I’d been waiting – well it seemed like forever – to ride this motorcycle.
The sense of dramatic tension – given the delays involved in getting one I could throw my leg over — was simply almost more than I could bear.
There had been delays in scheduling my initial interviews with the Zero and the Bosch engineering teams. Delays caused by me having to travel for business unexpectedly. Delays caused by me – juggling too much general life drama – taking my eye off the ball and writing an undisciplined and unprofessional first draft. A completely unexpected meteorite hit of a delay when the prestigious print publication that accepted the reworked article ceased publication. More delays finding another publication that was willing to take the orphaned article. And then more delays getting in queue for the limited number of Press Pool bikes located on the East Coast.
Finally, after all that, there was this cool grey-blue Zero SR/F, and a couple of days to feel the thing out running mostly in the bike’s normal ‘Street’ personality mode. When I found myself back where I’d left off with my previous Zero, I thumbed the bike’s Mode selector switch to engage ‘Sport’ mode, which turned the default color scheme of the bike’s LCD dash display to an angry orange-red. With the straight, uninterrupted subtle downhill grade of Rolling Physics Problem’s Top Secret Top Speed Testing Facility stretching out in front of me, with about 15 miles per hour showing on the display, I positioned my body as low and far forward on the motorcycle as I could, and deliberately rolled the throttle wide open.
“Unreal,” I said to myself in the silence of my helmet. ”Just fucking unreal.”
The Beast Arrives
The weather, hereabouts, hasn’t really been conducive to the unfettered enjoyment of naked, streetfighter style motorcycles. It’s been windy, cold, rainy – the whole gamut of conditions that cry out for motorcycles with fairings that shield the rider from Mom Nature’s Bag Of Effing Weather Surprises. So, of course, right on cue I get an e-mail from Zero’s marketing maven indicating that a bike will show up – well, tomorrow.
At the appointed time, my old buddy Wade, from Creative Film Cars – Zero’s East Coast Logistics contractor – shows up at the bottom of the driveway with his pickup truck and flatbed. Wade had been the guy that had volunteered for the Brooklyn to Jefferson Runs with my prior Zero testbike, and he must have liked the experience, because here he was again.
I helped Wade release the ratchet straps from the bike and we rolled it off the trailer and onto the street in front of my house.
At first glance, the new SR/F looked to be serious, purposeful stuff – the new bike had wider rims and sports radial tires – Pirelli’s Diablo Rosso IIIs. Braking was also beefed up – where previous Zeros had sported a single front disk and conventional 4 piston caliper, the new bike wore dual 320mm disks, clamped by track spec radial mount 4 piston calipers. Both the new higher spec motor and battery pack feature now significantly more cooling fins to keep temperatures under control under higher levels of output and load. The SR/F also has one of the cleanest tailsection designs I’ve seen, featuring a very sculptural alloy grabrail and a smooth black cover covering up everything above the tire. To accomplish this, though, the bike hangs a steel bracket off the left side of the swingarm that carries the license plate, a mini-fender, and several reflectors at the very rearmost session of the rear tire. Motorcycle styling traditionalists that I’ve shown this to find this modern styling lick somewhat confounding.
A Handsome Beast
Applying power to the system, the new full color LED dash display was immediately apparent as an obvious improvement to the bike’s ability to convey a lot of detailed information in an organized manner. I threw a leg over, settled into place and applied some gentle ‘throttle’. The bike awoke with its customary gentle whine, and carried me at just above a walking pace with precision and control. My experience with my previous Zero DSR kicked immediately back in, and I was instantly comfortable. I pulled an effortless feet-up u-turn in the cul-de-sac at the end of my street, came back up the road, turned up the driveway, and stopped in front of the open garage bay.
Color LED Dash – Fully User Customizable
Wade provided a quick primer on operation of the locks for the under ‘tank’ storage trunk, the rear saddle, and the provided charge converter for use in normal 110v household electric sockets. Unlike previous Zeros, which used a standard NEMA-15 power cord that would be instantly familiar to any computer or IT geek, the SR/F is designed to use the now-standard SAE J1772 electric vehicle charge plug, which means that the bike can now be recharged at any public electric vehicle charger. Making the bike compatible with public chargers is a significant improvement – making it far easier and far faster to top batteries off in normal use. For home use, though, Zero provides a 110v charger which mates a small transformer to a 15-foot long cable and J1772 plug.
Knowing that the load in my garage – beer fridge, and a series of trickle chargers for teardrop camping trailer, Bosch 12 V power tools, Ryobi One Plus System and some rechargeable LED worklights – wouldn’t tolerate the additional draw, I ran a 25 amp rated grounded extension over from an outdoor plug in my front porch, plugged in the transformer, and connected the J1772 plug. Just like the DSR, after a two-second delay, there was the sound of a relay closing, the dash display went through its boot up sequence, the fans on the charger units – this SR/F, being a Premium model has dual chargers – briefly test spun, and then the charging indicator began to flash and the display indicated the state of battery charge, amps of power being pulled, and the time to completion. We were ready to rock and roll.
After getting Wade rehydrated, comfort stopped and headed back in the general direction of Brooklyn, I went to check the weather radar before heading out. Jefferson seemed to be the only place in the state where it wasn’t raining.
In retrospect, that was apparently a temporarily anomalous condition.
In my ‘Kid-at-Christmas’ state of overstimulated enthusiasm — I may have been operating under a form of mild cognitive impairment – I grabbed one of my more comfortable armored leather jackets, my Shoei full-face and some elkskin gauntlets, and headed for the garage – determined to get at least a short sample of what I’d been waiting so long to experience, before the rain closed in.
I mounted up, and booted up the motorcycle. I selected the bike’s ‘Street’ mode, and rolled down the driveway.
I did some low speed trolling around my neighborhood. The riding position on the bike is moderately sporty – the reach to the top triple mounted superbike bend tubular handlebar is pretty comfortable – they’re neither too low nor too far forward – Goldilocks. The footpegs are a little higher than I’m accustomed to, but make perfect sense once the Zero is on the road and underway – they combine with a slightly elevated saddle and tailsection to give one a good comfortable body position on the bike and all the leverage one requires to manage the bike’s progress through corners.
The SR/F’s crazily precise response to inputs of the ‘e-throttle’ — the engine’s quiet whine rising and falling and road speed changing instantly in response to pilot input — and the suspension’s very tight and controlled response triggered DSR-implanted muscle memories.
It was time to head for the highway.
The Jefferson Pike leads west towards Brunswick, and then turns down towards the River, and towards Knoxville. Rolling down the grade toward Brookside Corner, I played with the throttle grip, getting a feel for the electric motor’s response, and for the ‘Street’ mode’s relatively low levels of regenerative braking. I rolled the bike left and right with bar and peg inputs – smiling at the chassis precise and crisp response. Clearing Brookside, the huge grade that climbs away from Catoctin Creek always tells me what kind of motor we’ve got, and with the grip rolled about halfway open, the Zero simply inhaled and hill and vaporized it – with nothing but the motor’s rising whine and the sound of the wind around my helmet to signal the bike’s ever-increasing speed.
So of course, as I crested the hill, it began to pour. A nice, no rationalizing that it’s only a sprinkle and it’ll pass, cold, soaking rain.
We shall not dwell on my self-flagellation in thoughts of the Aerostich suit that was sitting on a hangar at home in my closet. Nor shall we dwell on this motorcycle taking its place in the line of test bikes which – needing to be photographed for publication – were rendered completely road-grimed filthy in the first 5 minutes of their residence here. No we shall not.
All I was able to think was – It wasn’t that cold; I wasn’t that wet – I had a brand new Zero SR/F with Bosch Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC) and if it wasn’t built for conditions like these, then no bike was. So it was Jam On Time.
Maryland 17 from Brunswick to Burkittsville will tell you almost everything you need to know about a fast road motorcycle. The road is a lovely combination of elevation changes, technical corner combinations, with a few long fast straights thrown in just to keep things interesting. On the first of such straight sections I opened the bike’s throttle gently and progressively to about 2/3 whip, and 40 turned into 80 faster than I can ever remember. Still feeling things out on wet pavement I endeavored to be restrained, but one could tell there was two or three times that magnitude of lunge waiting in reserve – the SR/F would have been still accelerating that hard at 100, and 120, as it was at 80. There was a lot of up there up there that I didn’t have a compelling need to explore. The route through the tiny village of Coatesville is like a scene from The Island – shaded by mature trees, lined with hand-laid stone walls, and a series of corners that demand control of entry speed, line and throttle. The SR/F made short work of them – once set on a lean, the chassis held it effortlessly, and running the combination of lefts and rights felt as fluid and as precise as it’s ever felt.
Heading back out of Burkettsville, Maryland 383 continues the dance – the elevation changes get bigger, the curves tighten up, and the straights get longer. I found myself trusting the bike’s tires and behavior on the ‘gas’ more with each passing mile – that the roads were wet was only a background consideration. The ride became all about flow, and the exits from familiar corners were punctuated by that nearly ridiculous thrust. Coming back to the garage, cold and with my canvas work pants soaked, my every muscle was singing, and my head was reeling. It was going to take some dry clothes and a little time for me to fully absorb what I’d just experienced.
Getting To Know You
Spending time out in the garage looking at the thing, it was clear that Zero’s styling department had hit a home run with the SR/F. The bike’s narrow waisted trellis frame echoes some obvious streetfighter role models from the European motorcycle orbit – bikes like the Ducati Monster and the KTM Super Duke. The tailsection is among the cleanest I’ve seen – of course not having to incorporate an exhaust canister or canisters makes that somewhat less challenging. The shroud formerly known as the gas tank – here concealing charge ports, storage frunk and dual battery chargers — has a high and wide-shouldered form that provides the rider both with good purchase on the motorcycle via a shaped knee grip, and, when combined with the premium model’s small fly screen, a surprising amount of weather protection. The tires and suspension elements are meaty, beaty, big and (not) bouncy – the rear curved aluminum swingarm looks like a MotoGP refugee, and the front end, with large diameter inverted telescopic forks, huge dual front brake disks and radial mount calipers, also looks all business. The combination of the trellis frame and some inspired color and air cooling fin treatments allow the functional bits like the new motor and battery case to be clearly on display, instead of camouflaged as on some previous Zeros. As the first electric motorcycle worthy of garage oogling time, give the SR/F a few extra points.
The Stopping Business
The Going Business
Clean Rear View
Looking, though, is nowhere as much fun as riding, so I’ve frankly been riding the wheels off the thing at every opportunity.
The morning after it was delivered, I had a scheduled dental cleaning. Now trips to the dentist rank pretty low on the fun continuum, but not when one does it like this.
The previous day’s rain showers had given way to a perfect day for riding – high 60s and bright sunshine. My Dentist’s office is in Germantown, Maryland, just over 20 miles from RPP HQ, so it was a perfect opportunity to try and get to know the bike a little better. There are a few ways from Jefferson to Germantown, and I mentally selected two different routes that would show off different performance profiles for the motorcycle. Being generally averse to Interstate highways, the way down featured a favorite shortcut to the Dreaded I-270 – one that cuts off the run into Frederick, and uses some backroads to pick up the highway south of Frederick in Urbana. That route is actually shorter, and even if it doesn’t save time, it’s a lot more pleasant motorcycle ride. Mountville Road strikes southeast by crossing the high ridge that separates Jefferson from the South County. There are some switchback corners and some steep grades that gave me a chance to play with how the bike responded well on the sides of its tires, and how it felt under various levels of throttle. Going down the other side of the ridge, I then got a complete primer on regenerative braking. On a sunny day, and on dry pavement, I had a whole lot less ‘somebody else’s bike’ anxiety, and everything this motorcycle was doing was making me smile.
Fingerboard Road – Maryland Route 80 – between Route 85 and I 270 – is a motorcyclist’s rollercoaster of a road. If you could ride it over again just by giving the nice man another 50 cents, you’d ride Fingerboard till you ran out of quarters. The road starts with a long straight run up a shallow ridgeline, and then goes total spaghetti until one gets to the end. There is a series of increasingly wider and wider radius bends – with apexes on the tops and bottoms of hills – that allows one to set up a rhythm, and with this motorcycle, out there alone after rush hour, I fell right in the groove.
I wish I’d had the time and the quarters handy – I’d have done it again.
The impression of this bike I was starting to get was one of total responsiveness – it was almost as the bike just disappeared and became an extension of the rider’s body, a reflection of the rider’s will. As temping and as silly and as fun as it was to just open the throttle and ride like a knob every time one had to speed up, it became quickly apparent that the SR/F was way more than that. The directness, immediacy and sheer magnitude of the bike’s power delivery made minutely nuanced riding possible – the SR/F could be made to do exactly what the rider requested almost as soon as it was requested. Whether the inputs were to the bike’s chassis or motor made no difference – think it and it’s already happened.
It required that the rider be far more focused on the operation of the controls – everything was so responsive, that this was no seat in which to be daydreaming. The engineers that built the first Honda CB750 liked to say that each 1 degree of throttle opening should produce an effect that the rider could feel, and that that then 3, or 5, or 75 degrees were perfectly predictable based on that granularity of control. This was the same – subtle throttle inputs produced results – unsubtle ones produced…. well there was just SO much more.
At the end of the Coaster Ride, I hit the traffic circle and onramp for I 270. The Diablo Rossos made big leans easy, and there is really something liberating about shedding the mental processor overhead of gear selection, RPM management and clutch operation – the Zero just lets one seek out one’s line on the road, and just roll on it. Getting on the highway provided proof of the Zero’s accelerative superiority – getting to a 75 mph cruise speed was nearly instant and effortless. On the slab the bike seems a little out of its element – the control formerly known as the throttle has a light action which can make maintaining a cruise speed occasionally challenging. Any stiffly sprung sporting motorcycle has the same challenges — certain road speeds on a concrete road with expansion joints can induce some porpoising behavior – backing off the compression damping at both ends would likely help this.
On the other hand, though, if you want to move through traffic, the Zero will move through traffic. In an urban traffic stream, one is always able to control one’s own destiny by being where they ain’t. Urbana to Germantown is only 9 miles or so, so we basically arrived just before we left.
Isn’t physics grand?
Some grimacing and scraping later, I pulled my ‘Stich back on and headed back to the parking lot. In a vignette that has continued to play out for the whole time I’ve had the motorcycle, I found another enthusiast all but crawling all over the bike trying to figure out what he was looking at – think of it as ‘sidecar syndrome on steroids’. I gave him the Zero Elevator Pitch and then was on my way.
Getting back out of Montgomery County, Maryland provides several options – Maryland 28 is essentially an extension of River Road, in that it follows the Potomac River through some fairly pricy territory with horse farms and the like up into Frederick County. Outside of rush hours the road is basically empty, and follows the topography of the land in ways that make for entertaining motorcycling. 28 is wide open, with sweeping curves, great sightlines and even a few well-placed legal two-lane passing zones to complement, well, the other passing zones. On a Zero SR/F, the whole planet might be one big passing zone – there is certainly nothing I’ve ever encountered that it couldn’t pass, and mostimes with extreme prejudice. Early on the run up 28 I came up on a pretty typical farm duallie pickup with a dual axle flatbed trailer loaded with four of the large round hay bales that we see hereabouts. Running ‘Sport’ mode, opening the throttle from about 40 yards back shifted the space time continuum — it was almost like the unit had instantaneously shifted into reverse. Normal two lane passes have some anxiety involved with the time to clear the passed vehicle. Not here – just ‘Banggone’.
28 gave me the chance to really become comfortable on the motorcycle – in sweepers the bike was dead stable – continue to feed in more motor and it held its selected line despite any amount of acceleration dialed in on exit. Tighter corners that asked for more lean felt dead stable and nailed down – many times I’d exit a corner and see a car or pickup in the chute before the next entry – dispatching them was a gestural triviality – check for clearance in the left lane, ‘gas’ it, flick and go – many times the pass seemed to be completed in less than the length of the vehicle I was passing.
On the home stretch back to the shop, it was time for something completely different. Pleasant View Road cuts off 28 and head back north towards Jefferson – the view might be pleasant but as a motorcyclist, one is best advised to not admire it. Pleasant View is tight, technical – comprised of a string of off camber, decreasing radius corners that follow a creek through the woods – make a mistake here and you’re either harvesting trees or swimming, or both. Most fast motorcycles are out of their element here – it’s too tight to uncork anything – wick things up and you’ve blown your next corner exit – but with judicious applications of the throttle, the SR/F was able to stay in the zone – its chassis able to stay on line and in control, regardless of road camber or lean angle.
I arrived back home after roughly 50 miles of spirited back roads and wide open highways – again, every muscle in my body was singing, just like it does after 25 miles or so on my bicycle. Battery state of charge was in the low 30 percent range – likely adversely impacted by my level of aggressiveness on the throttle and the fact that the route emphasized twisty backroads where there was no constant throttle – every corner was an opportunity for acceleration. It was, though, enough to give me some concern about my primary use case – which was long-distance commuting usage to my job in Baltimore. There would be only one way to find out, though.
Supercommuting and Day of the Living Brakes
Not everyone views motorcycles as practical, day to day transportation. Mark this down as another one of those things that identifies me as more than a tad eccentric, and not in the dictionary geometric definition sense, either. Any motorcycle that asks its owner to lay out 20 large had damn well better be capable of getting said owner to work so that said motorcycle can be paid for. With that in mind, I had to make a few changes to my commuting gear to accommodate the Streetfighter form factor.
I’d traded in a motorcycle with a Greenspring Valley Dairy milkcrate bolted on the luggage rack for a BMW /5 with hard cases in 1985 and had never again had to worry about how to get my stuff there with me – until now. Here, I’d need to take a lesson from my son and sometime riding buddy Finn, who – even given the choice – will choose a backpack over hard cases for commuting duty. His rationale was something about easier lane splitting and parking, and something else about the cases lowering his bike’s top speed that, upon reflection, I’d rather not consider too deeply. Fortunately, one of my prior employers had provided an Oakley backpack as swag, and it would work perfectly in this application. Or it would work perfectly once I’d covered their logo – there were one of several companies in my working life that had placed profits over people by including me in mass layoffs – with a Motorcycle Times Magazine embroidered patch. Thus improved, the Oakley SportPak was perfect for the task at hand.
Now it’s perfect.
The ride into Baltimore is about 63 miles – depending on some route variables on the Baltimore end – consisting of just over 55 miles of Interstate, coupled with 7 or 8 miles of either stop and go on the Baltimore Beltway and 95 into downtown, or slightly fewer miles through surface streets on the West Side of the city. Since I didn’t really know – until I’d tried – how much reserve charge I might have – if I had any – I’d need to be as conservative as possible until I had a power consumption baseline from which to work.
So, with my lunch and laptop strapped on, and the Zero’s ‘Eco’ power saving mode dialed up, I set out for Baltimore. Interstate 70 – during rush hours – sees a lot of folks who, like me, are hypercommuting – coming into the city from Frederick, Hagerstown, Martinsburg and other commuter communities that are springing up in the panhandle of West Virginia. Folks with 60-70-80 or more miles to get to work are not patient, they are not understanding, and for them, any speed short of flat out is an anathema. In that environment, the SR/F’s ‘Eco’ mode, which limits torque and acceleration so as to maximize range, and also limits top speed to 75 mph, had me feeling like a sitting duck over in the right lane of the traffic stream. But, in order to learn and be able to share the capabilities of this motorcycle, I did my best to get into a comfortable semi-tuck – I’ll cop to not being the most aerodynamic pilot ever created – and worked to maintain what – at least for me – was a low and slow cruise speed of 72 miles an hour. I spent a lot of time that morning scanning my rearview mirrors.
Upon arriving at the Beltway interchange – with a little under 50% of battery remaining — the customary signs of Beltway Backup were on full display, so I elected to use my favorite Plan B – learned during my early years of working at the Social Security datacenter in Woodlawn – cutting through the west side of the city through Leakin Park. Leakin Park is actually the largest undeveloped tract of land within the city limits of any American City – even bigger than New York’s Central Park – which gives a strange impression of a brief country ride even though one is in the middle of West Baltimore. The road through the park is twisty and hilly, and the surface is in genuinely awful shape, but at lower road speeds the agility of the SR/F’s chassis allowed me to pick the smoothest spots with ease. Coming across Gwinn’s Falls Parkway, ‘Eco’ mode’s high regenerative braking settings made it possible to effortlessly control my speed and following distance in traffic with just the throttle – the SR/F might be best inner city traffic motorcycle ever devised – without having to deal with clutch or gears, all of one’s attention can be devoted to staying aware of surrounding traffic, and when the opportunity to clear presents itself, no car can stay anywhere near you. The last two miles of this commute route pick the Jones Falls Expressway back up – the JFX is crazily curved for a major inner city highway. On the Zero the Jones Falls is just another excuse to make cars seem like traffic cones.
At the bottom of the expressway, one block of Fayette Street landed me on the ramps to the Baltimore City Hall Parking Garage. Once inside, the second level has eight Level 2 electric vehicle chargers which are free to use to paid parkers. Upon dismounting, I had 34% battery remaining – a good first run. I went to plug the Zero in, and a nice man next to me with a Prius informed me that the charger I had selected was on the fritz – “Use this one”, he said, handing me his charge plug, “my Prius doesn’t really need it”.
“Thanks, Man”, I told him, “I DEFINITELY need it – it’s a long walk home.”
Upon seating the J1772 charge plug, the bike went through its charge self-check, and ran up its amp draw and time to complete numbers. On the 110 slow charge at home, I’d normally see about 11-12 amps of power draw, and a change time estimate for this level of discharge of around 6 hours. On the high voltage public charger, I was pulling 58 amps, and a time to complete estimate of about 85 minutes.
Pulled Up and Plugged In at a Public Charger
At lunchtime, I went back to the City Hall garage to move the bike to my building’s parking garage, which I don’t have to pay for. I plugged Prius Guy’s car back in when I left.
Running home I was liberated from debilitating range anxiety – I knew I had extra capacity to spare, and wasn’t going to be walking just because I’d passed an extra car or nine – I made the run this time with 30% capacity showing.
Upon arriving home, I pulled out my Motorola Android Phone, on which I’d installed the Zero Motorcycle App. After some initial fiddelyness in getting the Bluetooth pairing to work, I was able to access the mode programming interface. I set up a custom ride mode with a bit more power and torque output than the default street mode, and set higher regenerative braking settings and a 90 mph speed cap – I’d still be relatively economical in my power consumption, but would now have the ability to defend myself in highway traffic.
Day’s 2’s commute with the ‘Greg’ mode was better – my riding was closer to my normal traffic behavior, although top speeds were reduced slightly when compared with my ICE bike. Battery Capacity was only nominally affected by the increased speed and power – which wasn’t at all what I expected. I arrived at work with 28% state of charge. The operation of my right wrist, it seemed, was still the single most important determinant of power consumption.
Day 3 – to be somewhat British about it – was when things went entirely pearshaped.
I’d checked the Google Maps traffic before mounting up. What I saw looked like the end of the traffic world.
It seemed that there had been a serious accident on I-70 in the early morning hours – a tanker truck had rear-ended a Honda Civic at about three in the morning, and both vehicles, in the resulting wreck, had crossed the median together and come to rest against the guardrail on the opposite side of the highway. Five hours later, the interstate was still closed with no ETA for restoration.
“No matter,” thunk I. “I know some backroads and can route around the closure. It’ll be fine”.
For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that everyone else has Google Maps too, and that its adaptive mapping would send everyone else the same way.
On the normally empty Frederick County secondary roads, it became quickly apparent that my confidence had been misplaced.
Even in tiny Adamstown, there was congestion in the village’s only intersection. Clearing the one stop sign onto Md. Route 80, I was greeted by a GMC Tahoe that decided to exit a daycare business without even looking to see if the real estate in question was available. There was another SUV coming westbound and me, heading eastbound. When the Tank Pilot in question realized her error, she panicked and simply stopped, blocking the entire roadway and the path of both me and the other driver. On an 850 pound touring bike, a 35 mph emergency stop can be a tad dramatic. With the SR/F’s braking power, we just stopped. No drama, no adrenaline, no nothing, other than instant cessation of motion. I could get used to this.
As I proceeded east, I encountered full-on gridlock on tiny secondary roads that are usually empty in the morning. In ‘A-Team’ speak, this was not a plan that was coming together. The next hour plus was spent at under a mile an hour, mostly with my boots on the pavement. Normally, these type of conditions would produce a bad case of ‘clutch claw hand’, but here, it wasn’t an issue. Problem was, relaxed though I might have been, we weren’t going anywhere.
After 90 minutes or so, I finally came to where I’d planned to get back on the highway – where I was greeted by the sight of some Maryland State Troopers removing the barriers to the onramps which had been closed. I looked at the time on the dash display – at had taken nearly 100 minutes to get the equivalent of about 12 highway miles – and Baltimore was still more than an hour travel time distant. My home office – with a full battery and sport mode available was about 10 minutes run – versus another hour plus and showing up for work at around lunchtime. I redflagged the ride and headed west towards home on the just-opened highway.
Traffic in the reverse direction was very light, and I was not in a mind to dawdle. I adopted my ‘Marginally Bulky Man’s Best MotoGP Pilot Impression’, got low, got (as) aerodynamically clean (as possible), and lit the Zero up. My attorneys have advised me not to provide any further detail.
I suppose a man in a more contemplative and unhurried state of mind might have been able to predict what happened next – unfortunately, I was not that guy. About three miles west of New Market – where I’d entered the highway – I rolled up on the location of the accident which had kept a major interstate highway closed in both directions for nearly seven hours. People being people, all three lanes of traffic – which had been averaging more than 80 miles an hour – all braked suddenly, looking for some signs of the earlier carnage which had been largely removed before the State Police re-opened the road. Me, who was carrying – ehem! – somewhat more than the average speed, was suddenly looking at three lanes of solid brake lights two or three vehicles deep. My choices were either extreme lane splitting or a full-on high-speed braking test.
The things I do to ensure my readers are fully informed.
Moving my body as quickly rearward on the motorcycle as I could, I supplied pretty significant front wheel braking force. I talk to myself when things go bad… as I kept about a quarter of my attention on the rearview mirrors, the self-address here was something like “PleasePleasePleaseDon’tRearEndMe…PleasePleasePleaseDon’tRearEndMe… PleasePleasePleaseDon’tRearEndMe…” Years of muscle memory prepared me for the sensation of the rear wheel lifting off the pavement and beginning that sickening wiggle waggle as the entire motorcycle pivots around the steering head. Even my 1975 R90S, which has had some upgrades to antique braking hardware like a handlebar-mounted master cylinder and braided steel lines, will lift its rear wheel under maximum braking. I was ready, but that rear wheel stayed firmly planted on the ground and the bike stayed calmly and undramatically in line. Having shed somewhere well above 60 miles an hour of velocity in as short a distance as I’ve ever experienced, the Zero’s Bosch Motorcycle Stability Control – which features a rear wheel lift avoidance function – had just put on a non-show of its own.
10 minutes later, I was back at my home-office desk, booting up a work PC, and preparing for another day of VMware designs and technical reviews.
What on many other motorcycles could have been a trip to the plaster unit, was just another day at the office.
Time To Jet
Zero Motorcycle’s Chief Technical Officer, Abe Askenazi, likes to describe riding the SR/F like flying an electric fighter jet. The description, based on the miles I’ve put on the bike, is pretty much spot on. Short of barrel rolls and outside loops, the level of easily controlled power and responsiveness is jet-like in every way.
Many of my motorcycle rides result from some practical need to go somewhere, and to get or do something while I’m there. Riding for the sake of the ride, for me, is a nearly priceless luxury. So when, on a perfect sunny Sunday afternoon, Sweet Doris from Baltimore suddenly asked me, “Don’t you want to go for a ride?”, apart from wondering if that was even a question, there was no hesitation when I said yes on my way to the riding gear closet.
I grabbed a light technical fleece, my Roadcrafter 3, an Astronaut model white Shoei and my favorite elkskin gauntlets. I had some roads that run the ridges in the North County that back up to Thurmont, Maryland and feed back down into Gambrill State Park that would be empty and perfect riding on a Sunday afternoon. Suitably ATGATTed, I stored the low speed charge cable in its carrying case in the frunk, booted up the Zero, and headed for the curves.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least pause briefly to observe that this motorcycle has completely beggared my normal means of moto-description. It isn’t the performance of the bike that is the problem, it’s the nomenclature. Simple things like ‘The Throttle’ – although everybody knows exactly what I mean, the simple fact is that a Zero motorcycle doesn’t have one. ‘Throttle’ is defined as “the mechanism by which fluid flow is managed by constriction or obstruction” – on an internal combustion engine motorcycle, that is manifested by a butterfly in an air intake plenum – either controlled by a cable or by an electronic stepper motor — that regulates engine speed by controlling the amount of combustible mixture that is available to the engine. The Zero has an analogous structure so that we understand what to do with it – “twist this and it goes” – but it would more accurately be described as a ‘Speed Control Potentiometer’ or a ‘Current Regulator’, both of which make one sound like a geekier version of Marvin The Martian – at least ‘Perambulating Reframulator’ has a bit more pizazz to it. Motorcyclists have been ‘gassing it’ since Daimler finally managed to get Einspur to start – that doesn’t work here either. Just as much a problem with the motorcycle’s ‘tank’. Visually, it’s clearly intended to look like a fuel tank — it even functions as one of a fuel tank’s multiple functions by giving the rider something to squeeze with the knees during cornering and something to rest on during high speed operation. But the part that functions as a tank — i.e. that component which stores the energy that makes the thing go — is actually the battery. The Zero’s ‘tank’ is just a shroud which covers the chargers and provides a storage compartment which becomes sacrificial if one purchases the upgrade range extender battery. So folks, if you think you can come up with new ways to talk about this motorcycle and riding it which depart from the nomenclature of the past and embrace the new technical truths which have indelibly changed, please let me know what they are. The part of me that is a recovering technical editor will feel a whole lot better than the writer me that is consistently using terms that everyone inherently understands but are absolutely incorrect.
We now return you to your regular programming.
My first stop along the way was the Rolling Physics Problem Top Secret Top Speed Testing Facility. I could tell you where it is, but then I would have no choice but to kill you. The RPPTSTSTF is a stretch of rural roadway that has no intersections, is dead straight, and has a very subtle downhill grade that allows a rider to clearly see the entire mile and a half length of the roadway from the start point. Every motorcyclist that I’ve ever discussed this stretch or roadway with has our conversation inevitably deteriorate into guttural utterances and maniacal laughter that has one subtly looking for the hypodermic needle and the nice sport coat with arms that tie in the back. The first time any rider sees this road, they know exactly what it’s for, and exactly what bad thing it is that they should immediately do.
With this motorcycle, there aren’t too many places where more than a second and a half of full throttle are even possible, much less recommended. Here though, it’s OK. Rolling Physics Problem, as a direct result of limited funding, doesn’t have radar guns, dynamometers, or fancy digital timing gear – all we’ve got is the author’s well-calibrated butt dyno and the One-Mississippi timing unit. They’ve gotten us this far, so I’m not going to stress about it.
So we find ourselves right back where this story began – staged, range clear, in full tuck on a slow roll, and waiting for the voice of Jean-Luc Piccard that lives in my head to say, “Engage!”
When he did, I rolled open the Perambulating Reframbulator, and hadn’t even hit my third ‘Mississippi’ when the motorcycle’s LCD display was already rolling up three digit numbers at a rate I found sufficiently alarming to quickly moderate the power output and at least begin to slow its rate of speed increase. It was hard to keep from laughing at this display of conspicuous muscularity, but knew I had to to avoid what I knew would be that laughter’s directional inputs into handling, so comically grim I remained.
Properly steeled, I turned up Holter Road towards the North County, and the back side of the Catoctin Ridge, and her twisted mountain lanes.
Off Harmony Road north of Myersville, one can turn up the mountain anywhere and find yourself instantly taken right out of this century. Roads like Coxey Brown or Fisher’s Hollow Roads turn to one lane goat paths that run though farmland and through forest, and that cross small creeks on single lane bridges. With ‘Greg’ mode’s power and regen both turned up, one could leap out of corners and then let the motor wind back down for corners – with the sound of the engine modulating when it switched from power to braking – from a whine under power – ‘wheeeee’ — that somehow ran backwards – ‘eeeeeeehw’ — under regen.
The SR/F is magic on these tiny roads – one can place it exactly where you want it – the suspension works, and neither gravel nor the damp moss one sees up here on the ridge can faze the bike a bit. I deliberately turn onto smaller roads whose names I don’t recognize, happy when the paths get smaller still.
It’s wonderful to ride in the woods silently like this – hearing nothing but wind around the helmet and some hiss from the tires and the bike’s belt drive. One hears birds – One hears insects. I see a lot of deer and smaller forest animals that I’d never see on my gas bike – the critters aren’t scared because I’m making no noise – they’re still here and don’t panic or run when I pass.
Eventually, I emerge from the woods in a spot I didn’t expect to recognize – having never come this way – on Gambrill Park Road – a road which follows the park’s ridgeline for a good 15 miles – mostly open and flowing, with a few tight spots and switchbacks thrown in, just to keep one on their toes. On the many rises that occur on these roads, I become quickly adept at accelerating over them and producing predictable and exhilarating power wheelies, regardless of road speed. Coming through the switchbacks off the side of the mountain, I pass a brand new Ducati booming in the other direction – making wonderful noise. Given the Zero’s silence I can even hear his dry clutch rattling as he goes by – when I look in the rearviews he’s headswiveling bigtime in order to check me out.
I do everything possible to delay heading home – taking roads that head the wrong way, which suddenly seems right. I run 40 ALT westward, then run down 17 though Middletown and Burkettsville. Nearly back home on the Pike, there’s an anonymous looking white SUV, running tourist-level road speeds well under the posted limit. The SR/F is the motorcycle that can pass anything – I’m in the groove, it’s a properly marked legal passing zone, and there are no red flags… until there are.
As I come alongside the rear quarter of the car, a six point buck explodes off the bank that rises above the road, and runs for all its worth across the front of the car I’m about to pass. Car pilot does not react – I get out of the throttle which keeps me behind the car, but have time for no more – the buck stays on his line and pace, clears us both, and disappears on the other side of the road.
A minute later I’m back at the shop, replaying the buck pass over and over in my mind while trying to rid myself of the hollow feeling in my stomach – concluding that while safety technology is good, a little luck is way better. The universe apparently still needs to have me around for something.
I still choose the Zero for any trip where it can possibly work – only 35 degree rainy days rule it out – not because the motorcycle – with its ‘Rain’ mode won’t handle it gracefully, but because it doesn’t have a windshield, and I choose not to suffer needlessly.
So bank runs, beer runs, trips out to the store, and the store, and the store are all sufficient excuses to go for another Zero ride. Every time the SR/F displays its ‘ready to run’ dash icon, my opinion doesn’t even enter into it – it is going to be a thrill.
Nothing, not even this, though, is completely perfect.
It was Finn that observed that the bike had no way to drop it into a gear to park it. Not all spaces that you may be forced to use are flat. Some sort of parking brake like those on Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission bikes – which also can’t be stuck in gear – is something that Zero needs to look at.
Being able to run silent is mostly cool – in the woods, in your own neighborhood in the early morning or late at night. There are times, though, when silence is less cool – I seem to have my right of way violated more often than usual in parking lots – the sound seems to be material in other people processing that me and my motorcycle are there. In tight confines pedestrians seem to be even more so afflicted – I have lost count of the times I’ve had to quietly say, “Excuse me, Sir” to get suddenly large-eyed people out of their phones long enough to notice they’d just walked in front of a motorcycle.
On a related note, the bike’s horn is Honda Cub silly on what is a very serious and rapid motorcycle. Two Words: Fiamm Trumpets.
One other thing became very obvious to me when riding in an urban environment. Setting the bike up to make use of regenerative braking is – at least to me – very desirable, as it increases range and allows one to precisely control one’s position in traffic using just the control formerly known as ‘the throttle’. Here’s the thing – with regen properly cranked, the SR/F will slow down and nearly stop without ever using the brakes. And… if you don’t use the brakes, you don’t display any brake lights.
You Don’t Display Any Brake Lights. Folks that have either been trained in or have personally worked at motorcycle road safety know that – especially in city traffic – you need to be displaying brake lights to avoid being invited to a game of involuntary bumper cars.
“Oh c’mon dude, just cover the brake pedal just like you always do.”
Point taken, but regen does really slow the bike down in a significant and transparent way such that you come to depend on it, and frankly also stop thinking about it. Regenerative Braking is called that because it is Braking.
Braking needs to display brake lights.
I’ve trolled the electric bike forums and there are all sorts of hacks being discussed on how to get regen to trigger a normal brake light switch, but in the case of the SR/F, the Bosch MSC System itself is the best source of a braking event signal. The system’s Inertial Management Unit measures, with a high degree of precision, deceleration of the motorcycle. My recommendation is for Zero to upgrade their software to give riders the ability to set a threshold of deceleration at which the brake light will light. IMU plus CANBUS should make this pretty easy to do.
I like bumper cars, but only at the State Fair.
These things though, are minor issues with a motorcycle that is otherwise a major step forward in the performance and functionality of electric motorcycles. The Zero SR/F is a dramatically better handling and higher performance motorcycle than the electrics that came before. The ability to make use of public charging infrastructure makes day to day use far easier. The direct drive drivetrain makes this the easiest to control and most agile urban assault commuter ever devised. The implementation of state of the art Motorcycle Stability Controls allow the SR/F able to make use of all of that performance at levels of safety that were formerly not possible.
All cool stuff, but nowhere near as cool as the immense rush of cornering and acceleration that you can access whenever you care to, simply by actuating the perambulating reframulator.
Thanks to the folks at Zero Motorcycles of Scotts Valley California. They told me this thing would make me feel like Superman. Up, up and away!
A complete Road Test of this motorcycle appears in the November 2019 issue of Motorcycle Times.
Zero SR/F Specifications
Type Z-Force® 75-10 enhanced thermal efficiency, passively air-cooled, interior permanent
magnet AC motor
Controller High efficiency and power dense, 900 amp, 3-phase AC controller with regenerative
Estimated Top Speed (max) 124 mph (200 km/h)
Estimated Top Speed (sustained) 110 mph (177 km/h)
Peak Motor Torque 140 lb·ft (190 Nm)
Peak Motor Power 110 hp (82 kW)
Transmission Clutchless Direct Drive
Final Drive Poly Chain® HTD® Carbon™ belt
Wheel Sprocket -Number of teeth 90
Motor Sprocket – Number of teeth 20
Front Suspension Showa 43 mm big piston, separate function forks with adjustable spring preload,
compression, and rebound damping
Rear Suspension Showa 40 mm piston, piggy-back reservoir shock with adjustable spring preload,
compression, and rebound damping
Front Suspension Travel 4.72 in (120 mm)
Rear Suspension Travel 5.51 in (140 mm)
Front Brakes Bosch Advanced MSC, Dual J-Juan radial-mounted 4-piston calipers,
320 x 5 mm disc
Rear Brakes Bosch Advanced MSC, J-Juan single piston floating caliper,
240 x 4.5 mm disc
Front Wheel 3.50 x17
Rear Wheel 5.50 x17
Zero Motorcycles Factory installed tires
Front Tire Pirelli Diablo Rosso III 120/70-17
Rear Tire Pirelli Diablo Rosso III 180/55-17
Type Z-Force® Li-Ion Intelligent Power Pack
Maximum Capacity 14.4 kWh
Nominal Capacity 12.6 kWh
Charger Type 3 kW Integrated (6 kW Integrated on Premium Model)
Input Universal 100 – 240 V AC
Estimated Power Pack Life to 80% (city) 217,000 miles (349,000 km) 217,000 miles (349,000 km)
Input Voltage Charging Lvl*
110V – 120V Level 1 8.5 hours (100% charged) /8.0 hours (95% charged)
8.5 hours (100% charged) /8.0 hours (95% charged)
208V – 240V Level 2
4.5 hours (100% charged) /4.0 hours (95% charged)
2.5 hours (100% charged) /2.0 hours (95% charged) ( Premium Models)