Electric cars are finding it increasingly difficult to break through the glass ceiling in the automotive marketplace. On the other hand, two-wheeled enthusiasts have been decidedly more open-minded when it comes to game-changing technologies, and the all-new 2014 Zero SR could be start of something big.
Until recently, electrically powered conveyances were seen as something of a novelty: Golf carts, mopeds, and those terribly entertaining mobility scooters found in retail stores, to name a few. But times have changed, and legitimate forms of battery-electric vehicles are popping up like mushrooms. Although the EV industry is still in a relative state of infancy, Zero seeks to establish itself as the Tesla Motors of the motorcycle world by offering an appealing lineup of e-bikes for today’s early adopters.
As a flagship model, the Zero SR is a rolling showcase for the company’s latest achievements in battery-propulsion technology. Maximum range checks in at 137 miles in the city and 70 miles on the highway (at 70 mph), with the optional 2.8 kWh Power Tank ($2,495) upping those figures by 34 and 18, respectively. Power is generated through Zero’s proprietary lithium-ion battery pack that produces up to 67 horsepower and a whopping 106 lb-ft of torque. To put that into perspective, the SR offers nearly 20-percent more torque than the new CBR1000 RR SP, all while tipping the scales at roughly the same weight. Better yet, the Zero provides max torque from 0 rpm – quite the befitting stat. These data points enable a manufacturer’s estimated 0-60 time of 3.3 seconds and a top speed of 102 mph. Charge times range from as little as 1.5 hours with the optional CHAdeMO quick charger to 9.9 hours on a standard 110V household outlet for models equipped with the Power Tank.
Nestled inside the all-aluminum twin spar frame is a lockable storage compartment in lieu of a traditional fuel tank. Be advised: The available high-capacity battery replaces this slot. Other practical goodies include a universal mobile phone mount affixed to the handlebars, an LCD instrument display complete with three selectable ride settings (Eco, Sport, and Custom), mirrors that rotate inward to improve clearance in tight situations such as lane-splitting, and a free smartphone app for iOS and Android users that lets you create a custom ride mode, check battery state of charge, and collect various forms of telemetry via the bike’s embedded Bluetooth connection.
The first thing you’ll notice upon throwing a leg over the SR is its compact form factor. Thanks to the absence of a fuel tank together with minimalist bodywork and a narrow chassis, the SR feels considerably lighter than its 407-lb curb weight would suggest, particularly in motion. U-turns, lane-splitting, and quick changes of direction are executed with an almost comical sense of agility. And despite the inclusion of high-efficiency 110/70/17 rubber up front and 140/70/17 tires out back, high-speed stability is remarkably good. Grip and predictability at aggressive lean angles leaves something to be desired, but the Zero SR was never designed to be a canyon carver, nor is it marketed as such.
One of the major drawbacks that plagued a number of electric motorcycles in years past was power delivery. Offering about as much flexibility as a light switch, the on-off nature of first-generation e-bikes was a deal breaker. Zero has resolved this fundamental hindrance by providing the SR with a smooth, linear power delivery and precise throttle response. The result is a powertrain that’s just as easy to ride on mountain roads as it is in congested parking lots.
On a sour note, ambient heat played a significant role in the way our test unit performed. Riding in 85-plus-degree weather raised battery temperatures to cautionary levels within 15-minutes of riding under moderate loads. Zero engineers felt it was necessary to intentionally curtail power output when the batteries become heat-soaked to help prevent damage to critical electrical components. Nevertheless, power under “throttled” conditions is sufficient enough for casual passing and merging, and the system automatically returns to normal once the batteries reach an appropriate operating temperature.
For a full-size motorcycle virtually devoid of engine braking, the SR’s single-disc front brakes simply don’t provide the amount of pucker power most riders have come to expect from a modern street bike. Likewise, the front and rear suspension could benefit from a good beefing-up as well, for the SR doesn’t feel nearly as plush or compliant over rough pavement as its conventionally-driven counterparts.
The upright riding position combined with an ergonomic, well, let’s just call it the area formally known as a gas tank, affords a level of comfort rivaling that of a beach cruiser. After a two-hour ride consisting of mostly highway cruising, the muscles in my ankles, wrists, and back felt practically unused – and I’m four years removed from a T5 fracture and a tibia/fibula compound fracture. These one-size-fits-all ergonomics combined with a clutch-and shifter-free transmission make the Zero SR one of the most gratifying commuter bikes available.
Starting at $16,995, the Zero SR might seem a bit costly at first glance. But if you factor in the no-maintenance power plant, average recharging cost of around $1.50, a battery pack that sees only a 20% degradation rate after 308,000 miles, and a 5-year/100,000-mile battery warranty, long-term ownership of a Zero SR will likely prove to be financially prudent. And, if congress approves an extension of last year’s electric motorcycle tax credit program, buyers could qualify for a federal incentive of up to $1,700.
- Manageable power delivery
- Low-cost of ownership
- Natural riding position
- Ease of operation
- Budget-bashing up-front price
- Weak brakes
- Rinky-dink suspension
- Frequent overheating in warm climates
Forthcoming Yamaha PES1 (Available in 2016 or sooner)
RideApart Rating: 7 out of 10