2020 Zero SR/F: This is the Noise That Speed Makes Now

Text: Geoff Drake • Photography: Geoff Drake

Riders who have not experienced an electric motorcycle might think the power output will be quaint, like that of a supercharged electric toothbrush or perhaps one of those ubiquitous city scooters. Despite warnings to the contrary, these same riders have a come-to-Jesus moment when they finally whack open the throttle. This is especially true of Zero Motorcycles’ latest offering, the all-new SR/F (as in “Street Fighter”), which makes a tractorlike 140 lb-ft of torque, delivers 110 horsepower, and reaches a top speed of 124 mph. On a naked bike with this kind of muscle, one should pull the trigger only after grasping the handlebar with premeditation and purpose.

Because of this power, Zeros have screamed for traction control as a means to prevent us from our worst selves. The SR/F is the first Zero to have it, thanks to a suite of Bosch electronics that also include straight line and lean angle ABS, and drag torque control (limiting wheel slippage under deceleration). 

The SR/F also gets a much-needed style makeover, and now fits squarely in the burgeoning category of trellis-framed streetfighters. The SR/F’s frame caresses the enormous, finned Z-Force 14.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, and the bike includes stacked LED headlamps and a wasp-waisted profile. If your social life is looking a little dim, the SR/F will have the same enlivening effect as a puppy: Suddenly, everyone wants to talk to you. 

Parts come from a variety of locations, but the bike is fully assembled and tested in Scotts Valley, CA. One entire side of the manufacturer’s tidy facility is devoted to the SR/F—an indication of the bike’s importance to Zero’s future. 

Riding Impressions: Almost Zero Complaints 

I picked up an SR/F at the factory and lived with it for a few days, riding in the dry, the wet, on freeways, and on some of NorCal’s best storm-ravaged twisty roads. I even took advantage of the Level 2 charger that I installed in my garage for my electric car. 

Longtime motorcyclists will do the typical left-hand “fan” searching for a nonexistent clutch lever. Don’t worry. You won’t miss it, nor will you miss rowing your way through a gearbox. Just twist and go, in the way of all Zeros since the company’s inception in 2006. As you might expect, power delivery is instant and gratifying—110 mph comes up very quickly, particularly in Sport mode (which I would be tempted to use all the time). This bike provides a near-constant temptation to behave like a miscreant. Twisting the throttle produces fantastic Star Wars speeder bike noises and a blurred forest to match. It’s great fun, but watch for Stormtroopers. 

Mode changing is intuitive, requiring a “long press” on the left-hand button, followed by a side-to-side movement that enables you to choose Eco, Street, Sport, Rain, or one user-programmed “Custom” mode. (Ten Custom modes can be devised on the app, but only one at a time can be downloaded to the bike.) There’s a pronounced difference in acceleration among modes. The Rain setting proved useful in moderating power during California’s sloppy spring. Sport mode, besides providing better acceleration, also enables noticeably more regenerative braking, a feeling akin to engine braking on a four-stroke. This makes it highly entertaining to roll on and off the throttle at a sporting pace, often negating the need for the disc brakes. Another bonus: Regenerative braking puts energy back into the battery, adding range. 

Zero claims 109 miles of “mixed” range (highway and city). Riding aggressively, I eked out 78 miles, at which point the display indicated 1% range and zero miles remaining. Still, I got home without issues. (I didn’t find the range indicator to be extremely trustworthy; sometimes range actually increased during the course of a ride.) As the state of charge gets low, the computer dictates a reduction in power to help ensure that you get home. 

The Showa suspension is fully adjustable. At 165 pounds, I found the bike a bit harsh over sharp or high-frequency bumps. Backing out preload, compression, and rebound damping front and rear markedly improved compliance. (The company says that the suspension comes adjusted for a 200-pound rider.) 

The front Pirelli Diablo Rosso III 120/70-17 front tire felt supremely planted. The SR/F is the first Zero to have two discs up front (320 mm), an appropriate addition, particularly given the power of the new bike. Performance from the radial-mount, four-piston front J-Juan brakes is a pleasing, one-finger affair. The comfortable, forward riding position includes a seat height of 31 inches; lower and taller heights are available as options. 

The Premium model’s three-level heated grips were a welcome addition, as was the cruise control. The TFT dash is eminently readable and extremely customizable via the free app. 

A Connected Ride 

Zero calls this the “most connected motorcycle ever,” and the company might just be right. The bike’s operating system, called Cypher III, communicates with a free smartphone app and keeps track of your bike’s location (“Find My Bike”) and whether the bike is upright or taking a nap, if it’s been tampered with, and the current state of charge. The operating system also records ride data, lean angle achieved, and max speed. Are you at work and your motorcycle is outside on the charger? Have it text you when it’s ready. Do you have a residential power plan that provides a discount for “off-peak” hours? Through the app, you can schedule charging accordingly. The app also shows nearby charging locations, and the system enables over-the-air upgrades to the bike’s operating system. (Future firmware upgrades could result in increased power, for instance.) Data is also streamed to Zero to help improve future products. To enable this, the SR/F comes with a real-time cellular connection that’s free for two years (and thereafter requires a small monthly fee). 

Pricing and Options 

There are package and à la carte options that affect charge time, range, and amenities. 

• Standard charging: This is the first Zero model to have “Level 2” charging standard, rather than as an extra-cost accessory. You simply flip open a small cover at the rear of the tank section and plug in, enabling you to use the increasingly common “pistol”-style EV charger and achieve a 95% charge in about four hours. Price: The standard SR/F is $ 18,995. 

• Faster charging: While the standard SR/F comes with a 3-kilowatt charger—a hard-drive-size unit that resides under the faux tank—there’s room to add another (making 6 kW total), reducing charge time to about two hours. Price: The “Premium” SR/F, which includes this option, is ,995. Besides faster charging, it includes a small flyscreen, heated hand grips, and cruise control. 

• Other options: In the future you’ll be able to add a 6-kW “Rapid Charge Module,” reducing charge time even further. Or, you can add a “Power Tank” (additional battery capacity) to improve range to more than 200 miles in the city. Note that you can’t do both, since they occupy the same physical space in the tank area (and supplant the handy 1-liter storage compartment). Price: $ 23,295. 

And, of course, all Zeros come with the option to use a regular, 110V household outlet, which produces a full charge overnight. (Don’t scoff; if you have an 80-mile commute, you’ll find this low-tech solution totally adequate—and many do.) 

You may also qualify for federal and state subsidies (see www.zero motorcycles.com/incentives). And, as with all EVs, Zeros require almost no maintenance (mostly just brake pads and tires), and “fuel” costs are about a penny per mile. You probably spend more per month at Starbucks. 

The SR/F is an impressive package that will more than satisfy anyone in search of a pavement-shredding streetfighter that carries some important, green-tinged distinctions. You won’t find another bike like it. And chances are you won’t want to. 

I had a chance to sit down with CEO Sam Paschel, who spoke confidently of the future for electric motorcycles. “It’s a very different market than it was a few years ago,” he says. “The tone of the response from consumers, even two years ago, was, ‘Yeah, OK, it’s got an electric motor. Maybe I’ll consider it.’ Now the tone is, ‘This is inevitable.’ 

“But people are still asking the same questions: How far? How fast? How long does it take to charge? And how much? It’s still the same four questions, but in practical terms, the range is now big enough to fit 99% of use cases. If you want to ride to New York with no planning, this may not be the motorcycle for you. 

“We’re the brand that created this category, and we defined what it means to be a high-performance electric motorcycle. We’ve been alone trying to create and popularize the category for a very long time. We’re more than confident, with 13 years, $ 250 million in investment, and millions of miles of experience, in our leadership position.”