2016 Zero DSR

Editor Score: 83.5%
Engine 19.0/20
Suspension/Handling 12.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 10.0/10
Brakes 8.0/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.0/10
Appearance/Quality 7.0/10
Desirability 7.0/10
Value 6.5/10
Overall Score83.5/100

I still remember how wide my eyes were the first time I twisted the e-throttle on Zero’s new-for-2014 SR. Any word associations I had prior to “electrics” and “slow” were well and truly shattered. With a claimed 106 lb-ft of torque – more than a Suzuki Hayabusa – available at an instant from its high-output motor and 660-amp motor controller, and no clutch or gears to finesse, there are few things that can beat it in a stoplight-to-stoplight dash.

The question I had after riding the SR in its First Ride Review, and after living with one, was when would we see the hot-rod motor and controller in the DS, Zero’s co-flagship dual-sport offering? The DS shares the same basic frame and platform with the S and SR models, so transplanting the motor controller is a plug-and-play affair.

The answer is now, and the model name, in case you couldn’t guess, is the Zero DSR. It was only a matter of time before the DS received the same hi-po internals as the SR, and the benefits as well. That translates to 25% more power than the standard DS (67 vs. 54 hp) and 56% more torque (106 vs. 68 lb-ft). The DSR also benefits from the same high-temp magnets from the SR, now housed in an all-new motor, discussed below.

Considering the S and DS share the same platform, it was clear the SR would eventually be joined by the DSR.

Considering the S and DS share the same platform, it was clear the SR would eventually be joined by the DSR.

A Breakthrough In Motor Design

Apart from the two new models introduced this year, Zero’s big news is its patent-pending Interior Permanent Magnet (IPM) motor, which is set to gradually phase out the current Surface Mount Permanent Magnet (SMPM) motor in use since 2013. For a clearer explanation between new and old, I turned to Zero’s Chief Technical Officer, Abe Askenazi. Without getting overly technical, Askenazi notes one of the main design flaws of the SMPM motor is its design places the magnets on top of the rotor, requiring complex and costly gluing and banding, making it tricky to manufacture. And though it met the power requirements Zero was looking for, hard street riding could cause it to overheat and trigger thermal cutback, which we’ve experienced in our own testing, most notably on the racetrack.

Electric vs. Gas Supermoto Shootout

Zero is really proud of its new IPM motor design, touting its much-improved thermal capacities without sacrificing power. Now we’re waiting on batteries that can achieve 200 miles per charge.

Zero is really proud of its new IPM motor design, touting its much-improved thermal capacities without sacrificing power. Now we’re waiting on batteries that can achieve 200 miles per charge.

IPM motors bury the magnets within the rotor, which makes for less complex (read: cheaper) manufacturing, while also moving the magnets away from the stator, thus reducing the amount of heat produced. The downside, says Askenazi, is that moving the magnets away from the coils in the stator usually results in less power. For the past two years, Zero’s Director of Powertrains, Ryan Biffard, made it his task to design an IPM motor that could produce the same amount of power as the SMPM motor while still delivering the benefits of an IPM.

For the 2016 model year, Biffard succeeded in doing so, producing an IPM motor that equals the power from the previous SMPM (but does not produce any more power than before). It produces less overall heat compared to the SMPM, and the metal rotor the magnets live inside acts as a heatsink to absorb the remaining heat still produced. Plus, the rotor is a petal shape instead of being perfectly round, providing a slight cooling effect as it spins.

Ultimately, says Askenazi, this new motor “gained 45º Celsius [113º Fahrenheit] of thermal capability, which now takes it into a motor that doesn’t run into its thermal limitations on the street.” If you’re interested in a more in-depth explanation of the new motor, Biffard himself explains the Z-Force IPM design in this video which you can also watch above. Ultimately, the new motor enables the rider to ride harder for longer, and if thermal cutback does set in, its effects will be less noticeable. The IPM motor will be available as standard equipment on the following models: Zero DSR, Zero SR, Zero FXS, Zero S ZF13.0 and Zero DS ZF13.0. The SMPM motor remains in the Zero S ZF9.8, Zero DS ZF9.8, and Zero FX.

Improved Battery Tech

Zero likes to tout its Power Packs as having the highest energy and power density in the EV market (yes, even compared to a Tesla), necessitated by the fact motorcycles have inherent packaging restrictions, meaning they need the most power in the smallest space. Now, constant development by Zero engineers means that Power Packs across the Zero range have even more density than last year. Askenazi says this was achieved via a modified ratio of metal oxides in the cathode and an added graphene matrix in the anode, yielding anywhere from 10%-20% more range from last year, depending on the model.

The DSR utilizes Zero’s highest-capacity “four-brick” ZF13.0 (11.4 kWh nominal) Power Pack. “Brick,” for those not in the know, is the colloquial term for the amount of cellboxes inside of a single Power Pack. Each brick contains 28 cells in series, interconnected, fused and instrumented in a waterproof box.

Tested for over 2,500 cycles, Zero says its Power Packs will last for over 400,000 miles – far more miles than Zero expects any of its owners to achieve on one of its bikes.

Tested for over 2,500 cycles, Zero says its Power Packs will last for over 400,000 miles – far more miles than Zero expects any of its owners to achieve on one of its bikes.

Add on Zero’s range-extending $2,674 Power Tank option – a 2.8 kWh cell, or an additional brick installed in the faux fuel tank storage compartment – and Zero claims up to 179 miles of all-city riding and a combined city/highway range of approximately 116 miles. Without the Power Tank, Zero claims a respectable 95 combined miles assuming highway speeds don’t exceed 70 mph.

Despite the advances Zero has made in battery and motor technology, the achilles heel for electrics remains range and charge time. Ever-improving battery chemistry helps with the former, while the latter still remains an issue. However, with the growing popularity of level 2 charging stations, Zero’s new dealer-installed accessory for 2016 is the $1,988 Charge Tank, a high-speed charger that accepts J1772 plugs found at most level 2 stations and complements the 1.3kW on-board charger to produce 3.8kW, reducing charge times to as little as two hours.

In addition to the accessory Power Tank, Zero is now offering an accessory Charge Tank for S, SR, DS, and DSR models. With it, Zero claims up to 53 miles of range is available in just one hour of charging.

In addition to the accessory Power Tank, Zero is now offering an accessory Charge Tank for S, SR, DS, and DSR models. With it, Zero claims up to 53 miles of range is available in just one hour of charging.

Partnerships with Showa, J.Juan, Bosch and Pirelli first seen on 2015 models carry through to 2016, the DS receiving a fully adjustable 41mm inverted Showa fork and similarly adjustable Showa shock. Suspension travel is 7.0 inches front, 7.3 inches rear, to better cope with the light off-roading the DS was intended for. Pirelli MT-60 tires wrap the 19-inch front and 17-inch rear cast wheels – a sign the DS isn’t meant to be a hardcore off-roader. A 320mm disc in front is mated to a J.Juan twin-piston caliper and steel-braided line, while a single-piston J.Juan caliper clamps against a 240mm disc in the rear. Bosch ABS keeps the wheels from locking under hard braking, but can be switched off either via button presses on the dash or simply doing a burnout.

The Ride

To put the new DSR through its paces, Zero invited journalists to its Scotts Valley, California, headquarters to go on a spirited ride through the local twisties on the way to the famous Alice’s Restaurant, roughly 45 miles away. Along the way, making a turn off pavement to give a taste of the DSR’s mild dual-sport chops was also in the cards.

Having ridden the SR model previously, hopping on the DSR isn’t entirely different. A slightly taller seat height (33.2 in. vs. 31.8 in.) is the most noticeable difference. Seating position is fairly neutral, with a relaxed knee bend and the new-for-2016 handlebar being slightly taller than before for a more upright ride. The seat itself is still a little hard for my taste, but that thought quickly fades away with a twist of the throttle. Torque is the name of the game with electrics, and with 106 lb-ft. waiting to be freed, the DSR gallups away in the blink of an eye. The only noise heard is the whine of the motor and the friction from the belt drive. That said, the calibration of the e-throttle is very progressive and user friendly – Zero engineers knew not to give 100% power at the slightest degree of throttle turn.

The DSR is capable of carrying a good pace on curvy roads despite its off-road-oriented 19-inch front wheel and Pirelli tires. And with its slightly taller handlebar compared to last year’s DS, the DSR (and 2016 DS) is a comfortable commuter. A plusher seat wouldn’t hurt though.

The DSR is capable of carrying a good pace on curvy roads despite its off-road-oriented 19-inch front wheel and Pirelli tires. And with its slightly taller handlebar compared to last year’s DS, the DSR (and 2016 DS) is a comfortable commuter. A plusher seat wouldn’t hurt though.

On pavement, the 19-inch front hoop results in a motorcycle that’s less eager to flick into turns than its SR cousin, but a good shove on the bars will point the bike where you want it. Pirelli’s MT-60 is far from a sport tire in its edge grip, however, with overnight rains the day before our ride making the roads slick and littering them with dirt and debris, the DSR was still able to blast a quick pace, the knobby MT tires providing a bit of confidence in the crummy conditions.

Some editors on the ride found the ABS intervened too soon for their taste, though I was not one in that camp, especially considering the wet roads. I will say, though, that hard braking over bumpy pavement is enough to confuse the system into activating – a situation I learned to remedy by applying the brakes earlier and with less force. Other than that, the single 320mm petal disc, twin-piston caliper and steel-braided line provided impressive stopping power and feel. Even the rear brake, which was an on/off switch in the past, now has a reasonable amount of feel at the lever.

Cast wheels limit how far one can veer off the beaten path with the DSR, but for exploring fire roads or mild trails, the DSR is up for the task.

Cast wheels limit how far one can veer off the beaten path with the DSR, but for exploring fire roads or mild trails, the DSR is up for the task.

Though the DSR might technically be a dual-sport, with its cast wheels and a claimed 419 lbs., it isn’t fooling anyone. If one really wants to ride off the beaten path on an electric, they’re better off grabbing an FX instead. That said, the DSR thrives if the goal is to explore fire roads. Without gears or a clutch to worry about, off-road novices like Yours Truly are able to focus on the other aspects of dirt riding – like managing all that torque in such slippery conditions.

Our off-road time was extremely limited during this ride, so a proper evaluation will have to wait until we get one in our hands. With that much weight to carry though, I don’t know if I’d want to navigate a single track with it. Lastly, were it mine, I’d want to raise the bars even more to ease navigation while standing.

Switchable ABS makes brake slides like this possible.

Switchable ABS makes brake slides like this possible.

The Big Question

So far, the performance of the DSR has been about what I expected. The monstrous acceleration wasn’t a surprise after experiencing the SR, and I was quite happy with the DSR’s ability to live up to the S in its name through the twisty (and wet) asphalt. What you, the readers, always ask is how far it can go on a charge.

This is a tough one to answer since range is heavily dependent on riding style. This time, though, I purposely kept the bike in Sport mode and didn’t hold back, riding like I would any other motorcycle. The trip to Alice’s Restaurant, our mid-way point, was about 45-miles. Though there were no freeway miles, the pace was rather spirited, with top speeds approaching 70 mph at times. By the time we arrived, batteries were showing roughly 40% charge remaining. As a precaution, Zero decided to charge the batteries while we ate lunch and bombed around on Zero’s other new-for-2016 model, the FXS (which you can read about in a separate story), though I think we could have made it back to base without the plug-in.


As for the IPM motor, it never overheated or showed any hints of getting there, but the weather was chilly, we took frequent breaks, and any splash from the wet roads surely helped cool the motor. Basically, from the motor’s perspective anyway, the conditions were ideal for a day of hard riding. Again, a definitive opinion will have to come after we get one for testing, but initial impressions are positive.

So where does that leave us? Well, we’ve established the DSR is capable of freakishly quick acceleration, and can cut a decent pace on curvy pavement or non-technical dirt roads. At $14,395 after a $1,600 federal tax credit, the Zero DSR is still a pricey machine for a niche market. I hesitate to call the DSR a true dual-sport machine, especially in the face of the FX. Personally, with the longer travel suspension and taller bars compared to the S model, the DSR seems well suited to everyday commuter duty. Were it mine, that’s likely what I’d use it for. That and the occasional dirt road excursion.

Zero DSR
+ Highs

  • Torque!
  • Comfortable rider triangle
  • Can hold a decent pace on pavement
– Sighs

  • Off-road abilities are limited
  • Seat’s kinda hard
  • Range, charge time and price are close but not quite there

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  • Emptybee

    Is it OK not to give a rat’s anus about electric bikes until they pry my cold dead fingers off my gasoline credit card?

    • Starmag

      Sure! Coal bikes are dirty and impractical anyway. Sure is PC to like them though. Expecting downvotes in 3,2,1…..

      • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

        They’re only coal bikes in states that use coal (California, where the majority of these bikes will be sold, uses almost no coal) to generate electricity, and they STILL produce less carbon than an ICE motorcycle.

        But you already knew that, didn’t you?

        • Starmag

          A world publication doing a California biased review without mentioning it, putting forth the notion that these are some sort of answer to a question nobody asked. Motorcycles are a tiny,tiny fraction of overall pollution. Ride your ICE bike with no guilt and be happy. You are still getting better MPGs and polluting less than almost everything else on the road. I’ll consider one of these when they don’t sound boring, don’t have range issues, don’t have elitist prices and don’t run on 50% coal. Ecologically you’d be better off doing a review of a Honda Passport 50. Here’s some coal stats for ALL states if you care.


          • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

            I think you’re reading a lot into Troy’s story! He tested it as a motorcycle and writes at great length about its strengths and weaknesses.

            My ICE bike–an SV650–gets worse mileage than my car, a Ford C-Max, and pollutes much more, but that’s not why I like electric motorcycles. They’re fun and exciting to ride, and I haven’t found a single enthusiast who’s ridden one who disagrees with that.

            If you factor for gas an maintenance, some models are actually on price parity with a middleweight commuter like my SV, and in many states, not just California (read your own link!), there’s no coal burned at all. In fact, if you accept the fact that coal is bad for the environment, you should support incentives for utilities switching to renewable sources, no?

          • Starmag


            Almost any ICE bike beats this by at least 10 MPG, your personal comparison not withstanding.

            If it’s burning fossil fuels then it’s 67% of generation if you are concerned about “carbon release”.

            In 2014, the United States generated about 4,093 billion kilowatthours of electricity.1 About 67% of the electricity generated was from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum).


            By far the worst thing about coal for me is the mercury release, not the carbon. Unless the satellites are lying, the Earth has been cooling for 19 years.

            SUSTAINABLE renewables yes. That’s a big but.

            These have a lot of downsides. For me there isn’t any upside. I’d much rather ride your SV650 (which are killer) for the sound alone. You’ve made your choice. I have no problem with the article, I was responding to you.

            “But you already knew that, didn’t you?” sure seems like a “get on board or else” taunt which doesn’t seem like the best business model unless you have too many customers, which would be an enviable position.

          • Ser Samsquamsh

            Electricity does not have to be generated by burning coal and coal plants could be made cleaner. Neither fact changes the fact Gabe has ridden one of these bikes and declared it “fun and exciting” – as a moto-journalist he would probably know better than either of us.

    • Born to Ride

      Eh, I think it’ll only be okay until electric bikes are higher performance and lower cost than gas, then you’ll be an irrational luddite instead of an ordinary one.

      • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

        Why do they have to be cheaper?

        • Born to Ride

          I suppose they don’t have to be less expensive. I was simply getting at the fact that it would make no sense to overlook them if they were better in every way.

      • Emptybee

        I’m no luddite! The wind-powered Interstate Schooner I’ve been working on has traction control and all of the other modern electronic aids.

      • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

        Lord knows there is absolutely no room in motorcycling for irrational Luddites who would deliberately choose to ride machines with exceptionally substandard performance and outdated technology! Oh, wait…

        • Born to Ride

          Now now Sean, play nice. I ride air-cooled Ducatis and happen to love the pure simplicity of design. Though I just test rode a high-performance and technology-laden Turismo Veloce and have been considering a terrible financial decision ever since.

          • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

            Take it from me: Make that terrible decision. The Turismo Veloce is sublime.

          • Born to Ride

            Why doesn’t the base model come with the bags Sean? Why!?

          • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

            I’m not Italian, therefore I am unqualified to comprehend.

          • Born to Ride

            Ha this is true.

            My dealer told me that he intends to order very few for that exact reason. Nobody wants the T.V. without the bags, and once you add them, might as well get the Lusso.

          • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander
          • Born to Ride

            Indeed she does Sean, indeed she does…

    • Ser Samsquamsh

      You cared enough to comment on the article. What’s it to you anyway?

  • Old MOron

    Getting closer all the time. Considering the Live Wire, maybe even some day the Electra Glide will be an Eltro-Glide!

    • Born to Ride

      Haha I have been jokingly referring to the live wire as the “Electric-Glide” since it came out.

  • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

    Nice job with this story, Trizzie. I was jealous about you going to the Zero intro instead of me, but then I realized that I’m typing this in Kuala Lumpur, and on Friday I’m riding at Sepang on a ZX-10, so I feel better.

    Can I just say the food in Malaysia is freaking amazing?

    • TroySiahaan

      Can I just say how much I don’t like you right now? Although, funny enough, I’m typing this from a hotel room in Austria, overlooking some gorgeous snow-capped mountains.

      • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

        (Shaking fist and yelling in Charleston Heston voice) Goddamn you! Goddamn you all to hell!

  • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

    Oh, wait, one more thing–if the new motor is cheaper, why do they put the more expensive motor in the cheaper bikes? Did they just have a bunch of them lying around, or what?

    • Campisi

      That’s exactly it, they’re burning through their backlog of assembled SMPM units by putting them in the least performance-oriented bikes in their range. Commuters and backwoods plinkers aren’t going to instigate thermal cut-out anywhere near as often as the R-model power queens or the FXS miscreants.

      • TroySiahaan

        Yeah, what he said.

  • Uncommon Sense

    I want one of these bikes, but they really need to hire someone in the design department. I feel like they just aren’t aesthetically pleasing and look cheap. For the amount of money they cost, I expect something more dramatic design wise.

  • Vrooom

    That’s a practical range for a commuter and short dual sporting rides. Sounds like it’s best kept to dirt roads, but that’s really what I enjoy riding most of the time anyway. Wish they could come up with adventure touring range, but it’s probably another few years until that happens. I could live with another 50 lbs for 400 miles of range before a complete recharge is needed.

  • Campisi

    Hopefully 2017 will involve styling changes across the range. These prices would be on the high side of acceptable were the bikes more pleasing to the eye.

  • John B.

    …. and a depreciation curve with the same slope as the back bowls at Vail!!! It sounds like lectric bikes may be a great option some day. I paid $2.03/gal for premium gasoline today; that’s about 5 cents a mile on my bike. Sweet!

  • Andrew

    Ironically I need greater range on a bike than in my car, which is electric.

    The electric bikes are getting awfully close though. Another 20% bump in range coupled with a 6.6+ kW J1772 charger or maybe a DC quick charge option and it’s there for me. I suppose I’ll hold on to my old CBR until that day arrives.

    • Drake Wilson

      That, Andrew, is a great example of a reasonable request. Most comments like that are something along the lines of “It has to go 300 miles on the freeway and recharge in 10 minutes, then I’ll think about it”. Yours is something Zero could actually do in a few years time.

      • batmobil

        Wouldnt simply a built in power pack and a quick charger do the trick? It is a pretty light MC, and can handle some more weight if it is distributed right. I can definitively live with 30 minutes charge time if they are further in-between…

  • RandleMcMurphy

    I like the tech. Things are improving for sure. I just can’t imagine waiting for my bike to charge. I’d have to be constantly calculating if I could make it back home. “Sorry honey, bike is out of juice, looking for somewhere to charge it.” or, “come pick me up in the truck, no place to charge!”

    I dunno. Too many things that contribute to time NOT being spent actually riding the bike. Your just getting the hang of it and then you have to recharge. Ugh. I’d have to give it a thumbs down. In the northeast US where I live, we get a small window of good seasonal weather. This bike would take away more precious ride time and isn’t that what it’s about? Getting out there and riding?

    This is where a KLR 650 looks great. Get on it and ride. Anywhere. Anyplace. Plenty of fuel. Dealing with my iPhone being charged is enough for me.