The term electric motorcycle conjures up images of Tron bikes; of streamlined supercycles zipping through some metropolis at midnight. It’s difficult to divorce electric mobility from urban environs for one good reason: infrastructure. It's that charge-point dependence that tethers EV owners to civic confines and deters off-the-grid explorations.
Yet, there's another term currently taking the motorcycling world by storm: adventure. Whether we’re talking adventure touring, adventure sports, or adventure scooters, manufacturers want in on the lucrative segment. Now, we can add the first electric adventure motorcycle to that ever-expanding family tree with the 2023 Zero DSR/X.
Lay of the Land
Don’t be fooled by the moniker. Zero’s first adventure entry bears little resemblance to the firm’s DSR dual-sport. The new e-ADV actually takes after the company’s sporty SR line most. It inherits its flowing looks from the SR/S sportbike. The SR’s trellis frame provides the basic skeletal structure, but the DSR/X’s bigger bones bolster the chassis’ durability. These adoptive measures raise the new model in the premium mold. But, with all that sporty DNA, can it truly tackle the trail?
If the 17.3 kWh battery, long-travel suspension, and Off-Road traction control/ABS have anything to say about it, the answer’s an emphatic yes. Paired to an air-cooled, Z-Force 75-10X motor, Zero’s new ZF 17.3 kWh power pack claims up to 180 city miles. Range plummets to 85 miles on the open highway, but mixed riding results in a respectable (by EV standards) 115-mile rating. No matter the range, the electric drivetrain puts 166 ft-lb of torque and 100 ponies at the pilot’s disposal.
On the other hand, throttle-happy operation greatly diminishes the battery’s stores, forcing users to decide between distance and delight. When owners finally zap the massive power cell, Level 1 charging recoups 95-percent capacity in 10 hours while Level 2 modules cut wait times down to two hours. Travelers need not fret, as the accessory 6 kW Rapid Charger reaches 95-percent charge in just one hour, and an optional 20.9 kWh Power Tank pushes the maximum range to 220 miles.
Gallery: 2023 Zero DSR/X
Once you arrive at the trailhead, a fully-adjustable 47mm Showa SFF-BP fork and a piggy-back reservoir shock accommodate the trek with 7.5 inches of travel (fore and aft). The 19-inch front and 17-inch rear cast wheels may excel on the tarmac, but the Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires perform admirably with nary a knob. Diehard dirt riders can spring for the add-on wire-spoke wheelset and Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires. Although, without a 21-inch front or 18-inch rear wheel option, don’t expect the DSR/X to charge the trail at rally-pace.
Still, the electric adventurer appeals to the masses with a 32.6-inch seat height and joint-developed Bosch MSC (Motorcycle Stability Control) rider aids. The all-electric ADV receives Zero’s Standard, Eco, Sport, Canyon, and Rain ride modes, but finely-tuned Off-Road traction control and ABS settings now double the options. In the end, all those figures and features only matter if they improve one thing—how the DSR/X rides.
Zero invited us out to Park City, Utah, to experience its first crack at the adventure market. I’d be hard-pressed to find a better testing ground than the squiggling blacktop of the region’s Empire Pass. Birch-lined roads, pristine pavement, and nearly non-existent traffic—what’s not to love? Featuring a healthy mix of decreasing radius hairpins, S-curves, and blind corners, the backroad route showcased both the DSR/X’s agility and stability. I’m glad to report it didn’t disappoint.
The model’s five ride modes not only adapt throttle response to the user’s needs but also balance each setting with differing regenerative rates. Standard sets the bar with progressive acceleration and deceleration. Eco ups the “engine” braking in the name of conservation while Rain favors smooth, road-holding parameters. Sport and Canyon modes up the pace, but the latter complements that speed with an extra dose of regen.
Electric vehicles are known for instant torque, but Zero dials each ride mode with supple initial throttle application. Even in Sport and Canyon settings, the DSR/X sidesteps through traffic with alacrity and accuracy. Despite its 544-pound curb weight, the adventure remains both balanced and lithe. It owes much of that sure-footedness to its low center of gravity, which eases tip-in when slaloming through the esses or sending it into the sweepers.
As the turns tighten, dual J-Juan four-piston calipers mated to twin 320mm discs bring the full-size ADV back to the apex. A radial master cylinder aids those efforts with communicative feel and feedback, but riders will need to recalibrate their lever force based on the current regen rate. For instance, I barely brushed the brakes while attacking the turns in Canyon mode, but that finesse when out the window in the Standard setting.
At a steady clip, the 60-inch wheelbase helps the DSR/X maintain its pre-corner composure. However, the fork frequently dives under heavy braking pressure. Users can work out those kinks with the front end’s adjustable compression, damping, and preload settings, but in stock form, I only got the DSR/X truly out of shape once. All-in-all, the suspenders offer equal parts comfort and performance, even when venturing off-road.
This isn’t Zero’s first off-road rodeo. The brand’s FX, DS, and DSR models all boast dirt capabilities. Neither of those electric dual-sports have to deliver 166 lb-ft of torque to the back wheel, though. To help the heavyweight ADV preserve purchase in loose conditions, Zero turned to the engineers at Bosch. The collaborative project tailored the German firm’s existing Motorcycle Stability Control tech to the DSR/X’s electric power pulses.
Users can still break the back wheel loose for steering (and amusement) purposes, but the system steps in to prevent any big slides. The new Off-Road traction control and ABS settings also allow the rider to lock up the rear for extra maneuverability. Even when traversing steep descents, the DSR/X never felt out of control, sliding around downhill bends like a natural. Of course, the lack of engine vibration and noise helps riders concentrate on such demanding tasks.
Without an internal combustion engine or gearbox to manage, the DSR/X greatly simplifies the rigors of off-road riding. No need to downshift into a corner. No more accounting for gear-based engine braking. With fewer levers and pedals to actuate, the rider can hone in on executing the turn and avoiding troublesome terrain. Thanks to the finned side panels and narrow midsection, standing on the pegs also feels natural, but reaching to the bars positioned me in a slight hunch. Zero doesn’t currently offer risers, but something tells me it'll consider such accessories in the near future.
As expected, we only explored a car-friendly fire road in our time with the /X. A combination of washboard, rocky sections, and deep ruts displayed the ADV’s abilities, but without a clutch to govern the power delivery, more technically challenging paths would easily expose the model’s limits.
Zero also suggests leaving the DSR/X in Standard mode for trail use. That’s a plus, as the system reverts to Standard mode after every power cycle. The bike also returns to on-road traction control and ABS settings with each start-up, forcing riders to re-engage Off-Road functions before setting out. That wouldn’t be such a chore if Zero clearly labeled the DSR/X’s switchgear buttons.
Holding the dedicated Mode switch to the left and right cycles through heated grips and traction control/ABS (respectively). Until the rider acclimates to the unlabeled button, it's easy to mix up the differing functions. Fortunately, we had Zero personnel at our beck and call, but customers should consult their dealer or manual before rolling onto the trail. Once owners get past that pesky procedural hurdle, navigating the DSR/X’s user interface, and the dirt, becomes self-explanatory and effortless.
As first rides go, we only enjoyed a limited sampling of the 2023 Zero DSR/X. We covered just 53 miles by sticking to canyon roads and one mild trail. That four-hour journey drained 40 percent of the battery, with the e-adventurer reporting 75 miles of remaining range. If the /X upheld that estimate, the resulting 123-mile total would outperform its listed combined range. There’s just one problem—we never rode the DSR/X on the highway. For that reason, I wasn’t able to gather comprehensive data on the windscreen, highway range, or cruise control.
Many adventure riders travel vast distances on the highway before ever reaching a trail. Without testing the model on the open road, it’s hard to see it as anything more than a backroad tourer and dirt-dabbler. That may not be a deterrent for some adventure touring customers, but the $24,495 starting price doesn’t do it any favors. Still, we have to remember that this is Zero’s first foray into the ADV space. We only expect the firm’s technology and performance to improve in the coming years. In time, the DSR/X may just redefine the image of electric motorcycles.