“I have seen the future, and it is electric.”
I must admit a certain reluctance to involve myself in motorcycling’s growing “fringe”, the electric bike. I’m an “ICE” guy (internal combustion engine), and still love everything about a rumbling, vibrating, exhaust-smoking motorcycle that I have to clutch, shift, feed fuel, and wrench on to keep running. I’ve been uninterested in the many varied electric/eclectic battery-powered startups over the past 20 years, admittedly including Zero. “Not a true, traditional motorcycle,” I would scoff.
Until I laid eyes on the Zero SR/F, about this time last year.
“That,” I declared aloud to whomever present, “is an electric motorcycle I would ride!” John Landstrom of Blue Moon Cycle in Norcross, Georgia invited me to come grab an early glimpse of Zero’s newest offering, the SR/F street fighter-looking motorcycle, with one of Zero’s execs, Ron Luttrell, present for questions. The bike had not been programmed yet, but the look, the stance, and the attitude it dripped just sitting there in John’s showroom/moto museum left me smitten, and salivating for a ride.
The Zero SR/F Streetfighter. Pound the pavement.
Fast-forward one year. Working from home on a late afternoon, Lisa Robb, Blue Moon’s marketing director gave me a call. We hadn’t talked in a year, but thumbing through her old files, she came across Road Dirt, and rang us up. “If I could get you not one, but two of the new SRs, an F and the new S model, would you be interested in doing a comparison evaluation of them both, head-to-head?” My affirmative was lightning quick (pun intended).
The day came to take delivery at Blue Moon, and with COVID-19 compliant “social distancing” in place, John, Lisa and I conference-called with Ron and Zero’s marketing strategist Dan Quick out in California. We discussed the origins of the company, the evolution of their electric motorbikes, and the development of the SR/F and SR/S models. Since I love a good story (hence our RIDE LIFE mantra), I asked Ron and Dan share a bit of the company’s heritage. “The company was started in 2006 by a ‘rocket scientist’ if you will, a NASA engineer,” Ron recounted. “He started building these electric motorcycles that were an interesting hybrid between a dirt bike and a mountain bike, in the garage of his house. In short, that eventually morphed into the Zero Motorcycles of today.”
Zero has not only survived, they have thrived these past 14 years, and stayed on the leading edge of research and development in the electric motorcycle space. Dan declared, “It really boils down to two things: One, we’re a bunch of motorcyclists. Roam through our offices, you’ll see a lot of helmets on desks! Also, we don’t have a gas bike business to fall back on. Making the best electric motorcycles in the world is purely an existential requirement. If we don’t make the best, we don’t have anything else to fall back on. It’s absolutely imperative for us to stay on that leading edge.”
The Zero SR/S. Slice the space.
The development of the SR/F and the SR/S happened as members of each Zero department came together with a question: if we had a clean slate, a blank sheet, what would we build? First off the launch pad came the SR/F, a “street fighter” naked sportbike creation, unlike anything the company had ever built before. With the rise in popularity of this class of motorcycle, Zero nailed the design cues, and the performance put it squarely in competition with the offerings by the major world brands. The Zero crew knew they had something special in the SR/F. Case in point, my reaction to it the first time I beheld one.
Zero followed up with the creation of the SR/S for 2020, a fully-faired sporkbike with the sharp, clean, beautiful lines of class-leading supersport and superbike motorcycles, yet with the more comfortable riding position of the SR/F. This bike just looks fast, standing still on it’s kickstand. Even the designs of the battery Power Pack and Regen Motor on both bikes look fantastic, not boxy and ugly like so many earlier electric powerplants from various brands, some now defunct.
Zero might call these two models “halo bikes”, meaning they showcase how far technology and design have been progressing in their electric motorcycles. These are basically one bike in two different trims, sharing the same ZF 14.4 lithium ion battery power pack, Z-Force 75-10 regenerative braking motor, Showa inverted front forks (pre-load adjustable) with single rear adjustable gas shock, J-Juan dual-disc, dual-caliper front brakes and single disc J-Juan rear, belt final drive, and Pirelli Diablo Rosso tires. Both employ a Bosch Advanced Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC) which includes DTC, straight line ABS, cornering ABS, and rain traction control. These all are directed by Zero’s own Cypher III operating system. The SR/F and S differ slightly in that the S model has taller handlebars, the tail sections are shaped somewhat differently, and of course, the S is fully faired, whereas the F holds a pair of stacked halogens in its headlight surrounded by spartan fairing elements.
By the way, Shad makes a full slate of hard cases for the Zeros, as evidenced by the optional top case installed on the S, and the side rails for panniers (not in yet).
Sibling rivalry. Same DNA, different attitudes.
Both the SR/F and the SR/S have several ride mode options- Eco, Street, Sport, Rain, and Custom, for creating up to 10 personalized setups. In Eco mode, we found we got the most mileage per charge, and the regenerative braking was the strongest, feeding the most charge back to the battery power pack. When rolling off the throttle, it almost felt like front braking, the response was so strong. The higher ride mode, the less regenerative braking is experienced. The throttle response is also noticeably different in each, but most notable when clicking into Sport mode. These bikes are already torque monsters, and in Sport mode the acceleration is stunning and head snapping. 0-60 mph is about 3 secs, and 60-85 mph is approx 1.5 secs in Sport. Not divulging how I know that…
Phil and I took off and rode both bikes most of a Saturday in Eco mode, down through central Georgia farm and dairy country. Phil rode the SR/F, and I throttled the SR/S. We had the perfect day to ride, with few on the roads, a gorgeous partly sunny day, and moderate temps in the 70s. Riding these bikes is an almost surreal experience, with no gears, no clutch, no shifting, just instant, linear, smooth roll-on power at the throttle. The bikes emit no sound, save the whine of the electric powered motor supplying torque to the rear wheel. There are no moving parts outside of the shaft inside the motor. Ron had once told me, “This is pure motorcycling, rider and machine, without all the additives needed to propel forward on a gas bike.” I’m inclined to agree with him. Phil mused, “When you don’t have to think about shifting and gear position, you can focus on body and lane position, setting up corners for carving and accelerating out, setting yourself up for the next curve. Pure thrill, man.” Chasing each other through the wide open Georgia countryside, Phil and I found these bikes full of thrills and dare I say? Soul. Electric soul.
“This is pure motorcycling, rider and machine.”
We discovered with average riding, we got about 120 miles on a charge with the SR/S, and about 105 miles with the SR/F. The discrepancy may have been due to Phil’s size over mine (6’2”, 230 lbs to my 5’8”, 150 lbs) and the S being fully faired for improved aerodynamics. Due to his size, Phil observed, “Like most sport bikes I’ve ridden, my 6’2” frame is an awkward marriage to the seat, pegs, bar positioning, and the SR/F was no exception. Tall riders may have issues with long rides in what I like to call ‘the fetal position.’ I did find the suspension smooth and the bike held very well in corners. Like other EM’s I’ve ridden, once you adjust to the acceleration and deceleration characteristics you can adjust throttle within a long or short turn and not require any braking. Just as with a V-Twin or other fuel powered bike, engine braking plays a role in carving turns. The Zero’s aggressive Regen Braking feature, when called upon, does help manage mid to high speed turns with grace and precision.”
Out and around Sowhatchet Plantation, on a beautiful spring day.
We made a few observations across our week with the two bikes. First, with a standard household charging socket, the bikes each took about 10 hours to fully charge overnight with the included 12V charger and cord. An SAE J1772 adapter is included to charge at 220V, which is also the standard for AC public charging stations around the country. A 3 KW charger cuts charge time to 4.5 hours, and Premium models include a 6 KW charger cutting it to 2.5 or less. In fact, charging time can actually get down to just over one hour with the available 6 KW Rapid Charging Module if added to a premium. For a price- $2300 extra. Dan also pointed out, “There is also the Power Tank accessory that can extend city range to 201 miles, and that’s mutually exclusive to the Rapid Charge Module.”
For around town and day riding, we found the charge plenty adequate. I must admit, however, I found myself watching my charge levels all day, but I suppose it’s not much different than watching my fuel needle on an “ICE” bike. Yet running out of electric “go juice” on a ride is a bit more of a quandary if no charging stations are nearby, as opposed to the ease of fuel stops. Just something to monitor and manage, which we easily did. For reference, EV charge station apps are available to find compatible stations near you, such as ChargePoint and PlugShare.
We also noted that when the lead rider would roll off throttle in Eco mode with it’s strong regen braking, the follower would be on top of them immediately. One time Phil rode lead, and decelerated when he discovered debris in the road ahead and in an instant, I was on his tail, grabbing a handful of brakes. A module that activates the brake light during regen braking would resolve that. Since the other ride modes don’t employ the regen braking nearly as strong, we never found it a problem in them.
For around town and day riding, we found the charge plenty adequate.
The electronics package and ride modes are accessible via a left handlebar toggle switch, which we both initially found a bit tricky to figure out. A touch screen would be nice here. Also, Zero has an app that can be downloaded which can synch your phone with the bike, and all the features can be navigated and customized therein. It also features a “Relive Your Ride” feature, to review your day in the saddle. Very cool.
The mirrors on the SR/F were difficult to set for a good field of view behind, yet the mirrors on the S model, being mounted inside the fairings and below the handlebars, gave fantastic sight lines behind the bike. The only other observation I’d note is the need for a small plastic or rubber cover for the charging port. Located where the large storage “tank” meets the seat, a hinged cover secures via a pair of magnets, but the inside port could use a pull-over cover to protect from any moisture, dust, or in our case right now, Georgia pollen.
High quality ensemble of elements.
Phil and I found both of these Zero motorcycles to be very easy to get the hang of, simple to charge and maintain, and incredibly fun to ride. Phil stated he felt like a “gorilla on a minibike” on the SR/F, but he says that about any bike smaller than his H-D Street Glide! With my shorter stature, the rider triangle fit me well on both bikes (to customize the riding position, Zero offers high and low seat options and lower footpegs). Phil enjoyed the quick, nimble handling and instant torque at the throttle, as did I. It’s quite addictive.
We agree that Zero has winners in both of these remarkable electric motorbikes. For city and work commuting, as well as day trip forays to blast country roads or carve canyon curves, as long as you keep mindful of your charge, these bikes are exceptional. They are phenomenal performance machines, are fantastic looking in design, and in the long run will prove to be economical over ICE bikes. If you get the opportunity, especially after this current world crisis eventually passes, you owe it to yourself to go ride one. You’ll be amazed and hooked as we are.
We want to thank John and Lisa at Blue Moon Cycle for the use of their two bikes, as well as Ron and Dan of Zero Motorcycles for their information and support. Check them out here:
We’d also like to thank Sowhatchet Plantation of Madison, Georgia for the use of their beautiful facilities.
*Photos by Rob & Phil. Video below by Phil. Check out the ride sequences!