Road test: 2016 Zero SR

Published: 30 March 2016

Zero’s SR is the latest in an increasingly long line of electric bikes, and it’s good. No wonder Harley, Yamaha and Honda fancy a piece of the action…

hat a difference a few years make. Five or six years ago, I rode early-production Zeros and Brammos. They were interesting but really rather underwhelming. And in my real world tests, range on a full charge fell far short of what the manufacturers were claiming. But when Hollywood Electrics loaned me their 2016 Zero SR for a couple of hours, I was shocked by how far electric bikes have come.

Like most electric motorcycles, the Zero SR is a simple twist-and-go. When you turn it on only the dashboard tells you it’s come to life – otherwise it’s completely silent. The motor control unit does a good job of moderating the 106 lb.ft of torque that’s available from one rpm, otherwise the thrust would make it utterly unrideable. As it is, I would bet on the Zero SR rider in a stoplight to stoplight drag race with any litre-bike.
I ride north out of Hollywood, up Laurel Canyon Drive to Mulholland Drive in search of nice curves, where the taut Showa suspension (three-way adjustable at both ends) inspires confidence. As do the brakes.  J.Juan may not have Brembo’s cachet but the front has great power and feel while the rear brake is one of the most useable I have tried in recent times. The SR comes with a Bosch ABS system.
At 185kg the SR is heavier than the majority of sportbikes, but much of that heft is in the dense and compact battery located right in the middle of the machine. The centralized mass, sporty steering geometry, and relatively narrow (140/70) Pirelli Diablo Rosso II rear tyre all conspire to make the SR feel smaller and lighter than it actually is.
Zero electronically govern the top speed to a little over 100mph to prevent heat build-up in the air-cooled motor and controller, but even with ‘only’ 67bhp it’s fast. It’s also surprising how much rider concentration is freed-up when you don’t have to shift gears or deal with ear-splitting induction and exhaust noise.
In the absence of engine noise the belt drive and tyre noise are an audible sci-fi whine which grows on me, and gradually helps me gauge my speed entering corners. In spite of the tourists and traffic on Mulholland, I’m left with a profound sense that the SR is a motorcycle that would be easy to ride fast.
If anything Zero’s SR is even better in stop-and-go city traffic. The combination of shiftless twist-and-go ease, massive torque and the ability to squirt ahead without generating any noise (or attracting the attention of lurking cops) is pretty damn impressive.
If you really, really need a top speed of 150mph it’s not the bike for you. And there are still range limitations; in mixed use I could have gone well over 100 miles on a charge, but you can’t travel anywhere near that far at a sustained 80 miles per hour on the freeway.
Then there’s cost: in the U.S. market, a Zero SR goes for about the same price as a BMW S1000RR. All that aside the Zero SR is the first electric motorcycle I’ve ridden that I can really imagine owning. I’ve spoken to SR owners who also own conventional sportbikes and they tell me they aren’t riding their gasoline-powered bikes enough to keep the batteries charged.

Words Mark Gardiner Photos Andrea Wilson