Harley-Davidson has started a lot of talk lately about electric motorcycles.
But there are a few brands that have been making them—both for the street and for off-road—for several years.
San Francisco-based Mission Motorcycles came out with its first model in 2007. Brammo in Oregon has been doing it since 2010. And ZERO Motorcycles was founded eight years ago in Santa Cruz, Calif., as a way to push motorcycle innovation forward, according to vice president Scot Harden.
“This is a really exciting time in the history of motorcycles,” he says. “We’re just grasping the surface in terms of what the technology can do.”
I like ZERO in general because, in part, it reminds me of Tesla: It’s a West Coast company applying new technology and a fresh, novel approach to a somewhat stagnant industry. Just like Tesla it has some critics, mostly thanks to the fact that its motorcycles make a slight whirring noise rather than a guttural roar and don’t require gears to run (“It’s not a real motorcycle,” say die-hards). But that has diminished neither its practicality as a city bike nor my fun while riding it.
The SR is special among the ZERO line for a few reasons. It’s the fastest bike ZERO makes, with a top speed of 100mph and a 0-60mph sprint time of 3.3 seconds that beats Harley’s LiveWire hot rod almost by a full second. In fact, the “R” configuration designates the bike for riders who want to go faster and accelerate harder than what is possible on other models: SR has a larger 660-amp motor controller that provides 24% more power and 56% more torque than its siblings—good for 106 ft-lbs of torque and a driving range of 100 miles under casual driving under the “ECO” option of its three drive modes.
SR features new frame construction and a new dash screen with a soft blue backlit display that is easy to read without being distracting. And upgrades on ZERO’s cellphone app allow for keeping constant if remote contact to data like how much time until the bike is charged and the average energy used per mile, not to mention allowing for adjustment of top speed, maximum torque and maximum regenerative braking (how hard the bike pulls when you slow down). The app is synced using Bluetooth technology and is available in English, German, French, Spanish and Dutch.
That’s another way ZERO emulates Tesla — it integrates seamlessly with existing iPhone and Android systems in a way that increases an effortless efficiency both for the bike and for my time.
Better yet, and also like Tesla in its respective industry, the bike performs well as a motorcycle, period, whether or not it is electric. Riding it feels like acting in a futuristic video game—since there are no gears and no clutch, you have one straight line of acceleration all the way to 100mph, all set to the faint whirring sound of the motor in the background.(For better or worse, that diminished noise level makes you feel a bit stealthy creeping up on people in traffic and off the line.) SR is smooth around corners and, at 450 pounds, as light to maneuver through traffic as any other street bike.
All of that comes at a higher price, though, especially if you want some extra juice. The SR comes standard with an 11.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, but the optional Power Tank I had that adds another 2.8 kWh of life costs $2,500. What’s more, while the bike charges in just over 7 hours on its regular 110-volt plug, it’ll cost $600 to buy the charger that cuts that time in half. For the $21,000 or so it costs to build out this bike you could easily buy a high-end BMW motorcycle or Ducati.
Of course, you might miss the whirr. Watch the video above to learn more.
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