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The 2020 Zero SR/F Electric Sportbike Isn't A Compromise Motorcycle

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The 2020 Zero SR/F fires up in total silence—it’s a trip. There’s no exhaust rumble or clattering pistons, just a few lights on the TFT dash. “Are you sure it’s on,” more than one person asked. But when you twist the throttle, you finally hear something. And more importantly–you feel something.

One thing that’s so exciting about the SR/F is that it appears to be an honest-to-goodness motorcycle with real performance and range, and makes a serious case as an actual replacement for a gasoline-powered machine.

(Full Disclosure: Zero graciously loaned me an SR/F so I could do a shakedown ride.)

I tempered my penchant for overwhelming enthusiasm to focus on answering a few questions: What is the SR/F? Who is this bike for? Is it a legitimate motorcycle? Finding the answers was a hilariously good time, punctuated with epiphanies and heightened anticipation for the future of motorcycling.

Formerly known as Electricross, Zero sells six different bikes across a range of styles. Since 2006, the company has established itself as more than a boutique manufacturer–it’s currently the fastest-growing full-size electric motorcycle brand on the market and sells more electric bikes than all of its competitors combined, according to Zero. 

The EV bike outfit’s most notable competitor at the moment is none other than Harley-Davidson with its new LiveWire. Significantly, the Zero makes more power than H-D’s machine, has greater range, and is thousands of dollars cheaper. Part of Zero’s credibility has been forged in competition at the legendary Pikes Peak Hill Climb and on dirt racing tracks across the country.

Zero won the production electric motorcycles class at Pikes Peak in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and most recently, it tackled the legendary mountain this past June using a modified SR/F with racer Cory West in the saddle and finished fifth in class and 23rd overall.

The SR/F is the most recent addition to the company’s lineup and represents a huge leap forward. Nestled in its frame is Zero’s ZF75-10 brushless, air-cooled electric motor with regenerative capabilities, and a ZF14.4 lithium-ion battery pack. When paired with Zero’s Power Tank, the SR/F has an impressive claimed maximum range of 200 miles or 161 miles in city riding.

My very first mission with the SR/F was to charge it up. A recurring critique of EVs is range anxiety and charging time, so I was keen to see how Zero addressed this. There are EV charging stations popping up everywhere near my hometown of Manchester, New Hampshire, so I immediately rode to a Whole Foods that had one to test it out. I was a little intimidated by the whole process, but I needn’t have been. It was ridiculously easy: download an app, register my credit card and the model of the bike, plug in. Done.

After about 20 minutes the bike’s estimated range had increased by some 60 miles and battery capacity was up by 17 percent. Zero claims an 80-minute charge time to 95 percent with its 6 kW charger installed.

The SR/F doesn’t have DC fast charging capabilities–it uses a less complex and lighter AC battery–but is Level 2 charging capable. Was it slower than filling up at a gas station? Absolutely. Is range anxiety still a thing? For many, yes. But, that “fill up” cost me a whopping $.55 and gave me plenty of juice for the riding I was doing.

Accelerating out of the parking lot, the electric motor makes a crisp metallic whir that builds to a fighter jet-like whine the faster you go. While some will surely lament the lack of exhaustsong, riding the SR/F fosters a new sense riding awareness. The more I rode, the more I began to appreciate its silence.

The absence of noise also forces you to recalibrate how you ride. Because there’s no gas engine deadening your senses, you can concentrate on how the bike feels in a completely new way. On the SR/F, the only feedback coming through the handlebars are the road’s bumps and ripples pulsing directly into your hands, which creates a deliciously tactile riding experience.

Handling is also affected by the electric powerplant. Physics tells us that the reciprocating mass in an internal combustion engine exerts a range of forces on a motorcycle that can unsettle how a bike handles, but that’s not a factor here.

At low speed, the bike is nimble and you’d never guess it weighs 485 pounds. At speed, things are linear and predictable. It turns in nicely, stays planted through corners, and never did anything unexpected. The SR/F’s chassis, Showa Big Piston suspension, low center of gravity, and lack of engine parts flinging about all help belie its heft.

Also improving handling over a gas-powered counterpart is the lack of a traditional transmission. The clutchless direct-drive transmission has one long gear, so you just twist the throttle and go. And go. And go. Where the clutch handle normally is on the bars, there’s nothing on the SR/F–you can literally ride this motorcycle without ever touching the left grip. It’s a strange feeling initially, but the simplicity is refreshing.

Then there’s the power. The first time I pinned it, the Zero’s acceleration actually took my breath away. The SR/F makes a claimed 140 lb-ft of torque (that’s a lot) and 110 horsepower (also a lot), enough for a respectable 124 mph top speed. The bike pulls hard in one flat, continuous wave that’s never interrupted by gear changes or an engine needing to build revs. 100 percent of the electric motor’s available torque is delivered instantly, regardless of your speed, so all you need to do is make sure you’re pointed the right way when you touch the throttle, and you’re gifted the full wallop of the motor and a fast date with the horizon.

Like so much about this bike, power is delivered differently than what you might be used to, but in the real world of stoplights, traffic, and passing zones, I’d wager almost nothing on two wheels can touch the usable speed of the SR/F.

And can we talk about how good this bike looks for a second? The proportions of the SR/F feel nearly perfect. It’s muscular yet svelte and if you didn’t know any better, you could easily mistake it for a “normal” motorcycle. But look closer and you’ll notice the unique details like the gold-painted motor, and the charge port at the base of the seat. The meaty battery pack slots neatly into the frame and manages to look wildly futuristic and entirely normal at the same time.

This bike is an attention grabber. Two guys approached me at Whole Foods, both practically dancing with excitement. “Is that what I think it is?!” Later at a stoplight, a bus driver slid open his half window to gawk. When I told him the bike was electric, his eyes got big and he giggled like a schoolboy. I also got scores of double-takes cruising through downtown. The Zero SR/F is a neck-breaker for sure.

If the SR/F has a weakness, though, it would be the rear brake. It required a lot of force to engage, and took even more to get the bike slowed; I never felt overly comfortable using it.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the seat. It feels about an inch too narrow near the base and seems unnecessarily wide towards the pillion area. Fortunately, the padding is good, definitely in line with other sport-oriented motorcycles, and a passenger will fit on the back with ease.

We also need to talk about money. Fully loaded, the SR/F rings in a touch under $23,000. That puts it square in the path of heavyweights like the Aprilia Tuono V4 Factory, Ducati Monster 1200 R, and KTM Super Duke R. In truth, a fully optioned SR/F is several thousand dollars more than all of those bikes, but doesn’t have their range or performance chops. The way I see it, any emerging technology has an element of compromise involved and that’s true of the SR/F. But after nearly 300 miles of test riding, I’m convinced this isn’t a compromised machine.

I also discovered answers to my questions. The SR/F is several things: A blast to ride, intoxicatingly quick, easy to operate, and a terrific commuter motorcycle that shapeshifts into a hooligan at the twist of the throttle. Provided you have the time and ability to charge up, it can also handle more substantial rides. But it’s a tough sell for longer adventures.

This bike is for riders who want to be on the bleeding edge of technology. It might be for those who already have an electric car and don’t mind the Zero’s upfront cost. It’s definitely for riders who want to experience the thrills of electric propulsion on two wheels. It’s for people looking for something new and different, or anyone who wants to fly the EV banner high and proud. I’m convinced that if you approach the SR/F knowing what it is and isn’t, you’ll be thrilled to the moon.

Finally, there’s no question that the SR/F is a legitimate motorcycle. A good motorcycle is fun, engaging and safe, makes a statement on the road, and tickles the areas of your brain that compel you to go for a ride, no matter the reason. Zero’s latest machine confidently checks all those boxes and makes perhaps the most complete case for electric motorcycles seen yet. It does exactly what you want, and does it in a wholly unique way.

At one point, I found myself in traffic behind a chrome-drenched Harley, its exhaust whabwhabwhabing away. Sitting there was all hot exhaust and irritation. Right then, the idea of electric motorcycles crystallized for me. With respect to everything else, electric propulsion makes the internal combustion engine and all its complex systems, maintenance, and aging technology feel needlessly complicated and crude. Maybe I’m just getting overly excited again, but the SR/F left me feeling like I’d glimpsed shades of the future.

Like electric cars, there’s so much about the electric motorcycle platform that feels like the next evolution of the idea of movement. Yes, batteries, electric motors, and EV infrastructure still have a long way to go before electric bikes are a true 1:1 comparison to their gasoline counterparts, but I’m stoked on what the SR/F means for the next generation of motorcycles.

It holds a promise of a potential future that’s not only cleaner and more efficient, but outrageously fun, too. When the internal combustion engine eventually chugs its final breath, however long from now that may be, let it mercifully be at the hands of a machine like this one.

Doran Dal Pra is a freelance car and motorcycle journalist based in New Hampshire.