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The Zero SR/S Shows How Far Electric Motorcycles Have Come

Zero's new full-fairing motorcycle has limitations, but it's the most advanced electric bike the company has ever made.

© Zero   headlights, zero srs

By Susan Carpenter, Road & Track

The Tesla of two wheels has been elusive. Despite numerous attempts from a revolving door of players over the past dozen years, it’s been a challenge to find an electric motorcycle that’s as sexy as it is pragmatic—one that’s fun to ride without the gas-guzzling guilt.

With its new SR/S, Zero Motorcycles is getting closer. Aggressive, elegant, technologically sophisticated, it’s easily the most polished bike the Scotts Valley, CA company has made since it first wheeled onto the market in 2008 with an overpriced, underperforming EV dirt bike that looked as rudimentary as it rode.

© Zero   Zero's new full-fairing motorcycle has limitations, but it's the most advanced electric bike the company has ever made.

New for 2020, the SR/S is the sportier, full-fairing version of the Zero SR/F, introduced last year in anticipation of the LiveWire electric motorcycle from Harley-Davidson. And it has many of the same high-tech bells and whistles: anti-lock brakes, cornering brake control, traction control—and a smartphone app.

Sync it with the bike, and it can capture and analyze individual rides, keep tabs on the battery while it’s charging, and customize ride modes by varying the bike’s maximum speed, power, torque and regenerative braking (in addition to the preprogrammed modes accessible with a button on the left hand grip).

© Zero   zero srs

The most fun mode is, of course, Sport, which unleashes the bike’s maximum 110 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque as it sprints toward a 124-mph top speed. There’s nothing more addicting than the instant torque of an electric motorcycle, especially since no shifting is required. It’s just pure, uninterrupted acceleration, without the hot pipes and engine whine.

But there’s a price to pay for such glee. Ride the SR/S flat-out on the freeway for even the smallest amount of time, and it just devours its battery range. Over multiple rides, the Zero routinely ate up three miles of range for every mile I'd actually ridden when traveling at a moderate 85 mph. The SR/S performs best when the rider is on and off the throttle in Street and Eco modes, which are programmed with more regenerative braking to feed power back to the battery.

© Zero   zero srs front

Zero estimates the bike’s range at 82 miles for highway riding, jumping to 161 miles in the city. The company also says range can be improved as much as 13 percent by tucking in behind the small windshield. For riders who aren’t interested in such contortionism, Zero offers something called a Power Tank, which, for $2895, adds 3.6 kilowatt-hours to the stock 14.4-kWh battery, increasing highway and city riding range to 103 and 201 miles, respectively.

Recharging takes about two hours with a Level 2 charger that plugs into a port located in what you'd ordinarily call the bike’s "gas tank"—a plastic fairing over the battery with a large cubby hole for storing the charge cord. A $2000 upgrade gets riders a Rapid Charge System that can recharge the bike twice as fast.

© Zero   zero srs

It’s taken a while for Zero to realize that a black battery box has little sex appeal and should not be highlighted in the same manner as, say, a diamond-cut V-twin. Finally, for the SR/S, the batteries are artfully housed in a subtle bronze casing that peeks out from a black trellis frame clad in slick, saturated-gray bodywork.

Being electric, a balance needs to be struck, quite literally, between weight and range. Until there’s a breakthrough in battery technology, there are only so many lithium-ion cells that can be stuffed in a bike’s frame while keeping it a) manageable and b) affordable.

As it is, the SR/S tips the scales at a fairly hefty but well-balanced 505 pounds. Out in the canyons, it effortlessly laid into the turns and accelerated onto the straights with zero hesitation. Slowing down, however, wasn’t as crisp as I would have liked; Zero uses the Spanish brake supplier J Juan, instead of the more commonplace Italian performance brand Brembo, and the braking response could use some refinement.

As for the other half of that balance equation? The SR/S starts at a substantial $19,995.

The SR/S may be the sportiest of Zero’s bikes, but it is not a sport bike in the traditional sense. Its ergonomics are designed for comfort rather than speed. The handlebars are higher, and the foot pegs are lower, giving a less scrunched-up riding position.

© Zero   zero srs

Zero Motorcycles introduced its first bike in 2008, the same year Tesla introduced its first car. The two companies have followed wildly divergent paths since. Where Tesla was met with rich-guy entrepreneurial enthusiasm, Zero was initially viewed skeptically. Why, the thinking went at the time, would anyone want a motorcycle that cost twice as much but only traveled half as far?

Well, times have changed. According to the most recent Motorcycle Industry Council ownership survey, 70 percent of millennial riders would like an electric as their next bike.

There just aren’t that many to choose from. Despite all odds, Zero Motorcycles is the longest-lasting and best-selling electric motorcycle brand on the market—outlasting fellow startups Brammo, Alta Motors, and other companies that have come and gone without ever finding a market. While Harley-Davidson plans to introduce its second electric bike no later than 2022, and Kawasaki has announced its intentions to go into production with its first electric, few things are less certain than the motorcycle industry at the moment—an industry that never fully recovered from the great recession, that’s now being clobbered by an even worse financial downturn.

But Zero Motorcycles has a history of weathering difficult storms. The SR/S may not be Zero’s Tesla, but it’s closer than it’s ever been before.

See more at: Road & Track

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Autos Magazine: The Zero SR/S Shows How Far Electric Motorcycles Have Come
The Zero SR/S Shows How Far Electric Motorcycles Have Come
Zero's new full-fairing motorcycle has limitations, but it's the most advanced electric bike the company has ever made.
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