Over the summer, I discovered new abilities I didn’t think I had. I’ve begun riding motorcycles in the dirt at higher speeds, trying out new riding techniques, and found higher levels of confidence I never knew I had. I’ve become more proficient at riding and thus, I’m having even more fun than I usually do. What changed? While I get a lot of the credit for learning new things, I can’t take all of the credit. The Zero DSR/X I’m testing is such a fantastic motorcycle that I’m motivated to make myself a better rider.
Last time you heard about this motorcycle, I talked about how America’s charging network lets electric motorcycles down. Unlike your Tesla, an EV motorcycle might not have a large enough battery to go over 150 miles on a charge. This isn’t a problem if you use an electric motorcycle as an urban bike. However, the Zero DSR/X is an electric adventure motorcycle, so you will want to take the bike off-road, away from the bustle of the city and away from chargers.
I’ve been doing just that, and while America has been letting me down with slow, broken chargers, the Zero has been making all of it worth it. Even cooler is the fact that Zero is letting me hold onto this long-term loaner a little longer, so I’ll get to tell you how an electric motorcycle fares in a frigid Midwestern winter.
For now, I want to talk about how this motorcycle has helped me in my mission to be a better motorcyclist.
Dozens Of Bikes Before It
As I wrote in the past, I’ve ridden dozens of motorcycles over more than five years. I got my endorsement in Spring 2018 and ever since, I’ve been obsessed with everything two and three wheels. Sure, only six of my current 21-vehicle fleet are motorcycles, but I’ve owned far more bikes than anything else. By my last count, I’ve owned 20, maybe 30 bikes. Why? In my early days of riding, I used to find cheap non-running motorcycles on Facebook and Craigslist. I got them running, rode them for a little bit, then sold them. Repeat that process over the course of years and you get perhaps three dozen motorcycles.
Over that time, I’ve had the honor of riding a little bit of everything from the brilliant Honda Helix scooter to Harley-Davidson’s innovative LiveWire electric motorcycle. Along the way, I’ve straddled two-strokes, a number of quirky Buells, and have even taken a Harley Road Glide around a racetrack. I suppose it’s fitting that my first time ever in a track environment would be on a motorcycle that weighs over 800 pounds.
I’ve always been a proponent of motorcycle education and safety. Sure, you could teach yourself how to ride and pass the DMV test, but taking a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course could save your life. Don’t stop there, either, as getting advanced training (or maybe even track instruction) will hone your skills and help you make motorcycling better, faster, and more fun. You’ll never ride the same once you learn how to use trail braking.
These skills are useful outside of riding, too. In a motorcycle safety class, you are taught to scan the road. You’re looking for hazards and ways to escape them. Ideally, if some distracted driver crosses the double yellow and storms down your lane, you should have an escape path to get away from that. If the car ahead of you slams on their brakes or hits another car, you already know what you’re going to do.
Always having an escape path has saved me a number of times, including one time when the driver of a Toyota RAV4 slammed on their brakes at a green light they thought was red. I couldn’t go left because of oncoming traffic and couldn’t go right due to a car in another lane, so I threaded the needle and saved my own bacon. You can do this stuff behind the wheel of a car or even behind the controls of a Cessna. Yet, it wasn’t something I learned back in high school driver’s education class. Some of my friends got even less instruction when learning to drive, but that’s for a different piece.
Many riders start their riding careers on the dirt, mastering making a motorcycle go fast on a loose surface long before touching the pavement. I was different, starting on pavement and making my way onto dirt. Since 2018, I’ve taken off-road journeys by Honda Elite 150D scooter, by Can-Am Ryker Rally, and from the bars of a ’90s Triumph Tiger adventure bike. Add in tens of thousands of road miles, stubborn snow riding, and track time, I thought I reached a pretty good place.
Then the key to the Zero DSR/X was dropped into my grubby palms, and I discovered that there’s always room to grow.
More Than A Friend
For the longest time, I’ve described motorcycles as being like a best friend or perhaps a steel horse. Once you connect with a motorcycle, it can be a deeply personal experience, almost as if you and the machine are connected. For example, when I ride my Buell Lightning, if I so much think about turning, it seems the motorcycle could begin turning all on its own. A well-balanced machine will work with you as you ride, rewarding your movements with turns, wheelies, or other maneuvers. A motorcycle that perhaps isn’t so great may fight your intentions.
You may know what I’m talking about if you’ve ridden something like a chopper. Some of those will want to go straight no matter how much you say otherwise. Trikes with huge rear tires and a skinny front tire may also protest your desire to corner. On the other end is something like a Honda Grom, which will happily do wheelies all day if you ask it to.
With the 2023 Zero DSR/X, I’ve found a new, deeper connection between human and machine. When I ride this electric motorcycle, it feels like I’ve been paired with the perfect dance partner. If thinking causes my Buell to turn, seemingly unconscious movements of my hips will initiate a turn on the Zero. This motorcycle practically embodies the idea of a machine that’s as easy as pointing and clicking. Twist the throttle, shift those hips, and like a dance partner working perfectly in concert, the motorcycle will move.
The part that surprises me is that the nerdy details don’t really tell the whole story. Here are the nuts and bolts, from my earlier post about charging:
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.
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.
None of this tells you how this bike is to ride. I’ve been riding my DSR/X tester on country roads in Illinois and Wisconsin with the occasional stint on the highway with some off-roading and urban riding mixed in. Most reviews I’ve read thus far kept them in cities or on highways. I’m using the Zero as any Midwesterner would. It storms down roads lacing together endless farms, weaves curves on Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive and hangs out with history at the Illinois Railway Museum.
This is a motorcycle that weighs 545 pounds, more porky than my old 470-pound Triumph Tiger. Yet, the weight is down low. The Zero rides as if it’s maybe 375 pounds or something like that. Earlier, I called the DSR/X a “big ballerina” and after about a thousand miles of seat time thus far, I may have understated it. The Zero DSR/X feels as if it works in concert with my body.
When I rode my Triumph off-road, I found myself slowing down. Whenever I tried to speed up, the bike seemingly did its own thing, taking me along for the ride. The inputs with my body sometimes made things feel worse. A couple of times I end up taking a tumble after fighting to keep the shiny side up.
The Zero? It obeyed nearly every command. Keep in mind that the DSR/X has Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires that are biased toward road use, so it’s not as if the bike was working with better rubber. My Triumph had tires that were more biased toward dirt. Anyway, in the dirt, the Zero inspired enough confidence to ride speeds my Triumph slowed me down at. I rode the motorcycle at a secret proving ground near Lake Michigan. Over the summer, the Zero and I were out there getting dirty, getting confident, and getting faster. Before long, I found myself going at a decent clip in the dirt. The fear of falling over swept away as the bike galloped through whoops under my boots. On dirt, the Zero felt unstoppable. Even better, since I was going slower speeds, the estimated range was over 150 miles.
The biggest difference between the Zero and my old Triumph that I could think of is the weight. The Triumph’s weight was so high up that it took me plus two burly dudes to get it back on its tires after it fell over. I pride myself on being able to pick up toppled-over motorcycles with my own muscles. I met my match with that triumph. The Zero carries its weight oh so low. Another difference is the lack of engine noise and vibration. On the Zero, I could feel exactly what the tires were doing and could respond accordingly.
Of course, the Zero wasn’t an off-road beast. The second I tried taking it into the mud, the tires gave up. The tires were also scared off by soft sand. No, dirt and gravel are where the Pirellis worked best.
Back on the road, my mind was blown by how much the Zero seemed to be a sportbike wearing the clothes of an adventure bike. Crank the throttle and balance your body just the right way and you can make the DSR/X a temporary unicycle. Trust your hips–they won’t lie–and the motorcycle will gracefully perform any maneuver you command it to. These movements motivated me to turn shaper, lean down more, and find limits I didn’t know existed. I found more lean angle within myself, I found what the Zero’s tires could do, and I discovered that there’s more in me than I knew I had. All of this was helped by the magic of Zero’s work.
Behind The Magic
Weight is part of the equation, but there’s also some geometry going on as well. I’m not a math whiz, so I’ll point to the excellent explainer by Cycle World‘s Kevin Cameron. Motorcycle agility can be narrowed down to weight, steering geometry, wheelbase, and the resistance of rotating mass to changing direction, from Cameron:
Motorcycle steering depends upon the lateral movement of the steered front wheel. When we countersteer to roll our bike over for a turn, we are steering its wheels out from under it so that it falls over in the desired direction. We steer the front wheel, and as it tracks to one side, its lateral movement steers the rear wheel via the lever arm of the wheelbase. Thus, the longer the wheelbase, the smaller the steer effect for each inch of the front wheel’s lateral movement.
As Cameron notes, some of the sharpest-turning motorcycles are dirt-track racers. Along with low weight, they have a wheelbase as short as their engines will permit. You’ll see dirt-trackers with wheelbases around 54 inches. Meanwhile, big and heavy cruisers that take a lot of effort to turn? You’ll see those hanging around with up to 64 inches in their wheelbases.
The Zero splits the difference with 60 inches in its wheelbase. So, it has agility but it’s also stable when going down the highway.
Then there’s rake and trail. Rake is how much the steering axis is tilted from vertical. More agile motorcycles have more vertical rakes and short trails. Trail is the distance between the point of the front tire’s contact patch and a line drawn through the axis of the steering head. My beloved Buell Lightning has a 21 degree rake over 3.3 inches of trail. A touring motorcycle might have 30 degrees of rake and maybe 6 inches of trail. Meanwhile, sportbikes would be closer to 24 degrees of rake while a roadracer would be somewhere around 23.5 degrees and 25.5 degrees. The Zero comes in with 25 degrees of rake and 4.3 inches of trail.
Other factors in turning include resistance to turning. Tall, heavy wheels and tires don’t like turning when they’re up to speed. That’s the gyroscopic effect at work. The DSR/X has a 19 inch front wheel and a 17 in the rear. These sizes aren’t anything special or even super sporty. For example, the Indian FTR, another motorcycle with wonderful turning characteristics, has a pair of 17s.
The Zero isn’t all that impressive when you compare its stats with other adventure bikes. It’s only a few pounds lighter than a BMW R 1250 GS with wheelbase about an inch longer and a rougly similar rake and trail.
Yet, the Zero doesn’t feel entirely like an adventure bike. It feels like a sportbike that isn’t afraid to get dirty. It feels like a sportbike that could hop off of a rock without breaking a bunch of plastic. The 2023 Zero DSR/X wants to launch from a green light with a front tire off of the ground, it wants to lean over into a turn, and it wants to continue rocking when the pavement runs out. Its 100 HP and 166 lb-ft of torque hits like a sledgehammer and if it doesn’t make you smile, I would recommend seeing a doctor.
Is It A Real Adventure Bike?
Over the course of my testing, I’ve been returning about 130 miles of range with great consistency. A lot of reviews have panned the Zero for not having great highway range. Indeed, when I stay on the highway, the motorcycle will get about 85 miles out of a charge. Others have criticized it for not having the best off-roading chops, given its alloy wheels, limited ground clearance, tires, and range. Well, my testing suggests that Zero is not lying when it says you can get up to 200 miles off-road, and the company does sell wire wheels with aggressive tires. So, you may not have a ton of clearance, but at least you can get the proper off-roading meats.
A question I’ve seen often is if this is a real adventure bike or not. I will cover this more in my full review, but I think it is. You just have to temper your expectations as electric motorcycle technology is still emerging. The DSR/X is not going to gobble up a coast-to-coast run like a BMW GS can and charging can be a pain. I think of the Zero as I do the Honda Talon side-by-side. The Talon’s not going to leap across dunes like a Polaris RZR, but it’s still a very fun side-by-side. The Zero will still take you on a motorcycle adventure, you just have to be aware of its limitations.
Currently, if you want to experience the blast that is the Zero DSR/X, the company was selling them at a $4,000 discount for $19,995, but the bike’s website currently shows $22,995.
I have more to come with this motorcycle, including a full review! I plan to ride it through the cold alongside my Buell Blast winter beater, smiling my happy face off as most motorcyclists have hung up their jackets for the season. If riding the DSR/X in the summer was this much of a blast, I’m looking forward to how it can transform my fall and winter rides.
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