Road Test Review
Pondering Zero Motorcycles’ 10-year evolution, from primitive early models that were essentially motorized mountain bikes to today’s lineup of six motorcycles boasting excellent fit and finish, ever-increasing range, power and quality components from the likes of Showa and Bosch, a tagline from an old advertising campaign comes to mind: “You’ve come a long way, baby!”
As its most powerful and versatile dual-sport to date, the new-for-2016 DSR exemplifies this evolution. Zero’s latest model is powered by a new Z-Force motor that produces 25 percent more power and a whopping 56 percent more torque than its sibling, the DS. It also has higher-temperature magnets for better performance during extended high-speed rides. The DSR certainly looks the part, with its high front fender, 33.2-inch seat height and 8.5-inch ground clearance befitting a bike that’s ready to get a bit dirty. It walks the walk as well, with 19-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels shod with Pirelli MT-60 dual-sport tires and fully adjustable Showa suspension with 7 inches of travel front and rear. On the whole, the bike’s design is trim and clean, with a subdued black-on-black color scheme that sets the DSR apart from the less powerful but bright orange DS.
After a few minutes of walking circles around it and feeling a bit like a Victorian seeing her first horseless carriage, I was anxious to climb aboard and give it a go, but was the tiniest bit nervous about my first time on an electric bike with no clutch or transmission. Head-snapping torque is available at the crack of the “throttle”—just twist and go. EIC Tuttle’s parting words of advice to me as I pulled on my helmet didn’t really help matters: “Just make sure you’ve got plenty of room in front of you when you first take off!” Right.
There’s no starter button to push, so once you’ve keyed the ignition and the bike has gone through its roughly 3-second initialization process, you’re ready to roll. The DSR has three Ride Modes: Sport, which provides the full 67 horsepower and 106 lb-ft of torque (claimed), but little in the way of regenerative deceleration (which is the Zero’s equivalent to engine braking, and also recharges the battery in small amounts); Eco, which cuts torque by 50 percent and ups the regen for maximum range; and Custom, which allows riders, via a free iOS/Android app, to configure the DSR’s power, torque and regen settings to their liking. Cautious soul that I am, I opted to start out in Eco mode until I got a feel for the bike.
I didn’t stop smiling until I hit the freeway and the corresponding rush-hour traffic. The DSR pulls away from stoplights with a smooth effortlessness. The power is immediate and a bit intoxicating, and if you can put aside your inner purist, scoffing because you’re not riding a “real” motorcycle (i.e. one with a clutch, transmission and, most importantly, an engine) you’ll discover just how much fun you’re having. As for that rush-hour traffic, the lack of both a clutch and an engine that’s slowly roasting you Boston Market-style make for a much less tiring commute.
Switching from Eco to Sport mode, the difference was immediately apparent. With its full power unleashed, the DSR came to life and began to feel a lot more motorcycle-like. The nearly nonexistent regenerative deceleration, however, took some getting used to. As Zero explains it, the regen performs the same function that engine braking does on a normal bike; without it, the DSR will simply coast along when you close the throttle, leaving you to rely almost entirely on the front and rear single disc brakes to temper your momentum. As a result, I found that the best course of action was to make use of the Custom ride mode, which allowed me to dial the power and torque all the way up, but also crank up the regen, simultaneously extending the DSR’s range and making it easier to ride.
The DSR performs its dual-sport duties well, proving to be a capable and fun ride whether scooting around town, carving canyons or exploring dirt byways. While not what I would call “flickable,” it’s plenty agile in the twisties, and there’s something addictive about the gobs of torque served up silently at the twist of your wrist. Around town it’s an absolute hoot, and you’d better get used to turning heads and having strangers approach to ask what the heck you’re riding. Most surprising, however, is its off-road ability. The Showa suspension delivers a plush ride over rocks and bumps, although I could see a heavier rider possibly bottoming out with aggressive riding. Its belt drive and not-quite-dirtbike clearance mean it’s best suited to fire roads and easier trails, but a Bosch ABS that can be disabled and the lack of traction control hint at playful possibilities. Plus its stealthiness means sensitive neighbors, hikers and mountain bikers are much less likely to take offense.
Daily life with the DSR will inevitably revolve around its range, which Zero claims is up to 147 miles in the city or 70 on the highway. When equipped with the optional Power Tank ($2,674, plus installation) like our test bike, that jumps to 179 and 86, respectively. Starting with a full charge, after riding a little more than 100 miles of city and freeway, the bike’s battery meter was showing 12 percent, the rough equivalent of having a low fuel light come on. Fortunately, charging the DSR is simple: remove the power cord from its handy compartment in the swingarm, then plug the female end into the socket in the frame and the other end into any standard wall outlet. An hour of plug-in time will net you about 10 or 12 percent on the meter.
While the Power Tank extends the DSR’s range, it also adds 44 pounds of weight and increases the charge time from 8.9 hours to 10.8 hours (from empty). An alternative is the Charge Tank ($1,988), which provides a full recharge in 2-3 hours, but only via Level 2 stations (those used for some electric cars). You can opt for the Power Tank or the Charge Tank but not both since they occupy the same space where a fuel tank normally resides. There is also a Quick Charger system of standalone external chargers that supplement the DSR’s on-board charger and use standard outlets. Even with the Charge Tank or Quick Charger, waiting several hours for a “fill-up” means you might have to skip impromptu rides.
All in all, while an electric bike still has a few limitations, with the range and power improvements Zero has made, the DSR is worth a look if you’ve been considering dipping a toe into the world of electric motorcycling.