No noise, no gears, but more torque than you can poke a stick at. Welcome to the Zero SR
I’ve been banging on a bit of late on the benefits of electric motorcycles and the fact they are only in their infancy.
These things are in the stages the Japanese motorcycle industry was in the 1960s, steadily improving but not quite yet the mainstream. Even so, they represent a sector and fact of motorcycling many of us want to ignore—electric bikes are not just coming, they’re here. And they’re only going to get better.
Click here to read this in the Cycle News Digital Edition Magazine.
Photography by Kit Palmer
Take the Zero SR, for example. Here’s a machine that has a stonking 116 fb-ft of torque available the instant you twist the wrist. Compare that to a 2017 Ducati 1299 Panigale, which punts out 101 lb-ft of torque at 9000 rpm, and you start to get an idea of the performance on offer from the Z-Force 75-7R electric motor.
Not that you would think this bike has that level of go on command when you first see it. The SR isn’t what you’d call a sexy machine, nor does it look that fast. But it’s not supposed to be. The SR is more about punching through traffic and making commuting fun, rather than carving up canyons or your local track.
The two weeks I had with the SR were spent doing beach runs, for the most part, as well as a couple of trips out to dinner and to and from work. That’s where this bike shines, because once you think about how much riding you actually do in a stint, suddenly the thought that the SR does only a claimed 161 miles in traffic and 98 on the highway doesn’t seem like such a big problem.
You can increase the range on the SR by chipping in for the optional Power Tank which should increase the distance between charges to a claimed 202 miles in the city and 123 miles on the highway (measured at 55 mph, so you could take a fair chunk off that if you sit at the national limit of 65 mph), but for the riding I suspect most will do, they won’t even need it.
The charge time from dead is a good eight hours, and herein lies the number one fault with electronic motorcycles. I suspect they will not become considered a genuine alternative to fossil fuel-powered vehicles until you can top a battery in the same time as you can top a tank. There’s the optional Quick Charger that takes charge time down to about three hours from fully dead, but if you use this bike to go to and from work over a commute of about 50 miles, I’d sooner just plug it in overnight and let it do its thing while I sleep.
Those gripes aside, the SR is still rollicking good fun once you get the hold on its little idiosyncrasies in the handling department. Like all the other Zeros I’ve ridden in the past, there’s still that top heavy feeling when tipping into a corner—almost like you’re pushing a box over—in that initial turn-in is slow but once past the tipping point, the SR will fall into the bend easily.
This can be a bit disenchanting for riders normally accustomed to better handling naked bikes but should prove no issue if you’ve never ridden a bike before and you simply want to jump on the electric bandwagon. In that case, welcome to motorcycling.
The SR comes with fully adjustable Showa suspension, meaning you can tune some of that initial turning problem out over time, but the reason this trait is so is due to the position of that massive battery, up a bit higher in the chassis than optimal and thus throwing the weight balance off a touch. This is something that will naturally be fixed over time as batteries get smaller and lighter, but for now is just something we must live with.
Flipping to the other side, it’s hard not to be impressed with that electric motor and the 116 torqueies it throws at you. It is insanely good fun to rip the throttle open on an SR. The torque hits in such a way that it’s instant but not intimidating. There’re three modes available to the rider (Eco, Sport and Custom), with Eco offering 50 percent less output than that of Sport. Eco makes this bike feel like a lumbering lead weight, so those with even a slight amount of riding experience will find themselves in Sport mode, stat.
Custom is customable via the intuitive app on your phone and is a really cool feature of not just the SR but the entire Zero range. It allows you to vary the top speed to the amount of torque, and the regenerative engine-braking feature, which I always had set on max. It even gives you nifty little “up yours” things like how much the ride would have been in the cost of a gallon of gas, just to make you feel all gooey about going green.
The Zero SR is one of those bikes, a bit like Bluetooth headsets are today, that we’ll probably look back in 20 years’ time and have a quiet chuckle to ourselves about. Not because they are not already excellent things, which they undoubtedly are, but because they are part of the first generation of what is going to be the future of motorcycling. The SR isn’t cheap, with a starting point at $15,990, so you’ve got to want to go green pretty bad if you were to buy one.
They are still not at the point where I’d throw my own money at them (knock about $4K off and it becomes more appealing), but you are paying for one of the very best electric motorcycles out there, and a homebuilt one at that.
The next 10 years are going to be a fantastic time for the development of electric motorcycles, but if you can’t wait that long, the Zero SR is a great option to get your green on. CN
SPECIFICATIONS: 2017 Zero SR
Z-Force® Li-Ion intelligent integrated
70 hp @ 3500 rpm (claimed)
116 lb-ft @ Zero rpm (claimed)
Twin spar aluminum
41 mm Showa inverted fork, fully adjustable
Showa monoshock, fully adjustable
Front wheel travel:
Rear wheel travel:
Single twin piston caliper, 320mm disc, Bosch Gen 9 ABS
Single piston caliper, 240mm disc, ABS
414 lb. (claimed)