2014 Zero SR Review: The Hot Rod of Electric Motorcycles

This little ride ride is blazingly quick, but it'll cost ya.

2014 Zero SR
The 2014 Zero SR. Photo © Basem Wasef

Fast electric motorcycles are nothing new-- remember those guys who tackle the Isle of Man TT on battery power?--  but they've always been an expensive proposition for the road.

Zero Motorcycles is no stranger to the dirt realm, and they've offered sport and dual sport options for much of the time they've been chipping away at the electric genre. But the Zero SR is their most aggressive stab at the performance world yet, with some startling spec sheet numbers: 106 lb-ft of torque (twice as much as a Harley-Davidson Iron 883!), 0 to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds (as quick as a Triumph Rocket III Roadster!) Pardon my exclamation marks, but that's some serious performance by any stretch of the imagination, especially considering this thing runs on nothing but angry electrons.

Is the Zero SR ZF11.4 worth the $16,995 asking price (or $19,490 for the Power Tank-equipped model)? I lived with a Zero SR for a few weeks to find out.

Take 1: Houston, We Have a Problem

My first few minutes with a fully charged Zero SR seemed A-OK: The thing accelerated like a bat out of hell, cornered well enough, and felt like it was going have no problem getting me from Irvine to Playa Vista, California, a 50 mile (or so) stretch along Interstate 405. After the first few miles, the battery indicator started dropping-- 99%, 98%, etc-- but then suddenly, it dipped to 18%. It didn't take much mental math to realize there was no way I was going to make it to my destination with that little charge, so I eased off the throttle and cruised along at about 55 mph in the slow lane. With a close eye toward the battery meter, I made it up the interstate and finally got to Playa Vista, with an indicated 7% charge remaining.

When I contacted Zero, I was told that there was an occasional issue with the battery meter, and that if I cycled the bike off and on, it would fix itself. Sure enough, it turned out there was 41% charge remaining, not 7%, which was consistent with Zero's claimed combined range of 105 miles (factoring in city riding with an average highway speed of 55 mph), or 93 miles (with an average highway speed of 70 mph).

With that knowledge under my belt, I headed home later that day (hitting Interstate 405 again), only to find that while cruising at around 70 or 75 mph (with an indicated engine temperature of 132˚ F, well within normal range), the motor cut out and coasted to about 40 mph before it regained life.

I notified my Zero contact about the unpredictable (and downright scary) issues again, and he picked up the bike, performed some updates, and returned it to me for another test.

Take 2: Problems Solved

With the bike back in my hands after a couple weeks, I had another chance to give electric mobility a go. I'm not going to lie: riding the SR was a bit spooky after it had let me down, but this time it behaved itself offering seriously strong, quiet acceleration, seamless integration with my iPhone via a much-improved app operated by Bluetooth, and the sort of road presence that made more than one total stranger ask me, "Hey, is that thing electric?!"

With more time to explore its performance, I took the Zero SR across Los Angeles across a variety of roads: the twisting stretches of Mulholland Drive, the rolling portions of Sunset Boulevard, and freeways like the 101 and 405. On the winding bits, the Zero's brake feel seemed a bit wooden with some effort required at the hand lever (and even more at the foot pedal), but there was some satisfaction in knowing that stabbing the brakes was directing more charge back to the 11.4 kWh lithium-ion battery.

It takes about 8 hours to fully charge it from empty using a standard wall outlet (there's a power cord tucked into the Zero's frame), but given the hundred miles or so of range, this was plenty of capacity for virtually an in-town riding I needed to undertake.

High speed freeway riding required an eye on the temperature gauge, as getting past the 200 degree mark might make the motor go into a brief self-preserving state that cuts power, but as long as speeds didn't exceed around 75 mph, that didn't turn out to be an issue.

Bottom Line: Old Thrills, New Tech, and the Question of "Now?"

There's a lot of understandable anxiety about if-- and when-- to invest in electric technology. And as I experienced firsthand during my Zero SR loan, battery-powered bikes can still have disconcerting glitches that make you think twice about whether you're ready to throw your hard-earned dollars into a new bike.

But I'll also note that, at least in my case, those problems weren't so deep that they couldn't be fixed: once back in my hands, the Zero SR proved to be fun, reliable, and super fast. 

You could easily spend $17k on rather exotic gas-powered bike and stay with the familiar, but you could also put it into an electric bike and enter a brave new world that is still defining itself and continuing to explore the limits of what is possible. In my experience, once the Zero SR's glitches were worked out, the EV proved to be more ready than ever for real world ownership, but its likability also had a big astericks hovering over it, given the initial hiccups. It's not perfect-- and neither is any gas-powered bike, for that matter-- but the Zero SR proves to be more intriguing than most, and that counts for a lot when considering that most of us ride motorcycles not because we have to, but because we want to.   

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