Zero SR/S Review

Despite the contention, deep down, we all know electric vehicles make sense. Ingesting and igniting liquid fuels thousands of times a minute before expelling badness out the other end is, yes, tremendously brilliant… but ultimately it’s no good for anyone or anything, on any level. Future generations will look back at our century-long octane binge and wonder what on earth we were thinking. Why did they do that? Why was it ever ok?

Not that it’s an excuse, but the obvious answer is “well, er, there wasn’t much alternative and, cough, it was a lot of fun”. Hence “alternative fuels”. And thus far, electric vehicles – electric bikes – have not quite scratched the itch. Fast? Hell yeah. Lightweight? Not really. Capable of covering big distances and recharging quickly? Nah. Cheap? Haha, no. They’ve always been a bit niche, a bit… good at only one thing: predictable commutes. The coming of age has abolutely not happened. Yet. But bit-by-bit it’s getting there, and Zero’s SR/S is absolutely the next increment in the steady march towards the “aha” momenet we all need (in parallel with Harley-Davidson and its LiveWire project, of course).

Let’s get one thing out of the way before we go any further though: the Zero’s SR/S doesn’t solve the range issue. It’s got a 12.6kwh lithium iron battery and a motor that pumps out a monsterous 190nm of torque and 110bhp. It goes like this: spank it and you’ll get 70 miles of range or less. Ride it enthusiastically and you’ll get 100 miles, give or take a few. Ride it like you’ve got 12 points on your license and a cop up your chuff box, and you’ll see 140 miles, and 160 if you only ever ride in town.

Sure, ride an Aprilia Tuono V4 hard enough and you’ll see 70 miles or less from a tank too, but it takes 2 minutes to fill Noale’s finest up with wheelie-juice, where as the Zero will take anywhere from 1 to 4 hours depending on what you can plug it into. Buy the premium model – a grand steeper than the standard model – and you’ll be able to charge at the fastest possible rate through a 6kwh charge capability; but you’ll only get that if you fit a fast charger to your house, or go find one out in the wild. Harley’s LiveWire beats it comfortably in this repect.

By the way, the standard model will set you back £19,590 and the premium model comes in at £21,590, and the charge cable is £500 on top. However, the British government will chuck you a £1500 grant for being an electron head, so the premium model, plus charge cable, comes to £20,590, ish…

You do get a lot of bike for your money, though, and that’s the point with Zero’s SR/S. Zero, until now, has made dual-sport-ey, supermoto-esque things which compared most closely to 500cc commuters rather than “big, serious” motorcycles. The SR/S is a new concept for Zero; it’s a proper motorcycle with proper power, proper equipment and proper stance and presence. It feels like the electric equivalent of a Honda VFR 800, and eerily, it has almost the same numbers too. The wheelbase (1450mm) is within 10mm of the Honda’s. The seat height (787mm) is 2mm away. The rake and trail are basically the same and, oh look, it weighs the same (220kg dry) and churns out the same power at the rear wheel. Uncanny.

Zipping along the A25 near Guildford, which is a mix of 30, 40, and NSL zones, other than the lack of noise plus the occasional habbitual twinge from your leftmost extremities to reach for a clutch or gear lever that doesn’t exist, it’s quite literally as if you were riding any capable sports tourer. Overtakes in the 30-90mph zone are linearly rapid, as you’d expect, and it’s happy to get stuck in on twisty roads. The slippy, aerodynamic fairing does a good job and keeps you nicely coccooned behind an air bubble with little in the way of buffetting. The rider triangle is the stuff of all-day comfort, and it’s quite narrow too, helped by the trellis frame. Brakes (by J.Juan) and suspension (by Showa) get the job done amicably, and the chassis is perfectly nimble with plenty of feedback – you get a good sense of where and what the tyres (Pirelli Diablo Rosso IIs) are up to. This adds up to exactly the kind of experience you want: you’re left to just get on with the riding. And it’s confident riding too, since you’ve got Bosch cornering ABS and traction control watching your back.

With cruise control, dual carriageway and motorway jaunts are as much of a doddle as slow town work. The benefit in town, of course, is you don’t roast alive at red lights and there’s no fannying around to be done with gears and clutch. It almost – almost – makes wriggling through congested zones a pleasure; the only thing to watch out for is pedestrains placing too much faith in their ears. Back on bigger roads, there’s a definite sense of entertainment when you sneak up on someone with nothing more than a whirr and pass them in a flash. And again, around town, the facial expressions that grow on faces as folks realise you’re making no noise whatsoever – like one of them Tesla things, innit – is amusingly fun to watch. Kids love it (which is a sure sign for things to come).

You park up, and you kinda do that thing where you lap the bike on foot and take it all in. It’s an inoffensive machine to look at; design is obviously massively subjective but it scores a solid 8/10 in SuperBike’s eyes. The rims are things of beauty with the dusty, dull gold paint working really well with the glossy grey fairing. Build quality’s good; the seat’s stiched nicely and made of rugged looking stuff, and ditto all the bolts, fasteners and just the machine in general feels solid, but you’ll pull a bit of a face at the switch gear and slightly naff looking alloy the pegs are cast from when you get up close. Room for improvement there, for sure, especially on a £20k piece of kit. The “tank” opens up to reveal a large storage compartment that’ll hold a surprising amount of stuff (not a helmet), and there’s plenty of room under the pillion seat, too. Heated grips come as standard on the premium model, as do aluminium bar ends.

Moving on, the colour TFT dashboard screen is a pleasure to observe. Here you’ve got everything: range remaining, battery percentage remaining, speed, battery temperature, ambient temperature, the time, speed, mode, cruise control, traction control setting, power/torque consumption, regenerative this, that and the other all displayed in a clear, easy to read manner. The graphics are clean and crisp and genuinely look like something Apple would be happy to slap its “Designed in California” label on. The screen is operated entirely by the “mode” button on the left handlebar which uses left and right to navigate, and push to confirm. No, it’s not a touchscreen TFT, but that doesn’t matter since this is a sport tourer and the screen’s far less accessible than on, say, Harley Davidson’s LiveWire which plonks the it much closer to you.

Ok, so being easy to use is one thing, but what can you actually do? Rider modes: rain, eco, street, sport and ‘custom’. They are all differing recipes based upon the following ingredients: max speed, power, max torque, neutral regeneration, brake regeneration and traction control. By way of example, eco mode is 100mph / 22% power / 0% max torque (?!) / 41% natural regeneration, 31% brake regeneration and ‘rain’ for traction control. Sport is: 127mph / 100% power / 100% torque / 46% natural regeneration / 35% brake regeneration and ‘sport’ for TC. You can make your own custom modes up too (with inappropriate names, obviously) and all of this is done on your phone with Zero’s app. Genuinely, electric bikes are so smooth and progressive that rain mode is basically pointless, but it might make some owners feel better.

Aside from rider modes, the app (which connects via bluetooth) will let you monitor the bike’s charge status, view ride and ownership data, and one other trick the SR/S has up its sleeve: charge strategies. What the christ are those, you ask? Well, batteries, like engines, require TLC, and as it turns out charging to 100% every time isn’t actually all that beneficial for them. If you’re only commuting 30 miles each way, then you can set the SR/S to charge to 60%, or some other percentage at will, just to look after it that bit more. Additionally, there’s clever stuff built in with scheduled charging. If you’re on an Economy7 meter or some other scheme where off-peak grid energy costs you less, you can set the SR/S to charge between certain times of day. And, to be even smarter, you can define windows for these charging strategies. Plug in at 9am? Charge immediately to 100%. Plug in between 6 and 7pm (when you get home)? Wait til 11.30PM to charge overnight. It’s well thought out.

This review is already getting pretty long, so let’s try to arrive at some sort of conclusion. We’re clearly still in the predictable commuter slash predictable weekend blast zone, or very meticulously, well researched trip territory. Slinging a jacket on and stamping out 500 miles into Europe on a whim isn’t quite a reality here. But, it does confidently waltz into the “proper bike” room and rub shoulders with VFRs, Ninja 1000 SXs and whatever else. It has the same tech (more, actually), equal hardware, just as much punch and every bit as much credibility. Yes, it lacks theatre, yet makes up for it with sheer ease of use.

It really feels like the only thing to sort out now is the range & recharge issue. 50% more capacity and true rapid charging will sort that out. Why are we not saying the £20k price tag is an issue? Two reasons: plenty of folks spend near the same amount on a loaded up BMW GS and only ever commute on it. And over a long enough time period (3-4 years), the running costs which are as low as you can possibly get, which erodes the initial high outlay.

It really feels like we’re really only a few steps away from the a-ha moment: 50% more battery capacity and faster recharges. That’s when electric bikes advance from being second bikes to the bike. Bring it on.

Pic credit: Joe Dick

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