Zero SR/S REVIEW | Have electric bikes come of age?

 

Zero, the Californian bike manufacturer, have been leading the way since they launched their first fully electric production motorcycle back in 2010. Now on the back of the ‘successful’ SR/F they’ve chosen to launch the sporty SR/S. The £19,500 (base model) features new suspension, sleek bolt-free bodywork, which can improve the range by up to 13% compared to its naked counterpart, which it’s heavily based upon.

I love the coastal road from Nice to Cannes in the south of France. This grippy river of tarmac hugs the Mediterranean coast and zigzags through picturesque villages and occasionally opens up to reveal the stunning coastline, littered with million-pound mansions. I’ve ridden this ribbon of twist backs many times but today it’s very different as I’m doing so in near-silence on-board Zero’s SR/S.

Yes, there’s virtually no noise, just the slight wine of the carbon belt drive on rapid acceleration, and the odd scrape from my knee slider as it touches the coastal road. I have no gears and no clutch, instant torque and multiple rider aids keeping me safe. Would I swap for a conventional petrol bike? You know, I’m unsure, which might just be a first.

So, have electric bikes come of age? Let’s introduce you to the all-new eye-catching SR/S from Zero.

 

2020 Zero SR/S Price

£19,590 to £21,590 (premium model)

There is no hiding from the fact the ‘top-spec’ Zero SR/S is expensive at £19,590 for the base model or £21,590 for the premium model, which includes a 6kw rapid charger, heated grips, and aluminium bar ends. But, let’s not forget the monetary savings on purchasing an electric bike. This is the part when I wish I’d taken A-level maths, not A-level drama.

First, the current government offers a purchase scheme for electric bikes, this a £1500 saving on the new SR/S, so now we’re down to £18,000 for the base model. Then you’ll never have to buy road tax again, which is just under £100 per-year for 600cc and above. Add to that no congestion or low emissions charges, which may apply in the future.

There is virtually no maintenance as there aren’t any liquids aside from the brake fluid. Even the carbon belt drive will only need an initial adjustment after the first few hundred miles, then it is good for another 20,000. No conventional combustion engine means no filters or spark plugs. A petrol bike service can be between £250-£600 per year, or even more.

Finally, and obviously, the biggest saving will be fuel. This is where I transform into Carol Vorderman and attempt some very rough, estimated costs. To fully charge the 14.4KW battery at home, will cost approximately £2. And for the argument's sake, a full charge will last 100miles, so that’s £1 per 50 miles.

Let’s compare that to a petrol bike that does, say, 50mpg on average running on petrol that costs £1.32 a litre, or £5.99 a gallon. So, the Zero costs £1 per 50 miles compared to a petrol bike which is £5.99 per 50miles. Therefore, the Zero saves you nearly £5 every 50 miles, or £1 for every 10miles.

If you travel to work and back, covering 80-miles a day, you would save £8 every day just on fuel. Furthermore, if you can charge for free at work, or have solar panels at home, it’s virtually free commuting. The only thing you’ll have to pay for insurance and an occasional small service. The Zero SR/S could save you thousands each year. Could.

 

***VIDEO REVIEW COMING SOON***

 

Video review: Zero SR/S (2020)
110bhp, 190Nm, up to a 160-mile range and a host of well developed electric tech goodness, all for less than £20,000. Adam 'Chad' Child, former electric bike TT racer was dispatched to France for the launch of the Zero SR/S.

 

Power and torque

If you’ve never ridden an electric bike before, you’re in for an enjoyable surprise. Torque is instant; in fact, on the dyno the SR/S makes peak torque from less than 500rpm, then it’s a flat curve of 140ft-lb until it eventually tails off. No gears and no clutch mean it’s easy to launch from a standstill too. At the traffic lights GP it will give most conventional petrol bikes a run for their money to 60mph.

There are four main ride modes to choose from: eco, rain, street, and sport. Each mode changes the power characteristics along with peak torque. They also change the level of traction control intervention and re-gen braking (which is like conventional engine braking but also re-charges the battery). The modes can be switched on the move, and there are additional custom modes in which you can dictate the bike's performance – for example full power, no TC and no engine braking for track action. Each mode illuminates the full colour TFT dash to a different colour and it’s simple and straightforward.

If you download the app you can even change the modes remotely from your phone. For example, if you’ve stopped for a coffee and have your bike on charge and it starts to rain you can switch from sports to rain – all from the warmth of the coffee shop. You can’t do that on your ZX-6R.

Unlike some petrol bikes, the modes do dramatically change the power and feel of the bike. In eco mode the power is soft, top speed is limited to 120kph/75mph, and there is plenty of engine braking, or re-gen – so much so you only need the occasional brush of the brakes, even when you’re making steady progress. Around town or on the slow coastal roads of southern France the eco mode was more than enough, and I’m guessing in any major city you wouldn’t want any more. If I were comparing its output to a petrol bike, I would think of KTM 390 DUKE.

There is a noticeable step up on power from eco and rain to street. Now the Zero is more comparable to a Suzuki SV650 or Kawasaki Z650. Overtakes don’t have to be as calculated because top speed isn’t restricted and the reduced engine braking is instantly noticeable. Again, on the twisty roads in the south of France, I was more than satisfied with the street mode. Even when we hit the mountain passes, I didn’t want any more power and I was able to have a spirited, enjoyable ride. In the UK, the street mode will be fine for 80% of the time away from fast A-roads or the motorway.

However, flick into the full sports mode and the SR/S comes alive; acceleration no matter what the road speed is rapid. There is no lag, no hesitation, you’re instantly propelled towards the horizon. On the motorway, I was blown away by the rapid roll-on acceleration from 60mph to 80mph, which took me by surprise. Unlike a petrol bike you don’t have to kick back a few gears for instant power, instead it’s always there, and hugely impressive. In this mode, it’s hard to compare to a petrol bike as top speed is just 125mph (claimed), but that acceleration – the way it feels when you roll on the throttle – is like a big sports naked, a Z1000 perhaps. The only downside of the sports mode is that it zaps power from the battery, which in turn reduces the range.

 

Zero launched their first fully electric production motorcycle back in 2010. Now they

 

Economy/range

Range is the big question. Interestingly, Zero are happy with their claimed range and have discovered through market research that the average rider will ride around 100 miles for a recreational ride, while the average commute is considerably less at around 20miles.

Zero claims the new sculpted bodywork gives a 13% increase in range, but this is only when prone or tucked in. So, yes, on the motorway, stay tucked in and you’ll enjoy 13% more miles – but would you? Zero also say that when riding normally the range is the same as the naked SR/F because the S’s bars are higher and the pegs are lower. In other words, the aerodynamic effects of the new fairing are only advantageous when laid on the dummy fuel tank.

City riding gives a 161-mile range, according to Zero, while a constant 55mph returns a 100-mile range. Combining the two: 123 miles. At a motorway 70mph, it should give you 82 miles, and a combination of city and UK motorway, 109 miles. This is all sitting upright; if you are willing to tuck in on the motorway you can add 13%.

In the real world, range ultimately depends on how you ride, your size, weight, wind, hills… even tyre pressures. Some taller, heavy-handed riders had worse range figures than me, but during the test in the south of France, I calculated the figures below.

After a steady ride including a very short blast on the motorway, I’d travelled 23 miles, used 20% of the battery’s charge and had a range of 86 miles. Further along, using eco and street modes, I had covered 43 miles with 58% battery remaining and a 64-mile range. Finally, after a very brisk ride, motorway, plus more town work and 70 miles down, I had 26% battery remaining and 29 miles remaining. Roughly speaking that’s a 100-mile range, with the rider starting to think about re-charging after 75-80miles of ‘normal’ riding. However, this could be possibly less in the UK on faster roads.

When it comes to re-charging you have to think of the SR/S as a smart phone. You’re so dependent on your phone and would very rarely allow it to run out of charge, as for some this can be disastrous <how would we keep ourselves from staying up to date with your Twitter feed, Chad?! – Ed>. I generally use mine throughout the day and, when I get home or when I got to bed, plug it in at about 20% life – and it’s back to 100% in the morning. Alternatively, I plug in at my desk in the office and have 100% power for the rest of the day. It’s the same for the SR/S electric bike: get to work, plug in, and have full charge during the working day. A normal 3kw fast charger will have the SR/S back to full power in 4.5 hours on the standard bike, and just 2.4 hours on the premium model. But, as you should have 15-25% battery left, you’re looking at considerably less time. On a fast charger, it will take 1.3 hours for a 95% charge and just an hour on the premium model. It’s worth noting the last 5% of charge takes the longest, around 30-minutes as the bike is optimising the battery. Therefore 30-minutes on a fast charge could see, percentage rise from 30% to 90%, barely enough time to order a Costa and drink it.

As electric bike and cars develop, charging stations will become more popular and there are numerous apps on the market that highlight where they are. In fact, you can even pre-book a charging point in advance.

 

Engine, gearbox, and exhaust

Ah, this could be the shortest section as there isn’t an engine, gearbox or exhaust, but that is one of the benefits of electric bikes. No noise means you can leave the house for an early morning ride without waking the neighbours. It also allows you to get more tuned in with your ride. It’s a surreal experience at first, but one I’ve grown to enjoy. The lack of gears and gearbox makes it a doddle to ride, and because there’s no engine or exhaust, there’s no heat either. This has two advantages: one, you don’t get cooked in traffic from the heat generated by a petrol engine on summer days. And two, you can put a ‘hot’ bike straight into the garage without having to worry about the kids being in the garage at the same time.

 

 

Handling suspension, chassis, and weight

Weight has always been an issue with electric bikes. I raced in the TT Zero race on the Isle of Man several times and it was always an issue on a 260kg bike, but although the Zero SR/S is hefty, it’s not too bad, and more comparable to a large sporty, fully-fuelled naked bike. 229kg isn’t light but is more than manageable, and Zero has made significant changes to aid the handling. The fully-adjustable Showa suspension looks visually identical to that on the naked F model but is completely new internally, with new springs and a revised shim stack.

The ride is on the sporty side; there isn’t a huge amount of travel on the suspension, which results in a firm ride. This is fine for smooth French roads but I’d prefer it to be plusher, especially on bumpy B-roads. However, the flip side is the way it controls the weight of the bike, particularly in fast corners and when you apply the strong brakes.

However, you do notice the weight during fast direction changes, especially lifting the bike from knee-down left to knee-down right, but it’s not overwhelming. The bars are relatively wide and high and the pegs are low, which allows you to manhandle the bike with relative ease. Ground clearance is also good for this type of bike while the Pirelli tyres give excellent feedback. So, think sports-touring rather than full-on touring – like a Ninja 1000SX or Suzuki GSX-S1000, the Zero SR/S wouldn’t feel out of place in the medium group on a track day.

 

Comfort over distance and touring

As mentioned, the overall ride is on the firm side, and some of this is down to the seat, which is more sports bike-like than touring. The new screen and bodywork do a decent job of keeping you out of the windblast, while pillions now get good side grab handles and pegs that are not too high. In the accessories catalogue there are even solid panniers and a top box on offer. Don’t forget, there is also storage in the dummy fuel tank, enough for the charging cable, waterproofs or spare gloves. There is even a handy USB charger.

However, unlike a petrol bike, comfort isn’t an issue as you’re going to have to stop every 100 miles or so to re-charge, and that will take time, enough time to relax and chill out. This isn’t a bike you’re going to be able to cover 500 miles-plus in a day, at least not without careful planning.

 

 

Rider aids and extra equipment/accessories

All the rider aids are lean-sensitive, which means cornering ABS and traction control comes as standard. These can be changed on the move or deactivated either via custom modes or remotely via your mobile phone.

The TC intervention doesn’t cut the ignition as it would on a conventional bike, it simply reduces the power/torque. In rain and eco mode you can feel the intervention, but not so much in the street and race mode.

In many ways the TC is more beneficial on an electric bike as there is so much instant torque from less than 500rpm and a direct connection from throttle to tyre. On a cold day, it would be easy to spin the rear tyre. In the wet, I’d strongly advise keeping the TC active.

 

Rivals

Zero is leading the way, obvious competition comes from Harley LiveWire, Energica and, arguably, their own SR/F.

 

Zero SR/S

Harley-Davidson LiveWire

Energica Eva Ribelle

Zero SR/F

Power

110bhp / 82Kw

105bhp / 78Kw

144bhp / 107Kw

110hp / 82Kw

Torque

140lb-ft / 190Nm

86lb-ft / 116Nm

159lb-ft / 215Nm

140lb-ft / 190Nm

Weight

229kg (std)

249kg

270kg

220kg

Seat height

787mm

761mm

790mm

787mm

PRICE

£19,590 (from)

£28,995

£19,750

£17,990

 

2020 Zero SR/S verdict

I was brought up riding two-strokes, I loved my Kawasaki KR-1S back in the day and still scroll eBay at least once a week for a 90s two-stroke. But despite my love for combustion engines, electric bikes are becoming more and more appealing, and Zero’s SR/S is one of the best. Yes, it’s expensive compared to a normal petrol bike but after the initial outlay, running costs are significantly reduced. A decade ago I would have laughed at the idea of an electric bike, but not now. The Zero SR/S is hard to fault. If you can live with an 80-100 mile range, use a bike mainly for commuting and short journeys, then it is a serious contender. Why would you not try electric?  It will be interesting to see how the bikes perform in the real world on faster UK roads away from the glamour of Cannes.

 

Three things I loved about the 2020 Zero SR/S

  • Silent running
  • Power and instant torque
  • No running costs

 

Three things that I didn’t

  • The price
  • Still unsure of the looks
  • Silent running
Zero launched their first fully electric production motorcycle back in 2010. Now they

 

2020 Zero SR/S Specification

New price

£19,590 - Standard

£21,590 - Premium (As tested)

Capacity

n/a

Bore x Stroke

n/a

Engine layout

Rectangle battery cells, in-line with air-cooling

Engine details

Interior permanent magnet AC motor

Power

110hp (82KW) @5000rpm

Torque

140lb-ft (190Nm) from less than 500rpm

Top speed

124mph (not recorded)

Transmission

Automatic – Belt Drive

Average fuel consumption

59mpg claimed

Tank size (Battery)

14.4kWh

Max range to empty (theoretical)

161miles City. 109miles Motorway 70mph. Tested 110miles combined best, 99miles combined worst.

Rider aids

Lean sensitive ABS standard traction control

Frame

Steel Trellis

Front suspension

43mm Showa

Front suspension adjustment

Fully-adjustable

Rear suspension

Single Showa

Rear suspension adjustment

Fully-adjustable

Front brake

2x320mm disc, J-Juan radially-mounted four-piston calipers

Rear brake

240mm disc, J-Juan and single piston

Front tyre

120/70-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso 3

Rear tyre

180/55 -17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso 3

Rake/Trail

24.5°/94mm

Dimensions

TBC

Wheelbase

1450mm

Ground clearance

n/a

Seat height

787mm

Kerb weight

229kg, 234kg premium

Warranty

unlimited miles / 2-years and 5-years on the battery

Website

www.zeromotorcycles.com

 

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

 

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