Zero DSR (2018) electric motorcycle | Long-term reliability / practicality review

Just how practical is a Zero DSR for someone who commutes 100 miles a day? Full long-term owner review of this electric motorcycle… does it have the range?

 

Graham Mudd – a member of Bennetts Rewards – commutes 50 miles every day. And he’s just bought an electric motorcycle. Over to you, Graham…

Zero Motorcycles has come a long way since its founding in 2006 by former NASA Engineer Neal Saiki. Starting with small electric motocross bikes with spindly frames and mountain bike suspension, the range has evolved into a full compliment of EV bikes with looks, performance and components you would expect of conventional machines. Now one of the big players in the emerging electric motorcycle market (the UK alone has 18 dealers) there’s growing awareness, and interest, in the products of the small California-based company.

The DSR (Dual Sport Racing) is the adventure bike in Zero’s line-up, with great claims toward it’s true on/off-road potential. As an owner of a Kawasaki Versys 650, one of the more road-oriented middleweight adventure bikes on the market, I’m interested to see how true Zero’s claims are.

I like adventure bikes for their pothole smoothing suspension, commanding road presence, playful nature and luggage-carrying capability. Will the DSR match the Versys’ ability or be a compromise too far? I’ll be honest and admit most of the DSR’s use will be for commuting rather than carving up Staffordshire’s countryside, but it will be good to find out where the balance lies.

Over the coming months I’ll be looking into all aspects of Zero ownership; build quality and running costs, commuting, (gentle) greenlaning, quick blasts, how it fares as a stock bike with a slow charger on longer trips and how easy it is to find somewhere to top up. I’ll also cover maintenance and what it’s like from a pillion perspective, but if there’s anything you’d like to know, feel free to ask in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer…

 

For and against
  • The brutal torque delivery
  • Top notch suspension
  • Draws attention for being different
  • Sounding like a milk float in town
  • Range anxiety
  • Limited steering lock
Just how practical is a Zero DSR for someone who commutes 100 miles a day? Full long-term owner review of this electric motorcycle… does it have the range?

 

Zero DSR (2018) electric motorcycle: First impressions

My first ride on an electric bike was back in 2012 when my then-new Versys 650 was being serviced. The dealer lent me a Zero DS for the day; I didn’t really know what to expect but was very impressed with what then a novelty machine.

Fast forward eight years and I’m on the hunt for a practical new bike. Work is nearly 50 miles from where I live, so commuting almost 100 miles a day, all year, in all weather – often carrying a fair amount of kit – demands a lot from my bikes.

My Suzuki Burgman 650, in many ways the perfect long commuter with its heated sofa-like seat and weather-beating fairing, fell to a broken transmission and needed parts that cost more than the bike was worth. The Versys took the load for quite a while but needed servicing every six weeks, and as it passed the 45,000 mile mark the list of work it required doing was growing fast.

 

Just how practical is a Zero DSR for someone who commutes 100 miles a day? Full long-term owner review of this electric motorcycle… does it have the range?

There’s space in the tank for a lock, the charging cable and a few other bits and bobs

 

In the end my shortlist came down to a Royal Enfield Himalayan and Zero DS. As economical as the Enfield is, it was too underpowered for what I needed, which left the EV. I gave Streetbike in Halesowen a ring and as luck would have it they had a low-mileage 2018 DSR for the same price as a new, lower-spec DS. A couple of hours in the saddle cemented my decision and two weeks later I picked “Dizzy” up with a few practical bolt-ons, having a short wait for some parts to come from the States.

Writing this I’m three weeks in, and so far not regretting shelling out £11,000 one bit. Not even as a Yorkshireman.

Us bikers can be quite conservative, but with the semi-knobbly Pirelli MT60 tyres, high mudguard, decent ground clearance, tall seat and knurled footpegs with no rubber, this looks just like a ‘proper’ bike, with the reassuringly rugged appearance of any BMW or Honda equivalent. The main plastics aren’t flimsy (though the lowers are less rigid), the chassis is solid and the paint good.

Compared to the likes of Harley and Indian, which are mechanical Bruce Springsteen album covers, you’ll find it hard to find ‘Born in the USA’ anywhere, besides a tiny flag sticker on the tail and a subtle “Crafted in California” on the battery cover.

 

Just how practical is a Zero DSR for someone who commutes 100 miles a day? Full long-term owner review of this electric motorcycle… does it have the range?

 

When Jason at Streetbike warned me, handing over the keys for the test ride, to be cautious opening the taps in Sport mode, I was dubious. I’d heard about instant power from standstill, some Facebook forum members joking about ‘getting one torque crash for free’ so I started in Eco mode to get used to the bike. A gentle Burgman 400-esque introduction to EV riding. The power is restricted, top speed is restricted to 70mph, regenerative braking (putting charge back in the battery when you close the throttle and apply the brakes) is maximised. Eco mode is still fun once it gets going, but it’s pretty sedate, purely for conserving battery and maximising range.

Then I found some empty dual carriageway and prodded the mode button to Sport. I was ill prepared for sport mode. I can’t think of any other bike I’ve ridden that has caught me so off guard. My friend Justin describes it well: “Its like being hit with a shovel. A big shovel. By Anthony Joshua.”

The DSR puts down more torque than a Kawasaki H2 or Ducati Superlegerra (116lb-ft vs 115 and 87.7 respectively). With no traction control. It’s hard to put into words how grin-inducingly addictive it is, but it drains your battery power like a bath plug hole. And get to 80 and it’s all over, the 70bhp leaving it feeling a bit breathless towards the (limited) 110mph top speed.

Electric bikes aren’t silent. Don’t get me wrong, they’re certainly quieter than a Triumph Tiger with Arrow exhausts, but silent they are not. I’ll be frank, pulling away from lights, there is a whine that is distinctly milk floatish. Enough to draw surprised looks from pedestrians expecting something else. But you can still hear the rumble of the knobbly tyres on tarmac, the whir of the belt on the sprockets, the birds singing. But up the pace and the windblast is underpinned by a turbine-like screech. So not silent, and although I quite like the sound I imagine it isn’t to everyone’s taste.

 

What does the Zero DSR sound like?

Graham’s son grabs a quick clip of Dad’s new bike

 

The suspension front and back is fully adjustable Showa. On stock settings it performs well, which is apparently down to Zero catering for the average-sized American, which is closer to the average-sized Brit than the average-sized Japanese rider that many bikes are factory-set for. Both ends deal well with fast and bumpy road surfaces, which inspires confidence in the DSR’s solid handling. It also deals well with the abrupt power of Sport mode with little feeling of squat or the front going light. Nor do the forks dive excessively under hard braking.

On the one byway I’ve been down so far, the DSR felt sure-footed and controllable.

What does let the Zero down is the steering lock. An adventure bike needs a wide lock for nipping in and out of stationary traffic, between potholes and getting out of tight spots. With lock akin to a Fireblade, turning the Zero in a narrow space is reminiscent of Austin Powers.

The braking is taken on by J.Juan floating calipers. J.Juan is a top of the range Spanish outfit that makes components for Brembo and supplies Johnny Rea's Kawasaki World Superbike team. There’s only a single 320mm disc up front bitten by a twin piston caliper, but there’s plenty of power and feel.

The rear brake is a bit of a let-down though, the single piston caliper and 240mm disc lacking feel and needing a fair old stomp to generate any real stopping force. Braided hoses are standard all round and the Bosch Gen 9 ABS has two modes – on and off. It isn’t intrusive and I've yet to trigger the front, only getting the buzz from the rear when attempting to get it to step out off-road.

 

 

How far will the Zero DSR go and how long does it take to charge?

More than an internal combustion engine (ICE) bike, range is affected by weather, luggage, riding style and terrain. My 50-mile commute is mostly long stretches of fast, single carriageway and dual carriageway. On Eco mode (with some bursts of Sport for overtakes) I get to work with around 45% charge left, so at that rate would give a 90ish mile range. Riding super economically I reckon I can get it to 110 miles.

Riding only in Sport on the scenic (still 50-mile) route left me with 25%, so maybe 65 miles? Zero quotes 163 miles for urban range, which with all the regenerative braking is likely fairly accurate.

I stick the DSR on charge when I get to work at 08:30 and she’ll be fully charged just after lunch. I get home at 18:00 and she’ll be fully charged by bed time. Quoted flat to full  charge time is nine hours, but it doesn’t do the battery any good to run it completely flat. I’ve worked it out to be around 15% an hour.

That’s using the standard built-in charger, which has a kettle lead running from the left side of the frame to a regular electric socket. There are options to extend range or bring down charge times, but I'll explore these in a later instalment…

 

Just how practical is a Zero DSR for someone who commutes 100 miles a day? Full long-term owner review of this electric motorcycle… does it have the range?

‘Free’ electricity from work juices Dizzy up for the ride home…

 

2018 Zero DSR electric motorcycle spec

New price

From £15,490 (£11,300, used, as tested)

Capacity

0cc (13kW)

Bore x Stroke

N/A

Engine layout

Z Force 75-7R, Brushless, Air Cooled

Engine details

Radial flux, Interior Permanent Hi-Temp Magnet

Power

70bhp (52kW) @ 3,500rpm

Torque

116 lb-ft (157Nm) @ 0rpm

Top speed

105mph

Transmission

Clutchless direct drive, carbon belt

Average fuel consumption

435mpg equivalent claimed

Tank size

9.8 hours to charge 0-100%

Max range to empty (theoretical)

Urban 163 miles, mixed 105 miles

Reserve capacity

10%

Rider aids

Bosch Gen 9 ABS

Frame

Twin-spar aluminium

Front suspension

Showa 41mm USD

Front suspension adjustment

Preload, compression, rebound

Rear suspension

Showa 40mm with piggy-back reservoir

Rear suspension adjustment

Preload, Compression, Rebound

Front brake

320mm single disc, J.Juan twin piston floating

Rear brake

240mm disc, J.Juan Single piston floating

Front tyre

100/90 19 Pirelli MT60

Rear tyre

130/80 17 Pirelli MT60

Rake/Trail

26.5°/117mm

Dimensions

2110mm x 910mm 1300mm (LxWxH)

Wheelbase

1427mm

Ground clearance

260mm

Seat height

840mm

Kerb weight

190kg

Warranty

2 Years unlimited mileage, 5 Years battery.

MCIA Secured Rating Not yet included

Website

www.zeromotorcycles.com/en-gb

 

What is MCIA Secured?

MCIA Secured gives bike buyers the chance to see just how much work a manufacturer has put into making their new investment as resistant to theft as possible.

As we all know, the more security you use, the less chance there is of your bike being stolen. In fact, based on research by Bennetts, using a disc lock makes your machine three times less likely to be stolen, while heavy duty kit can make it less likely to be stolen than a car. For reviews of the best security products, click here.

MCIA Secured gives motorcycles a rating out of five stars, based on the following being fitted to a new bike as standard:

·      A steering lock that meets the UNECE 62 standard

·      An ignition immobiliser system

·      A vehicle marking system

·      An alarm system

·      A vehicle tracking system with subscription

The higher the star rating, the better the security, so always ask your dealer what rating your bike has, and compare it to other machines on your shortlist.

Looking for bike insurance? Get a quote for this motorcycle with Bennetts motorbike insurance

 

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