A few weeks ago, an electric motorcycle temporarily joined my large fleet of gassers and diesels. The 2023 Zero DSR/X is hailed as “the world’s first true electric ADV” and I’ve been putting that to the test by making the machine my daily driver. Despite not having a single way to charge this electric vehicle at home, it’s been a total blast and I’m always looking forward to the next ride.
Some folks might be a bit confused by that last sentence there. Yep, I’m testing an EV without a way to plug in here at home. Yes, I do have two garages with power, but both of them are about 15 minutes from home. All of the vehicles parked at my apartment do not have access to power. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 80 percent of EV owners charge at home and about 68 percent of EV owners have Level 2 chargers at home. What about the rest of us? Go to just about any city in America, big or small, and you’ll see rows of cars street-parked in front of residences or in vast parking lots next to apartment blocks. You won’t find a charger in sight.
Couple that with work-from-home jobs or workplaces without chargers and you have a lot of people who would depend entirely on public charging to get around. This isn’t an edge case, either, as many Americans live in this exact situation. I’ve been wanting to buy an old and weird EV like a Th!nk City for years, but always stop myself because I can’t charge it at home. So, what is EV ownership like when you don’t have a garage and you can’t just suck down electrons while at work? For the past few weeks, I’ve been finding out with a Zero DSR/X by my side and honestly, it’s been better than I expected.
My daily driver for the past few weeks is this, the 2023 Zero DSR/X. Launched just last year, the DSR/X 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 it’s planting its stakes in the ground as “the world’s first true electric ADV,” a rather ambitious claim that the machine has to live up to.
Zero has long sold off-road capable motorcycles from the FX to the DSR. These motorcycles were best described as dual-sports, or motorcycles that are good for road and off-road use. What Zero hadn’t built yet was an adventure motorcycle or a motorcycle generally designed for long-distance travel off of the beaten path.
The closest Zero previously came to an electric adventure bike was the Zero DSR Black Forest Edition (below). This was a DSR with bark busters, bash bars, a windshield, and hard cases.
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.
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.
Now, some of you are probably scratching your head at the 110 percent thing.
You’re not actually over-charging the battery. As Zero explains, this is called Extended Range Charging and it’s supposed to help prolong the life of the battery by locking out the top of the battery for the occasions when you need to go the extra mile. To put this in other words, when you charge this Zero to 100 percent, it’s really sitting at something like 90 percent. If you want to charge to “110 percent” and use the whole battery, you have to go into a menu and select the option.
All of this is wrapped up in a motorcycle that normally costs $24,495, though, until August 15, Zero is discounting the bike to $19,999. I will save the rest for my full review. This is more about what living with this motorcycle is like.
Enough Range For Some Adventuring
The Zero DSR/X has a tough mission. As I said before, Zero says the motorcycle is “the world’s first true electric ADV.” To me, an adventure bike has to be able to go long distances in comfort and it can’t be afraid to get dirty, because an adventure bike should also be able to cover a lot of ground where there isn’t pavement. My friends can take their BMW GS and their Triumph Tiger motorcycles to far-off places where populations hover in double digits and where if you ask about a charger, you’ll be pointed toward a Dodge dealership a few towns over.
To be a true electric ADV, the Zero DSR/X not only has to be a comfortable ride on the road while offering decent off-road chops but also provide enough range to get you to the next charger, wherever that may be.
Every weekend, I try to go on long motorcycle rides. I usually cover 200 to 300 miles in a day and I try to find new roads or at the very least, discover new places close to home. Zero says the DSR/X will cover up to 180 miles in a city environment, 107 miles at 55 mph, and 85 miles at 70 mph. Give the motorcycle a stop-and-go mix of traffic and 70 mph speeds and it should cover 115 miles. Zero says that most people should be able to get about 200 miles of low-speed off-road riding out of it. Thus, if you plan your routes right, it sounds like this can be used for real adventure riding.
It’s So Fun You Stop Paying Attention To Battery Percentage
For the most part, I’ve been treating the DSR/X like I’d ride any of my gas motorcycles. That means the Zero has been to Lake Michigan a few times, gone to my favorite “uncharted” off-road course, and yes, I’ve cranked that throttle and held on as it rocketed me from a dead stop. Yes, it’s very fast; the DSR/X stomps out 60 mph in about 3 seconds.
Riding the Zero is a completely different experience than riding any gas-powered motorcycle. When I hop onto my Triumph Rocket III, the engine is a vital part of the riding experience. It’s fun to sit at a light, crank the throttle a little bit, and watch the whole bike torque to the right. The soundtrack of that 2.3-liter triple is part of what brings me a smile. When I ride my Buell Lightning I get a giggle out of the fact that it sounds like a Harley-Davidson Sportster but looks like an alien. The sound of a two-stroke takes you back in time while the power snaps your neck. Engines give motorcycles and cars a ton of character.
Yet, removing that engine doesn’t make the Zero a worse motorcycle. Instead, the engine noises and vibrations are replaced with tranquil silence. I know it’s probably a placebo of some kind, but when riding the Zero I almost feel like my other senses are heightened. The DSR/X is the perfect motorcycle for sightseeing as you silently make your way across the plains, lakes, farms, or whatever counts as beautiful wherever you live. The Zero is a calming experience. My Triumph practically dares me to break the law but the Zero, it just wants to go whatever speed I’m feeling like on a particular day.
Now, if I’m feeling a bit excited, the motor delivers the punch. Of course, a great thing about electric motors is that they provide their torque right at the twist of your wrist and the DSR/X is no different. Put the ride mode into Canyon and crank the throttle and the motorcycle will do a wheelie as you rocket off down the road. If it weren’t for the Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires I’d have no doubt it would do a smoky burnout as it lifts the front wheel off of the ground. I wonder how many people heard me giggling as the Zero zipped by them in traffic.
Electric motorcycle manufacturers love to claim huge torque numbers and Zero is no different as it claims this machine can put out 166 lb-ft. My butt dyno suggests that the DSR/X is writing a check it can cash. The DSR/X pulls like a Triumph Rocket and the power is relentless up to about 80 mph. Past that speed and the Zero starts running out of power. I tested the DSR/X to its top speed. It’s not quick at accelerating past 90 mph, but the motorcycle has no problems reaching its top end of 112 mph.
Just don’t look at how much battery you’re consuming at that speed because you might faint. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you. I started a top speed run with 33 percent battery and despite covering just a few miles, I finished the test with about 20 percent battery. Yeah, don’t do that for too long.
The motorcycle comes with Zero’s latest Cypher operating system and a set of standard riding modes including Rain, Eco, Standard, Sport, and Canyon. I’ll cover these in depth in my full review. For now, just know that Eco gives you a dulled throttle response, a lowered top speed, and lots of regen while Sport and Canyon open up full power for your inner hooligan. Sport and Canyon are largely similar but Canyon has more regen so you don’t need to hit the brakes to round curves. The DSR/X has strong regen, but not so strong that you could come to a complete stop without touching the brakes. Instead, it gets you down to about 10 mph, which is actually pretty great for coasting around parking lots and whatnot.
Put the motorcycle in Canyon mode and it’ll ride closer to a sportbike than an adventure bike. It weighs 544 pounds, but the center of gravity comes in down low. The DSR/X rides like it’s a big ballerina. It turns so easy that you’ll do U-turns for fun and shift your weight just for the machine to gracefully follow your own dance moves. This motorcycle is heavier than my old 470-pound Triumph Tiger, yet it felt considerably lighter.
It’s also pretty competent off-road, too. The Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires are definitely biased more toward road use than trail use, but they–along with the bike’s traction control and ABS nannies–give me a lot of confidence in the dirt. If you really know what you’re doing, Zero also gives you the ability to tell the nannies to take a hike.
My favorite “off the map” testing place for motorcycles has giant craters, slippery rocks, ruts, and ash. The DSR/X gets through all of it without making me pucker. What it’s not so good with is when those same surfaces get deeply wet. Those tires don’t seem to handle really mushy mud well at all and that’s where you’re going to get moments where your heart briefly stops. Thankfully, Zero does sell a more hardcore wheel and tire package for this motorcycle.
This Zero is not my first experience with an electric motorcycle, but it is the first time I’ve been able to use an electric motorcycle like I would my own bike. Honestly? Between the mountain of torque and the silence, I’d love to have an electric motorcycle in the fleet. Yes, I still love to hear the glorious sounds of a gas bike, but after a long day, it’s hard to beat the relaxation offered by the Zero. Well, provided I keep it in Eco mode and stop ripping wheelies.
Life Without A Charger
As I’ve hinted at before, I don’t live in a major city. I’m about two hours from Milwaukee and about two hours from Chicago in a small city of about 27,000 people. Just a little bit west of me are seemingly endless rows of farmland before you reach Rockford, Illinois. Look east and there are more farms before you start getting into the suburbs. Just north of me is the Wisconsin border with even more farms. The roads around me are all 50 mph and above. When I want to go to some backroads, it takes me about five minutes to find one.
This is all to say that I’m not in a prime area for EV infrastructure. When you check a charging map of my area, you will see some chargers, then when you arrive at them you’ll see signs stating that they aren’t really for public consumption. A surprising number of other chargers are broken. Since I do not have a charger at home, I’ve been using the random few public chargers in my area.
Despite these limitations, I’ve been able to make it work. I monitor my range so that I can reach a charger with some juice remaining in case a chosen charger is taken or broken. If it’s a shorter ride, I just return to the same charger I started at. There are no fast chargers in my city or even within close riding distance. This means hooking up to a Level 2 charger and waiting about two hours before I can start going again.
Since the public chargers in my city are not next to anything worth spending two hours at, I usually just end up walking home or having Sheryl pick me up. It’s an imperfect solution and one that would probably be annoying long term, but it does work.
Unfortunately, this does have some unintended effects. When I normally go for a day’s ride on a gas bike, I’m not afraid to divert from my path to go check something out or try out a new road. After all, it takes just 5 minutes to fill up at any number of gas stations. It’s a bit different with the Zero. When I ride the Zero, I know that taking a 20-mile diversion means I’m 20 miles closer to having to sit and wait at a charger for another two hours again. I could also do shorter charges, but that again means ending up back at the charger again sooner.
Thankfully, in my riding thus far, the 2023 Zero DSR/X has achieved some respectable range. When I do a normal ride, which tends to be more country roads, the occasional small town, and sometimes small cities, I can get a solid 120 miles out of the battery. And that’s a safe 120 miles, where there’s still some percentage left on the state of charge. Those rides aren’t all that efficient, either. I still do full-throttle launches, some high-speed turns, and long stints between stops.
When I do ride with an easy right hand, I’ve found that the motorcycle will get closer to 140 miles of range. Again, that’s still country roads and small towns, where the fastest I’ll go is 70 mph, but perhaps just for a mile or two. Instead, I’ll be going closer to 50 mph or 55 mph.
Sadly, highway travel does result in the bike drinking more electrons–normal for EVs–and I’ve found that I cannot reach 100 miles of range in such conditions. Going about 75 mph? My unit will go about 80 miles. If you go sustained highway speeds and cannot find fast chargers, you will spend more time charging than riding. Instead, I would say that you should keep the DSR/X on slower country roads and enjoy a long and quiet ride.
A True Adventure Bike, Limited By Infrastructure
Admittedly, when I first saw the Zero DSR/X I thought the concept of an electric adventure bike was a gimmick. In my testing thus far, it would appear that Zero largely pulled it off. The 2023 Zero DSR/X may not be able to go down the highway as far as your BMW friends can go, but it will do it. And if you keep away from the highway, you can go well over 100 miles on it. Besides, backroads are more fun, anyway.
Crucially, if you take it on an off-road adventure, the battery does last longer than it does on the road. The 2023 Zero DSR/X has a comfortable seat, sophisticated traction control, a suspension that soaks up rough terrain well, and even three large storage compartments built into the body. That fake tank? It’s a 7.4-gallon frunk. There are two more storage compartments built into that chunky fairing, but they can be accessed only using a hex key.
Unfortunately, for now, and into the indefinite future, electric adventure motorcycles will be limited by where they can top up their batteries. I’ve been to many places so rural and so remote that you couldn’t even get premium fuel, let alone a charge for an electric vehicle. Some of those places had gas stations so old the pumps didn’t even have card readers. It will probably be a long while before you could reliably get a charge in those areas.
Despite that, with some careful planning, electric adventures are still possible. A pair of riders took electric motorcycles on a 1,000-mile trip. But by their own admission, they spent much of the time worrying about their battery charge, where the next charging station is, and riding so slow they were passed by semi trucks. Zero’s motorcycles are certainly capable, but America’s charging network lets them down.
This takes us back to my original curiosity. Can you live with an EV and not have a way to charge it at home? In my experience thus far, you can, but it can get weird if you don’t live near any fast chargers. I’ve already put more than a few hundred miles on this motorcycle, and each time I parked it at a public charger and waited two hours to get back in the saddle again. That’s not great, but it’s not the end of the world, either. Still, EV charging for people without access to charging at home will be an important conversation to have as America expands its charging network.
As for the 2023 Zero DSR/X, this lovely machine is a long-termer, so I have more rides on it to go. Next, I’m going to challenge myself to take it on my favorite Wisconsin scenic drive, which will require it to be charged more than once before I can get back home.
(Photos: Author, unless otherwise noted.)
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