Last year, electric motorcycle maker Zero introduced the SR/F, a naked-style streetbike that they graciously loaned me for an extended review, and I was duly impressed. Fast, fun, and powerful, it was a joy to ride, with a true big-bike feel and smart touches throughout. As motorcycles go, the SR/F had reached a performance and enjoyment plane I felt had parity with most gas-powered bikes with the same performance figures – even though some performance figures, like 140 foot-pounds of torque, surpasses most bikes on the market today that use a gas engine. Like the Tesla electric car models – especially the more-affordable Model 3 – the SR/F made a strong argument for going electric for motorcyclists considering such a move. Like a Tesla, it takes a bit longer to fuel (charge) than a gasser, but then again, it’s also way, way cheaper to operate, and with all that torque and refinement, it’s a convincing argument to go electric right now.
Except, just about a week ago, Zero debuted what may be an even better argument.
Called the SR/S (above), the new bike is ostensibly a re-skinned SR/F with a nifty full fairing and some key tweaks to the layout and ergos. It’s the bike many people have been calling on Zero to make for the last decade. The best parts of the SR/F have made the cut, including the big 14.4kWh battery pack and the 110hp air-cooled electric motor that pumps out a stonking 140 foot-pounds of torque right from a standstill. The new color LCD dash, über-handy “gas tank” cubby, quiet belt drive, adjustable Showa legs and the excellent J.Juan triple disc brakes all transfer over as well, but a few notable changes include a bit more rise in the bars, a smidge lower footpeg placement and improved accommodations for a passenger. And that swank full fairing. And while it would appear the new bike is a close cousin to the SR/F, the two bikes are “more different than they would appear,” CEO Sam Paschel told Forbes. “The experience is fundamentally different” with the fairing and other design changes, Paschel said, “It feels like flying.” Paschel said the SR/F is more akin to a fighter jet and the SR/S experience is more like a private business jet, with a bit more of an upright riding position and the rider not in the wind as much.
The fairing is a result of extensive computational fluid-dynamics testing by Zero, and they’ve kept the profile as clean as possible, including tucking the mirrors down low and behind the front of the windscreen, where they will perhaps cause as little drag as possible for the mandated appendages. Zero claims a 13% reduction in drag at highway speeds, as long as the rider tucks in behind the fairly tall windscreen. How long a rider can maintain such a posture is up for debate; I suggest restarting your plank routine at the gym if this bike is on your list.
Indeed, the SR/S is much more of a sport-touring package, and yes, there will be some slick OEM rear panniers for it along with other options, including a Premium package with heated grips and more. Paschel said to expect initial deliveries to dealers to begin toward the middle of March – of 2020. That’s right: in the next couple of weeks, not March of next year.
Paschel said the SR/S will continue the trend towards faster charging times with a built-in 3kWh charger on both the $19,995 Standard base model and $21,995 Premium, with a 6kWh optional link for $2,300. The hotter charger should goose the battery to 80% in about two hours, and a 12kWh charger that will have you back on the road in an hour or so is an upcoming option. A “power tank” battery add-on that boosts capacity above 16kWh is also available for ultimate range, but it will add weight to the SR/S already solid 505-pound mass. And every SR/S can be plugged in to a wall outlet for a slow but steady charge overnight. DC Fast Charging (DCFC) capability above 12kWh still isn’t in play, but since the battery isn’t car-sized, that really isn’t an issue at this point.
Of course, those charging times would put a dent in most “touring” plans unless the ride has a lot of time (and patience). Despite its sport-touring aspirations, the SR/S still does not have the ultimate range and refuel times of a gasser, but for early adopters, this will likely not be their only bike, or their preferred destinations may fall within 100 miles of home. It’s still urban riding where the SR/F and the new SR/S will continue to excel in terms of utility and cost of operation. But for short touring hops, it should prove to be a capable and unusual mount. As I experienced when riding the unfaired SR/F, the Zero powertrain is very quiet and ethereally smooth, giving riders an enhanced, perhaps even more peaceful riding experience. Want to raise your pulse? Just add throttle, up to a top speed of 124mph.
In a sign of the times, the SR/S does have some actual competition, including from Harley-Davidson’s $30,000 LiveWire, and H-D will likely introduce new LiveWire models at some point more in line with the SR/S’ $20K-ish price tag. Lightning is also a player with their higher-performing but $38,888 by-order-only LS-218 machine, which also features a sporty fairing. Lightning’s new fully faired Strike model is nearing production and could come in at thousands of dollars less than the SR/S (and F) in “Standard” form and could roil the category – but it’s still waiting to go into production while Lightning slowly doles out the $20,000 top-end version of the new Strike bike. It’s looking like the SR/S will ultimately beat the Standard Strike to market. Upstart bike maker Damon could also make things interesting with their new tech-heavy $25,000 Supersport machine, currently in pre-production. Keep in mind most every electric bike on the market qualifies for rebates and incentives from state and Federal sources.
Meanwhile, capable legacy bike makers from Japan and Europe remain on the sidelines with what appears to be interminable developmentitis in regards to electric models. What will happen when Honda or BMW decide to take electric motorcycles seriously and get in the game with mass production machines? It’s a day that will come sooner or later, but until then, Zero’s SR/S looks to be about the most capable, complete and actually available street machine on the market.
When it comes to electric transportation, everything has to live up to Tesla’s rep, two wheels or four. Is the Zero SR/S the “Tesla of electric motorcycles?” It will take a solid review to make that call, and Forbes hopes to have a bike in hand for an in-depth review in the short term. But it’s a fairly safe bet that like the SR/F, the SR/S will be capable, comfortable, well-made and fun to ride, and like Tesla, Zero seems to have a solid lead in the all-important vectors of vehicle design, execution and most importantly, production. Everyone else seems to be playing catch-up or are still stuck at the starting line. That sound familiar?