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2023 Zero DSR/X first ride review

Sep 13, 2022

Ever wonder why we don’t see more electric adventure-touring bikes? The short answer: range.

Long-distance travel and two-wheeled electric propulsion have been at odds with one another since, well, the dawn of electric motorcycles. When it comes to electric touring bikes, the specs have been tolerable for everyday commuting but can be a hard sell for dyed-in-the-wool adventure riders.

I learned firsthand that with some careful planning you really can go on an adventure ride on an electric motorcycle when I rode a 2021 Zero DSR Black Forest Edition over 1,000 miles off-road along the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route (BDR). That experience with the previous DSR also gave me some clear ideas of what I thought should be improved for 2023 and a solid benchmark for judging the new bike. Thankfully, with the 2023 DSR/X, the capability is only getting better.

2023 Zero DSR/X
The 2023 Zero DSR/X is available in this Sage Green color or Pearl White. Zero Motorcycles photo.

What's new with the 2023 Zero DSR/X

Aside from some minor power upgrades in 2018, the Zero DSR has remained relatively unchanged since its introduction in 2016. The 2021 DSR I rode offered 70 horsepower and 116 foot-pounds of torque, a 14.4 kWh battery, and optional add-ons like hard panniers, handguards, crash bars, and a windscreen in the form of their Black Forest Edition. Respectable for the time, especially when compared to its electric competitors — honestly, there weren't many.

adjustable windscreen on the Zero DSR/X
The windscreen can be adjusted without tools. Zero Motorcycles photo.

For 2023, the DSR/X is basically a brand-new motorcycle from the ground up. The trellis frame, massive 17.3 kWh battery, and (optional) wire-spoked wheels show that the Zero DSR/X has received a complete overhaul. The DSR/X has a family resemblance to its sport bike sibling, the Zero SR/S, but the similarities pretty much end at the front fairing and headlight styling.

Zero is calling the DSR/X an ADV bike. If you add options like the spoked wheels and panniers, it can pass for one, much like the DSR Black Forest Edition did. Without those add-ons, the standard cast wheels mounted to Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires and petite tail section encourage me to classify the DSR/X as a sport-touring bike with ADV inspiration. But then again, electric adventure bikes are a completely new category, so maybe Zero does have the right to define it.

remote adjuster makes it easy to change rear preload
A remote adjuster allows for easy changes to the preload on the rear shock absorber. Zero Motorcycles photo.

The DSR/X produces 166 foot-pounds of torque and 100 horsepower. That is significantly more than its predecessor and it shows. This bike rips. Thanks to its 17.3 kW battery, the DSR/X can now claim a range of 180 city miles, which is approximately 13% better than years prior. Or, up to 220 miles and 29% better, if you add the optional Power Tank, but we’ll get into that later.

The ergonomics of the DSR/X are also completely different. Thanks to a 32.6-inch seat height, you sit lower in the DSR/X, which gives the feeling that you’re sitting inside the bike, rather than on top of it. Despite the low seat height, there were no compromises made when it comes to ground clearance. The DSR/X sits a respectable 9.7 inches off the earth. If the stock seat doesn't work for you, both taller and lower optional seats from Zero’s accessory catalog will give riders of all sizes reason to rejoice.

storage area on the Zero DSR/X
If you don't go for the optional Rapid Charger (for faster charging) or Power Tank (for extended range), the Zero DSR/X offers some handy storage space in the area that would be a fuel tank on a typical internal-combustion motorcycle. Zero Motorcycles photo.

The "tank" area of the bike feels significantly larger than before. It’s got a noticeably longer reach and a lot more bulk up where the gas tank would be on an ICE bike. There's a convenient storage compartment with 7.4 gallons of capacity. This compartment can also be used to house Zero’s optional Rapid Charger or Power Tank, and this is another area where the DSR/X differs from previous models.

Unlike other Zero models, the base model DSR/X now comes equipped standard with a J1772 plug inlet, a feature previously available only via Zero’s Charge Tank. This enables access to Level 2 charge stations and faster charging than your conventional home outlet. Instead of the Charge Tank option, Zero now offers a Rapid Charger option for the DSR/X. The 2023 Rapid Charger adds 6 kW of charging capabilities to the existing 6.6 kW, totaling 12.6kW of charge capacity and decreasing the standard 95% capacity charge time from two hours down to one hour.

If your priority is maximizing range instead of speeding up charging, you can add a Power Tank to this compartment, which adds 3.6 kWh of battery capacity to a total of 20.9 kWh and achieves a claimed range of 220 miles. Aside from the fact you would be sacrificing about 70% of the storage compartment to accommodate either of these add-ons, the other drawback is that you are adding weight up high on the bike, especially if you go with the 45-pound Power Tank.

riding the DSR/X off-road
Yes, it's possible to go off-road riding on an electric motorcycle, though it does take some planning. The DSR/X's greater range and better suspension help. Zero Motorcycles photo.
The 2023 DSR/X features Zero’s new Cipher III+ operating system. The sharp, LCD display allows riders to access a slew of power modes. One of my favorites is the new Canyon Mode, which gives the same amount of acceleration as Sport Mode, but with much stronger regenerative braking when releasing the throttle. If you don’t like what Zero has created, riders can customize each of these modes to their liking via the Zero smartphone application and then upload them to the bike.

When it comes time to hit the dirt, a few clicks of the menu button allow you to switch into Off-Road Mode, which allows all the same configurations, but tailored for off-road riding. I enjoyed the Standard Off-Road mode the most, which delivers significant acceleration but shuts off ABS and minimizes traction control to allow more rear wheel spin.

I didn’t really dwell on the hefty 544 pounds of the bike until I got it off-road and started sliding it around loose corners. It’s a heavy bike but thanks to its low center of gravity, it's manageable. The new “tank” design gives riders a better opportunity to squeeze the bike and steer with your knees. The weight was far less noticeable on the asphalt. The bike is easy to throw into a corner and it holds its line with precision.

riding the Zero DSR/X on a paved road
The DSR/X handles well on pavement and some would argue it's more of a sport-tourer than an adventure-tourer, at least in stock form. Zero Motorcycles photo.

When riding the Colorado BDR on the previous year’s model, I yearned for better suspension. Zero delivered on this, offering a new 47 mm Showa fork with 7.4 inches of travel and full adjustability. Not exactly the tip of the spear for ADV suspension travel, but almost half an inch closer to it than before. The DSR/X also received a new, fully adjustable Showa shock that has a very convenient dial for adjusting preload. Handy if you’re adding a pillion or filling up the optional TRAX ADV cases.

belt drive on the Zero DSR/X
The final drive belt is both wider and stronger than before, but manages to be quieter, too. A chain is an option for those who are worried about a belt in off-road conditions, but it may no longer be necessary. Zero Motorcycles photo.

The experience of riding an electric motorcycle is largely defined by the lack of noise, not just from the motor but also from the drivetrain. Zero knows this, which is why they have utilized Gates carbon belts in place of noisy chains found on traditional motorcycles. The drawback is that belts can be prone to snapping when loaded with mud, sand, or debris from off-road riding. To help persuade riders to stay with the belt, the DSR/X is sporting a new, 25 mm belt that Zero claims is also 2.6 times stronger than previous models. Being that the former belt was only 17 mm, you would think the new belt would be much louder. Quite the opposite. Thanks to a larger front sprocket, which puts less tension on the belt, the bike is actually quieter than before. The rear sprocket also received some attention, featuring tapped holes that prevent packing and allow debris to clear out. If you’re not sold on the belt and don’t mind listening to a loud chain, you can still order the optional chain kit for the DSR/X, but from my experience with the older model, you won’t need to.

digital dash display on the Zero DRS/X
The digital display on the Zero DSR/X. Zero Motorcycles photo.

Starting my ride with a fully charged 17.3 kW battery, the display showed state of charge of 110%. Where does the extra 10% come from? Zero said it’s a feature called Extended Range Charging (ERC). This is a function that supposedly helps extend the life of the battery by reserving the very top of its charge. Another way to interpret this is that the battery is only about 90% charged when it says it's full, and that extra 10% is just bringing the battery to full charge.

riding the Zero DSR/X off-road
The DSR/X works better off-road than earlier Zeros. Zero Motorcycles photo.

Strange math aside, what really matters is how far you can go. We rode a mix of city, paved canyon, and dirt roads for a total of 53 miles. Upon completion, my bike was reading a respectable 72% of battery capacity. Knowing full well that I gave the DSR/X more than its fair share of hard acceleration pulls, I’d expect that Zero’s range claims will prove to be accurate.

The DSR/X will be available in sage green or white pearl for a retail price of $24,495. From there, you’ll be able to customize and fully farkle the bike with accessories like wire-spoked wheels, luggage racks, crash bars, LED headlights, and the list goes on.

If you asked me to repeat my 1,000-mile ride on the Colorado BDR aboard a 2022 Zero DSR Black Forest, I’d graciously say no, thanks. On the flip side, if you posed the same question with a fully farkled, 2023 Zero DSR/X, I would give a much more positive response.

Zero DSR/X in white
The Pearl White color on the Zero DSR/X. Zero Motorcycles photo.

Bottom line, when it comes to adventure-touring, it’s hard to replace ICE bikes in these environments. I can confidently say that the improvements made to this new DSR/X are much of what I had wished for. This bike is a clear indicator that the electric ADV market, sport-touring market, or whatever market Zero wants to call it, just got better.

2023 Zero DSR/X
Price (MSRP) $24,495
Motor Z-Force 75-10 5T enhanced thermal efficiency, passively air-cooled, interior permanent magnet AC motor
final drive
Clutchless direct drive, Gates Carbon Drive Moto X9 belt, 25 mm wide
Claimed horsepower 100
Claimed torque 166 foot-pounds
Frame Trellis
Front suspension
Showa 47 mm big piston, separate function forks with adjustable spring preload,
compression, and rebound damping; 7.4 inches of travel
Rear suspension
Showa shock adjustable for spring preload, compression, and rebound damping
Front brake Dual J.Juan radial-mounted four-piston calipers, 320 mm discs; Bosch MCS
Rear brake J.Juan single-piston floating caliper, 265 mm disc; Bosch MCS
Wheelbase 60 inches
Seat height 32.6 inches
Claimed range 180 miles city, 107 miles highway (55 mph), 85 miles highway (70 mph)
Claimed battery capacity 15.2 kWh nominal, 17.3 kWh maximum
Claimed charge time 10 hours at Level 1; two hours at Level 2 (to 95%)
Tires Pirelli Scorpion Trail II 120/70-19 front, 170/60-17 rear
Claimed weight 544 pounds
Available Now
More info