Imagine you’re ready to upgrade your motorcycle to make it go faster or farther. Thoughts immediately go to aftermarket parts, or maybe just replacing it with the latest wunderbike. Now imagine simply picking up your phone, opening your motorcycle-specific app, and giving it a couple of swipes. You pay a few dollars, and magical things rain down from the interwebs. The next time you swing a leg over, your bike has 37 more horsepower and 18 lb-ft more torque. Simple as that!
Zero is betting that this is the way of the future with the introduction of its new SR naked all-electric motorcycle. Think of it as a detuned version of the premium Zero SR/F, with a price tag that’s $3,600 lower. This means your cost of entry is less, but later, if the power isn’t lengthening your arms sufficiently, you can upgrade the bike in increments until it’s the equal of the more expensive bike and you’ll be continually at risk of speeding tickets—if you aren’t already. Pretty cool, huh?
To Infinity and Beyond
The $18,595 SR and the $22,195 SR/F (premium model) look identical and share the same Z-Force 75-10 motor. On the SR, this translates to 73 horsepower, a top speed of 104 mph, and a massive 122 lb-ft of torque—but this can be significantly increased through a $1,795 over-the-air Performance Boost (see sidebar). I put about 500 miles on the standard-spec SR, riding a mix of freeways, city streets, and twisty northern California roads. I’ve spent a lot of time on Zero motorcycles, and I can assure you that the new SR would leave the old one for dead. It’s faster and more sophisticated in every way. Twist the throttle (or whatever that thing is—a rheostat?) and the Zero shoots forward like a two-wheeled SpaceX, while sounding like a speeder bike from Star Wars.
The SR’s happy place is on relentlessly twisty roads where speeds bounce from 20 to 70 mph. Here, life is simple: there’s no bothering with shifters or a clutch, and the acceleration is dizzying. I’m sure I was riding some of my favorite roads faster and smoother than I do on my gas bikes. Zero motorcycles, like most electric vehicles, go like stink, particularly in the range of speeds that are useful on public roads, thanks to prodigious torque that’s instantly available. The grippy Pirelli Rosso Diablo III tires (180/55-17 and 120/70-17) further inspire confidence.
There are five pre-programmed riding modes, including Rain, Eco, Sport, Standard, and a new one, Canyon. All are customizable and you can design your own. I preferred Canyon, which includes the acceleration of Sport with lots of “regenerative braking”—the EV version of engine braking. For moderate corners, it’s sufficient to just roll on and off the throttle. And there are other benefits—each time you decelerate, it puts energy back in the battery. On a long, twisting mountain descent, I gained as much as eight miles of range. It also saves brake pads.
Twist that happy stick, roll it off, and repeat, apex to apex. The intervening straights are quickly rendered into a blur. It’s practically meditation, and it feels like you can do it all day—at least until the TFT display starts yelling at you that the battery is getting low and the fun is nearing an end. Speaking of which, the company claims the SR achieves about 103 miles of mixed riding (freeways, canyons, and city traffic). This matched my experience. I charged the bike from the Level 2 (220-volt) charger I have in my garage for my electric cars, which takes 3-4 hours for a full charge. The bike also comes with a Level 1 charger (for 110-volt household current), which takes overnight. There are many options to improve the range and reduce charge times.
The SR is a looker, with its trellis frame and stacked LED headlights, and garners attention wherever it goes. The battery and motor are design elements, not things to be hidden. It’s a motorcycle that says, “You bet I’m electric—got a problem with that?”
The J.Juan binders are the best brakes no one has ever heard of, with excellent two-finger modulation on the front, and just enough rear brake to settle the suspension for corner entries. You can really make the radial-mount J.Juan four-piston calipers and 320mm discs howl under hard braking, and when you step over the line the Bosch electronics are there to save you. Cornering-ABS and Drag Torque Control—standard on the higher-spec bikes—are part of the optional Performance Boost. In my opinion, lean angle ABS is the one option that you shouldn’t have to pay extra for, since it relates to rider safety. But I’m a motorcycle safety instructor, so there you go.
Other niggles? I’d love to see a brake light that activates when slowing with regen. Sure, you can pump the brake to do the same thing, but EV auto makers have been including this feature for years and it would be nice to see it here. And while the fully adjustable Showa suspension is excellent on smooth corners, it’s less happy on the goaty stuff, where a lack of small bump compliance demands a firm grip on the handlebar.
The faux gas tank hides a lockable one-liter storage compartment that has room for the included Level 1 charger and a few peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. There are two standard USB ports. There’s a tiny bit of storage under the pillion pad, too, as well as two helmet lock loops. A simple but effective cruise control is part of the package, and heated grips are a $195 option. The TFT display has indicators for motor and battery temperature, as well as status for traction control, ABS, and ride modes, and can be customized to show other data.
The seat has ample padding, though the knee angle was a little tight for my 33-inch inseam with the stock seat (31 inches). Higher (31.9) and lower (30.3) versions are available. My wife Meredith spent some time on the back, and let’s just say that the SR wasn’t designed for matrimony, thanks to high footpegs and a tiny pillion pad. You’ll go fast and do bad things when you’re on it, so it’s probably best your partner stays home anyway.
The Bottom Line
Some may cast a skeptical eye toward a “budget” bike that costs almost $19,000, but you need to consider the other side of the ledger. You’ll be in line to get some money back in federal and state tax subsidies and incentives. And maintenance is almost non-existent, other than brake pads and tires. The SR even has a low-maintenance drive belt instead of a chain.
If your rides are generally about 100 miles, or you’re a commuter with a twisty mountain road between you and your workplace, the SR will make your life better. You’ll get to work with more G’s under your belt than your coworkers, and they’ll wonder why you’re smiling. To rub it in, you can wave as you pass them at the gas pump.
Pay-to-Play: The Way of the Future?
What is “Pay-to-Play,” anyway? If you’re confused (don’t be ashamed, many are), think of it this way. You can pay for more torque, horsepower, range, or other enhancements just by pushing buttons on your cell phone and downloading them. Call them software farkles.
“You can make it the bike you want without seeing a dealer,” says Dan Quick, Zero’s Director of Communications. “The owner might want extra mileage, faster charging, or more power but we’re not forcing them to pay for it up front.” Quick also notes that the upgrades are a one-time cost, not a subscription, and stay with the bike, improving resale value.
The SR’s stock Z-Force 75-10 motor generates 122 lb-ft of torque, 73 hp, and is capable of 104 mph. By purchasing the over-the-air Performance Boost from the Cypher Store, that same motor will crank out 140 lb-ft, 110 hp, and go 124 mph. You’ll also get lean angle ABS and Drag Torque Control as part of the package. In other words, you can buy an SR and give it the power of a top-spec SR/F for $1,795. You can “unlock” another 17.3 kWh of battery power for $2,195, making the bike capable of an additional 21 miles (124 miles of mixed riding total, or 187 miles in the city).
Other enhancements available through the Cypher Store include 10% faster charging, on-dash navigation, and what the company calls Parking Mode, which enables you to creep the bike forward or backward under low power (handy with a 491-pound bike). These options are $195 each.
Head spinning yet? Those are just the Cypher Store upgrades—you can add even more range or faster charging by taking the bike to your dealer to install hard parts. An additional battery, which the company calls a Power Tank, can be installed for $2,895, occupying most of the storage compartment. Thus, your range can be increased to 151 miles of mixed riding (227 miles city). Or you can purchase a $2,300, 6 kW Rapid Charger (you can’t do both), reducing charge time to about an hour and a half when using a 220-volt source. If it were me, I’d make the Power Tank the last possible upgrade, since it weighs more than 40 pounds and places the weight high on an already heavy bike.
To many, Pay-to-Play will seem like a needless handicap. After all, the hardware is there—why not just let us access it? That’s a fair criticism. But here’s another take. I’m betting that once you own an SR, you’ll never bother with the power upgrades. The bike is that fast. Since you’re already at risk for a driving award, why decrease your proximity to jail by adding more power?
It all kind of makes sense. This is an expensive motorcycle, but you can decrease your up-front price, see how it fits into your lifestyle, and add speed, range, or reduce charge time later. It’s your choice, and your bank account. Oh, and prepare yourself: it’s likely that most vehicles, whether two- or four-wheeled, will be going this Pay-to-Play route in the near future. After all, Tesla has been doing it for a while. It’s a thing.
2022 Zero SR
+ instant torque, no shifting, over-the-air performance upgrades, no gas required
– lack of small-bump c-c-c-compliance, needs automated brake light
Distributor Zero Motorcycles
Engine Z-Force 75-10 passively air-cooled AC motor, 750 Amp, 3-phase controller, regenerative deceleration
Power 73hp, 122lb-ft torque (upgradable)
Transmission Clutchless direct drive with 90T/20T, Poly Chain HTD Carbon belt
Load Capacity 511lbs
Seat Height 31in (30.3 and 31.9 optional)
Riding Range 103mi (upgradable)
Charge Time 4h to 95% @220V (upgradable)
Batterym Z-Force Li-Ion 14.4 kWh