2014 Zero SR Review

Taking a spin on Zero's electric hot rod

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2014 Zero SR

Editor Score: 80.5%
Engine 18/20
Suspension/Handling 11/15
Transmission/Clutch 10/10
Brakes 8.5/10
Instruments/Controls4/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 8/10
Appearance/Quality 8/10
Desirability 9/10
Value 4/10
Overall Score80.5/100

We say it every time we test one of these things, but electric motorcycle technology really is advancing at an astonishing pace. For proof of this, look towards the Isle of Man TT, where the fastest e-bikes are averaging more than 100-mph laps – something impossible just five years ago. In fact, it took gas bikes over 50 years to do a “ton up” lap. E-bikes? Four. How’s that for progress?

More pictures of the 2014 Zero SR

Speaking of fast, Zero gave us the keys to the $16,995 Zero SR, the hot-rodded version of the standard S model, and equipped it with the optional $2495 Power Tank. Essentially an additional 2.8kWh module, with it, the S, DS, and SR models have the ability to travel up to 171 miles, says Zero. After just a few miles with it I gave you a first ride teaser with initial impressions. We’ve put a few more miles on it now and here are our thoughts. Spoiler alert: we really like it!

It’s a long-established fact that red is the fastest color. So it comes as no surprise it’s the only color option for the Zero SR. It’s also the only model in the Zero lineup available in red.

It’s a long-established fact that red is the fastest color. So it comes as no surprise it’s the only color option for the Zero SR. It’s also the only model in the Zero lineup available in red.

Silent Assassin

We would be doing the SR a disservice starting anywhere other than its performance. Many times we wax poetic about the pulling power and stump-yanking torque of electrics, but let’s add some perspective. In our 2012 Hyper sportbike comparo between the Kawasaki ZX-14R and Suzuki Hayabusa – two of the fastest production motorcycles on the planet – the Kawi put out 109.3 ft.-lb. while the Busa made 101.7 ft.-lb. The SR’s motor, with its upgraded 660-amp (240 amps more than the standard S) motor controller, bests the Suzuki with 106 ft.-lb. rated at its shaft! Of course, both the ZX and Busa make almost thrice the horses than the SR’s measly 67 (188.1 and 171.0 for the Kawi and Suzi, respectively), but in a (short) stoplight-to-stoplight drag race, the Zero has a real shot at embarrassing the two gas bikes.

The upgraded motor provides impressive performance, but still relies on old-school fins to remain cool, like past models.

The upgraded motor provides impressive performance, but still relies on old-school fins to remain cool, like past models.

After handing off the SR to Ural Editor Tom Roderick for a romp up the hills, he came back beaming: “This thing is crazy fast! But without the engine noise, I lose my perception of speed when I enter a corner. It’s all zen-like until you realize you’re in hot and need to shave some speed.”

Higher-temp magnets help the air-cooled motor deal with the increased power, but while the performance boost is the most dramatic change in the SR, it, along with the rest of the Zero line get a few more upgrades for 2014. A new bespoke gauge cluster comes on all the new bikes. The updated unit looks more modern, and provides an array of useful information the previous dash lacked. One attribute I found particularly useful was the remaining range left before the battery was drained. I actually saw it increase with the constant stop-and-go of a typical photoshoot, the regenerative braking adding back a tiny bit of juice each time.

The SR sports some serious hardware, like a 43mm inverted fork, Nissin calipers, a wave-type rotor, and even a steel-braided line. The optional Power Tank rests where a traditional gas tank would reside. While nice, the excessively long brake line just looks unsightly.

The SR sports some serious hardware, like a 43mm inverted fork, Nissin calipers, a wave-type rotor, and even a steel-braided line. The optional Power Tank rests where a traditional gas tank would reside. While nice, the excessively long brake line just looks unsightly.

As the raciest bike in the Zero lineup, the upgrade to 43mm forks (from 38mm) on the entire Zero range is a welcome sight to see. Compression and rebound damping are both adjustable, and in your average riding conditions, the ride feels firmer and more compliant but not harsh by any means. If anything, the previous suspenders were too soft. Even in the canyons, the fork gave positive feedback; however, the SR’s two limiting factors are its shock and footpegs. Even in its firmest settings, the shock felt underdamped for a spirited ride. This may have been a self-preservation measure, as the standard, non-adjustable pegs don’t require much lean angle before touching down, and the stock IRC-01R tires are adequate at best.

“The changes to the suspension were noticeable and appreciated in daily use,” comments Associate Editor Evans Brasfield, “but I didn’t get a chance to flog the SR in the canyons like Troy and Tom. Consequently, I didn’t experience the shock issues that Troy noticed.”

Thankfully for all of us, the SR comes with a (abnormally long) steel-braided brake line that feeds a Nissin two-piston caliper, biting on a single 313mm disc. Braking power and feedback is exceptional, with great feel at the lever. The rear brake features a J-Juan caliper with a 240mm disc. Zero says feel has been improved, and while I’d agree with that statement having ridden past Zeros, Roderick still equated the feel to “two pieces of wood squeezing the disc.”

As noted in the first ride teaser, the 45-lb Power Tank, situated so high in the chassis, bumps the SR’s curb weight to a portly 452 lbs. This doesn’t do it any favors when transitioning through corners. The handlebars are at a suitable width to give decent leverage, but I’d like to try the bike with even wider bars or without the Power Tank. This additional weight is especially noticeable simply wheeling the bike around the garage.

Another oddity is the SR’s slow-speed handling. At parking lot speeds, the front feels heavy and clumsy. Its 24-degree rake is identical to a Yamaha YZF-R6, but at 80mm, the SR’s trail is a massive 16.5mm less than the Yamaha.

What’s It Like To Live With?

So we’ve established the Zero SR is quite good in terms of speed and acceleration and, with a few simple upgrades, could be a great handling motorcycle, too. In everyday use, we’re still pleasantly surprised and impressed with the SR. Around town, where an e-bike is most efficient, the SR easily shoots away from cagers at lights and is narrow enough to dart between them when things get congested.

“The SR’s increase in power is obvious the first time you roll on the throttle,” notes Brasfield. “For those who are unfamiliar with e-bikes, having maximum torque available instantly is intoxicating and renders other traffic impotent around town.”

As this picture shows, not much more lean angle is required before hard parts start touching down.

As this picture shows, not much more lean angle is required before hard parts start touching down.

Save for the whine of the motor, which is cool in a futuristic sci-fi sorta way, the Zero is eerily quiet, too. At a stop, conversations can happen at a normal volume. When riding, the lack of engine noise means you can focus on other things, like line choice, or braking points. Or you can simply take in the surrounding environment around you. It’s quite refreshing in its own way.

As opposed to a gas bike, freeway stints are an e-bike’s achilles heel. Of the three ride modes (Sport, Eco, Custom), changeable on the fly via the thumb button a typical start button would reside, Sport mode easily allows you to keep up with traffic and pass others with ease.

Eco mode drastically scales back the power, however, and while it’s sufficient for street duties, that’s not so on the highway. The limited power makes it difficult to pass other vehicles, and a speed limiter is placed at 71 mph to save juice. Custom, meanwhile, incorporates whatever changes to the bike’s top speed, max torque, and regenerative braking are input through the Zero app on your smartphone.

Zero’s updated and bespoke gauge cluster is much improved over its predecessor, providing a wealth of information without appearing crowded or convoluted.

Zero’s updated and bespoke gauge cluster is much improved over its predecessor, providing a wealth of information without appearing crowded or convoluted.

The Zero app does more than just allow the user to change the bike’s performance parameters. For those who really want to dig deeper into the bike’s performance, it provides information like the average watt hours per mile and total kilowatt hours used. When charging, it can provide the charging amps and wattage as well. And for those who like to get technical, there’s a function to email the bike’s logs. This can prove useful if wanting to track the performance of the bike after making a change.

With the addition of the Power Tank, we slowly learned to retrain our brains to stop worrying about range anxiety and just start riding. The entire time we had the bike we never ran it out of juice. On one particular trip we ran the SR for 70 miles, with the charge meter still showing 37% battery left and 37.0 miles remaining. We’ve seen others achieve even better results. Of course, your mileage may vary based on your riding habits and conditions. And in normal everyday situations, we’d adjust to simply plugging the bike in whenever we stopped, like a cell phone. You’d be surprised how many plugs are available at the places you frequent.

“The increased range (yes, at a hefty price) moves the SR into the category of a motorcycle that can be used as more than just a commuter or errand runner,” Brasfield notes. “While it still requires some planning, you could easily have a fun ​Sunday ride in the mountains with the additional battery power.”

The Zero SR handles a curvy road fairly well. However, a better shock, stickier tires and a pair of rearsets would really transform the SR’s cornering abilities.

The Zero SR handles a curvy road fairly well. However, a better shock, stickier tires and a pair of rearsets would really transform the SR’s cornering abilities.

Of course, the big weakness for e-bikes is charge times, and the Zero is no different. With a standard 110v wall outlet, recharging the SR from a totally drained battery could take in excess of eight hours. However, part of adapting to electric mobility is taking advantage of the charging infrastructure currently available. With the optional CHAdeMO accessory, recharging to 95% capacity is possible in an hour. Savvy owners will also invest in other adapters, like the more commonly used (at least in America) J1772, which opens up charging opportunities considerably in major metropolitan areas.

The Bike Of The Future?

The future looks bright for the SR. It’s a solid platform from which to build on. We’re looking forward to seeing what others do with it.

The future looks bright for the SR. It’s a solid platform from which to build on. We’re looking forward to seeing what others do with it.

Don’t worry gas bike purists, the Zero SR isn’t going to dethrone your favorite dino-powered motorcycle any time soon. Besides the range, the exorbitant cost is simply too much for many to accept. However, judged purely from a performance aspect, the Zero SR is not one to be taken lightly. It goes and stops as well, if not better than, anything else out there. It could use a diet and better components, but the SR is a positive sign of things to come for the e-bike world.

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  • Joe

    Electric bike is what I want next, been more and more pissed off of being forced to pay for gas. Only thing I wish these things had more appealing design.

    • RoyEMunson

      The Brammo Empulse looks great IMO, and you can get a 2013 for 14995… which is really not a bad price considering the components, and you keep the 6-speed and chain drive.

    • Lucy Sky Diamonds

      The mission-R looks like Italian exotica!

  • benswing

    Nice review! Comparing a $17k ebike to a $14-15k hypersportbikes that have undergone years of development is quite a compliment to ebikes! Awesome!

  • Michael Thwaite

    Joe – I can’t help feeling that a full fairing design might even help range and it’s my kind of style.

    • Lucy Sky Diamonds

      Mission-R! google it!

  • talonz51

    I want one. However the charging time/range isnt quite there yet, neither is the price. When it gets 300klicks to a charge and is 12g or less, call me.

    • Doug S

      Everyone has their thresholds. I got an SR a few weeks ago and couldn’t be happier with it. I can embarrass Ferrari drivers, and I can also drive my 45-mile commute daily for less than a buck. Plug it in when I get home, and it’s recharged in the morning, ready to do it again. It works for me, and it’ll pay for itself in three years just from gas/maintenance savings.

      • TroySiahaan

        Glad to hear the bike is working so well for you, Doug. Did you get the Power Pack with yours? Do you have any modifications planned for it, or is it staying stock for now? Curious to hear from actual owners how they use it and what they plan to do with it in the future.

        • Doug S

          Since the stock bike has adequate range for my commute, I didn’t get the extra battery. I’ll probably get the rack and trunk when they become available (should be soon), which should be more aerodynamic than saddlebags and more useful than the tank bag I’m currently using. I’ll probably also add the larger of the two fairings at that time, to make riding more comfortable and maybe also extend the range a bit more.

          I’m toying with the idea of the CHAdeMO adapter. It’s ridiculously expensive (like most of the Zero accessories), but I could then ride my bike up to OC to visit my brother and/or my parents (I live in San Diego). There are enough of those stations around now that it really increases your options….granted, you have to go for a long cup of coffee every hour or so of riding, but you CAN do things you can’t do without.

          • TroySiahaan

            I’ve heard of people adding additional on-board chargers and buying J1772 adaptors to drastically reduce charge times as well. There are definitely some mad scientists in the e-bike world!

          • Doug S

            I’m an EE, so if anybody could make that sort of thing work, I could. But it seems like a still-expensive, bulky, heavy and low-performance solution. Worst of all, it’s highly “inelegant” as us engineers would say. I’m thinking CHAdeMO or nothing for me.

  • EcoMouse

    Electric is trying to appeal to a broader audience with it’s “Me Too” looks. Which is fine. But like was said by Michael below, the only way to get these bikes up into serious range is for the aerodynamics to improve big time. I mean, spacey-aeroplaney shaped. If the customers want to remove the fairings to look a little less Jetson(y) then, by all means. At least they would understand why their mileage would be taking a hit. Then at least people would gradually re-adopt an aerodynamic look, then it would become the norm.
    Who’s that guy who created the first fairings on Harley’s? Which is now the de-facto look when doing the “bagger” scene. He’s done tons of research into motorcycle fuel mileage and aerodynamics. Craig Vetter?

    • Lucy Sky Diamonds

      Mission-R?

  • http://www.themotorcycleobsession.com/ Chris Cope

    I want to see e-bikes succeed, but something that looks like a Chinese throwaway 125 and costs close to $20,000 is just not the right path. I have tried, but I cannot force myself to like Zero bikes.

    • Doug S

      Suit yourself. I got my SR a few weeks ago and can’t believe what this thing is capable of. I can shame a Maserati driver on my commuter machine, which costs less than 5c per mile to drive. It’s an amazing ride, regardless what it may remind you of, and worth every single penny. It’s going to pay for itself in about three years’ worth of commuting.

  • http://www.carnewscafe.com electricnick

    It’s great to see you guys talk about electric vehicles. I come from a “dino-powered” world, but the day I drove a Tesla Roadster, the light bulb went on. These days, I focus heavily on electric bikes. That’s where the real fun is, and motorcycle riders get it much more than car drivers. After all, who would turn down raw torque? You make all the great points I’ve been writing about over the years. Charging is easier than it’s made out to be. The world of EV did in four years what the gasoline engine did in 50.

    We owe a lot to Zero Motorcycles. They put electric motorcycles on the radar. Now I’m heading off to see Richard Hatfield’s Lightning Motorcycle. I was there at Pikes Peak 2013 when it put 21 seconds in front of the best Ducati. Seriously, 21 seconds! And the commercial version is even hotter. Now if only I could be sponsored to get that HP2 and that Lightning in my garage…

    • TroySiahaan

      Thanks, electricnick. I still love the gas bikes, but I have a ton of fun on the electric stuff also. Say hi to Hatfield for me when you see him. I had a blast riding the bike Dunne took to victory at Pikes. In fact, you can read about it here: http://www.motorcycle.com/manufacturer/2012-lightning-motorcycles-exclusive-first-ride-video-91402.html

      Speaking of Pikes Peak, I was at that race last year where the Lightning completely dominated. In fact, I was racing a Zero FX. Check it out: http://www.motorcycle.com/events/motorcycle-com-races-to-the-clouds-at-pikes-peak.

      • http://www.carnewscafe.com electricnick

        Hey Troy, of course I remember you. I wanted to interview you after Jeremiah. It was an amazing event last year. Makes me look forward t this year. Hopefully, we can catch up.

        • TroySiahaan

          Yeah, I had no idea I’d be stuck at the top of the hill for so long. By the time we got back down I had to leave right away to catch my flight home. Turns out I missed my flight after all, so I could have stayed and done the interview. Sorry about that. Have fun this year. Don’t know yet if I’ll be making a return.

          • http://www.carnewscafe.com electricnick

            LOL, as much as I want to go up there and take the winning pictures, it’s the wake up at 3 and back at 9pm without Internet that gets me. Hope to see you there and or elsewhere soon.

  • car253

    I knew it had to be a Kawasaki. They make the best and most reliable motorcycles. And, they are QUIET!! They are the best!