When I first rode the 2014 Zero SR I was terrified; this was an electric motorcycle after all, a completely different beast from what I was used to, and at high speeds I felt like I might fall over. Then I found out why; I had over-inflated the tires because the 25 psi I’d gotten them at felt way too low. But 36 was entirely too high, so the next morning I reduced it to 32. It felt better but still not great. So I took the bike to my mechanic to tweak the suspension to my weight and swap the tires for the Pirelli Diablo Rosso’s I have loved for over a decade.
When I got the bike, it felt like a completely different bike. All of a sudden the bike felt planted and solid at high speeds. The stock tires are a cheap, hard compound tire with a rather square profile of 140/70. The 150/70 Pirelli’s felt much better. I set the tires to 28 psi, as recommended by a friend who races 250cc bikes, a fairly similar comparison. With 54hp the bike is similar to a 250 cc powered bike.
The next day I trailered my Zero SR to Laguna Seca for Refuel, an EV track day held by car guys Speed Ventures. Brandon Miller, who wrote about the SR here when he first bought his, won the production class of the motorcycle race. There was about $5 million worth of Teslas present, and about 10 motorcycles, mostly Zeros. Tesla had conveniently scheduled their owner’s conference, Tesla Motor Connect, to be held the same weekend in Monterey. It was a beautiful sight watching about 50 Model S’s lined up for the parade lap…so beautiful that I forgot to take a picture.
In the first racing session I felt comfortable until I started scraping pegs on some of the right-hand turns. Other than that, the Zero SR was a blast to ride. It’s weird riding an electric bike on a track you’ve more recently ridden on a gas bike, because you just slow for the corners instead of downshifting. You have to hope you slow down enough. I learned that after I went into the corkscrew a bit hot a couple times and was faster through T2 than I’ve ever been on my R1, my lap times were much slower. What I lack in cornering courage I make up for on that delicious front straight, as the R1 is capable of 185mph flat out, compared to the 95 MPH top speed of my Zero SR.
For the second session, Zero’s Director of Prototype and Test Bill Ruehl tweaked my suspension as recommended by Zero racer Jeremiah Johnson. We dropped the front forks 10mm and gave the shock a bit more preload. I took it out for a spirited ride around the access roads to get used to it, and I liked it. However, in the next sessions I was slower. I didn’t scrape anything, but my times were about 3 seconds slower. Perhaps because this time I hadn’t started out right behind Eric Bostrom, trying to keep him in my sights. Yes, mere mortals get to ride with Brammo factory racers at Refuel! Because there are so few bikes on course, it’s safe enough to put us all into one group.
What’s strange is that I was faster on my personal Zero FX than I was on the SR. Yes, it’s 172 lbs heavier at 452 lbs, but also has 23 more ponies at 67 hp. What it came down to is that I’m just much more comfortable on the FX, and not afraid to flog it for all it’s worth. The SR suspension is stiffer, as the FX is like a dirt bike. Yet for me, the SR underperformed against the FX where it’s supposed to excel- on a paved course. You can read about last year’s Refuel here.
I still say the FX is more fun to ride and am still glad it’s the one I bought. But the SR with the power pack has more range than any electric motorcycle currently on the market at a combined 131 miles of combined driving range. So if it’s range you want in a fun daily commuter and weekend canyon carver, the Zero SR is your bike. If you want a sportier ride, the SR needs rear sets, clip ons, and some cosmetic surgery to give the clip ons clearance. Better suspension components would be nice too, and the stock tires should be burned in a bonfire, regardless of the emissions.
The bolts are an issue too, as the stock hardware is a bit soft. There was also an issue with some bikes being assembled with excessively strong loctite instead of a medium strength loctite. This resulted in plenty of stripped alan heads for anyone wanting to change tires. As you can see, someone had fixed that on the press bike I got, and a Zero engineer (many were present, as Refuel is basically held in their backyard) told me they would love to use better bolts, but the marketing folks want the cute ones. Ultimately, I think it really comes down to the locktite problem, and just steel quality. It would be nice to have harder steel bolts for the things you’re likely to take off frequently, like wheels.
The 2014 Zero models have a much better dash than previous models, it’s not only gorgeous and has all the information you’d most want, it’s also really easy to read. This includes my favorite feature- a clock! There is now a handy range estimate based on current draw. That is a real confidence booster when you’re squeezing out the last few volts.
Since they can’t account for variables such as wind resistance, it can’t predict your range based on speed, but I found it to be accurate enough to trust. At Refuel, a Zero engineer told me they tested range with two nearly identical riders and found it to be about 7% different between the two of them. Yet the power tank really gave this bike so much range I didn’t even need to plug in after distances my Zero FX could only dream of covering. I didn’t even bother trying to be more aerodynamic.
In conclusion, the SR with the power tank has the most range of any electric motorcycle I know of, and certainly the most below $20,000. But at what price? If you absolutely need an electric bike for your 100 mile commute to work, this is the bike. But if you have a shorter commute, skip the power tank. The $2500 you’ll save would be well spent on better suspension and braking components.
Dropping 45 pounds should help the bike’s handling a bit too. It’s an awful lot of weight and $$$ for a 20% increase in range. The power tank plays into the range anxiety gas vehicle owners tend to suffer from. My daily rider has half the range of the SR without the power tank, and that suits me fine, even in the sprawl of Los Angeles. I’ve found my own range, riding it like I stole it, actually matches their posted range, which is nice.
The day after Refuel, I rode the SR from downtown LA to Malibu in a hurry for the CRP Press Launch. I was late and figured an electric bike launch would include charging. I made the 39 mile ride with about 50% to spare. 35 of those miles were freeway miles, ridden fast. I could’ve made it home on that, a bit slower, but went ahead and plugged into the generator CRP had brought. After the CRP test ride, I rode to Malibu Country Mart for lunch, and plugged in again.
Thus, I made it back home the long way, about 60 miles, with stops in central LA to run errands and no heat issues. This is a great city bike, and fine in the canyons at moderate speeds, but needs help before it hits the racetrack.