2021 Zero SR/F Review: finally, an electric motorcycle that’s a true contender

LeonPoultney

13 Sep 2021

1/11
The two-wheeled equivalent of a Tesla promises a scintillating ride, a useable range and components that ensure it handles and stops like its petrol powered counterparts. But is it worth the hefty initial outlay?

Pros


+Amazing performance

+Great looks

+Emits nothing nasty from the pipes


Cons


-Very expensive to buy

-Limited range makes life stressful

-Some parts feel cheap


Verdict: There is no denying the exceptional performance and the Zero SR/F can certainly hold its head high amongst some very tough internal combustion engined competition. But the real-word range is sub-100 miles, making planning and executing longer rides a pain, while the lofty asking price means only those early adopters and tech fans will likely hand over the cash.



2021 Zero SR/F: the five-minute read


It’s staggering just how quickly the electric vehicle industry is moving forward, with pretty much every major automotive manufacturer now offering models with cathodes, anodes and electrolytes as their sole source of power.


It’s equally amazing just how far the electric motorcycle has come on over the past few years, from a slow, ugly and often derided piece of experimental machinery to something that can now lap the infamous Isle of Man circuit at an average speed of 120mph. It was sub-100mph just ten years ago.


With that in mind, the choice of electric motorcycle is still surprisingly limited, with Harley-Davidson acting as a case study for the big names going electric, while more niche marques like Energica and Californian hotshots Zero are shaking up the industry with machines to rival large capacity offerings from Ducati, Yamaha, Kawasaki et al.



Like many start-ups, Zero has been on course to disrupt since 2006, when former NASA engineer Neal Saiki revealed a smart, electrified street bike that could legitimately hold its own against its petrol counterparts, although there were plenty of teething problems in the early days, including poor range, questionable components and technical bugs galore. 


Things have moved on at pace since then and its SR/F and faired SR/S are arguably the first machines from Zero to capture the attention of customers and the media alike, with a long list of impressive parts suppliers, honed exterior styling and performance that’s both hilariously fun and genuinely useable.


At the heart of the SR/F is Zero’s own Z-Force 75-10 electric motor, which is neatly integrated into the frame of the motorcycle and provides a suitable piece of bling to focus on when showing someone around your new purchase.



The 14.4kWh battery packs sit where a traditional petrol engine might and the two pieces of tech combine to produce a peak power figure of 82kW (110bhp) and 190Nm of torque. It’s no slouch, and acceleration is as insanely rapid as you would expect for a machine that weighs around 220kg and packs those kind of power figures. Factor in a lack of traditional gearing and it is pure silent performance from the moment you twist the throttle until the moment your nerve gives out.


Top speed is limited to 124mph, which should be plenty for most, while braking is now taken care of by long standing (but relatively unknown) parts supplier to the stars J-Juan. Radially-mounted four-piston monobloc calipers clamp on to 320mm floating discs and Bosch delivers an additional ABS system for further peace of mind.


The official combined range is 123-miles, but in the latest SR/S and SR/F models, customers can specify a range extending “power tank” that adds another 25 per cent on top of that figure. But because this occupies space where a normal fuel tank would sit, it’s a case of specifying this or the optional rapid charger unit, which takes it from 3kW to 6kW.



According to the guys looking after Zero in the UK, most customers have plumped for the faster charging option, which means you can plug it into the public network and achieve a full (or almost full) charge in just under an hour. This brings it in line with the Harley-Davidson LiveWire, which despite having a larger battery is heavier and therefore manages a similar range with similar charging times from rapid CSS-style chargers.


Technical geekery aside, the Zero SR/F is a great looking motorcycle and one that now namedrops enough in terms of its specification and parts to go some way to justifying its £20,000+ price tag (without government grants). Showa shocks, Pirelli tyres and its own Cypher III smartphone-enabled operating system are just a few highlights and these combine to create a package that rides exceptionally well.


Although it won’t quite dive for an apex like some of its sports bike siblings, it still inspires confidence through the corners with its low centre of gravity, predictable handling and strong braking system. Above all else, the acceleration needs to be experienced to be appreciated, with a twist-’n’-go experience that you won’t find anywhere else. That alone makes it unique enough to tempt buyers.



But it’s easy to hit almost £24,000 (without government grants) with all of the options boxes ticked and that’s eye-watering enough to put even the most ardent early adopters off. Like Tesla, Zero needs to start work on a more affordable range of machines with improved distances between charges before the general biking public really sit up and start taking notice.


Extended read…


2021 Zero SR/F: styling and tech


Styled like a modern naked or street fighter machine, the SR/F can easily line up against the Yamaha MT-09, Ducati’s Monster, Triumphs Speed Triple and even more elaborate offerings from the likes of MV Agusta.


The razor sharp LED headlight and exposed trellis frame give it a point off the aforementioned Monster, but it is altogether more angular and pointy, while the bodywork seemingly bulges around the big block of a battery pack. Both this and the electric motor housing feature cooling fins and are finished in bronze and metallic hues that match the hefty wheels. 


It’s a great looking machine, yet the riding position feels nicely upright and comfortable, with a hollowed out seat pinning the rider in place. That’s a good thing, because the blistering acceleration is enough to have bums sliding all over the place.



Pillion passengers don’t quite benefit from the same levels of comfort, as they are perched atop a thin strip of leather. But Zero has added some nice brushed aluminium grab handles to make things a little safer.


If I was being harsh, I would say that the use of plain and scratchy black plastic is a little too abundant in a motorcycle that costs this much. The faux tank and charging inlet cover feel fairly particularly flimsy.


Tech-wise, there’s obviously a lot going on underneath the skin, with an electrical system that’s likely as complicated as those found on a modern rocket. In addition to this, Zero uses a Bosch ABS and traction control system to keep all of the power in check. This works with a number of riding modes that can be selected via a toggle switch on the bars and displayed on the 5” TFT LCD screen.



Rain, Street and Sport all have a bearing on throttle sensitivity, power delivery and how astute that traction control system is. It also determines how much regenerative braking is used to feed power back into the system.


It’s all massively customisable via a smartphone app that connects seamlessly with the constantly online Cypher III operating system. From here, you can also check remaking range, bike status and location, as well as update the software remotely over the air. Cellular connectivity is free on every new bike for the first two years and then it incurs a monthly subscription package. Traditional bike accessories like heated grips, luggage racks, lowered seats and windshields are also available to option through the main Zero dealers.  


2021 Zero SR/F: practicality and charging


Motorcycles aren’t exactly the most practical things but Zero has done everything it can to make the electric riding experience as practical as any of its main rivals. As previously mentioned, you can load the SR/F up with luggage, option a range of seats and even fit a wind and rain-deflecting windshield.


One neat touch is a large storage area where a traditional fuel tank would sit. This is unlocked using the bike’s main key and is deep enough for stashing gloves, a lock and any other small items. Unfortunately this only comes with the standard bike. Option the Power Tank or the rapid charger and the area is whittled down to a slot that is just about big enough for a phone. Thankfully, there are a couple of USB outlets here, so at least you can top up the device while it’s cramped in there. 



The part where practicality caves in is when it comes to range and the ease of charging, as the fastest it will achieve a full charge from flat is around 50 minutes. This is a little longer than the desired “quick cup of coffee and a toilet stop” quoted by most EV converts.


With just 100-miles available in any given stretch, this isn’t anywhere near long enough for anyone thinking of touring and it even falls a little short for those who like to take a bike out on a sunny day and do a bit of local exploring. Regular commutes or inner city hacks feel more doable and it’s here where buyers will likely end up making savings over any petrol powered rivals, as it is estimated to cost just £2 to charge a battery of this size from home or a workplace. 


2021 Zero SR/F: riding


Not having a clutch or a gear lever takes a bit of getting used to and I would say it’s even more surreal than hopping in an automatic car for the first time. There’s something second nature about grabbing for a brake lever and it took a few miles for my left foot to stop trying to stamp through the gears when approaching a roundabout or junction.



That said, it’s amazing just how quickly riding an electric motorcycle feels natural and actually starts to make a lot of sense. It’s incredibly easy to merge into traffic or join a busy roundabout thanks to the effortlessly smooth way the bike picks up pace and stops.


Some of the built in riding modes go easy on the regenerative braking, which is a mistake in my mind, as it’s nice to mimic the riding experience of a petrol-powered by with a little engine braking to assist with the whole start/stop procedure. Thankfully, it’s easy to rectify this with custom riding modes using the accompanying smartphone app.


There are also very few moments where it feels performance and power are lacking. From a standstill, the SR/F accelerates like a rocket and it’s extremely easy to catch other motorists (and pedestrians) completely off guard. 



“Loud pipes save lives” is the old saying and it was difficult to shake it from my head when silently bumbling around town and attempting to cut through busy rush hour traffic. The amount of drivers failing to spot me in mirrors and the number of pedestrians idly walking in front of the bike would have been comical if it wasn’t potentially dangerous. Ensure the left thumb hovers over the horn button.





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LeonPoultney

13 Sep 2021