The concept of an electric motorcycle is still pretty alien for many motorcyclists, so the idea of a battery powered tourer is an even stranger concept for pretty much all riders to get their head around.
But that’s exactly what American manufacturer Zero has come up with in its new model called, to give it its full title, the Zero DSR ZF14.4 Black Forest Edition.
The Black Forest is a Europe only model that’s based on the standard DSR model, but which has a brochure full of accessories and special parts thrown at it. The version we rode also had the new Charge Tank option fitted, which allows connection to Level 2 public fast chargers. With a full charge in just over an hour (compared to nine hours when charged through a domestic plug socket), the Zero now has a practicality it has lacked for many riders in the past.
Zero returned to the UK in 2017 and the six bike range is more or less unchanged for this year. The 2018 bikes have been given new colours, the option of the aforementioned Charge Tank and improved battery chemistry, which improves range by just over 10%, going up from a capacity of 13kWh to 14.4kWh.
The standard DSR is Zero’s top spec adventure model and comes fitted with the American company’s 146Nm motor, Pirelli MT-60 shod cast wheels and decent Showa suspension. The Black Forest adds a three-box Givi luggage system, screen, headlamp grill, auxiliary lights, crash bars, handguards and a fancier seat, as well as a black and camo colourscheme that’s unique to this model.
The main difference between an electric bike and a petrol one is the way in which the power is delivered. Maximum power is ‘only’ 70bhp but the torque is enormous, so much so that there is no need for a gearbox. Zeros are twist and go machines, and the motor is silent too – with just a slight whirr from the drive belt and the noise of the rubber on the road. That massive torque is delivered immediately, meaning that there’s a real need to take care when cracking open the throttle, and there are no riding aids as such. There are two riding modes: Eco cuts the torque right back and limits top speed to 70mph, while Sport gives the full fat experience. It is absolutely insane, even though top speed is limited to 100mph, and confirms that electric powered machines are most definitely ‘real’ motorcycles. A third mode called ‘Custom’ can be programmed by the rider, using their smart phone, and allows you to modify all the parameters, including the power regeneration function that allows the battery to reclaim some energy under deceleration.
For all the Zero delivers cutting edge technology, it’s actually very simple when it comes to the cycle parts and spec. As mentioned, there are no riding modes and the dash is all very basic, more like a commuter machine than a high end touring bike. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to the individual. For many, simplicity is king. Others might want to get a second brake disc up front, not to mention a few more buttons and knobs for their £20k.
And that, more or less, is how much the Black Forest costs. Electric vehicles are expensive because the Lithium Ion batteries they use are expensive. As tested, the Black Forest costs £21,085, although the UK Government will give you a £1500 grant off that for going electric. If you don’t need the fast charger and are happy to charge up through a regular 13 amp socket, the version without Charge Tank costs £18,795 before the grant. It is expensive to buy, no doubt, but use it every day and the Zero will prove cheap to run. A full recharge from a domestic socket should cost less than £2, while the company is now able to offer PCP finance deals for its models. The standard DSR, without the Black Forest’s bells and whistles, costs £5105 less, with the base DS ZF7.2 (which is the same bike, with a slightly lower spec motor and a smaller battery) can be yours for £9190 after Theresa May’s kind donation.
It’s all good fun to ride. At 190kg, it’s reasonably light by big adventure bike standards and the massive torque makes you laugh out loud. It’s all super stealthy stuff, and comfy enough too. The lack of heat or vibes from the engine means that it’s relaxing, but still able to put a smile on the face of even the most dyed in the wool petrolhead.
But is it a tourer? Well, it all depends on what you are looking for from a motorcycle. If your idea of touring is a 1000 miles in a day at autobahn speeds then you won’t be abandoning Shell and BP any time soon but, if you like riding at more modest speeds, with the Charge Tank fitted you can happily do an hour on, an hour off and rack up 4-500 miles in a day. A Zero can go like a bat out of hell if you want it to, but the battery range is going to suffer massively. Ride in a relaxed manner though, and the Zero is more practical than you might think. A DSR will do 78 miles on a full battery at a steady 70mph, rising to over a 160 miles around town. Keep the speed below 60, though, and you should get around 100 miles from a ‘tank’. Sure, it’s not as flexible as a petrol bike yet, but for riders looking for something different and who like to tour at calmer pace, the new Zero certainly has something about it.
The Black Forest moniker is more than apt too, because it’s hard to think of a better bike for wafting around the Schwarzwald, or even the Scottish Highlands for that matter.
The silent running, magic carpet ride and endless torque makes for an intoxicating experience that allows you to drink in the surroundings, while sticking to sub 60mph speeds allows for long sessions in the saddle without having to worry about where the next recharge is coming from.
Don’t expect to see loads of Zeros, never mind this top of the range model, at your next bike meet, but do expect to see more and more popping up over the next few years. The technology has now reached a level that means they are a practical proposition for an increasing number of riders and they are fast, fun and full of novelty factor. If you love tech and want something a bit different, it may well be worth taking a look at the Zero. If nothing else, give one a test ride – we’re sure that you’ll be pleasantly surprised.