I got a call from our editor Paul (@PaulADV) the other day. He asked whether I would be interested in testing an electric motorcycle. The new 2020 Zero SR/F to be precise. That was kind of like asking whether I’d like to win the lottery. But I duly paused for a moment and said, “Sure”.
I’ve ridden many different kinds of motorcycles over the years, but never an electrically powered one. Now, I’d be getting my chance for a day. I was psyched.
Shortly after I said yes, I received an email from Scott Greenwood. Scott Greenwood? I knew that name and it is well known around New England road racing circles and in other parts of the country. I had previously met Scott when I was racing in the Loudon Road Racing Series (LRRS). Scott was/is quick; very, very quick. In fact, he has multiple championships to his name and toured nationally. Me, I was a mid-pack guy.
So if Scott was involved with Zero, there must be something to it then, eh? Sure enough, there is something to the Zero SR/F and we’ll get to that.
The bike arrives
A couple of days later, Scott delivered the bike to my house. It’s nearly 3 miles up a dirt road on the side of a mountain (how’s that for service)! We chatted about the LRRS very briefly and then Scott gave me a briefing on the bike. Briefing complete, he said he’d be back the following day and left me to my own devices with the bike. No riding with a group, no limitations, just go ride the bike. Excellent!
Since I had a fairly brief time with the bike, as soon as Scott left, I geared up and went riding. But before we get to the ride experience, let’s talk about the bike itself briefly.
Zero says the SR/F is its highest performing motorcycle. One of the main features of the bike is Zero’s new ZF14.4 lithium-ion battery that provides the bike’s power. But the Z-Force 75-10 electric motor is the actual motive force. Zero says that it has enhanced thermal efficiency and is passively air cooled. It is connected to a “high efficiency and power dense” 900 Amp, 3 phase AC controller that provides a regenerative electrical charge while decelerating. For performance figures, Zero claims 110 HP, 140 Lb-ft of torque and a top speed of 124 MPH (~200 KPH).
The bike is also equipped with a suite of electronics which are controlled by a Zero proprietary system called Cypher III. Cypher III acts as a central hub to integrate the SR/F’s systems. Zero says it acts in the background to deliver “…precise performance seamlessly for consistent and superior riding experience.”
In a nutshell, Cypher III integrates the SR/F’s systems including the Bosch Motorcycle Stability Control system. The Bosh system is well known by now and is featured in a host of other brands of motorcycles. But Zero is the first to incorporate the system into an electric motorcycle. The system assists the rider in several riding conditions including straight line and cornering ABS, traction control and drag torque control.
The SR/F also features 4 ride modes. The modes are designed to help you navigate the situations you come across in everyday riding situations. Street, Sport, Eco and Rain modes help you adjust to changing riding scenarios.
Having 4 riding modes is good, but the SR/F also lets you program up to 10 personal Custom riding modes. The ability to set the bike to your own parameters is very nice to have. A TFT dash provides information while riding.
Cypher III also integrates the “smart” features of the machine. The smart features allow owners to track their bike’s location and receive updates if the bike is being tampered with. It also enables owners to share riding data, display and track battery management information, manage software updates, etc.
The chassis consists of a steel trellis frame, mated to a proprietary swingarm. An all Showa adjustable suspension lets you tailor the bike to your preferences. At the front of the bike, is a 43mm Showa fork which is adjustable for both preload and compression and rebound damping. An adjustable Showa shock handles the duties at the rear. For stopping, dual radial mounted J Juan calipers clamping on 320mm rotors help to bring things to a halt.
Standard seat height is 31.0 inches. Zero has both low and high seat options to suit riders of differing sizes. As Zero’s street fighter machine, the SR/F’s bars put you in a forward leaning position. It’s not a racing crouch, but it’s not as upright as a “standard” machine. The pegs are fairly high but offer more ground clearance. The seat is quite firm and narrow at the front. Each of these ergonomic considerations adds to the sporting feel of the SR/F. The mirrors are placed fairly close together so you may have to drop a shoulder or move a bit to see what’s behind you.
The premium version of the SR/F I rode is equipped with heated grips and cruise control. Since the SR/F is electric, I asked Scott about the effect of using the grips on the bike’s range. He said he had the same question and was told by Zero engineers that their use would shorten the range “by about a football field”. Well then, I guess they don’t affect range much.
As for the cruise control, it works as expected although speed wanders a bit during steep up and downhills. I did have an issue with the button that sets the cruise speed. It’s located on the right handgrip and it is a pain to set it while riding. It really should be on the left grip.
Seated and stopped, the bike doesn’t feel like the 485-pound machine it is. It feels well balanced and easily handled.
Riding the SR/F
OK, so now that we have the background information out of the way, let’s talk about the ride. I had planned a route that would test the bike’s handling and range. The route provided stints of uninterrupted smooth flowing twisties as well as some stop and go riding. Hopefully, it would give me an opportunity to get an idea of the bike’s range under constant operation and stop and go conditions.
Jumping on the bike, it was immediately noticeable that the bike sits fairly low to the ground. Perched on the seat, my 30″ inseam allowed me to be nearly flat-footed. The bars are somewhat aggressively positioned but are not extremely so.
Turning on the bike is as simple as inserting and turning the key, raising the sidestand and waiting for the “ready” green light on the TFT display. As soon as it’s illuminated, you are ready to go.
Ready to go
I started the ride in Eco mode. It provides the “easiest” acceleration of all the ride modes. But it also provides the most regenerative capability and hence “drag” of all the ride modes. Riding along in Eco mode should give you the most range.
In the Eco mode, once you reduce the throttle, the regenerative braking can be felt. It feels like you are dragging the brake somewhat when you reduce the throttle. It’s not obnoxious, but it is noticeable. It’s the tradeoff you make for an increased range.
As I twisted the throttle, the bike smoothly moved forward. I have to admit, it’s a bit strange to have a motorcycle under you moving forward with nary a sound or vibration. There’s no clutch lever to feather, it just very smoothly accelerates as you twist the throttle.
As I said earlier, I live on a dirt road on the side of a Vermont mountain. The road surface is often loose with sand and gravel. Eco mode engaged, the regenerative braking did not hinder control or traction as I headed down the dirt mountain road which has grades of 13 percent. Even with the smooth Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tires, the “regen” was readily handled.
Once onto the pavement, the SR/F felt well mannered and easily handled. I immediately headed to some of Vermont’s fabulous twisties for a little fun in the corners. Shortly after, the fact that I was on an electric machine was lost. The bike handled precisely, going exactly where I pointed it. The Vermont winter had done a number on our roads and the state had already been out filling in cracks with the tar sealer commonly known as tar snakes.
The “tar snakes” did not affect the SR/F’s handling and only rarely was their effect felt through the front. The front end felt planted and stable at all but very high speeds. Speeds well over posted limits had the front feeling a little light but still effective.
The rear also handled less than perfect terrain well and tracked true. But the rear suspension felt harsh. You can immediately feel each crack, bump and “tar snake” as you passed over them. As I said earlier, the SR/F’s seat is quite firm and perhaps it contributed to the harsh feeling ride.
Part way through the first leg of my ride, I changed from Eco mode to Sport. The change in the motor’s power output was immediately noticeable. Acceleration is magnitudes quicker than Eco mode. The electric motor provides deceptively brisk acceleration. Twist the throttle and you are immediately propelled forward.
There’s no roaring engine, no increased vibration, no squirming from the rear. There’s just smooth, quiet, insistent thrust. It’s exciting and somewhat unnerving at the same time. After many years of riding internal combustion engines with their visceral appeal, the smooth quiet power of the electric motor is so very different.
Nonetheless, the torque is excellent as is the instantaneous forward momentum. Passing is accomplished without a sound or drama. At least for the rider. For the drivers of the glass-enclosed cages, being passed by a silent two wheeled missile is likely quite dramatic.
In Sport mode, the regenerative braking drag is also reduced. It’s still there, but the feel is greatly reduced. Almost to the point of not feeling it at all. Unfortunately, you are also not regenerating as much electricity as you would in Eco mode so the opportunity for increased range is diminished. There are tradeoffs.
Somewhere in the middle of Eco and Sport modes is the Street mode. As you can imagine, it provides more performance and less regenerative drag than Eco mode, but more potential range than in Sport mode. Think of this mode as the mid-point between the two modes.
The J Juan brakes do a good job of slowing things down. They provide a good linear feel with no fade. To be fair, I did not push the SR/F for an extended length of time, so I can’t comment on their power if the sporting activities were kept up for a prolonged period of time. I think the SR/F’s brakes are fine. It’s a streetfighter and prolonged high braking sessions are not anticipated.
The elephant in the room – range and charging
My route had me riding 4 distinct segments from a 100% state of charge. The first segment consisted of the trip down the mountain and a quite brisk, flowing (i.e. little braking) 35-mile sprint to the next town using predominantly Eco mode and occasionally Sport mode. From there, I rode another 8 miles using only the sport mode.
By the time I ended this stint in the saddle, I had traveled 43 miles and used 42% of the available charge. I thought this range was reasonable given I used quite a bit of sport mode during the ride and there was little opportunity for regen.
Using a phone app, I was quickly able to find a level 2 charging station in the tiny town of Chester, Vermont (populations 3,200). I hooked up to the charger and 33 minutes later, the charge had recovered to 84%. The recharge cost for those 43 miles was a whopping 50 cents. It might have been less, but the minimum charge at that charge station was that 50 cents.
I then rode an additional 36 miles in sport mode back to my home. By the time I got there, the charge had fallen to 32% meaning I had used about 50% of the battery charge in less mileage than my previous legs. Clearly, the Sport mode and my enthusiastic use of the throttle reduced my range significantly.
That said, it’s important to note that the ride modes themselves don’t affect mileage as much as your right wrist. Twisting the throttle wide open often in ECO mode may give you less range than riding with a light throttle hand in Sport mode. That’s what makes the range more difficult parameter to manage.
Once home, I plugged the SR/F into a normal 110V outlet and the display told me that it would take 6 hours and 52 minutes to charge to 100% from 32%. When I got up the following morning, the bike was indeed fully charged.
Since I still had the bike for the morning, I did another stint on the bike. This time I rode 70 miles using a combination of all modes. When all was said and done, the bike still showed a 25% state of charge. Enough to travel another 30 miles or so in ECO mode.
All in all, I thought the range was pretty good considering the way I rode the bike and types of roads ridden. There were very few stop/start regen opportunities. Had I done more city like riding, I believe that the range would have been substantially more.
I must admit however that I still have some range anxiety. A day of riding is not all that long and getting a real feel for the bike’s range is difficult. I told Scott that I’d like to have the bike for a week or so for testing range more thoroughly. He said that Zero would make a bike available later this summer so I could do just that.
The Zero SR/F retails for $18,995 for the Standard version and $20,995 for the Premium version (which is the bike I rode here). The Premium version adds heated grips, aluminum bar ends and the small flyscreen upfront.
The 2020 SR/F comes with a 2-year warranty on the motorcycle. The power pack is warranted for 5 years and unlimited mileage.
The Zero SR/F is a very easy to ride machine. It’s also quick and very smooth. Its electric motor provides deceptively quick acceleration without any drama to the rider. Accelerating hard provides only the slightest tingle through the right handlebar. There are no distractions, just ride.
While quiet is a positive trait, some might consider it a negative one. There is little in the line of drama, just smooth quiet travel. And some might have an issue with that. Some might miss the roaring, snarling feel, and sound of ancient plants and dinosaurs being turned into motive force. I admit, I did miss the roaring and snarling at times.
If I had to provide a comparable experience, I’d say that riding the SR/F is like transitioning from a powered aircraft to a glider. It’s much quieter than its internal combustion powered counterpart. The most noise you will hear is the hiss of the tires on the road and the rush of air as you move through it. Also, as with a glider you have to more carefully plan range. Once you are committed to landing, there’s no way to go back up.
Would I buy one
If I had only one motorcycle to ride for all the types of riding I do, probably not. Frankly, I still have range anxiety and my ADV type riding requires me to travel long distances in sometimes remote places. Having to find a place to plug in would not make my travel as pleasurable or capable, I think.
But, if I had more than one bike, a bike; say for commuting or just hooning around for the day, the answer is… OH YEAH!
All photos taken by Mike Botan