Whether you like it or not, electric motorbikes aren’t just coming, they’re already here and are here to stay. With the clock ticking down ‘til the ban on new petrol bike sales comes into effect in 2035 (yep, just 13 years away) there’s a lot still to be done to get people loving the ‘leccy like they do with internal combustion; in a similar sense to getting people from two stroke to four, but on a far grander scale – even if electric has come a seriously long way in the last 10 years or so.
The one market where there has been an apparent absence of electric, at least until very recently, is the big bike adventure market. A few months ago we saw the arrival of the Energica Experia, and now we have this, the Zero DSR/X. Insidebikes attended the world launch of Zero’s latest contender in Italy, to find out if their new machine really is the world’s most capable electric motorcycle, and a true alternative to internal combustion. So, is it? And at £24,150, how does it stack up in the savagely competitive market of big adventure bikes?
Firstly, let’s look at what you get for your money, and the 100,000 hours of development Zero claim to have pumped into their new adventure bike. For starters, there’s a new ‘Z-Force’ 75-10x motor, and what you need to know is that it pumps out 225Nm torque, 100bhp power and gives a 115mph top speed.
You get a 17.3kWh power pack (that’s the battery to you and me), which is the biggest ever on a production Zero, and they claim it is good for 180 miles of range, and even more if you’re purely off-road. That drops at speed, of course, but with the (optional) quick charger fitted it will reach 95% charge in an hour at a dedicated EV charging point.
The standard version we rode here takes more like two hours to charge up, although you can also plug it into a domestic three-point socket, which will take more like five hours to replenish.
The package goes into a new chassis, albeit one based on the SR roadster models. Visually, the steel trellis frame and alloy swingarm will look familiar to anyone who’s ridden the SR/F or SR/S, but Zero says there are many structural differences to cope with the rough and tumble an adventure motorcycle has to cope with.
There is also a redesigned subframe and a new, longer travel (but manually adjusted) suspension set up which also offers more ground clearance, although if you’re a hardy off-roader it does come equipped with a more road-biased 19” front and 17” rear wheel set-up.
Impressively though, they’ve kept the weight at an incredibly respectable 247kg ready to roll – for comparison, a BMW 1250 GS is 249kg, fully loaded.
Electronically, the DSR/X comes with a range of neat bells and whistles, which includes five riding modes, each altering the motor characteristics in terms of power delivery, amount of regeneration and power on offer, alongside an off-road option for each – offering a total of 10 modes in total, alongside the ability to switch traction control and ABS off.
The system is fully adjustable on the fly and is the first electric motorcycle to get the full Bosch off-road suite of electronics too, which also includes heated grips, cruise control and ‘parking mode’ which allows you to reverse for low speed maneuverers. So that’s the specs dealt with. How does the DSR/X perform in the real world?
Gazing upon the Zero for the first time, it looks every bit a conventional tall-rounder; big bars, a high front end and a nice silhouette that does look pretty high quality, both from afar or up close – although I have to admit, the white colour option does look far nicer than the green, in my humble opinion, as it’s just that little bit sharper under the sun.
Jumping on board for the first time, I was in for a bit of shock; the DSR/X has to be one of the easiest adventure bikes to flat foot, north of the A2 category. Not only is the seat height on the lower end of the spectrum at 828mm (a GS sits at 850mm), but thanks to the layout of the powertrain, it’s incredibly narrow too.
It’s also worth noting that from the moment it’s off the stand, it’s very well balanced as well, with the weight far lower than I was anticipating. The days of electric bikes being not just hefty but weighted in the wrong place are long behind us, which is always a worry on a big adventure bike.
With no gears or clutch to think about, getting going is always a strange affair at first: simply switch the ignition on, kick the stand up and flick the kill switch to engage the drive. The riding position felt absolutely perfect for my frame with the switchgear positioned nicely too, where everything can be a bit of a stretch on some of the older, big adventure bikes.
As it was our first outing I started in Street mode, which keeps both the acceleration and the regen (what feels like engine braking) in a slightly softer mode, and as with nearly all electric machinery, I couldn’t believe just how soft and linear the power is. With no clutch in play all the feeling is all through the right wrist, but even with that monstrous 225Nm torque figure it feels both incredibly smooth and docile.
Don’t get me wrong, the big Zero finds 40mph with a serious urgency but at no point is it dangerous or daunting – it’s just fun, easy and addictive in equal measures, and riding at slow speeds it doesn’t feel snatchy or unmanageable at all. There are also two lower power modes, if you want more reassurance in treacherous conditions.
After a few miles I had a play between Sport and Canyon modes too, and they both offered vastly different feelings: Sport was by far my favourite, offering a much more responsive feeling that offered up some seriously incredible acceleration with the slightest flick of the wrist with very little regeneration, which gives a kind of engine braking effect, while Canyon mode made the DSR/X feel almost like a V-twin: thanks to utilising the regenerative power, it feels like there’s a hefty amount of ‘engine’ braking off the throttle, which in turns recharges the battery slightly as you slow down.
At the end of our ride, there was a drastic difference in range left even though every rider had ridden the exact same route, ranging from 43% and 52km range left for the most throttle happy, compared to more than double that, with 113km estimated, for the more conservative among us. Riding styles make a vast difference to the range you get out of an electric motorcycle, but all of us were riding at a reasonably spirited pace and not just rolling along, which shows that the tech has come on leaps and bounds over the past 10 years. To be honest, rather than more range, I’d just like a bit more top end, as the power does tail off as the speed climbs above 60mph.
Perfect, if you want to stretch out those miles, and there’s a neat graphic on the dash which shows just how much throttle and regen you’re using too, which becomes a little game. I did find that the range did change fairly drastically between the modes, with Sport sapping by far the most power, and if you’re looking at a bigger journey it did seem far more frugal below the 60mph mark.
At the end of our ride, there was a drastic difference in range left even though every rider had ridden the exact same route, ranging from 43% and 52km range left for the most throttle happy, compared to more than double that, with 113km estimated, for the more conservative among us.
Riding styles make a vast difference to the range you get out of an electric motorcycle, but all of us were riding at a reasonably spirited pace and not just rolling along, which shows that the tech has come on leaps and bounds over the past 10 years. To be honest, rather than more range, I’d just like a bit more top end, as the power does tail off as the speed climbs above 60mph.
Although I’m a big fan of that chassis and geometry, and it does offer a good feeling in the corners, I have to admit that the suspension felt very much on the soft side for me, and that’s without the addition of a pillion or luggage.
Sure it meant it would work better off-road, but on sticky, hot tarmac it did pitch and sit quite easily and, if I had one for longer than our day at the press launch, I’d definitely be dialling up the suspension at both the front and rear. It’s worth noting too that although the brakes offer ample amount of power, they aren’t the sharpest offerings available, and this is one of the bikes where I noticed that I would’ve liked a bit more bite in the rear as well.
I was using the back brake more than I would on a petrol bike, to combat the lack of engine braking I’d usually get from going down a gearbox, but then again, I only found that when I was riding it that bit harder than usual.
As for comfort, even though we only spent three or so hours in the saddle, the riding position felt comfortable till the very end for my 5’7” frame, with my only minor niggle being I’d like a little bit more padding in the seat – although it’s worth noting that for some of the taller journalists, it accommodated them just as well.
Like with some tall-rounders I did experience some buffeting from the screen but only when it was at its very highest setting, and I have to say that the manual adjustment on the DSR/X is one of the best and easiest to use, with two big knurled adjusters which are easy to twist.
Like most manufacturers, Zero are offering a range of alternative screens and saddles as part of their comprehensive accessory range, meaning that if you buy one there will be the opportunity to configure the DSR/X to your specific wants.
It wasn’t just on road that we got to sample the new Zero though, as we also got it nice and dirty too. I’ll be the first to admit, that I wasn’t expecting much of the new DSR/X off-road. Sure, it was impressive on the tarmac, but a belt-driven adventure bike pumping out that much torque, on road-biased rubber and those sized wheels? I have to admit, these thoughts were going through my head before we even touched the dirt, but the DSR/X actually did surprise me.
As a bit of context, the 7km section we rode wasn’t your average green lane. Set in the spectacular shadow of Mount Etna, we rode in loose sand, with some fairly steep inclines and reasonably sizeable rocky parts.
As a fairly competent (but nowhere near a proper) off-road rider, it would’ve made any big adventure bike break a little sweat, let alone one equipped with road-biased Pirelli Scorpion Trail rubber. I opted for the softer, Street, map and put it into off-road mode with ease. Although I was tentative at first, I have to admit that the Zero was far better at tackling the terrain than I would previously have given it credit for.
The first few blips of the throttle were still a touch aggressive before I got acquainted with the feel, but it didn’t actually make a huge amount of difference as the off-road traction control did a cracking job if keeping things in check.
If I’m being honest, it was almost too good at keeping things in line for showing off for the camera on the gravel, even if that is probably for the best. As the pick up is so linear, everything is predictable and the more ground I covered the less vicious it felt, although it took a bit of getting used to having no clutch to fall back on as I use it religiously off-road if things get a little too loose for my liking.
For me though, the biggest surprise was just how impressive the chassis felt, complimented by a really even distribution of weight, making slow and technical stuff, tight turns and sticky situations a doddle.
The only things that truly held the DSR/X back was the rubber and the wheels, as there just wasn’t that initial grip that a set of more off-road tyres could offer, and the front end did have a slightly vague sensation when ploughing through some of the deeper, tougher sand sections – yet even so, it was a seriously capable machine.
Incidentally, Zero say that they will be offering spoked wheels as an accessory for the DSR/X and those riders who do want to ride more regularly in the dirt, more off-road rubber should be well catered for with a number of more knobbly options available for the OE rims.
On the flipside, it is belt driven and even though Zero were at great pains to talk about the strength of the belt and the design, which deflects debris from the pulley, I’d still worry about truly treacherous work for the hardcore off-roaders. And although the front panel unit is a really nice fluid, one-piece, design, it’s worth noting that if you do drop one and scratch it on one side anywhere but those removable side panels, it will likely need a whole new unit. For some easy trails every now and again though? Yeah, it does do a decent job of being an adventure bike.
I’ve ridden quite a few Zeros over the years and without doubt the DSR/X is their best model yet. Between us, I’ve never been completely sold on the current crop of electric bikes being any sort of competition for the level of internal combustion machinery we have yet, but I have to admit that the DSR/X vastly outweighed my expectations as an electric adventure bike.
It’s a truly capable machine and, although it isn’t perfect, it happily handled everything we threw at it and actually offered a really fun, focussed riding experience.
Zero say that over five years and 40,000km, one of these will be a cheaper proposition than comparable (petrol powered) adventure rivals (thanks to the lack of servicing and because electricity is cheaper than petrol) which is an impressive stat. If it was my money, I’d still go down the petrol route, purely because of the throttle-happy way in which I ride just limiting that range a little too much. But in all honesty, it’s never been closer.