Home » I Rode America’s Coolest Electric Motorcycle For A Year And It’s Perfect, Except For One Big Thing

I Rode America’s Coolest Electric Motorcycle For A Year And It’s Perfect, Except For One Big Thing

Zero Top
ADVERTISEMENT

Most journalists never really get the chance to truly live with the vehicle they’re testing. Automakers send out a vehicle for a week and it’s gone before you really get to know the vehicle. Some of us get the chance to keep a press loaner for a long time and we get to live the life of someone who actually purchases the vehicle. That has been my experience with the 2023 Zero DSR/X. I have ridden this electric motorcycle as my primary form of transportation for a whole year. That’s a long time, and I’ve come out of the other side thinking that this is the coolest electric motorcycle you can buy right now, but there’s one big caveat.

I’ve embraced the EV owner lifestyle and the triumphs and failures that come with it. But that’s not all, I’m one of roughly a fifth of Americans without charging access at home, so this motorcycle has been ridden in the worst-case scenario for a whole year. I feel if I could make this motorcycle work, most people should, too.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Spending a year with a vehicle means having enough time for things to go wrong and for parts to begin wearing. My year with the Zero hasn’t been perfect and I’ve even gotten to see how the cycle is aging. So, let’s take a look at how the year has gone.

An Electric Adventure

20240602 194351

Since it’s been a while, I’ll refresh you on what you’re looking at.

ADVERTISEMENT

The DSR/X is a huge deal for Zero. The company, which was founded in California in 2006 by a former NASA engineer, is trying to be like the Tesla of motorcycles. Zero doesn’t sell electric motorcycles with the best range or the best power, but the overall package of a Zero is solid.

The DSR/X launched in 2022 and it isn’t just Zero’s biggest electric motorcycle yet, but one of its most important. This motorcycle has all of Zero’s latest technology bolted to the frame and Zero is ambitious with the bike, calling it “the world’s first true electric ADV.” Most reviewers say that the Zero DSR/X falls short of the ADV claim and that the bike is closer to a commuter. However, those people haven’t been able to use their testers for a whole year.

20240602 194215

Zero has long been known for its off-road electric motorcycles, but those motorcycles, like the FX and the DSR, were better described as dual-sports. These are motorcycles that, as their name suggests, have the capability to ride on the road and tackle off-roading. However, the adventure motorcycle market is a lucrative one. Adventure bikes are fantastic machines blending high touring comfort, off-road capability, and road prowess into one. It makes sense for this company to zero in on the market.

The Zero DSR/X hits with some decent specs, too, from one of my previous entries:

ADVERTISEMENT

Now, Zero wants to sell you what it says is the real deal. The Zero DSR/X is built from the ground up but takes inspiration from its siblings. The DSR/X was supposed to be based on the SR/F and SR/S sportbike, but Zero found out that sportbike bones aren’t really strong enough for off-road duty. Zero’s new machine needed a new, beefier platform. Thus, it rides on a new trellis frame and a new swingarm that is thicker and has more gussets. The DSR/X’s frame and swingarm look like they come from the sportbikes, but they’re longer and stronger.

20240602 194452

Connected to that frame is a Showa Separate Function 47mm Cartridge Forks and a Showa 46mm shock out back. The forks have adjustable spring preload, compression, and rebound damping while the rear has the same tool-less adjustments. You get 7.48 inches out of both units.

Powering this 544-pound beast is a Z-Force 75-10X motor delivering 100 HP and 166 lb-ft of torque and it’s fed by a ZF17.3 kWh battery (15.2 kWh nominal), the largest battery ever fitted to a Zero. Zero says that the battery will charge from a zero percent charge to 95 percent in two hours, or to 110 percent in 2.7 hours. That’s when it’s able to charge at 6.6 kW. Optional is the 6 kW Rapid Charger, which gives you 12.6 kW of charging power, capable of getting you from dead to 95 percent in about an hour.

Pricing for the Zero DSR/X has varied between $19,999 and $24,495 depending on how Zero is feeling on a given week. Right now, it’s $22,995 before fees and you can’t get the motorcycle in the sweet green my tester is painted in. I will also note that there have been some changes to the DSR/X since I took delivery of the loaner. The motorcycle now has linked brakes and the torque is now listed as 169 lb-ft.

20240625 172911

Before we continue, check out the corrosion on the bike’s brake rotor and the end of the swingarm. The motorcycle still stops and operates just fine, but this is quite unsightly for a bike that’s just a year old. Most of the bike has aged just fine despite my hard riding and often outdoor storage, but some parts are looking a little grungy.

Zero also says you can now find charging spots while you’re off-roading:

ADVERTISEMENT

The DSR/X empowers you to extend your adventures beyond what you thought was possible. With our largest capacity battery, the Z-Force 17.3 kWh, and the optional Power Tank upgrade, your range can reach nearly 21 kWh. Supported by over 100,000 public EV charging stations and counting, EV charging is now highly accessible even in places that might surprise you. Through our partnership with Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR), we’ve integrated charging infrastructure information into BDR’s maps, enabling numerous iconic BDR journeys on the all-new DSR/X and expanding the reach of electric motorcycle adventures.

So, the bike has not stayed the same since its 2022 release. However, what I’m riding is still the core product. That’s a lot of money for a machine like this, so it better be a great ride. If I had to sum up the past year in a single word, it would be “awesome,” but let’s go through it.

Summer 2023

My journey started at the end of June last year. The Zero became the first electric motorcycle I’ve gotten as a press loaner. I picked it up from a dealership with 500 miles on its odometer and a weirdly beaten-up manufacturer license plate. Clearly, someone had a lot of fun before I came around.

The novelty of an electric motorcycle made itself immediately apparent. There was no start button and no vibration from a thumping engine. I just got on, turned the key, and activated the drive motor by flipping a kill switch and kicking the sidestand up.

Electric motorcycle builders often publish pretty suspicious numbers for torque figures, but Zero is one of the companies that delivers. Twist the throttle and you’re assaulted with that 100 HP and 166 lb-ft of torque immediately. Hold on, because that’s enough torque to send the front wheel into the sky without you even intending to. Oh, you don’t know how to do a wheelie? Well, you’re going to learn today. Admittedly, I did not know how to wheelie before this bike, but the power delivery is so hard, so great, and yet so controllable that I found myself figuring out wheelies in real time.

ADVERTISEMENT

I don’t have access to a dyno, but the folks of Cycle World do, and the publication’s testing of Zero motorcycles have found the company’s torque claims to be on point after you subtract losses on the way to the rear tire.

The speed is brutal, too. The pull is relentless as it rockets to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds and continues to pull your face back until about 80 mph. Only then does the motorcycle run out of steam. Still, it’ll continue accelerating until 112 mph, then hold it until the arbitrary moment when the motorcycle decides to drop you down to a sustained 100 mph. This motorcycle is fast enough to beat just about everything in a stoplight drag save for something like a Tesla Plaid.

I spent much of my summer launching the motorcycle at every green light. The front tire lifted off of the ground every single time and the motorcycle was consistent in its hard launches, too. Zero engineered a bike that could deliver its advertised specs over and over again, even in sizzling summer temperatures.

ADVERTISEMENT

The motorcycle’s handling is also something else entirely. The DSR/X is almost eager to carve corners and to lean over to the point where your boots scrape the ground. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this was a sportbike pretending to be an adventure bike. But that understates just how good this motorcycle handles. It gracefully follows your every movement like a ballerina. Shift your weight and the motorcycle turns with you. Lean hard into a corner and the motorcycle gives you the confidence to follow through. All of it is entirely effortless, too. You never feel like you’re making the motorcycle do something it wasn’t built to do.

I’ve never quite ridden something that handles like this before or since. Sometimes I checked the spec sheet to confirm that yes, this motorcycle weighs 545 pounds. You could have fooled me, because it rides like it’s much lighter. It even feels like when you’re sitting still at a red light.

I also got the Zero dirty quite a lot over the past year. My tester wears a set of Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires. These are a road-oriented tire that are also designed with dirt in mind. The motorcycle’s excellent handling, combined with off-road traction control plus the tires, make for a fun experience in the dirt. I found myself doing things I never had the courage to do on my old 1999 Triumph Tiger.

The Zero will happily go in the direction you point it at speed, allow you to kick the rear tire out, and let you go on a real adventure. I played with the Zero in dirt, on abandoned railroad tracks, and blazed my own path to get to a secret beach. The suspension has plenty of travel to soak things up and the ground clearance is high enough that you don’t scrape on anything. Zero says it’ll do about 200 miles at slow off-road speeds and I can confirm the motor just sips on battery at low speed.

ADVERTISEMENT

If adventuring matters most to you, Zero will sell you the motorcycle with wire wheels, knobby tire, a skid plate, and other protection. With that said, I do not recommend going in mud with those Scorpion Trail IIs. In my experience, the motorcycle immediately falls on its face when the terrain gets super slippery. So, you’ll want the knobbies for that kind of stuff.

Charging Sucks

20240602 212004

This leads us to range. Many of the journalists who tested the Zero DSR/X either played with it in the city or took it on the highway. Zero says the range is 107 miles of highway commuting, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The manufacturer expects your highway ride to include 50 percent of stop-and-go traffic and 50 percent of steady state 70 mph riding.

This isn’t realistic. An adventure bike is supposed to be a long travel companion, not a city slicker. If you ride the Zero DSR/X down a more empty highway, going with the higher speeds of traffic, you’ll kill the battery in something like 85 miles, less if you live in a place where the highway is like the Indy 500.

20240427 183909

ADVERTISEMENT

I’ve been able to confirm that epic range loss with my own rides, but I decided to take things easier. I took country roads instead of highways, where speeds top 60 mph, but not for long. It’s a slower way to travel, but also more fun. Keeping the Zero off the highway has regularly resulted in me going 120 miles on a charge with 15 or so miles to spare, which is what some more thirsty gas-powered motorcycles will do before flashing the fuel level light at you. I know my old Honda Gold Wing liked stopping every 100 miles.

Unfortunately, topping back up is where things go wrong. A standard Zero DSR/X has the capability to suck down 6.6kW of those creamy electric juices. In my experience, it takes about 2.5 hours to go from 7 percent to 100 percent battery. But it should be noted that “100 percent” isn’t what it says on the tin. The default setting fills the battery most of the way, we’ll say around 90 percent, to increase its longevity. You have to push the extended-range charging option to get it all of the way there. In my experience, the total charging time with extended-range charging turned on is over 3 hours. That’s a lot of time sitting and not riding.

20240427 093403

Zero does offer a rapid charge option. The Rapid Charger kicks charging up to 12.6 kW, which can get the bike from mostly dead to mostly full in just one hour. Zero also talks about a network of over 100,000 public chargers. But here’s the thing, a lot of chargers just suck. The chargers in my area max out at 6kW, so it doesn’t matter if you have the Rapid Charger because you’ll be stuck there for at least two hours. Sadly, my tester does not even have the Rapid Charger, so I couldn’t test it even if I had access to a charger.

It’s also notable that the motorcycle does not have a DC fast-charging option, which could have helped it be a better motorcycle for the highway.

ADVERTISEMENT

As for 100V charging, you can do it, but boy does it have its own problems. Zero compares charging the DSR/X from a standard wall plug to be no different than charging your phone. It isn’t. For starters, charging from a Level 1 source takes over 10 hours, which means it may not even be full by the time you wake up. Secondly, the bike is likely to trip breakers in older buildings.

20240225 163331

I spent all of summer 2023 charging the motorcycle from public sources. I hooked up the day before a ride and either camped out with the bike or had Sheryl pick me up so I could retrieve the bike later. My local charging options include a public park, a car dealership, village hall, or a car repair shop, so it’s not like there was anything for me to do while waiting the long time.

Thankfully, Sheryl started renting a garage that fall. My problems were solved, right? I became a member of the EV majority with garages to charge their vehicles in. Unfortunately, I was thrown another curveball. Each garage in my neighborhood shares a circuit with two neighboring garages. So, if I’m charging the Zero and my garage neighbor decides to throw a party in his garage man cave? The breaker trips, cutting power to all three garages. The Zero did this at least a few times, trapping my neighbors’ cars in garages that wouldn’t open.

20240331 175720

ADVERTISEMENT

So, I’ve spent all of 2024 thus far back on public chargers. I think this charging thing is the Zero’s biggest problem. You can drain the battery in a little over an hour, but then it’ll take more than three hours to get back on the road again. Sure, you could option the Rapid Charger, but now you have to make sure the charger you’re finding could actually charge the bike fast. In my experience riding through rural Illinois and rural Wisconsin, those types of chargers are still rare.

Unfortunately, the long charging times turn day trips into overnight trips. Two hours are a lot to lose when you can go only 100 miles or so per charge. So, I’ve kept the Zero mostly local. It’s a shame, because this feels like the motorcycle of the future, but it’s for a future that just isn’t here yet.

It Doesn’t Like Being Cold

This winter, the big news was when a bunch of Tesla has a bad time in the subzero temps that slammed Chicago for about a week. The Teslas got all of the headlines, but the cold snap hurt other EVs, too. This wasn’t supposed to be a concern for me. Zero was supposed to pick up the bike in September, but let me keep the machine through the winter.

The Zero has some quirks. It’s programmed not to charge at temperatures under 32 degrees. However, the motorcycle will continue to ride until the temperatures reach -4 degrees. Yes, this means it’s entirely possible to ride somewhere and not be able to charge again until it gets warm outside. This is especially bad because Zero says the battery could be damaged after prolonged exposure to subzero temperatures could damage the battery. It could also be damaged after being discharged for too long. Yet, you literally cannot charge a Zero when it’s too cold outside.

ADVERTISEMENT

My other winter ride notes are as follows:

If it’s cold enough outside, say, under 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the motorcycle may run in a reduced power state. Zero says cold temperatures have a temporary impact on the energy the batteries can release. Thus, if the motorcycle deems it necessary, it will limit power and top speed. This power reduction happens without any indication on the motorcycle’s display, but you’ll feel it as acceleration is gradual rather than brutal. Still, even in reduced power mode, you’ll be faster than most traffic and can still hit 85 mph or so. Besides, do you really want wheelie-popping power when the temperature is just 15 degrees?

I’ve been putting a few hundred or more winter miles under the Zero’s tires. The coldest ride thus far was 15 degrees and I got caught in some light snowfall during that ride. The Zero DSR/X has been plenty fun through all of it and the heated grips have helped my hands stay nice and warm. My one complaint is the lack of a second source of heat. On an ICE bike, your legs can stay nice and toasty thanks to the engine. Here, you’re relying totally on your gear.

Things Broke

Press loaners aren’t usually long enough to allow for things to break, but having a vehicle for a whole year opens you up to the reality of what owning that vehicle will be like.

In terms of reliability, the Zero has been one of the most dependable vehicles I’ve had in my possession. With one exception, the motorcycle has always worked and has never complained about a single thing. It just works. Granted, I haven’t ridden the bike a ton of miles, but the seat time I’ve gotten in the bike hasn’t been easy on it. I’ve taken the Zero on 2,300 miles of off-road courses, zipped it up to top speed for sustained runs and have subjected the motorcycle to some of the hardest weather seen in years.

ADVERTISEMENT

This Zero has ridden in temps above 100 degrees and close to zero degrees. It has been through severe thunderstorms and near blizzards. If it wasn’t built well something would have given up by now. Yet, it still works great. The motorcycle also froze in the subzero temps that killed Teslas, yet this rocket’s battery doesn’t seem fazed.

With all of that said, the Zero has experienced a couple of failures.

20230812 082837

The first was with its J1772 port. Now, you may never think about your ports when you plug into a charger. Why would you? Your phone never has issues hooking up and neither do gas cars. Well, you should always check a charger before plugging it into your vehicle.

In my case, a charger at the local college has a damaged prong. It looks like it was shoved into a socket or maybe dropped onto the ground. Whatever happened, I didn’t notice this until after I tried plugging the motorcycle in. At first, I felt some resistance, but the plug slid right on. I knew something went wrong when I noticed the bike wasn’t charging.

ADVERTISEMENT

20230812 191848

To my dismay, I found out that the charger was damaged and mangled one of the pins in the J1772 port. I was able to bend the pin back into shape, but the damage is still there. The consequence is that sometimes I’ll stop at a charger that doesn’t latch onto the pin and thus won’t charge. I learned a new lesson: Always check the charger’s condition before insertion because you never know when an in-service charger is really broken.

The other part that broke was the side stand spring.

20240225 164620

Now this sounds silly because who cares, it’s just a spring. However, this got me stuck for a couple of hours. In early 2024 I took a ride down an abandoned railroad track. I was riding over a large tree branch when the bike suddenly shut off its motor. The error was a down stand, which was weird because I wasn’t parked.

ADVERTISEMENT

I looked around and sure enough, the stand’s spring left the chat, immobilizing the motorcycle. I found the spring and immediately recognized the problem. The spring was installed at the Zero factory with the hook facing out. This allowed the spring to get caught up on detritus and removed.

Unfortunately, the spring’s strength was stronger than my own, so I could not get it back on the motorcycle. This wasn’t good. The motorcycle wouldn’t move without the side stand being up. I thought about repurposing the garbage around the area to tie the side stand up, but that would have meant an inability to park the bike.

20240225 184417

Ultimately, I figured out that I had the perfect key ring for the job. It was just strong enough and just large enough to bridge the gap my muscles couldn’t. I didn’t get good spring action, but it was enough to get me home with a functional stand.

I got home and used a ratchet strap to hoist the spring in place. I installed the spring with the hook facing backward and the issue never happened again.

ADVERTISEMENT

A Second Wind This Summer

20240602 144555

Zero still hasn’t picked up the motorcycle so I’m still riding it.

I’m happy to say that the motorcycle seems to have survived winter without damage. In fact, I’m getting better range now than I did last summer. Now I’m regularly hitting about 130 miles of range on each ride.

My confidence level is also greater with this motorcycle than with any bike in my entire fleet. 2,300 miles of riding has taught me the motorcycle’s limits, quirks, and abilities. Now I zip through corners leaned over on the Pirellis, come to near complete stops with the motorcycle’s strong regen, and I know exactly how to get every mile out of that battery. I’ve even given it a name: Olive. Is it bad to name press vehicles?

20240602 193605

ADVERTISEMENT

The other features I haven’t mentioned are great, too. The windshield does an admirable job at blocking wind and while the main storage compartment won’t fit a helmet, it will store a large purse and some quick grocery shopping. There are also hidden front cases in the large nose and those are great for tools and other bits of kit that you don’t want in the main bin. The headlights are bright, the taillight gets attention, and the seat is comfortable enough for the rides you’ll be doing.

20240609 155156

20240609 155547

Unfortunately, one feature I wish this motorcycle did have was a brake light that turned on with regen. The motorcycle will happily stop from 80 mph to 8 mph entirely on strong regen, but the brake light does not illuminate when you do it. This isn’t like downshifting in a manual, either. The regen is strong enough that it feels like a brake check, which can be dangerous if a car driver isn’t paying attention.

My workaround is lightly tapping the brakes while regen is doing its thing.

ADVERTISEMENT

20240625 172838

Speaking of attention, this motorcycle is a rockstar. Introverts should not buy a DSR/X because they will be inundated with constant questions. Pedestrians will marvel at how quiet the bike is, people at red lights will ask you if it’s electric, and everyone will want you to do a wheelie. One day I parked the Zero next to my Suzuki RE-5 and not a single person cared about the rotary bike. Everyone had their mind blown about the electric bike.

That’s why I say the Zero DSR/X might be the coolest electric motorcycle on sale right now. Not only is it a great ride, but you’ll get endless compliments and pictures. You might even become a local celebrity.

20240625 202512

Overall, I think the 2023 Zero DSR/X is almost the perfect motorcycle. It’s so fun to ride and such a great all-rounder that it has become my primary mode of transportation. However, the charging either needs to be faster or America’s infrastructure needs to catch up. Until then, it’ll feel like this motorcycle is the coolest thing to ride, but maybe five years into the future.

ADVERTISEMENT

Popular Stories

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
65 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
24 days ago

This motorcycle is fast enough to beat just about everything in a stoplight drag save for something like a Tesla Plaid.

On four wheels, not so much on two:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fastest_production_motorcycles_by_acceleration

J G
J G
25 days ago

i dont mind ev bikes but the charging and range are a shitshow. i went to a launch thing for the s2 harley and they really really wanted me to buy one. then pressing them they had to admit the bike wouldnt even make it to downtown austin at I35 highway speeds of 80-85 from a starting point at their temple harley dealership. and then its slow as hell to charge back up. they need a tech jump before it would work for me.

BenCars
BenCars
25 days ago

Did they just forget to take it back? Or are you now the owner of a free motorcycle?

Widgetsltd
Widgetsltd
26 days ago

The thing with publicly available Level 2 charging stations is that they typically max out at 7.2kW. I’m sitting in Long Beach, California at the moment and just did a quick check of the EVGo network: all of the Level 2 within miles of here are 7.2 kW max. In the automotive BEV world, if you want to charge at a higher rate at a public charger you are going to use DC fast charge. With all this in mind, I have to wonder what customer can actually use Zero’s optional 12 kW charging capability.

Steve Edwards
Steve Edwards
26 days ago

In the latest Back Country Discovery Routes video (the newest route they just released, Northern California), they took these Zeros along, and they managed to get through the whole thing without much issue regarding range or reliability. So, fairly impressive.

But, man, with a relatively basic touring/adventure luggage set full of gear and supplies, this thing would have to clock in close to 600 pounds. I wouldn’t want to be trying to pick that up if (when) I fell over.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=906PTmzd3dU

Mister Win
Mister Win
26 days ago

This is a great bike, but for my money I’d take the exact opposite, the Land Energy District. Only 230 pounds so it’s light enough to put on an elevator if you have space, ebike modes so you can get one without a license and learn to ride, a top speed around 70mph, REMOVABLE BATTERIES with 40 to 110 miles of range depending on what size battery you pay for… It’s like an electric Royal Enfield Meteor 350 with Interceptor 650 power and Triumph Bonneville refinement, and they make them right here in Cleveland Ohio so you know it works in the snow! https://www.clad.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/land-energy-district-electric-motorcycle-1.jpg

Steve Edwards
Steve Edwards
26 days ago
Reply to  Mister Win

I rode one of these at Overland Expo back in May, and, holy cow are they fun!

Zorah
Zorah
26 days ago

I love your reviews and writing! As an older rider I have to say that much torque from the start does alarm me but it seems like you got used to it pretty well. Also, Zero, at this point you should just hand over the title to Mercedes!

BoneStock
BoneStock
26 days ago

Great article Mercedes, and kudos to Zero for loaning it to you for so long! I’ve wanted an electric motorcycle since a coworker showed up on a Zero in 2018, truly felt like the future.
I (still) can’t justify the cost of such a thing, instead picked up a used Onyx RCR this year. Offers 90% of the experience at a fraction of the price, and only weighs ~150lbs. Glad to have a full face helmet because it would be awkward to show off the grin plastered across my face at 9am every Monday morning.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
26 days ago

Great article. A bike like this is very interesting to me. I recently traded in a Livewire. I mostly traded it in due to the riding position not agreeing with my back anymore, but the difficulty of public charging also contributed. The performance of the bike was excellent. EVs are far superior to ICE vehicles in turning energy from the fuel of your choice into forward motion. The acceleration of that bike was as incredible as it was effortless. 0-60 in slightly over 3 seconds didn’t require any rider skill. The lack of vibration was nice. Also, heat from the engine might be nice for cold midwestern riding, but the lack of heat was a huge bonus riding in Florida.

I would absolutely consider another electric motorcycle in the future, assuming public charging gets easier (as easy as charging a Tesla), highway range improves a bit, and I can find one that fits me comfortably.

65
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x