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2016 Zero DSR – Road Test Review

Jenny SmithMay 06, 2016
The new-for-2016 Zero DSR promises legitimate off-road chops and a sporty ride on pavement...provided you don't wander too far. (Photos: Kevin Wing)

The new-for-2016 Zero DSR promises legitimate off-road chops and a sporty ride on pavement…provided you don’t wander too far. (Photos: Kevin Wing)

Pondering Zero Motorcycles’ 10-year evolution, from primitive early models that were essentially motorized mountain bikes to today’s lineup of six motorcycles boasting excellent fit and finish, ever-increasing range, power and quality components from the likes of Showa and Bosch, a tagline from an old advertising campaign comes to mind: “You’ve come a long way, baby!”

As its most powerful and versatile dual-sport to date, the new-for-2016 DSR exemplifies this evolution. Zero’s latest model is powered by a new Z-Force motor that produces 25 percent more power and a whopping 56 percent more torque than its sibling, the DS. It also has higher-temperature magnets for better performance during extended high-speed rides. The DSR certainly looks the part, with its high front fender, 33.2-inch seat height and 8.5-inch ground clearance befitting a bike that’s ready to get a bit dirty. It walks the walk as well, with 19-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels shod with Pirelli MT-60 dual-sport tires and fully adjustable Showa suspension with 7 inches of travel front and rear. On the whole, the bike’s design is trim and clean, with a subdued black-on-black color scheme that sets the DSR apart from the less powerful but bright orange DS.

The lion's share of space in what would normally be the engine compartment is occupied by the massive Lithium-Ion battery pack. The motor itself is a relatively small heatsink-covered cylinder that sits in front of the rear shock.

The lion’s share of space in what would normally be the engine compartment is occupied by the massive lithium-ion battery pack. The motor itself is a relatively small heatsink-covered cylinder that sits in front of the rear shock.

After a few minutes of walking circles around it and feeling a bit like a Victorian seeing her first horseless carriage, I was anxious to climb aboard and give it a go, but was the tiniest bit nervous about my first time on an electric bike with no clutch or transmission. Head-snapping torque is available at the crack of the “throttle”—just twist and go. EIC Tuttle’s parting words of advice to me as I pulled on my helmet didn’t really help matters: “Just make sure you’ve got plenty of room in front of you when you first take off!” Right.

There’s no starter button to push, so once you’ve keyed the ignition and the bike has gone through its roughly 3-second initialization process, you’re ready to roll. The DSR has three Ride Modes: Sport, which provides the full 67 horsepower and 106 lb-ft of torque (claimed), but little in the way of regenerative deceleration (which is the Zero’s equivalent to engine braking, and also recharges the battery in small amounts); Eco, which cuts torque by 50 percent and ups the regen for maximum range; and Custom, which allows riders, via a free iOS/Android app, to configure the DSR’s power, torque and regen settings to their liking. Cautious soul that I am, I opted to start out in Eco mode until I got a feel for the bike.

A (free) iOS/Android app functions as an extension of the instrument cluster, with data such as motor and torque output. It also allows the rider to adjust the top speed, power and torque settings in the Custom ride mode.

A (free) iOS/Android app functions as an extension of the instrument cluster, with data such as motor and torque output. It also allows the rider to adjust the top speed, power and torque settings in the Custom ride mode.

I didn’t stop smiling until I hit the freeway and the corresponding rush-hour traffic. The DSR pulls away from stoplights with a smooth effortlessness. The power is immediate and a bit intoxicating, and if you can put aside your inner purist, scoffing because you’re not riding a “real” motorcycle (i.e. one with a clutch, transmission and, most importantly, an engine) you’ll discover just how much fun you’re having. As for that rush-hour traffic, the lack of both a clutch and an engine that’s slowly roasting you Boston Market-style make for a much less tiring commute.

Switching from Eco to Sport mode, the difference was immediately apparent. With its full power unleashed, the DSR came to life and began to feel a lot more motorcycle-like. The nearly nonexistent regenerative deceleration, however, took some getting used to. As Zero explains it, the regen performs the same function that engine braking does on a normal bike; without it, the DSR will simply coast along when you close the throttle, leaving you to rely almost entirely on the front and rear single disc brakes to temper your momentum. As a result, I found that the best course of action was to make use of the Custom ride mode, which allowed me to dial the power and torque all the way up, but also crank up the regen, simultaneously extending the DSR’s range and making it easier to ride.

Narrow (100 front, 130 rear) Pirelli MT-60 dual-sport tires provide decent grip both on- and off-road, and lean willingly into corners.

Narrow (100mm front, 130mm rear) Pirelli MT-60 dual-sport tires provide decent grip both on- and off-road, and lean willingly into corners.

The DSR performs its dual-sport duties well, proving to be a capable and fun ride whether scooting around town, carving canyons or exploring dirt byways. While not what I would call “flickable,” it’s plenty agile in the twisties, and there’s something addictive about the gobs of torque served up silently at the twist of your wrist. Around town it’s an absolute hoot, and you’d better get used to turning heads and having strangers approach to ask what the heck you’re riding. Most surprising, however, is its off-road ability. The Showa suspension delivers a plush ride over rocks and bumps, although I could see a heavier rider possibly bottoming out with aggressive riding. Its belt drive and not-quite-dirtbike clearance mean it’s best suited to fire roads and easier trails, but a Bosch ABS that can be disabled and the lack of traction control hint at playful possibilities. Plus its stealthiness means sensitive neighbors, hikers and mountain bikers are much less likely to take offense.

Daily life with the DSR will inevitably revolve around its range, which Zero claims is up to 147 miles in the city or 70 on the highway. When equipped with the optional Power Tank ($2,674, plus installation) like our test bike, that jumps to 179 and 86, respectively. Starting with a full charge, after riding a little more than 100 miles of city and freeway, the bike’s battery meter was showing 12 percent, the rough equivalent of having a low fuel light come on. Fortunately, charging the DSR is simple: remove the power cord from its handy compartment in the swingarm, then plug the female end into the socket in the frame and the other end into any standard wall outlet. An hour of plug-in time will net you about 10 or 12 percent on the meter.

The Showa suspension soaked up bumps off-road, even when I got a little over-exuberant through a particularly rutted section.

The Showa suspension soaked up bumps off-road, even when I got a little over-exuberant through a particularly rutted section.

While the Power Tank extends the DSR’s range, it also adds 44 pounds of weight and increases the charge time from 8.9 hours to 10.8 hours (from empty). An alternative is the Charge Tank ($1,988), which provides a full recharge in 2-3 hours, but only via Level 2 stations (those used for some electric cars). You can opt for the Power Tank or the Charge Tank but not both since they occupy the same space where a fuel tank normally resides. There is also a Quick Charger system of standalone external chargers that supplement the DSR’s on-board charger and use standard outlets. Even with the Charge Tank or Quick Charger, waiting several hours for a “fill-up” means you might have to skip impromptu rides.

All in all, while an electric bike still has a few limitations, with the range and power improvements Zero has made, the DSR is worth a look if you’ve been considering dipping a toe into the world of electric motorcycling.

 

2016 Zero DSR

2016 Zero DSR

Specs: 2016 Zero DSR

Base Price: $15,995

Price as tested: $18,669 (Power Tank excl. dealer installation)

Warranty: 5 yrs., 100,000 miles (power pack)

Website: zeromotorcycles.com

Engine

Type: Z-Force 75-7R passively air-cooled, high efficiency, radial flux, interior permanent high-temperature magnet, brushless motor

Controller: High efficiency, 660-amp, 3-phase brushless controller w/ regenerative deceleration

Battery: Z-Force Li-ion intelligent

Max. Capacity: 13.0 kWh (15.9 kWh with Power Tank, as tested)

Nominal Capacity: 11.4 kWh (14.0 kWh with Power Tank, as tested)

Standard Charger Type: 1.3 kW, integrated

Input: Standard 110V or 220V

Transmission: Clutchless direct drive

Final Drive: Belt

Chassis

Frame: Aluminum twin-spar w/ aluminum swingarm

Wheelbase: 56.2 in.

Rake/Trail: 26.5 degrees/4.6 in.

Seat Height: 33.2 in.

Suspension, Front: 41mm USD fork, fully adj. w/ 7.0-in travel

Rear: Single shock, fully adj. w/ 7.03-in travel

Brakes, Front: Single 320mm disc w/ asymmetric 2-piston floating caliper & ABS

Rear: Single 240mm disc w/ asymmetric 1-piston floating caliper & ABS

Wheels, Front: Cast, 2.50 x 19 in.

Rear: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.

Tires, Front: 100/90H-19

Rear: 130/80H-17

Wet Weight: 467 lbs. (as tested)

Load Capacity: 312 lbs. (as tested)

GVWR: 775 lbs.

Performance

Claimed Peak Horsepower: 67

Claimed Peak Torque: 106 lb-ft

Claimed Top Speed: 98 MPH

Claimed Range: 179 miles (as tested)

Charging Time (110V): 10.8 hours (as tested)

Views like this are what dual-sport riding is all about. Just make sure you've got enough charge to get home again!

Views like this are what dual-sport riding is all about. Just make sure you’ve got enough charge to get home again!

The Zero excels as a runabout, and pulling up next to a big cruiser is guaranteed to turn heads and start conversations.

The Zero excels as a runabout, and pulling up next to a big cruiser is guaranteed to turn heads and start conversations.

Plug in while you're eating lunch for a quick recharge.

Plug in while you’re eating lunch for a quick recharge.

The power cord even stows away in the swingarm for easy access.

The power cord even stows away in the swingarm for easy access.

With no tach, the instrument cluster is easy to read, with speed and battery charge your main concerns. Trip odometer automatically resets every "fill-up."

With no tach, the instrument cluster is easy to read, with speed and battery charge your main concerns. Trip odometer automatically resets every “fill-up.”

Due to risk of breaking, the belt drive is a limitation off-road. A chain drive conversion kit is available for the DS but not for the DSR.

Due to risk of breaking, the belt drive is a limitation off-road. A chain drive conversion kit is available for the DS but not for the DSR.

2-piston J-Juan calipers squeeze a 320mm rotor up front, with a single piston and 240mm rotor in back. Bosch ABS is standard.

2-piston J-Juan calipers squeeze a 320mm rotor up front, with a single piston and 240mm rotor in back. Bosch ABS is standard.

A somewhat abrupt on/off "throttle" response combined with a lack of traction control mean wheel spins galore. Dial up the regen in Custom mode for more control off-road.

A somewhat abrupt on/off “throttle” response combined with a lack of traction control mean wheel spins galore.

12 comments

  1. Until battery technology reaches a point where range is drastically increased, such bikes will be of use only to those who live in the immediate vicinity where they will be used.

    If you live next to the track, or in the middle of the twisty roads, or next to the off-road area, the current e-bikes are fine. But I would be willing to bet that few riders fit that description.

    I live in a metro area. I have to ride 40 miles just to get out of the city and to the enjoyable backroads. So 80 miles of range — all interstate — is used up getting to and from the place I want to ride.

    Given the actual range of your test bike, that would leave me with only 20 miles of enjoyable riding.

    When they reach a highway range of about 200 miles, an e-bike will be practical for me for day rides.

    • I ride 15 miles into the city and 15 miles back. I’m able to take the HOV the entire way, thanks to my Zero, cutting my commute time in 1/3rd. I had to stop for gas every 3 days with my old motorcycle, I wake up with the same range of a full tank of Suzuki, every morning, without having to wait in line and spend 10 times as much on fuel. Plus, I don’t have to shell out piles of cash for maintenance once or twice a year. I just plug it in and check tire pressure and belt tension every few months. Too easy. I ride like a maniac and still have range to go to work and back almost three times.

      I also have a charger that can charge me to 100% after a commute, in 20 minutes. I get home, plug in, change out of work clothes, take care of some animals, and have another 2 hours of riding ready to go!

  2. >waiting several hours for a “fill-up” means you might have to skip impromptu rides.

    Impromptu rides are an integral part of the motorcycle experience for me. And the rides that are planned, rather than impromptu, almost always involve out-and-back group excursions that would put the range claims to test almost every time. No thanks. It’s not that 150 miles of range is “bad,” its the hours of recharge that remove this bike, or any other e-bike, from serious consideration, IMO.

    • For a commuter or casual rider, it’s perfect right out of the box! The weeks NOT in the shop for oil changes and crap, the cash saved on that, the fuel savings also, no more gas station stops, full tank every morning. For someone that wants to do a few more miles, get the DigiNow Supercharger and fill it up in 30-60 minutes, then go ride for another 2 hours. Hell, plug in and get a free tank of “fuel” at many places around town, in about an hour (if you need 60-80% charge, less time for less of course).

  3. Thanks for giving this bike more than a passing glance, as some of your competitors have done. The batteries will get better, technology will improve, and some will look like fools for not taking them seriously.
    Also, from what I recall about a recent comparison test, the “Victory” model has a long way to go to catch up with this ine.

  4. I’ve been driving electric cars for 128k miles now and I also currently ride a BMW K1600 GTL. Test rode a Zero SR a few months back. I want one so bad. I would put the bulk of my motorcycle miles on an SR (or DSR) for commuting and recreational rides after work because it is tons of fun to ride, and very cheap to run. I say keep your gas burner for your “day rides” and ride the Zero for everything else. Just like my gas cars, my beloved K1600 would turn into a garage queen and be parked most of the time once I go electric with a Zero. You would too.

  5. My situation is the same as Kevin’s, it’s about 45 miles for me to get to the area I like to ride in and usually run about 200 or more miles for the day. With the battery limits as they are I wouldn’t even consider the bike. I’m sure in the near future there will be a more efficient system available.

    • These guys should work with the Tesla guy. They seam to have pretty good range. I realize there is a lot more battery in the car, but it also takes more power.
      The battery technology can only get better.
      BTW: How do you like the DR650? I am pondering one of them or the KLR 650.

      • Dallas, unfortunately, this bike isn’t for you, due to your extreme daily range. In a few more years, hopefully. Herb, Tesla batteries are Panasonic cells and very space inefficient. Zero has done AMAZING things with their power density. They keep cramming 5-10% improvements in range every year, and still manage to make bikes that do 0-60 in 3.3 seconds, for half the price of the (electric) competition.

  6. 16+ grand? Since most of my recreational riding is well beyond the usable range of this bike, it would be relegated to a very, very expensive commuter. The average ‘fuel’ range is not unlike my DR650 with stock tank so that’s not really the issue for me. On my DR, I can re-fuel in about 3 minutes for about $6, rinse and repeat until the sun sets and my body is shot. Can’t do that on the Zero. If it ever becomes possible to re-charge for another 100+ miles of riding in 10 minutes or less, I might consider one. Even still, the price would have to come down about 5 grand and the 467 lb. weight would have to get under 400 lb. for me to be really serious about one…and I don’t see that happening.

    • Patriot, this can refuel for a fraction of the cost, and you wake up every morning with a full tank, it takes 5 seconds to charge. I plug it in when I get home, I unplug it with a full tank of fuel in the morning. It doesn’t require valve alignments, filter changes, oil, spark plugs, etc. The cost to run it makes it on par or cheaper than a gas bike over time. The time saved by not having it in the shop for weeks every year for maintenance, the waiting in line and traffic congestion for gas stops every other day, means more time riding, and to me, makes it the ultimate commuter for those of us in congested suburbs and cities.

      Also, don’t get the power tank and it’s 400lbs. Get the SR if you want something flickable and crazy fast, it gets better milage per charge also. If you need to lay down a few hundred miles, put a DigiNow Supercharger in where the fuel tank would be. Recharge in 30-60 minutes and be back on the road after a bathroom and snack break.

      Oh, they didn’t mention it, but, there’s a 10% federal tax credit on these bikes. $1,000 back in cash from the manufacture if you buy during June also. Makes it a bit cheaper.

  7. Anybody north of Mason Dixon want to ride these all year?
    I want one of these, and made plans to go get one. Battery shuts down at 23° according to the book (2016 models). I’m willing to give up icy days, and snow days, but there’s still a lot of clear winter days when I can ride my bicycle to work, but if I take a battery motorcycle I might not get it to start and take me home? That’s 25% of the year I’m making payments on something I can’t use.
    Volt warms their battery at the cost of charge or gas if you leave it unplugged too long. Zero has to figure out how to do this before I can go for it.

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