc front and single-disc rear brakes. That's in addition to the regenerative braking inherent to the electric motor while driving. Other important figures include a 33-inch seat height and 25-degree rake, which is nearly identical to a Triumph Bonneville.

Photo credit: Emmet White
Photo credit: Emmet White

Take into account the performance hardware and the Tarform is by all accounts competitive with the neo-retro bikes flooding the two-wheel market. Those quick to disavow the mid-range power number must remember that the power is electric, thereby instant. By all metrics, this bike is something that carb-cleaning, kick-starting motorcyclists should love. Nonetheless, proving the cultural and worldly relevance of EVs has been an uphill battle, and the company knew it had to deliver something unique.

It could be a hit with Harley and Ducati riders alike. Riding around the Navy yard during a test session, Tarform founder Taras Kravtchouk explained that skeptics often leave with a new outlook on electric motorcycles. Having spent time with Tarform's most recent production version, Autoweek concurs that both the Scrambler and Racer versions are transcendent motorcycles.

Photo credit: Emmet White
Photo credit: Emmet White

Character, the sensory feedback and engineered behaviors a vehicle possess, is as important as drivetrain or speed, and the Tarform has an undeniable character. Metrics only tell so much of the story, but the feeling is a continuous measurement of enjoyment. A short jaunt with the Tarform Racer and then Scrambler prototype revealed the sort of slick playfulness devoid of many electric motorcycles on the market today.

Climb onto the stripped-down but clean-looking motorcycle and a few key characteristics are immediately present. It is exceedingly comfortable with the fruit-derived leather seat and forward-set handlebars. Sure, the folding all-metal footpegs feel a bit too sporty, like a race-prepped SV650, but the mid-height peg setting paired with the slightly forward handlebar reach was mindlessly comfortable for this 5-foot-9-inch rider. The steering is heavy but predictable at low speeds while the higher speed on-road tracking is without a hint of wobble.

Photo credit: Emmet White
Photo credit: Emmet White

Power delivery is effortless, with city mode being ideal for tedious traffic maneuvering while cheetah mode has the organ-pulling rush of winding an engine to its peak with no sign of letting up. A sonic aura acoustic sound system creates a symphony of low to high frequency whining that projects like a typical combustion engine, alerting road goers of your presence. The brakes bite hard and the regenerative braking is tuned according to the set ride mode, progressively shedding speed on deceleration. Though it's no dual-sport, the electric bike feels exceptionally balanced due to its low set battery weight, making the riding experience much less intimidating.

Most importantly, it doesn't remind me of any other bike I've ridden, electric or otherwise. As sacrilegious as this is to say, I didn't miss shifting gears or the thump of an engine below me, but there's more to it than novelty. It's more about unique packaging and specific intent, something Tarform has baked into its brand image. Plenty of motorcycles are built with a sum of quality parts and character isn't derived from the right parts, but rather the right tuning.

That's why Kravtchouk has insisted on spending the time to perfect the bike, from throttle mapping to grip durometer and everything in between. Pretty much the entire bike—frame, swingarm, handlebars, battery pack, fairings, etc.—was designed in-house and the frame-up assembly happens a few feet from where it was designed. The frame allows for modular power changes, meaning early production models will eventually be upgradable to improved battery packs in the future.

Photo credit: Tarform
Photo credit: Tarform

Sustainability is a major focus of the company, with the fairings and touch points produced with things like flaxseed sheets and natural dyes. Mass production is not in the plan. While a specific production number isn't clear, Tarform aims to keep this bike hand-built in the name of sustainability and organic design.

It's been nearly five years since the idea sparked for Kravtchouk, and the company is currently building the first hand-crafted bespoke Tarform Founder Edition, aiming to begin production of a $28,000 version in 2023.

Photo credit: Emmet White
Photo credit: Emmet White

That puts the Tarform in the upper echelons of price, but a closer look at electric motorcycle pricing suggests this hand-built bike is just slightly above its counterparts. There is little potential for a more accessible model. If it were any cheaper, maybe it wouldn't be as good.

Avoiding the race to the bottom with price and managing to create an evergreen motorcycle with excellent build quality puts the Tarform in a class of its own. Despite the technology at hand, Tarform is still following the tenets of good motorcycling in an electric, modern package. Ships may not sail in and a lever or two might be missing from the Tarform, but it's the same as it ever was at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Are you ready to pay more than $25k for an electric motorcycle? Please comment below.