Feeling very February in the Windy City aboard the Zero SR/F. (Jim Lüning/)
Some people don’t like electric motorcycles for good reasons. But they fail to like them for the right reasons. The Zero Motorcycles SR/F is conservatively styled, short on range, and expensive. It’s also the most fun you can have on a motorcycle in the year of our Lord, 2023.
Editor’s note: we last test rode the SR/F naked bike during the 2020 Zero Motorcycles SR/F Review MC Commute article and video and the 2020 Zero Motorcycles SR/F Review write-up.
When’s the last time a new motorcycle reordered your senses and demanded you completely rethink your muscle memory and experience? There’s no engine noise, little vibration, and no smell of air-fuel mixtures. You don’t get to shift gears based on the above sensory input. It’s terrifying and thrilling. All that’s left are visuals and kinesthesia input. You have to relearn how fast feels.
What “running on fumes” looks like on the SR/F. (Anders T. Carlson/)
Being February in Chicago, add thermoreception to the list. That’s a fancy way of saying it’s cold. Why test a Zero SR/F in winter? Nobody else wants a press bike in February and it’s the best way to put range issues to the test. Cold weather effects on battery life is usually an EV car debate. But winter’s long in the Midwest. Waiting for spring is boring.
Upon delivery, the regional sales director gives a short briefing. It starts with a green idiot light on the upper left corner of the TFT. When lit, the bike goes wherever it’s pointed, with or without the rider. Its 110 ponies will charge the gate without engine noise or neutral light. In other words, don’t lean, touch, or twist the throttle unless you’re sitting on the bike. For safety.
Gratuitous lifestyle shot of the fast and fun Zero SR/F. (Jim Lüning/)
Charging protocol is reviewed. Don’t use an extension cord beyond the provided charger and plug; they get hot and melt. Ideally, you need Level 2 charging (J1772) stations. He offers more valuable pro tips and explains proprietary chargers. Tesla chargers don’t work unless you get an adapter. More on this later.
Welcome to Batman-land: Lower Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago. (Jim Lüning/)
You can upgrade the charging with the Power Tank, offering an additional 3.6 kWh of battery capacity while still retaining a small lockable storage area. It’s an extra $3,200 and eliminates the nice tank storage compartment. But it’s not compatible with the 6kW Rapid Charger, which also eliminates the tank storage. So it’s a choice between rapid charging and more range. Neither option makes your SR/F into a proper touring machine, so your call. The smart money is to forget both and just enjoy the mind-melting torque on your commute to work.
Peel Out Slowly and See
Every trip on the Zero SR/F is like riding Batman’s motorcycle to the corner store for a stick of butter. A nearly imperceptible hum is all that gives away the fact it’s on. Every stoplight contest is anticlimactic. No engines are revved (not yours anyway) and you’ll beat anything you line up next to.
The Zero SR/F at rest in lower Michigan Avenue. (Jim Lüning/)
You have to grade the Zero differently. Don’t like how close the turn signal switch is to the Main Menu toggle? Relax. Not like you’ve got a clutch to worry about. Or a shifter. Your skill set based on powerbands and exiting corners means nothing. There’s just always power, all the time.
The old chestnut “loud pipes save lives” comes to mind. The first quarter-mile of riding brought the first near-death experience, thanks to a BMW. Why is it always an X5? The left-hand controls aren’t ideally placed, but the horn seems designed for heavy use. It’s a bit subdued, but doesn’t need to be heard over a liter’s worth of engine. It alerts the offending X5 of the Zero’s existence, and everybody lives.
Gray skies are depressing. So head for roads with no skies. (Jim Lüning/)
For the next close brush with danger, the Bosch IMU Traction Control introduces itself. Cold tires, wet pavement, and painted bike paths push the rear tire wide. But rather than chopping the throttle, the power slide gently tapers off, impressing nearby school kids. You’re welcome, Kelvyn Park High School.
As initial riding begins, the first of many roadside conversations begin. “What is that?” “How much is it?” and “How much horsepower does it have?” are the most popular questions. But anyone under 18 just nods. They already know about electric bikes.
Need help settling your rear suspension? The famous Billy Goat Tavern can help. (Jim Lüning/)
Photographer Jim Lüning’s “run and gun” photography setup. Jim Lüning (Jim Lüning/)
How to shoot the Zero SR/F? With a KLR650, of course. (Jim Lüning/)
No Sleep Till Kenosha
EV Range anxiety is basically the opposite of whatever ICE range anxiety is called. You worry when going more than 40 mph but relax when stuck in traffic. Instead of looking for tall gas station signs, you look for car dealerships and government buildings. Or police stations, which often have chargers. The Zero app helpfully connects you to any charging stations nearby, but results may vary.
As part of unofficial Motorcyclist testing, we plan a short 51-mile test drive to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to buy New Glarus–made beverages unavailable in Illinois. To simulate a spontaneous trip, 20 minutes were taken to find Level 2 charging stations near our destination, the famous Brat Stop.
Eco mode is used exclusively, giving a top speed of 75 mph. It feels like tempting fate with battery life to use Street or Sport mode, so we leave that for later testing. At departure, the temperature is 44 degrees (Fahrenheit).
Even in Eco mode, passing power was more than adequate. Eco mode offers near-maximum regen mode for battery life. But it’s a moot point on highways. Healthy torque makes the 75 mph Eco mode limit quite obvious. It took lots of willpower not to switch to Sport, but a controlled experiment is nothing without self-control.
One boring hour later, we arrive. But first, we need to make sure the SR/F is refueling while we refuel with encased meats. First stop: the Honda dealership. Their charging station is owned by ChargePoint. ChargePoint is the largest network of independently owned charging stations in the world. And they don’t take MasterCard. Or Visa. Or any card at the station unless it’s their card. Apply for it and it’ll arrive via snail mail. You can use the app on your phone to pay the reader, which has the added benefit of providing them with free first-party data on a regular basis. Nicely done, marketing department.
The Honda dealership has no idea how this works. “They got 10 chargers at the grocery store, though.” These 10 chargers are for Teslas and nothing else. Thanks, Elon Musk and Guy from Honda dealership. No Wisconsin beverages for either of you.
But the Nissan dealership is awesome. Free Level 2 charging and an hour later, the battery reaches 69 percent charge. There should be exactly enough range to get home with a percent or two to spare. Speaking of numbers, temps have dropped to 40 degrees and rain is coming. Or here, actually. There’s 51 miles to go. Does rain and more cold affect range?
Ordinarily, heated grips aren’t worth mentioning. But they mean the difference between white and blue fingers. “High” works great on the SR/F. Do they draw a lot from the battery? Good question. There’s lots of time to ponder this on the most boring concrete slab ever, known as I-94. The shrinking range keeps things interesting. With 1 mile and 2 percent battery left, the trip detours to a riding companion’s house at the 49-mile mark to avoid trailering the bike home. Good thing the charger rode shotgun in the ample tank storage.
It took a 68 percent charge to go 51 miles there, and a 67 percent charge to go 49 miles back. “Margin of error” isn’t a term Zero engineers likely use. But it’s within it. Experiment concluded.
Thank you, Nissan of Kenosha, for your fine (and free) Level 2 charging. (Anders T. Carlson/)
The Experiments Continue
Additional research is conducted on Chicago’s notorious Cicero Avenue. A number of vehicles are defeated in unofficial 0–30 mph testing. Unable to rev the engine, some are lulled into complacency by the lack of competitive noise. But with no clutch to dump or optimal rpm to find, the SR/F is king. The following vehicles are defeated in 0–30 mph stoplight testing:
– Tesla S (driver distracted by phone/movie)
– Suzuki DR-Z Motard
– Early 2010-era BMW M5
– Suzuki GSX-R1100 (with extended swingarm)
– Honda Civic Type R (lowered)
– Subaru WRXZ (featuring truck nut and window decal accessories)
Do not conduct testing of any sort on Lake Street (note steel beams). (Jim Lüning/)
The 502-pound weight makes its presence felt below 30 mph. But the weight placement (i.e., the battery) is similar to anything ICE. The ZF75-10 air-cooled AC motor, positioned low and directly behind the swingarm, is largely responsible for the lower center of gravity. A fair amount of upper body and feet placement is needed for switchbacks. Turning in requires full commitment, there’s no “just look and it goes there” with the SR/F. But gobs of torque and Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tires back you up wherever you point it.
Pirelli Diablo Rosso III shoes keep the Zero more or less glued to pavement. (Jim Lüning/)
On that topic, five rider modes are your guardrails. There’s Sport, Eco, Street, Rain, and a custom user setting you can create using the Zero app. Rider modes can’t be switched with the throttle engaged, otherwise you’ll stare at a blinking ride mode setting for the duration of your trip. Don’t ask, long story. Rain mode decreases regen braking to the lowest possible amount, for obvious reasons. Sport mode does exactly what you think it does. Each mode changes display color, with Custom allowing you to choose. One of the shades is even named “Synapse Blue.” Tight.
Cruise control doesn’t allow you to incrementally adjust speed, which is annoying. The display is fine, if a bit paint-by-numbers. The four “quadrants” of dash info can be configured to display whatever’s of interest to you. Being February, the Ambient Temperature reading is a nice touch, but the Motor Temperature reading is unnecessary.
The Zero SR/F’s TFT display. Note the balmy 56 degrees in the Motorcyclist garage. (Jim Lüning/)
ABS can be disabled, as can traction control. If the bike itself gets disabled or stops working, the Zero app can connect you with a technician to perform remote diagnostics or even fixes, assuming it’s a software issue. For EV cognoscenti, none of this is earth-shattering news. With the Zero app, everything you do on the bike is logged, knowable, and available to Zero. Like it or not, it’s no different than your smartphone.
Be Part of the Future
If you’re still not interested in EV motorcycles, there you are. The Zero SR/F doesn’t exist because it’s checked all the boxes yet. Every emerging technology in the history of mankind comes into existence half-formed. The end user is integral to final testing. You don’t have to be part of the future. You’re welcome to watch the world pass you by.
Eventually, EV motorcycles will do everything riders want them to. The Zero SR/F is almost there. Emotions you’ve spent years or decades learning can be unlearned and remade. Nobody is coming for your two-strokes. Your olfactory love for unburned hydrocarbons isn’t being threatened. If you love acceleration and power that pushes the bounds of sanity, come on in.
The Zero SR/F in the luxurious confines of Motorcyclist’s Midwest Division facilities. (Jim Lüning/)
The ZF75-10 air-cooled AC motor, with attractive bronze/copper livery. (Jim Lüning/)
Conservatively styled, the SR/F turns heads with torque. (Jim Lüning/)
The passenger seat hides a tiny storage compartment, good for paperwork or very small stacks of money. (Jim Lüning/)
Fully adjustable Showa rear monoshock. (Jim Lüning/)
Passenger peg mounts are visually integrated with the motor, one of the few distinct Zero styling cues. (Jim Lüning/)
2023 Zero Motorcycles SR/F Technical Specifications and Price
|Z-Force 75-10 enhanced thermal efficiency, passively air-cooled, interior permanent magnet AC motor
|Z-Force li-ion intelligent integrated, 15.2 kWh (nominal capacity), 17.3 kWh (max capacity)
|Belt, clutchless direct drive
|110 hp (82 kW) @ 5,600 rpm
|140 lb.-ft. (190 Nm)
|43mm Showa SFF-BP, fully adjustable; 4.7 in. travel
|Showa monoshock, fully adjustable; 5.5 in. travel
|Dual radial-mounted 4-piston J.Juan calipers, 320mm discs w/ Bosch ABS
|1-piston J.Juan floating caliper, 240mm disc
|17 x 3.50 in. / 17 x 5.50 in.
|Pirelli Diablo Rosso III; 120/70-17 /180/55-17
|CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT
|2 years standard motorcycle, 5 years/unlimited mileage power pack