ZERO DSR (2016 - 2018) Review

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Power: 67 bhp
Seat height: Tall (33.2 in / 843 mm)
Weight: Medium (419 lbs / 190 kg)

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
3 out of 5 (3/5)

Until now, the few electric bikes that have actually reached production have all had one glaring fault or another. They’ve been too slow, too expensive, too heavy or too impractical – or, sometimes, all of the above.

But one US firm have persevered with battery power. Zero Motorcycles, based in California, have been making all-electric bikes since 2006. The DSR is their latest machine, and after living with this one for 400 miles it’s clear that their efforts are justified. This is, without doubt, the most practical, most all-round capable and most real-world electric road bike yet.

In 2012 Zero’s bikes made less than 30bhp and lasted around 50 miles. Just four years later they’re twice as powerful and can go twice as far, with far better brakes, suspension and equipment.

2016 Zero DSR in town

Whether progress can carry on at that pace remains to be seen, but even as things stand this is easily the best real-world case yet for electric bikes, and it’s already more convincing than most riders probably expect. Think battery power might be the future? Too late – it’s already the present.

The DSR is not slow. Its motor makes 106ftlb of torque – that’s more than a Kawasaki H2 or Ducati Panigale R. The DSR is not heavy. It weighs just 190kg, the same as a Honda CB500F. And the DSR is not completely impractical. On a single charge it has the potential to cover nearly 150 miles, a range that rivals plenty of petrol-powered machines.

For a bike so advanced it’s pretty conventional in its styling. Nothing screams “ELECTRIC!” – there’s no jagged lightning bolt motif or hideous Hollywood film-prop plastic. It looks like any mid-sized dual-purpose bike, only with a big black box where you might expect to find an engine.

2016 Zero DSR charge point

Size-wise it’s fairly standard too. Seat height is similar to a Kawasaki Versys or Suzuki V-Strom 650, but from the saddle the DSR feels far slimmer and noticeably lighter.

Despite the dual-purpose styling the handlebars don’t rise up a huge distance from the top yoke, meaning a natural riding position that’s more roadster than adventurer. Switchgear all appears pretty normal, and controls are where you expect them to be.

Well, up to a point. There are no gears and no clutch, as the DSR is a direct-drive twist-and-go. Setting off in near-silence is disconcerting, but even the most hardened petrolhead adapts quickly.

A beautifully-mapped ‘throttle’ means dialling up the correct amount of power is instinctive. The response may be digital but it’s not sharp or sudden, like flicking on a light switch, but seamless, more like turning the volume knob on an expensive stereo. Only with no sound.

2016 Zero DSR app

There are three power modes: Sport, Eco and Custom. Sport gives full performance, whooshing from 0-60mph in under four seconds and carrying on to an indicated 100mph. It’s a seriously impressive pace, with buckets of drive for instant A-road overtakes.

On the move the Zero is totally smooth, helped by not having any reciprocating engine parts. The feeling is of distilled speed, untainted by noise or vibration, at times it feels like flying, gliding, or even being invisible. Electro-sceptics might sneer, but this deserves to be experienced before being dismissed.

Eco mode reduces torque and caps top speed to 70mph. It’s a lot more sedate, but limiting your demand for power naturally improves the bike’s range. Eco also increases the motor’s regenerative braking effect, which means that when you release the twistgrip more of the bike’s momentum is used to recharge the battery, extending range.

Custom selects your own preferred combination of power, regen and top speed, all of which is set through a smartphone app via Bluetooth. It might sound like a complicated gimmick, but it’s really a simple and handy function that lets you tailor the bike to your taste, or even to suit each ride.

2016 Zero DSR side view

Besides, any adventuring requires that you regularly return to civilisation in search of a power socket. How regularly? Well, that depends. Stick to city speeds and the 13kWh battery can last more than 140 miles. Sit at 70mph on a motorway and that range is cut in half.

Take in a mix of urban and rural roads, ridden (mostly) at the speed limit, and a 100-mile average is realistic. The dash displays an estimated remaining range, but it’s easy to monitor progress: if you’re covering one mile for every 1% the battery has dropped, you should last 100 miles. 

Recharging is done via a port on the left side of the frame. The charging lead is just a long kettle flex, with a regular three-pin household plug, which can be stored in the handy zip-up bag where a fuel tank would normally sit. A total flat-to-full recharge takes nine hours, which in practice means overnight.

Obviously you can top it up anywhere you find a socket – an hour’s charging adds around 10 miles – but realities and practicalities mean that the DSR performs best as a daily commuter. Ride to work, ride home again, charge it up overnight ready for the morning.

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine
3 out of 5 (3/5)

The motor isn’t the only part that can be personalised. Suspension is made by Showa, and is fully adjustable for preload, rebound and compression at both ends. The standard set-up is a little soft and fairly long-travel, as you might expect for a dual-purpose bike, but adding a few clicks of rebound makes a noticeable difference. 

The DSR steers easily and accurately. There’s a sense that a lot of the bike’s weight is concentrated quite low, thanks to that sizeable battery pack. Cast wheels wear semi-knobbly Pirelli MT60 tyres (the same as Ducati’s Scrambler), with a 19in front and a surprisingly skinny 130-section rear (the Ducati has a 180).

2016 Zero DSR luggage rack and rear wheel

There’s no actual issue with grip, but you do ride around conscious that most 67bhp bikes put their power down through a much larger contact patch. Likewise the single front brake, by Spanish firm J.Juan, appears under-spec’d but proves strong enough and is supported by Bosch ABS.

The ABS can be deactivated if you want to go off-road, as the styling, tyres and suspension suggest. However, while the DSR is easy to ride slowly, with no clutch to slip and no chance of stalling, it doesn’t really feel ready for much more than easy green lanes.

The low handlebars give a hunched-forward riding position when standing up, the steering lock is poor, and the battery feels exposed, sat right in the firing line for rocks or stones flung up from the front wheel.

Engine

Next up: Reliability
4 out of 5 (4/5)

The Zero DSR's motor is really very impressive. Electric motors have no torque curve, you get 100% from the second you twist the throttle. And you get a lot of it. 106ftlb to be precise which is more than a Kawasaki H2, Ducati Panigale R or a KTM 1290 Superduke R.

This translates into a 0-60mph time of under four seconds and the ability to nip around A-road traffic at the briefest of opportunities.

It takes a while to get used to the lack of engine noise and gears, but once you get used to it the motor is really very good. Several MCN staff have commented that they get more cars cut them up in traffic on the Zero, presumably due to the lack of engine noise.

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
5 out of 5 (5/5)

It's early days yet, but there's not an awful lot to go wrong with the Zero DSR. Moving parts are cut to an absolute minimum and the forks, shock and brakes are all outsourced to companies who whow what they're doing.

The big question mark will be over the battery, but Zero offer a five year warranty on that, so you should be ok.

Value vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
2 out of 5 (2/5)

Cost depends on your electricity tariff, but reckon on £1 to £1.50 for a full charge. Manage 100 miles and you could be looking at a running cost of just 1p per mile – a petrol bike would need to manage 500mpg to match that.

Servicing is very cheap, with no oil, coolant, filters or spark plugs to replace, and no valve clearances to check. Road tax is free, and the belt drive means you don’t even have to buy chain lube.

There is really only one cost: the DSR itself, which is £14,395. And while that’s hardly cheap, it is easily the best-value electric streetbike yet. The BMW C Evolution scooter (£13,500) lacks the Zero’s speed and range; the KTM Freeride E-SM (£10,599) is utterly impractical; and the Italian-made Energica Ego superbike costs a whopping £25,000.

Equipment

3 out of 5 (3/5)

The DSR is fairly basic, there’s no trick suspension or traction control but you do get ABS and three rider modes, Sport, Eco and Custom. The advantage of an electric motor over a petrol engine is that the power delivery is customisable.

Using an app, the rider can select their preferred combination of power, regen and top speed. It really does make a difference, too.

Specs

Engine size -
Engine type Z-Force® 75-7R passively air-cooled, high efficiency, radial flux, interior permanent hi-temp magnet, brushless motor
Frame type -
Fuel capacity -
Seat height 843mm
Bike weight 190kg
Front suspension Showa 41 mm inverted cartridge forks, with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension Showa 40 mm piston, piggy-back reservoir shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake Bosch Gen 9 ABS, J-Juan asymmetric dual piston floating caliper, 320 x 5 mm disc
Rear brake Bosch Gen 9 ABS, J-Juan single piston floating caliper, 240 x 4.5 mm disc
Front tyre size 100/90-19
Rear tyre size 130/80-17

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption -
Annual road tax -
Annual service cost -
New price -
Used price -
Insurance group -
How much to insure?
Warranty term -

Top speed & performance

Max power 67 bhp
Max torque 106 ft-lb
Top speed 98 mph
1/4 mile acceleration -
Tank range 110 miles

Owners' reviews for the ZERO DSR (2016 - 2018)

1 owner has reviewed their ZERO DSR (2016 - 2018) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

Review your ZERO DSR (2016 - 2018)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Engine: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Reliability & build quality: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Value vs rivals: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Equipment: 3 out of 5 (3/5)
4 out of 5 The future's bright, the future's electric
05 July 2020 by Graham Mudd

Year: 2018

I bought the Zero as a commuter and at this it excels. Cost pennies to run, impeccable urban manners and fuss free 120 mile range in eco mode, at the flick of the mode switch becomes a hooligan with Hayabusa levels of torque as soon as you twist the wrist (for 50 miles before you worry about how you're going to get home). Don't knock them till you've tried one. Yes they sound a bit odd and quiet, but by god are they fun to ride!

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

Whether gentle greenlaning, commuting or upping the pace - the Zero's Showa suspension is a class act. Fully adjustable and giving a plush forgiving ride on all surfaces they really impress. A lot of folk assume electric bikes are heavy, but tipping the scales at under 200kg, the DSR is actually significantly lighter than a comparable ADV bike (like my Versys 650 at 210kg). That battery and motor are carried low giving an agile and reassuring handling. Wrapping it all in a solid alloy beam frame adds to the great ride quality. Since I only have the standard charger, I only ride for up to 120 miles - but the seat is comfy for that time and is well padded. The pillion perch is a bit narrow and thinner padded but still comfy for a couple of hours. The J.Juan brakes surprised me. Even with a single disk up front, braking power is plentiful with good feel and good bite. The rear is just as good if needing a firm press to get the best out of it. The ABS is either on or off, but it's never felt intrusive and even in torrential rain I've never accidentally set it off.

Engine 5 out of 5

OK. Eco mode is what gets you around the place most of the time. Giving you maximum range, maximum regenerative power when off the throttle or on the brakes while limiting throttle response and top speed to 70mph. I'd equate it roughly to a Burgman 400, so it isn't going to set the world on fire. But for the trudge to work and back that is fine. Where the Zero earns the big 5 is Sport mode. There are few bikes out there that have caught me so off guard, made me grin so much or made me utter such profanities (in a good way)! As my friend said "it's like being hit in the back with a shovel. A flipping big shovel. By Anthony Joshua". Its simply addictive. Twist the throttle and hold on tight, as with a slight whine you're launched to the 110mph limit (to stop the battery overheating) a couple of seconds later. And its instant. From a standstill. From 20mph. From 40mph. From 60mph. Your right wrist is like a hyper drive switch. Yes it's all torque and that initial punch isnt quite backed up by the rush of horsepower to keep it going, but for sheer grin factor the Zero's power plant is hard to beat. Add to that a Custom mode. With an app on your phone you can link to your bike via bluetooth and change all the settings to your own preference. Want more torque? More regen? More range? More top speed? You've got it by simply sliding some bars around on your phone's screen!

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

Reliability wise there is very little to go awry on the Zero - there is one moving part in the motor! The belt does not need lubricating or adjusting and lasts 20k miles. And tension is checked using a free app on your phone. You twang the belt like a guitar string and the frequency tells the app if it's too loose, in spec or too tight! Servicing, such as it is pretty much comes to uploading the latest firmware via the app and basic routine checks. In my time of ownership nothing has gone wrong. Build quality is really good all around, as you would expect of a premium product. It feels made to last and to live life on the road. Only reason I'm not giving it 5 stars is the lid on the faux tank is a bit flimsy and can leak.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

Yes the initial outlay is quite high. But taking into account the high build quality, cost of the battery, relatively low production volumes and the fact it is made in the USA this is to be expected! However the initial price is offset by the government EV grant (£1500 off), no road tax, little maintenance (brake pads and tyres pretty much) and costing about £1.20 to charge from flat to full - after a few years the bike has paid for itself! As an aside, cleaning is a doddle. With no oil, petrol, coolant, grease, running cool, far fewer nooks and crannies and very little bare metal - washing is a simple spray and wipe down affair. So if we factor in an hourly rate you're saving yourself money!

Equipment 3 out of 5

Standard, considering the cost, is pretty basic. Dont get me wrong, it's all solid and well made, but there are no niceties. The faux tank is large, the equal of most tank bags - it holds my phone, wallet, cable lock, throttle lock, visor cleaner, charging cable and still has room for a can of coke and some sandwiches. The lid is a bit flimsy and can leak but you cant argue with the volume! ABS. On or off. Doesnt have 20 levels of traction control. Doesnt have 20 ride modes or dynamic suspension. But I dont mind all that, it's not a bad bike for it and I'd probably fiddle for a day and then never touch them again anyway. I have the hand guards fitted, pretty good, solid and protect your mitts from the worst of the wind and rain. The Zero touring screen I have fitted is almost useless. Too small, low and close to your body to be of much use, it's better than nothing but could be much better. The Givi pannier frames are solid and fit the Trekker 33 litre panniers I have for my Versys 650, and no need to relocate the indicators. Only flaw (as with all Givi frames) is you have to keep on top of corrosion, as it sets in quickly and is difficult to get rid of once it does. (Which isnt Zero's fault) I also have the crash bars fitted. I enjoy a bit of offroad and ride all year round so it's sensible to invest in crash protection. Designed for military and police use they are certainly....robust! It feels like they stick out miles and would give you Harley levels of ground clearance, however they are actually narrower than the panniers and angled so the only way they would touch down is if you're going down shortly after them. Solid is an understatement, I feel that you could lob the bike at speed into a ditch and if the bike is written off you could still sell the bars on ebay! They also incorporate a rugged bash plate under the battery and motor to give peace of mind when you enter the Dakar Rally. The Pirelli MT60 adv tyres are the same as fitted to Ducati Scramblers. I'm pretty impressed with them so far! Hold the road well in all conditions and allow stable spirited riding, though cause a bit of vibration and noise at over 40mph. They dont disgrace themselves on gentle greenlaning either, offering plenty of traction on loose surfaces and grass.

Buying experience: I bought the DSR from Streetbike in Halesowen. A reputable and well established dealer for the West Midlands, their service was great throughout. I felt the £10,300 asking price was fair and the bike was in almost new condition with less than 2k miles. I got a small discount on the aftermarket parts but they fitted them for free and with a longer-than-stock charging cable thrown in.

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