The 2020 Zero SR/F could become one of those game-changer motorcycles.
With Harley-Davidson’s high-profile debut in the electric motorcycle segment, there’s been plenty of buzz around voltage-powered motos — namely, their ability to pull market share from gas bikes. Multiple variables enter the debate, from shifting demographic preferences to regulatory trends.
I think it can all be simplified to this: For e-motos to go mass-market, they need to give more buyers no reason to choose gas.
After living with Zero’s SR/F for six months, I think it could make the strongest bid yet to tip that purchasing equation for many a rider.
An IoT motorcycle
The California-based EV startup upped its game across all major specs for the $19,000 SR/F. From the wheels to the dash, the SR/F was a complete redesign from Zero’s previous models, including new styling with a naked-bike profile.
Like all electric motorcycles, the Zero is much simpler in function and design than gas-powered bikes. The SR/F’s power source is the battery, the delivery mechanism is a small magnet motor, and the brain is Zero’s Main Bike Board (MBB) processor. The MBB and its accompanying Cypher IIII operating software manage the bike’s entire performance setup.
The SR/F is also the first e-moto to come equipped with Bosch’s Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC) package, a multi-sensor system for cornering ABS and traction control.
The engineers brought the bike to market with 110 horsepower and 140 foot-pounds of torque from a new 14.4 kWh battery. To put the SR/F’s torque in context, consider it brings 26 foot-pounds more than Suzuki’s Hayabusa and just 23 less than Triumph’s 2,500 cc Rocket 3, which has the highest torque ouput of any production motorcycle.
Closing gaps with gas
To attract new buyers, e-motos must close gaps with gas machines on key factors — namely range, top-up time, weight, performance, and price. I used this framework to evaluate the Zero SR/F over the last several months.
On range, the e-moto does pretty well, and got me much further down the road before needing a charge than the Zero FXS I tested last year. Zero claims a city range of 161 miles and highway range of 99 at 55 miles per hour for both the SR/F Standard and Premium models. You can boost max distance up to 200 miles, according to Zero, by springing for their Power Tank — an extra battery that fits into the storage compartment.
On the road, I found the SR/F’s range largely depended on the type of riding I did and the riding mode I used. This is where settings for power, torque and regenerative braking came into play.
The SR/F’s preset riding modes — adjustable by thumb on the fly — come configured for power, torque, and the percentage of regen braking. For example, Sport mode sets power and torque output at 100 percent and rear-wheel regen braking to five percent. Eco mode, which offers the greatest range, drops power and torque to lower levels, but brings regen braking up to 100 percent.
I learned that hammering the SR/F in Sport mode on the highway was the fastest way to drain the battery. Riding stop-and-go in Eco provided the longest range.
I got the best of the SR/F’s capabilities by using Eco as default and switching to Sport when I wanted to go fast, then back to Eco. With that modus operandi, I averaged around 100 miles a charge for a mix of all types of riding: city, highway, and backroad blasting.
It just happens that my hometown in New York offers free EV charging, so my cost per mile to ride the Zero totaled $0. There is both a Standard and Premium version of the SR/F and the major difference is the onboard charger, with a three kilowatt charger on the Standard and six kilowatt on the Premium. You pay an additional $2,000 and add 13 pounds of weight, according to Zero, to get the Premium, but it does speed up charging times. I was riding the Premium, so I found that meant I could charge the SR/F at a 6.6 kilowatt ChargePoint station in about an hour to an hour and 20 minutes.
Charging at home? Zero says that on a 220-volt outlet the Standard will charge to 100 percent in 4.5 hours and the Premium in 2.5 hours. If you use a regular 110-volt outlet, expect 8.5 hours to a full charge for both versions, which works out fine for charging overnight for people who have a garage or parking space with electricity. As a city dweller with garage parking with no outlet available, I used charging stations to keep the SR/F juiced.
On the scale, the SR/F Standard comes in at 485 pounds, which is still lighter than the SR/F’s closest EV competitors: Harley’s 549-pound LiveWire and Energica’s 595-pound Eva EsseEsse9. To compare with an internal-combustion motorcycle, the new Zero is around 20 pounds heavier than a wet Ducati Monster 1200, a naked-bike peer that produces 91 foot-pounds of torque.
Performance and price
The power management and power delivery capabilities of the Zero are innovative and exhilarating. The SR/F’s torque curve is more like a straight line, delivered at peak from earliest throttle.
With fewer mechanical moving parts than a gas bike — and no clutch or shifting — the e-moto’s acceleration feels stronger and is more constant than internal combustion machines. You simply twist and go.
At its highest power and torque settings, Zero’s SR/F is fast from 0 to 60 mph. But where the bike surprised and (candidly) frightened me a bit, was how fast it would go from 50 to 100 mph. I found out, unintentionally, when I grabbed a handful of the Zero’s throttle for the first time out on the highway. Before I knew it, the SR/F launched me into go-straight-to-jail speed.
The motorcycle takes the e-moto quickness I observed last year with Zero’s FXS to another level. With mega-torque, no lags for shifting, and extremely direct power delivery on the throttle, the SR/F is simply super-fast in a more dynamic way than gas motorcycles.
The bike’s e-moto qualities also have performance benefits when the ride gets twisty. Regen braking not only adds power back to the battery, but also lets you dial in the feel you want by choosing how much you slow down when you close the throttle but without touching the brakes. (The regen is aided by the sticky Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tires that come on the SR/F.) This allows you to get in and out of corners using only throttle adjustments, versus a combination of throttle, clutch, shifting, and brakes. The feel is different and it’s something new to master for riders, but it allows a roll-on, roll-off throttle approach to cornering that you can fine-tune. The net result is less movement required from the rider and less overall mechanical disruption to the bike’s equilibrium.
Despite the twist-and-go nature of the SR/F, while some electric motorcycles are appropriate for beginners, the SR/F is not. The SR/F is a heavier, high-performance machine with a power punch that could get neophytes into a heap of trouble.
Finally, when it comes to price, the SR/F’s $19,495 MSRP makes it competitive to comparable e-motos. The Zero is $10,000 less than Harley-Davidon’s LiveWire and a couple grand cheaper than Energica’s $21,350 Eva EsseEsse9. It's still more expensive than internal combustion bikes, however. The Zero SR/F Standard costs $6,000 more than Yamaha’s 158-horsepower, 461-pound MT-10 ($12,999), for example and $4,000 more than Ducati’s standard Monster 1200.
Quirks and daily life with the SR/F
I put more than a thousand miles on the SR/F over six months of varied riding without any glitches. The only issue I noted was an occasional buzzing sound from the motor when conditions got wet, only up to one-fourth throttle. It seemed to correlate with some power loss off the line. It wasn’t a mechanical failure, but I did share the information with Zero. The company said they’ve not experienced anything like this on their SR/F production run and plan to a review of the unit I tested.
I am six feet, two inches tall and had no complaints about ergonomics. The position of the footpegs felt a little cramped at first, but not so much I couldn’t adjust and enjoy hour-long rides on the SR/F.
Zero succeeded in engineering neutral handling into a 498-pound motorcycle with its mass concentrated in one spot. In tight-radius turns, however, I noticed that it took additional input about halfway through the lean angle to set the line I desired. The SR/F comes with a 43 mm Showa Big Piston Separate Function fork and a Showa shock at the rear, both of which are fully adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping, so it's possible some professional expertise with suspension setup could have dialed out this tendency.
Overall, I found Zero’s SR/F to be a phenomenal machine. The digital adjustability, acceleration, and performance are simply awesome. There’s still room to improve on price, charge times and range consistency. But having 100 to 161 miles on tap makes the motorcycle a realistic daily rider and weekend warrior.
So, to revisit my earlier question: Does Zero’s SR/F succeed in giving buyers little to no reason to choose internal combustion over electric?
I suspect more than any e-moto so far, the answer will be yes, for many in the new motorcycle market. Putting myself in a hypothetical buying situation, the SR/F would come darn close to getting me to go electric over internal combustion — but it’s still just a bit too expensive.
That said, several months on the Zero did shake my foundations a bit. For example, my favorite local ride consists of about 15 miles on suburban roads and the highway to get to a 30-mile scenic loop through Connecticut and upstate New York and then 15 miles on suburban roads and highway back to the suburbs of New York City. With 100 miles of range, this was no problem on the SR/F, but it wasn't possible on the FXS I rode last year. One time I took off for this ride on the SR/F with a lower charge, but I was able to find a fast-charge station via the app near a lunch spot, put 30 miles of range on the bike for about a dollar, and headed home.
There were times, on rides like those on rolling scenic roads on the SR/F — with its total lack of noise and vibration, the uninterrupted forward movement, and its lightning e-acceleration — when I thought, “Why would I go back to gas?”
Zero is surely counting on more long-time riders like me sharing that sentiment. Even more importantly, the California company is likely banking on younger folks getting on SR/Fs and asking, “Why would I want a gas bike ever?”
|2020 Zero SR/F|
|Price (MSRP)||Standard: $19,495; Premium: $21,495|
|Motor||Air-cooled, interior permanent magnet AC motor|
|Power pack||Li-Ion; 14.4 kWh max capacity, 12.6 kWh nominal capacity|
|Charger||Standard: 3.0 kW integrated; Premium: 6.0 kW integrated|
|Range||Highway (55 mph): 99 miles; City: 161 miles|
|Top speed||124 mph|
|Output||140 foot-pounds torque; 110 horsepower|
|Electronic aids||Bosch Motorcycle Stability Control with IMU|
|Transmission||Clutchless, direct drive, belt final drive|
|Front suspension||43 mm inverted Showa BPF fork; adjustable preload, rebound and compression damping|
|Rear suspension||Showa shock, adjustable preload, rebound and compression damping|
|Front brake||Twin 320 mm discs, J.Juan four-piston radially mounted four-piston calipers, Bosch Advanced MSC ABS|
|Rear brake||Single 240 mm disc, J.Juan single-piston caliper, Bosch Advanced MSC ABS|
|Tires front/rear||120/70ZR17; 180/55ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso III|
|Steering head angle/trail||24.5 degrees/3.7 inches|
|Seat height||31.0 inches|
|Weight||Standard: 485 pounds; Premium: 498 pounds|