The last 10 years have taken us through the childhood of electric motorcycles, and now we find ourselves firmly in the technology’s adolescence. Through it all, only one manufacturer has been producing electric bikes that entire time, Zero. This year, the company finally advanced to the Zero SR/F, a no-excuses motorcycle, competent in its ability to take a blast down a winding mountain road as it is in the daily grind of commuter duty. Yes, battery technology still has a ways to go to achieve the convenience that we’ve enjoyed with internal combustion engines (ICE), but the SR/F is the first bike from Zero to truly incorporate industrial design to feel like a full-grown motorcycle; one that bears only a passing resemblance to its older, less capable siblings. Electric bikes have finally come of age.
Zero’s timing couldn’t be better. It’s longest competitor, Energica, will most likely be reaping R&D gains from its relationship with the FIM MotoE racing series, and the first major manufacturer of ICE motorcycles to enter the full-sized electric street bike market, none other than the juggernaut of Harley-Davidson, has thrown its production bike, the Livewire, into the ring. The competition is about to get serious, and in the SR/F Zero has the platform to face the challenge.
Using both the battery box and the motor as stressed members of the frame, the SR/F can hang with any comparable roadster on a winding section of road. The fully-adjustable Showa suspension allows the rider to tune performance to their needs. The dual J.Juan radial 4-piston calipers with radial master cylinder are also a nice upgrade to previous generation Zeros. However, in a first for an electric motorcycle, a Bosch MSC is included to address all of the major dynamic controls: ABS, cornering ABS, traction control, drag torque control – all of which are adjustable via the preset ride modes (Eco, Street, Sport, and Rain) and the 10 user-programmable custom ride modes (which can also be adjusted via a smartphone app). This was a huge step forward for electric motorcycles.
The 14.4 kWh from the Z-Force Li-Ion integrated battery pack built into the SR/F comes with a variety of charging options (3 kW in the standard and 6 kW in the premium model). Zero decided to eschew DC fast charging for the nearly ubiquitous Level 2 chargers at e-vehicle stations nationwide. This decision reflects a practicality that is often lacking in the EV motorcycle world. While it would be nice to list super short DC charging times in the spec sheet, the infrastructure isn’t there yet. So, the SR/F was built for what is currently available.
Then, there is the relative simplicity of the Zero’s final drive. The SR/F’s motor produces 140 lb-ft of torque and 110 hp and tries to remain as straightforward as possible, foregoing both liquid cooling and any kind of power-robbing transmission. The belt is directly driven off of a pulley mounted directly to the motor’s shaft. Interestingly, the swingarm pivots around the motor’s central shaft, allowing the drive belt tension to remain the same as the swingarm moves through its range of travel.
Finally, the Zero SR/F significantly undercuts the MSRP of the competitors in the e-moto field. While it is by no means inexpensive, the standard SR/F retails for $18,995 and the premium model bumps the price to $20,995, making the SR/F almost 30% less than the Livewire. So, for sticking it out for the first 10 years of electric motorcycles and, as the competition is set to get fierce, delivering the best electric motorcycle available in 2019 for less money than the competition, the 2020 Zero SR/F is Motorcycle.com’s Best Electric Motorcycle of 2019.
There are a lot of considerations and criteria we think about when deciding our MOBOs. One of them is the significance a model makes for the particular category it’s entering. In the case of the Harley-Davidson Livewire, the significance can’t be overstated. We’ve been wondering for years who would be the first major manufacturer to adopt electric propulsion. We never would have guessed Harley-Davidson would be the one. And the product The Motor Company have come up with is impressive. From a performance standpoint, the 2020 Livewire accelerates like nobody’s business – just as you’d expect from a premium electric motorcycle. All of its componentry, like the liquid-cooled motor, the big battery, brakes, even the TFT dash and future-proof integration, are all formidable. Also, despite the fact it’s electric, when you look at the Livewire, there’s no mistaking it as anything other than a Harley-Davidson. From a historical significance point of view, the Livewire turns a new page for Harley-Davidson.
However, there’s a reason why it’s the runner up in the electric category – it’s just a little too late in the game, and at $30,000, it costs more than its rivals. The Zero SR/F was not only introduced before the Livewire, but it also offers performance that’s on par or better than the Livewire, and it has similar technological capabilities at a lower price. The Livewire is also more expensive than the Energica Eva, however, it’s our opinion the Livewire is more significant. Lastly, the Livewire also spurns Level 2 charging stations – the current most ubiquitous electric charging type there is – in favor of DC Fast Charge, the eventual(?) way of the future. These peculiarities are why the Livewire is in the runner up spot.