Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Martin Fitz- Gib­bons MCN CON­TRIB­U­TOR

Even elec­tric bike builders are get­ting on the stylish Scram­bler band­wagon. Zero have built a bike that tack­les many con­cerns nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with elec­tric bikes. The Zero DSR is light and ca­pa­ble of cov­er­ing over 100 miles of nor­mal rid­ing be­fore need­ing a recharge. It hasn’t quite ticked the ‘sen­si­ble cost’ box yet at £14k, but you’ll save a stack on petrol and ser­vic­ing. Tempted? You should be!

‘ The most prac­ti­cal, all-round ca­pa­ble elec­tric bike yet’ ‘The feel­ing is of dis­tilled speed, un­tainted by noise or vibes. It’s like be­ing in­vis­i­ble’

Un­til now, the few elec­tric bikes that have ac­tu­ally reached pro­duc­tion have all had one glar­ing fault or an­other. They’ve been too slow, too ex­pen­sive, too heavy or too im­prac­ti­cal – or, some­times, all of the above.

But one US firm have per­se­vered with bat­tery power. Zero Mo­tor­cy­cles, based in Cal­i­for­nia, have been mak­ing all-elec­tric bikes since 2006. The DSR is their lat­est ma­chine, and after liv­ing with this one for 400 miles it’s clear that their ef­forts are jus­ti­fied. This is, with­out doubt, the most prac­ti­cal, most all-round ca­pa­ble and most real-world elec­tric road bike yet.

The DSR is not slow. Its mo­tor makes 106ftlb of torque – that’s more than a Kawasaki H2 or Du­cati Pani­gale R. The DSR is not heavy. It weighs just 190kg, the same as a Honda CB500F. And the DSR is not com­pletely im­prac­ti­cal. On a sin­gle charge it has the po­ten­tial to cover nearly 150 miles, a range that ri­vals plenty of petrol-pow­ered ma­chines.

For a bike so ad­vanced it’s pretty con­ven­tional in its styling. Noth­ing screams “ELEC­TRIC!” – there’s no jagged light­ning bolt mo­tif or hideous Hol­ly­wood film-prop plas­tic. It looks like any mid-sized dual-pur­pose bike, only with a big black box where you might ex­pect to find an en­gine.

Size-wise it’s fairly stan­dard too. Seat height is sim­i­lar to a Kawasaki Ver­sys or Suzuki V-strom 650, but from the sad­dle the DSR feels far slim­mer and no­tice­ably lighter. De­spite the du­alpur­pose styling the han­dle­bars don’t rise up a huge dis­tance from the top yoke, mean­ing a nat­u­ral rid­ing po­si­tion that’s more road­ster than ad­ven­turer. Switchgear all ap­pears pretty nor­mal, and con­trols are where you ex­pect them to be.

Well, up to a point. There are no gears and no clutch, as the DSR is a di­rect-drive twist-and-go. Set­ting off in near-si­lence is dis­con­cert­ing, but even the most hard­ened petrol­head adapts quickly. A beau­ti­fully-mapped ‘throt­tle’ means di­alling up the cor­rect amount of power is in­stinc­tive. The re­sponse may be dig­i­tal but it’s not sharp or sud­den, like flick­ing on a light switch, but seam­less, more like turn­ing the vol­ume knob on an ex­pen­sive stereo. Only with no sound.

There are three power modes: Sport, Eco and Cus­tom. Sport gives full per­for­mance, whoosh­ing from 0-60mph in un­der four sec­onds and car­ry­ing on to an in­di­cated 100mph. It’s a se­ri­ously im­pres­sive pace, with buck­ets of drive for in­stant A-road over­takes. On the move the Zero is to­tally smooth, helped by not hav­ing any re­cip­ro­cat­ing en­gine parts. The feel­ing is of dis­tilled speed, un­tainted by noise or vi­bra­tion, at times it feels like fly­ing, glid­ing, or even be­ing in­vis­i­ble. Elec­tro-scep­tics might sneer, but this de­serves to be ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore be­ing dis­missed.

Eco mode re­duces torque and caps top speed to 70mph. It’s a lot more se­date, but lim­it­ing your de­mand for power nat­u­rally im­proves the bike’s range. Eco also in­creases the mo­tor’s re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing ef­fect, which means that when you re­lease the twist­grip more of the bike’s mo­men­tum is used to recharge the bat­tery, ex­tend­ing range.

Cus­tom se­lects your own pre­ferred com­bi­na­tion of power, re­gen and top speed, all of which is set through a smart­phone app via Blue­tooth. It might sound like a com­pli­cated gim­mick, but it’s re­ally a sim­ple and handy func­tion that lets you tai­lor the bike to your taste,

or even to suit each ride.

The mo­tor isn’t the only part that can be per­son­alised. Sus­pen­sion is made by Showa, and is fully ad­justable for preload, re­bound and com­pres­sion at both ends. The stan­dard set-up is a lit­tle soft and fairly long-travel, as you might ex­pect for a dual-pur­pose bike, but adding a few clicks of re­bound makes a no­tice­able dif­fer­ence.

The DSR steers eas­ily and ac­cu­rately. There’s a sense that a lot of the bike’s weight is con­cen­trated quite low, thanks to that size­able bat­tery pack. Cast wheels wear semi-knob­bly Pirelli MT60 tyres (the same as Du­cati’s Scram­bler), with a 19in front and a sur­pris­ingly skinny 130-sec­tion rear (the Du­cati has a 180). There’s no ac­tual is­sue with grip, but you do ride around con­scious that most 67bhp bikes put their power down through a much larger con­tact patch. Like­wise the sin­gle front brake, by Span­ish firm J.juan, ap­pears un­der-spec’d but proves strong enough and is sup­ported by Bosch ABS.

The ABS can be de­ac­ti­vated if you want to go off-road, as the styling, tyres and sus­pen­sion sug­gest. How­ever, while the DSR is easy to ride slowly, with no clutch to slip and no chance of stalling, it doesn’t re­ally feel ready for much more than easy green lanes. The low han­dle­bars give a hunched­for­ward rid­ing po­si­tion when stand­ing up, the steer­ing lock is poor, and the bat­tery feels ex­posed, sat right in the fir­ing line for rocks or stones flung up from the front wheel.

Be­sides, any ad­ven­tur­ing re­quires that you reg­u­larly re­turn to civil­isa- tion in search of a power socket. How reg­u­larly? Well, that de­pends. Stick to city speeds and the 13kwh bat­tery can last more than 140 miles. Sit at 70mph on a mo­tor­way and that range is cut in half. Take in a mix of ur­ban and ru­ral roads, rid­den (mostly) at the speed limit, and a 100-mile av­er­age is re­al­is­tic. The dash dis­plays an es­ti­mated re­main­ing range, but it’s easy to mon­i­tor progress: if you’re cov­er­ing one mile for ev­ery 1% the bat­tery has dropped, you should last 100 miles.

Recharg­ing is done via a port on the left side of the frame. The charg­ing lead is just a long ket­tle flex, with a regular three-pin house­hold plug, which can be stored in the handy zip-up bag where a fuel tank would nor­mally sit. A to­tal flat-to-full recharge takes nine hours,

which in prac­tice means overnight. Ob­vi­ously you can top it up any­where you find a socket – an hour’s charg­ing adds around 10 miles – but re­al­i­ties and prac­ti­cal­i­ties mean that the DSR per­forms best as a daily com­muter. Ride to work, ride home again, charge it up overnight ready for the morn­ing.

Cost de­pends on your elec­tric­ity tar­iff, but reckon on £1 to £1.50 for a full charge. Man­age 100 miles and you could be look­ing at a run­ning cost of just 1p per mile – a petrol bike would need to man­age 500mpg to match that. Ser­vic­ing is very cheap, with no oil, coolant, fil­ters or spark plugs to re­place, and no valve clear­ances to check. Road tax is free, and the belt drive means you don’t even have to buy chain lube.

There is re­ally only one cost: the DSR it­self, which is £14,395. And while that’s hardly cheap, it is eas­ily the best­value elec­tric street­bike yet. BMW’S C Evo­lu­tion scooter (£13,500) lacks the Zero’s speed and range; KTM’S Freeride E-SM (£10,599) is ut­terly im­prac­ti­cal; and the Ital­ian-made En­er­gica Ego su­per­bike costs a whop­ping £25,000.

In 2012 Zero’s bikes made less than 30bhp and lasted around 50 miles. Just four years later they’re twice as pow­er­ful and can go twice as far, with far bet­ter brakes, sus­pen­sion and equip­ment. Whether progress can carry on at that pace re­mains to be seen, but even as things stand this is eas­ily the best real-world case yet for elec­tric bikes, and it’s al­ready more con­vinc­ing than most rid­ers prob­a­bly ex­pect. Think bat­tery power might be the fu­ture? Too late – it’s al­ready the present.

There’s noth­ing that screams ‘elec­tric’ or ‘fu­tur­is­tic’. It’s ev­ery bit a proper bike

Hus­tle along in near si­lence. It’s an ex­pe­ri­ence that ev­ery­one should try

Dirt tracks are eas­ily within the DSR’S ca­pa­bil­i­ties

Plug in and play… well, you can play again after around nine hours from fully flat

Showa rear shock but no hint of ex­haust pipe

Modes can be per­son­alised via your smart­phone

That sin­gle disc is ad­e­quate up front. The fork is by Showa

The ca­ble coils up into where the tank would be

Rub­ber bung pro­tects the Zero’s charg­ing socket

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