April 26, 2023
Words: Bill Bryant
Photos: Geoff KowalchukZero - Outstanding in its field since 2006
Will electric motorcycles mix with leaky old Harleys like asteroids and dinosaurs? I’ve got no idea. I’ll leave it up to the self-appointed experts to pontificate about whether or not e-motos will save the world or destroy it.
I don’t own any electric vehicles or even hybrids. In fact, I historically lean heavily towards old choppers or FXR’s and drive a 50-year-old truck as a daily, so I’m not exactly the core demographic for this kind of newfangled technology. But I am a little lazy, and getting lazier. The idea that this bike requires almost no maintenance and will 100 percent not require a carb cleaning if you let it sit over the winter does sound appealing.100hp / 166 ft-lbs of Torque
Zero was nice enough to let us borrow their flagship, top-of-the-line DSR/X for a week and there’s not much I enjoy more than putting miles on someone else’s brand-new motorcycle! I abused it as a commuter on the freeway, worked it over on busy city streets, and got a little dirty on the unofficial trail network that connects my ‘hood to work about ten miles away. A proper, real-world shakedown of sorts, if you will.
Sano cockpit has all the infos
The riding experience started out a little clumsy. With nothing for my left hand and foot to do, and what felt like half of my brain switched off—all that was required was to twist it and go. Weird. In just a few minutes, the oddity of those missing inputs disappeared and the bike felt totally natural.
Ripping around on the Zero creates whatever the opposite of task-saturation is. Task loss? Cognitive underload? I don’t know what to call it, but it was relaxing and allowed me to focus more attention on my surroundings, late braking, proper line selection, etc. I couldn’t help but think that this will reduce fatigue over time and would be especially helpful for new riders who are struggling to get their rhythm with clutch, shifting, traffic, throttle control, balance, and other operational busy work.
Can you tell we got some rain this year?
Being able to stealth bomb some local trails without pissing off the local HOA nerds was a bonus. The belt, tires, and a slight whirring spaceship sound were the only noises. The Zero is so quiet, I found myself constantly checking the speedometer and being surprised by just how far over the speed limit I was at any given opportunity. This habit faded as I got more used to the bike’s rowdy amount of torque. In the absence of exhaust noise, I noticed I was even more invisible to drivers who rely on their ears since their eyes are always glued to their phones. Not sure what to do about that one. Loud pipes save lives, bro. At least the brakes worked great and I was able to identify the assholes and slow or stop in time. Since I wasn’t busy jockey shifting or feathering the throttle, I had lots of time to pay attention to the riding part.
Perfectly suited for bombing backroads
Speaking of throttle… oh my. This thing rips. The five factory maps are thoughtfully tuned and interact with the ABS, traction control, and other computery things to change the dynamic with the flick of a switch. The difference between maps has been well documented elsewhere, so I won’t get into the weeds too much except to say I think “Canyon” mode was my favorite. User-programmable maps are a nice feature that allows the rider to create their own personal tune. Try that with a carburetor and drum brakes. Being a noob to electric propulsion I expected a more crude and abrupt power delivery. This bike hits, but it’s very predictable and well-mannered. Again, Zero somehow managed to make a bike that would perfectly suit a total beginner, or get it on in the hands of a more skilled rider.
Ergos are perfect right out of the box, seated or standing
Handling was cut from the same predictable cloth. It’s not a race bike, and doesn’t brake or turn like one. But, it’s easy for a moderately skilled rider to double the speed limit and have fun on challenging roads. The chassis held no surprises, and at a claimed 544 lbs it felt WAY lighter. With my 30-inch inseam I’m always cognizant of standover height and this machine never felt top heavy or tall. In fact, the ergonomics out of the box felt perfectly suited for my dumpy five-foot-nine-inch frame. Standing was natural with bars and pegs right where I wanted them, and the seated position made me think of UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) ergos but even more comfortable since you nest down into the bodywork and seat rather than sit on top. If it could go all day, so could I.
The future looks pretty bright!
The fit and finish on the Zero was tight and right. This is one well-built motorcycle. It doesn’t rattle or squeak, and those shortcomings can’t hide behind a loud exhaust, either. Lots of thoughtful features, too: A huge storage compartment, a perfectly designed windscreen (check those knobs!), heated grips and “parking” mode that allows you to use limited power to load it on a trailer or truck, and you can toggle to “reverse” in that mode for even greater maneuverability. Add that feature to the list of stuff I never thought I’d use on a motorcycle but actually liked once I used it. Contrary to many motorcycles through the ages, the bike feels like it was engineered first and then designed and decorated once it worked properly. Looks are subjective, but I thought it was attractive in a modern way without over-the-top styling that screams “Check me out, I’m from the future!” Nice work, Zero.
Sneak peek of the still-in-dev Biltwell 395 helmet...
Off-road performance was surprisingly good. You’re never going to make the night program at a Supercross, but you won’t be afraid of a hard scramble down a rutted dirt road, either. I expected the wide Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires with shallow-cut tread to lose traction on a couple sloppy hill climbs, but the bike felt planted and confident, almost easy. To prove this point, Jenny Linquist piloted a slightly modified DSR/X at the 2023 Biltwell 100 like a champ. She made the three 25-mile loops with no drama—more than can be said for plenty of other riders on traditional bikes. In my experience the stock suspension was plush on the small, fast stuff and the rear stayed confidently planted in all conditions. I could stuff the front end completely in bigger hits or if I lost my rhythm in whoops, but this isn’t an MX bike. I figure this is the equivalent of a stock SUV; totally capable in moderate off-road conditions and highway cruising, but not really built to do the Baja 1000 in stock form.
Range anxiety and price are two obvious intersecting vectors in the electric mobility equation. We’ve all been told that prices will come down and range will go up over time, but these two points will be the deciding factor for me and most other riders when considering any electric vehicle. As fun as the Zero DSR/X is, 180 miles (max) to a charge doesn’t lend itself to real adventures, at least not with the current charging infrastructure. I can hear Cowboys 100 years ago saying the same thing about a horse vs. car argument.
This one was fully kitted with Zero’s Cypher III+ operating system with all features unlocked and retails for around $25k. That price is hard to swallow for a cheapskate like me who prefers old machines, but there are folks for whom budget won’t be a concern. If charging is cheaper than gas and maintenance is limited to consumables like tires, brakes, and an occasional belt or wheel bearing, it’ll still take a long time for the cost to feel comparable to some ICE choices that can accomplish the same things and easily go cross country.
So much room for activities
As with all motorcycle decisions, being honest and realistic about what you are really going to do with it is key. If you have a sub-100-mile commute and can charge every night or two and just want to hop on and ride with little concern for maintenance, this would be an easy machine to live with and enjoy anxiety free. Come to think about it, the “fun way” to work from my house is about 25 miles of twisty country roads that would be perfectly suited for a bike like this. I know the neighbors would appreciate the quiet exit early in the morning instead of my straight-piped shovelhead chopper…
It's modern, but not unfamiliar Fit and finish is excellent Electric fuel only Belt did just fine in the dirt and mud. Note self-cleaning sprocket