Sunday, August 24, 2014


It's hard to resist this electric speed demon.

2014 Zero SR action shot
Few other motorcycle companies have made bigger strides in a shorter time than Zero. When we rode first-generation bikes back in 2007, they were crude and needed lots of improvements before they could be taken seri­ously. And improve they did—dramatically. We were impressed with the 2013 S model we tested a year ago, but this new top-of-the-line SR beats that bike in range, acceleration, and top speed.
Key to the $16,995 ($19,490 as tested) SR’s improvement over the S ($12,995 to $14,995) is its 660-amp motor-controller that Zero claims provides 24 percent more power (67 versus 54 hp) and 56 percent more torque (106 versus 68 pound-feet). The Z-Force permanent magnet, brushless motor has new magnets that can withstand higher temperatures for better sustained performance.
The SR model comes standard with an 11.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, while ours was equipped with the optional Power Tank ($2,495) that adds another 2.8 kWh. With the standard three-prong cord plugged into a conventional 110-volt wall outlet, a full charge typically takes around 10 hours. Speeding up this process is pricey. Zero’s quick-charge unit ($599.99), when paired with the integrated unit, cuts the time in half, while upgrading to a CHAdeMO plug (as found on many electric cars) can cut that to an hour and a half total. That accessory, however, will set you back another $1,799.99, and charging stations are still few and far between.
When accessorized for max range and quickest recharging, the SR has a price that jumps to a lofty $21,290. For that kind of money, you can get a BMW K1600GT or Ducati Panigale.
2014-Zero-SR-static-1Our best range in Eco mode and riding a normal pace was 93.1 miles. When we selected Sport and repeatedly accelerated very aggressively and made a couple of top-speed runs, we still achieved 68.4 miles. While pure urban riding greatly extends range due to the lower speeds and regen braking, we feel our mix of surface streets and freeway paint a more realistic picture. It’s the 10-hour wait for a full recharge that is the real Achilles’ heel for this electric bike.

To be fair, the SR is an exercise in what kind of performance can be extracted from an electric platform, so we tried not to obsess about the sticker shock. As with all electric vehicles, you feel tethered to the socket, but the larger battery pack has made the SR’s range more livable and useful. Maximum range during testing in mixed urban and freeway use was 93 miles, meaning your one-way leg (without a charge) shouldn’t exceed 45 miles.
Around town, the SR is a fun and fast commuter. Stoplight to stoplight, the SR will smoke just about any automobile, and we love its stealthy manner.
Off-the-line acceleration in Sport mode (one of three, including Eco and Custom, all managed via smartphone) is solid, with a recorded best 0-to-60 time of 4.3 seconds. That’s a full second slower than Zero claims, but the 13.07-second/98.6-mph quarter-mile was a full second quicker than the S we last tested. Roll-on performance was also impressive, the SR taking 1.7 seconds to go from 40 to 60 mph and only 2.5 from 60 to 80. Top speed was 98.7 mph.
Chassis performance has improved dramatically, as well. The 43mm inverted fork and shock have provisions for compression and rebound damping adjustment, while the shock also has a threaded preload collar.
2014 Zero SR action shot #2
When we wandered off the grid in search of back-road fun, the SR proved to be an agile corner carver. After we got the shock dialed in (more preload and rebound damping), we were fairly happy with chassis performance.
Gripes? The front brake needs an upgrade. The single twin-piston Nissin caliper is barely up to the task of slowing the SR from speed, delivering wooden lever feel to boot. Also, while the reasonably low seat accommodates shorter riders, we’d take more foam for better comfort.
If you asked us a few years ago whether Zero could close the gap to “real” motorcycles, we would have been apprehensive to say yes. Now, that apprehension is gone, but Zero still needs to focus on refinement and cost reduction. Other motorcycles in the SR’s price range come with ABS, electronic suspension, integrated navigation, world-class brakes and LED headlights, which are nowhere to be found on this Zero.
Judged purely on its own merits, however, the SR showcases what is possible from an electric motorcycle powertrain. Zero’s next big step is to build a bike that can go head to head with the competition and have no excuses, regardless of what type of powerplant is hidden under the cowl. From what Zero has shown us so far, it doesn’t appear that will be too far off in the future.
MOTORbrushless, high-temp magnet

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