Electric motorcycles are still a relative rarity in most cities, even in Los Angeles, where the percentage of motorcycle ridership is well above the national average. Partly that's because they're expensive, but I also suspect it's got a lot to do with people's perception of these electric bikes.
For a long time, manufacturers like Zero made electric machines that were only OK, offering acceptable in-city range, but had an almost toy-like feel to them. They also couldn't compete with gas-engine bikes in outright performance, but that's slowly changing.
As evidence of this, I submit the 2020 Zero SR/S. The SR/S is essentially the faired version of Zero's super-aggressive-looking, which made its debut in 2019. Like the SR/F, the SR/S tosses away all the toy-like trappings of past Zero models and offers a truly compelling reason to go electric on two wheels.
To start, the SR/S is powered by a single, air-cooled, permanent-magnet motor that produces 110 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque. The motor is paired with a 14.4-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack that offers a claimed 161 miles of range in town or 82 miles on the highway at a sustained 70 mph. The combined rating is 109 miles.
The Zero has no transmission and features a belt-style direct final drive, which makes for quiet, maintenance-free operation, but complicates the hell out of any potential gearing changes. The SR/S offers variable regenerative braking, and its electronics also allow for user-selectable power and torque levels, but more on that later.
The suspension on Zero's models has historically been a bit of a weak point, but that's certainly not the case with the SR/S. Zero went to the folks at Showa -- aka Japan's answer to Ohlins -- and procured the 43-millimeter Big Piston fork, which offers full adjustability for compression and rebound. It also has a 40-millimeter adjustable Showa monoshock at the rear.
The SR/S' brakes come from a relatively unknown company in the US -- J. Juan -- but the dual, radially mounted, four-piston calipers up front do a very respectable job of clamping down on the 320-millimeter discs, particularly when used in combination with the bike's regenerative brakes. The rear brake is a single-piston affair and clamps a 240-millimeter rotor. Bosch ABS is standard.
From an electronics standpoint, the Zero is pretty feature-rich. As I mentioned before, power and torque are user adjustable from the Zero Next Gen app, and along with regen settings, can be saved to a user-named and defined profile on the bike. Riding around in Hyatt mode, for example, nets full power and torque, standard traction control and max regenerative braking. It's awesome.
The Zero's dash is a standard-looking, full-color TFT unit. It's sensibly laid out, and clear all the time thanks to day and night display modes. The bike's controls are pretty simple, enough that I found myself wishing for more buttons to move through menus -- ditto for a dedicated heated grip button. Nothing here is egregious, or even bad, really, but it could be better.
Being an electric bike, you'd expect it to have some quirks, and it does. My personal favorite is the little trunk that uses space that would otherwise be taken up by a fuel tank. It's key-operated, which is fine (an electronic lock release would have been cool), but it's a welcome bit of storage. It's not big enough for a full-size helmet, but if you want to grab some fast food on the way home from a ride, your meal no longer has to get smushed in a backpack.
My SR/S tester is a Premium model, which means that it can take advantage of DC fast-charging at rates of up to 6 kilowatts. That means it'll go from dead to fully juiced in 1.8 hours. It'll get to 95% charge in 1.3 hours. It's not a Supercharger, but it'll do. The industry-standard charge port is hidden behind a magnetically closed door. It makes for a slick-looking and easy-to-use package.
Riding the Zero is very different. With a gasoline engine, you are subject to all kinds of vibrations and noises that simply don't exist on an electric bike. Conversely, given that the drivetrain is nearly silent, you get to hear some weird and vaguely unpleasant sounds while puttering around on the SR/S. I find myself wishing these noises could be covered up -- the worst is the gentle drag of the brake pads on the brake rotor. It's not loud, but it's nails-on-a-chalkboard awful.
Those sounds disappear in the rush of wind as you wind open the bike's throttle, and aside from the whine of the motor, the wind is all you hear. It's very surreal, and a little worrying at times. I'm extremely alert when I ride anyway, but being on an electric motorcycle that makes no conspicuous noise takes my paranoia about not being noticed by other drivers to a whole new level.
The Zero's acceleration is extremely brisk but lacks the drama of something like. This is likely due to the linearity of the power delivery, which is extremely predictable and friendly, but beyond the hand-of-god-like electric torque, not overly thrilling. I found myself enjoying the aggressive regenerative braking even more than accelerating, at times.
Speaking of braking, it's just OK. The system's components are adequately sized for a relatively heavy motorcycle -- which the Zero is, at 516 pounds. What I mistook for excessive pull needed at the lever before the brakes would grab is actually a nice regen feature, which prevents you from stopping too abruptly or from slowing without brake lights. ABS works as expected, without being overly eager to intervene, and that's always a plus.
The suspension is a standout feature of the SR/S, with all its adjustability working in concert with the relaxed and friendly geometry of the bike. With a seat height of just 31 inches, getting a setup figured out that's comfortable and confidence-inspiring shouldn't be much of a chore. The bike has no trouble smoothing out the cracks and potholes of LA's garbage-spec roads.
The SR/S is extremely willing to lean over, and thanks to the low center of gravity provided by the electric motor, feels stable when doing so. I rarely find myself having to work to push the bike into corners, and that's a good thing. It allows me to fully enjoy the unique experience of riding a motorcycle without a soundtrack.
If you're someone who commutes by motorcycle, the Zero makes an extremely compelling argument for itself, even considering my test bike's way-too-high-for-the-performance $25,000 price tag. It's efficient, effortless to ride, has lots of storage and is effectively a zero-maintenance machine. Slap some side cases on it, and it could easily be your only means of transportation. If you're looking at the SR/S as a weekend toy, it would fit the bill on paper -- it's fun to ride -- but you could get a lot more for the money if you aren't wed to the idea of going electric.
Ultimately the SR/S is another generational leap forward for electric motorcycles. It doesn't feel like a toy -- it offers real performance and usable range. The next great leap forward will involve bringing the price down closer to parity with internal combustion engines. I don't think we're too far from reaching that point, either.