Riding the Zero SR/F
June 22, 2019 · Original photos
Five years separated my first and second rides on electric motorcycles. Back in 2014, I rode a prototype Harley-Davidson Livewire, and enjoyed the experience enough to put money down for the first production unit. I believe that electric bikes are an important part of motorcycling’s future, and I love my other EV.
In the years since, Zero Motorcycles has refined their line of electric bikes. As H-D announced the specs of the production Livewire, Zero countered with an all-new model that will define the company in the coming years: the Zero SR/F.
I visited Northwest Moto, a sister company to Triumph of Seattle, to ride their demo SR/F. These are my impressions, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
- Zero has designed a very sharp-looking motorcycle. The lines are clean, color schemes simple but attractive, and the mix of metal finishes work well without being overdone.
- Build quality seems quite exceptional. Zero’s previous models always looked and felt cheap to me, as if a boring designer created a bike with a limited production budget. Not the SR/F! The bike felt solid, welds were clean, and the paint and surface finishes were professional. It’s as well-built, if not better, than any Japanese import and on par with build quality from European manufacturers and H-D.
- The SR/F felt nimble, powerful, and confident. Acceleration was good, but it did not feel as quick as the Livewire prototype (we’ll need to “compare” production units!).
- At speed, the ride was very quiet. This is an aspect of electric motorcycles that takes getting used to. But after a few miles, riding with just the sound of the wind is very relaxing. It’s like riding the future. When a loud petrol motorcycle rode by me in traffic, it seemed silly by comparison.
- People are excited about them when they see them on the road. I was asked twice, “Hey, is that electric?” during my test ride. Given that Seattle is one of Tesla’s biggest markets, this isn’t a surprise. But it’s always great to see people interested in motorcycles.
- The storage compartment in the space normally occupied by a gas tank or air filter was cool! It’s got room for gloves, glasses, phone, etc. It’s great to have space for storage without having to add luggage. Unfortunately, you lose this if you add the extra battery pack, but it was great on the base bike.
Here are a few shots of the demo SR/F, highlighting the great build quality and design that I liked.
- I was disappointed by the regenerative braking. I have become accustomed to very aggressive regeneration resistance, to the point where I expected my Tesla brakes to last 100,000 miles. Even on the conservative “street” setting (as opposed to “sport”), the regen didn’t slow the SR/F the way I’d like. This may be adjustable via Zero’s mobile app; I hope so.
- The caliper brakes disappointed me. Zero went with Bosch brakes, which are fine. I’d prefer the stopping power that I enjoy with Brembo brakes on my other bikes. Zero’s brakes felt mushy highlighted the weight of the bike — a hefty 500 pounds fully loaded!
- The visual instrument cluster seemed cheap and small. I get that Zero is using the bezel to house indicator lights, but the screen-to-bezel ratio makes the screen seem small and cheap compared to something like BMW’s Connectivity unit. On a bike of this price, nothing should feel cheap.
- Aftermarket parts aren’t available yet in any meaningful quantity. This is a problem for many new bikes, but Zero has absolutely no personalization options available on their own site as of this writing. Both Honda and Triumph do a great job of having at least a skeletal catalog of parts available for their bikes on launch day, and third parties fill in their catalogs over time. The SR/F begs for bar-end mirrors. Perhaps something out there from Rizoma can be made to fit? There are a few things starting to pop up.
- For my height (6′), the SR/F is slightly cramped. My knees were bent a bit too far for comfort, and the riding position was just a bit on the aggressive side. This isn’t horrible, and it won’t be a problem for many riders. It’s also likely reflective of the SR/F’s primary use cases of urban riding and commuting. But I wouldn’t purchase it without some options to adjust the riding position a bit, including handlebar risers.
In fairness to Zero, there isn’t much ugly about this bike. But there are aspects that kept me from being excited enough to purchase one:
- Braking at low speeds generated a pulsating grind-whine from the bike. I wanted to attribute it to the regenerative brake system, but that should be very smooth. The SR/F pulsated with a whine that sounded mixed with a stiff brush dragging, almost like the sound of a warped brake rotor spinning. It may be normal operation, but it didn’t sound good and had me concerned that a mechanical part was failing. The test-rider after me mentioned the same complaint.
- Range is less than promised… just like every other EV. There simply aren’t electric motorcycles available yet with the combination of range and charging solution sufficient to alleviate range anxiety. The first motorcycle manufacturer to license access to Tesla’s supercharger network will get my money.
- At $19,000 – $23,300, the SR/F is a miserable value. Of course it’s a new technology, of course EV batteries are expensive, of course it’s an alpha-purchase. But this is a great $12,000 motorcycle that will cost us $20,000 to purchase because it’s still early in the cost reduction curve of the tech. While a miserable value, it’s not obscenely priced like Livewire. At $20K, the SR/F is worth a consideration for people who really want to commute emissions-free on two wheels.
My test-ride of the Zero SR/F did reinforce something that I have long believed: Electric motorcycles will be a vital part of motorcycling’s future. It’s great to see multiple manufacturers bringing new electrics to market, and seeing our favorite brands reinventing themselves around electric technology. There are still many years of hard work ahead before electric bikes ascend to a primary role in the global m/c market, but it’ll happen.
In the meantime, Zero earned my respect for building a nice bike, and I’ll gladly recommend that every rider give it a spin. It’ll be a fantastic solution for many riders out there. It’s not for me… yet, but I’ll be watching closely as new models roll out from Zero Motorcycles.