Ride Quality & Brakes
The SR/S uses fully-adjustable Showa suspension at both ends: the firm’s Big Piston Separate Function forks up front; and a linkage-free monoshock at the back. Both ends have been set up for a plusher, more forgiving ride than Zero’s naked SR/F, with the faired S having softer spring rates and modified shim stacks delivering less damping. The S’s shock also uses a single-rate spring, where the F has a dual-rate spring.
On the road the SR/S’s ride quality is good, soaking up rough roads and harsh speed bumps nicely. It’s not a faultless magic carpet ride, but the suspension action is miles ahead of where Zero’s electric bikes were even just a couple of years ago. Curiously, one side-effect of an electric motor’s minimal noise and vibration is that you become hyper-aware of the sound and feel of every lump and bump you run over.
Suspension action definitely isn’t too soft. The chassis holds its composure nicely in fast direction changes and the forks hold up well during hard braking. Speaking of which, the calipers at both ends are by Spanish firm J.Juan, with the four-pots up front offering plenty of bite, power and feel through the span-adjustable lever.
Engine braking changes with riding modes, too. The electric motor’s regeneration (the amount of energy it puts back into the battery on a shut throttle) alters between different presets (most in Eco, least in Rain, somewhere in between in Sport and Street), which can help slow you down without having to touch the brakes.
And if it all goes wrong mid-turn, you can haul on the brakes with the confidence of knowing you’re supported by a Bosch cornering ABS system, too.
This air-cooled AC electric motor is Zero’s highest-spec powertrain. Peak power is 110bhp at 5000rpm, but its main attraction is torque: a whopping 140ftlb of it available from virtually no revs through to around 4000rpm.
On paper that’s a phenomenal amount of grunt – way more than a Kawasaki ZZR1400 or H2 SX; even more grunt than a Honda Gold Wing; and more than double a Yamaha MT-09.
However, torque isn’t what pushes a bike forwards – that’s thrust, which is torque multiplied by gearing. And because the Zero uses a single-speed transmission, its huge torque translates into extremely impressive (rather than ludicrous) forward motion.
One positive of not having a gearbox is that there’s no clutch, making low-speed riding as simple as a scooter. Another is that you’re always in the right gear – whatever your speed, just turn the throttle to the stop and you’ll always have the same perfectly linear acceleration. It pulls to 100mph easily, with a top speed of around 120mph.
Full torque is reserved for Sport mode, giving instant, effortless acceleration that feels somewhere between a Yamaha MT-07 and Triumph Street Triple – albeit less playfully frisky and more persistently forceful. Performance is dialled down for the Zero’s standard Street setting, but there’s still more than plenty on tap for quick, clean overtakes. In Eco mode torque is cut right back to maximise range, with top speed restricted to 75mph.
Those who haven’t experienced an electric motor often accuse them of blandness, given the lack of sound, smell or vibration. But they’re not dull, just different. It’s not even truly silent – there’s a high-pitched hum from the motor that changes as it spins faster.
Sure, it’s not as viscerally dramatic as a booming or screaming engine, but it entertains in a far more cerebral way, tickling your brain’s sci-fi glands as it conjures up thoughts of Return of the Jedi’s Speeder Bikes. Don’t dismiss without giving one a go.
Build Quality & Reliability
All Zero machines are assembled at the firm’s base in Scotts Valley, California. Components, as with almost all bikes these days, come from around the world – from a frame made in Vietnam to tyres from Germany, headlight from Italy, and a TFT dash from Spain. The left-hand switchgear cluster will look familiar to owners of old Aprilias, too.
On the surface, build quality broadly looks up to the standards you’d expect in 2020. Zero’s designers went to great lengths to reduce the number of visible fasteners when you look at the bike side-on. However, they weren’t quite so successful at reducing the number you can see from the saddle – particularly where the mirrors cleverly mount into the cockpit. Perhaps we’re just being picky.
This positioning gives a perfectly clear view of the road behind (helped by the electric motor having no vibrations) as you look under your arms rather than past your elbows.
Zero back up their confidence in their own quality with a five-year, unlimited-mile warranty on the battery, and a two-year warranty on the rest of the bike. As for real-world reliability, it’s not really possible to accurately predict given the relatively tiny number of Zero SR/Fs on the road in Britain yet.
Insurance, running costs & value
Until recently even getting an insurance quote on a niche brand such as Zero was problematic. However things have changed in the past couple of years, in large thanks to the graft of the small team at Zero UK, who’ve helped introduce the brand and the bikes to insurers.
As a result, you’re now more likely to get a range of competitive quotes – though you’re still unlikely to get as many as if you were trying to insure, say, a BMW R1200GS. Some firms, such as Lexham, seem a bit more clued-up with electric bikes. Having got some sample quotes, the premiums themselves don’t seem much different from typical petrol-bike prices.
Running costs alone are five-star worthy. A full charge at home costs around £2. If you can make that last 100 miles, that’s 2p a mile or the equivalent of 300mpg. Service costs are minimal, given there’s no oil, filters, coolant or spark plugs to change, and no valve clearances to check. The belt final drive will need adjusting after breaking in during its initial few hundred miles, but after that should be maintenance-free for its 24,000-mile life. Road tax is free, too.
But initial purchase price is, well, significant. For 2020, the base SR/S is listed at £19,590; the Premium version (with heated grips and a more powerful 6kW charger) is £21,590. And incredibly, that doesn’t include a three-pin household charging cable (that’s another £445, please) or first registration (£55). While a government grant pays the first £1500, that still leaves an outstanding balance of £18,590 (standard) or £20,590 (Premium).
As standard the SR/S comes with cornering ABS and traction control, multiple rider modes, cruise control, a colour TFT dash, plus a lockable cubby-hole (incorporating two USB charging sockets) where a fuel tank would normally sit.
The 3kW onboard charger means a full recharge takes around four hours, whatever type of power socket you plug it into. On the Premium model, charging capacity is doubled to 6kW – it won’t make any difference to charge time if you plug it in at home (a household socket only puts out 3kW anyway) but it can halve charge times at a three-phase public charger. The Premium version also gets toasty heated grips.
In addition, both versions of the SR/S have the ability to connect to Zero’s smartphone app via Bluetooth. This lets you monitor battery health and adjust recharging times, track trip data and even create a custom riding mode.