2020 Zero SR/F Electric Motorcycle First Ride

Zero’s most advanced model sets the bar—and the price—pretty high.

A first impression, it's often said, is a lasting impression. And as I stood there, taking in Zero's all-new 2020 SR/F in the flesh, I was thinking, "Man, this a sharp-looking machine." And not just in an "appealing for an electric" kind of way but by any measure of visual punch. A clean-sheet design brings lines that are smooth, clean, and purposeful with that muscular battery unapologetically taking center stage. It was a far cry from the boxy Soviet-like architecture of Zero S and SR models past. But you know what? I also couldn't help thinking it looks a lot like a Honda CB650R, the new 2019, Neo-Sport Café naked. Even this model's Boardwalk Red paint had an echo of familiarity to it, especially with the gold wheels.

2020 SR/F
Streetfighter or Neo-Sports Café doppelgänger? Either way, the new Zero is a welcome visual change from past models.Mirifoto

So here it was, an all-new, technologically advanced motorcycle and all I could think of was its resemblance to a Japanese middleweight? Maybe that's Zero’s intent, because in its current form this electric looks right in line with the current naked designs, which may make it more approachable to consumers. The lines are clean and the look compact, with a touch of aggressiveness in the nose and a short, stubby tail that signals a modern, up-to-date, streetfighter vibe. The design breaks from Zero’s past styling exercises and looks more like a traditional motorcycle, more fleshed out than previous Zeros.

SR/F battery
The SR/F’s battery delivers a claimed range of 161 miles in the city, 82 miles highway, and 109 miles combined. That’s a bit less than the SR model due to the SR/F’s higher weight and larger tires.Mirifoto

A slim front fender rides in between an inverted fork, with a single headlight up top packing four high/low LED projectors with LED daytime-running-light strips on either side. Standard-issue Zero turnsignals spring from a small flyscreen that perches atop the headstock to keep it all looking clean. The huge, amply finned ZF 14.4 lithium-ion battery is a stressed member and takes up most of the SR/F’s real estate, lurking behind the steel trellis frame where we internal combustion types would expect the engine to be, while the radial-finned Z-Force 75-10 air-cooled motor tucks in behind it. A cast-aluminum subframe holds the seat and houses a lithium-ion 12-volt battery (to run standard accessories and a cellular connectivity module); atop it all rides a perfectly standard-looking fuel tank, which isn’t a tank at all but a storage area with two USB ports, and in a separate section the main charger port. Level 2 charging comes standard in the base configuration.

SR/F suspension
The rear Showa 40mm monoshock is adjustable for spring preload, compression, and rebound damping, and serves up an ample 5.51 inches of travel.Mirifoto

The looks are bolstered by a suite of top-shelf tech and up-spec componentry, like a fully adjustable 43mm Showa BP-SFF fork at the front end with a 40mm piggyback monoshock out back, also from Showa and also boasting full adjustability.

SR/F engine
It’s pretty compact down there: The SR/F uses Zero’s top-tier ZF75-10 passively air-cooled, interior permanent magnet AC motor, which churned out 101.65 hp on our dyno. Top speed is 124 mph. Radial cooling fins deal with the extra heat, and a scoop beneath the lithium-Ion powerpack directs more air to aid cooling.Mirifoto

There are two versions of the SR/F available; ours was the more expensive $20,995 Premium model which gets a faster 6-kilowatt charger over the 3-kilowatt system on the Standard model (so it charges in half the time). The top-line bike also get heated grips, that aforementioned flyscreen, and aluminum bar ends as standard; other than that, the two models are the same, both offering Bosch Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC) with cornering ABS, traction control, and drag torque control, all of which you can adjust to your liking within the four ride modes (Eco, Street, Sport, and Rain) via a control switch on the left grip or with Zero’s new smartphone app.

Throw a leg over and the cockpit of the SR/F feels instantly familiar, with a low-profile bar that leans you in a slightly forward position over the faux fuel tank much like a typical middleweight naked would. The stock seat height is a manageable 31 inches, but it felt like our model was fitted with the accessory 30.3-inch low seat—at 5-foot-9, I was flat-footing it at stoplights without problem (there’s also a 31.9-inch seat option for longer-legged types). Zero told us that is the stock seat in fact, and the easy reach to the ground is due to the SR/F’s narrow waist at the saddle which is further enhanced by a unique, and low-profile concentric swingarm that’s hinged at the motor. The seat feels pretty flat but proved to be a comfortable perch for short jaunts, and a small-ish pillion pad stacked behind it does double-duty as bolster for the pilot—which you’ll be glad to have the first time you whack the throttle.

SR/F charging
Zero’s Rapid Charge System works on the network of Level 2 charge stations and can allow for up to three independent charging modules. With all three installed, the SR/F can charge from 0 to 95 percent in one hour.Zero Motorcycles

But don’t stab that button below the kill switch just yet; that’s not the starter, but rather, the cruise control. You just turn the key in the SR/F’s ignition, wait a couple of seconds for systems to boot up… And the SR/F is on and ready to roll, no accompanying bark or rumble required. So after a quick primer on operating functions, I set off—very silently—down the misty Portland, Oregon, streets in Rain mode.

As you may know, there’s no gradual buildup of power as you increase engine rpm from electric motorcycles; riders get the full monty of the motor’s output at their direct bidding from go. There’s also virtually no sound except for a whine at higher speeds, and without engine noise to cloak the other components, you can hear the tires actually treading the asphalt. The brake calipers squeezing the discs. The belt drive rolling. The birds chirping. And your head snapping back as you twist the throttle and unleash unexpectedly instantaneous power.

For me, it was a revelation; I hadn’t ridden an electric in years. But Zero has been doing this for a while—13 years to be exact—and the 2020 SR/F is its crowning achievement to date.

SR/F dash
Configure the dash to your liking. The metrics and info—even the layout—displayed in the four surrounding quadrants can be tweaked the way you want.Mirifoto

As the rain let up, I switched to Street mode to continue my short hop across town, listening as the Pirelli Diablo Rosso III 17-inch hoops hissed along the damp pavement. A 900-amp, three-phase controller doles out the juice to a direct drive, and a claimed 140 pound-feet of torque are available as soon as you crack the “throttle.” In Street mode, that throttle felt a little bit quicker, but still not snatchy, with crazy torque to match all day long. In Street mode, I could also—very subtly—feel the regenerative braking kick in the more I rolled off and closed the throttle. That feeling was nonexistent in Sport mode, when regen doesn’t come until the very last degree of roll-off.

Butt-cheek feel is all fine and well, but I wanted true power figures, so after a couple of days of tooling around on the Zero off I went to Cycletune PDX, my local go-to stop for all things motorcycling. I needed to get a dyno run on the Zero, and I trust these guys implicitly.

2020 Zero SR/F
Is it me or does the 2020 Zero SR/F look a lot like the 2019 Honda CB650R?Kevin Wing

Chris and Rob—both longtime certified Honda Master Mechanics (Chris served on the Honda factory race team during Miguel Duhamel’s heyday)—confirmed my first impression instantly: “Hey! It looks like a Honda. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. The headlight…the color…everything.” We all agreed the SR/F rocked enough references to Honda’s current CB650R to warrant those comments, and even these crusty mechanics were duly impressed by the Zero’s fit and finish.

It was on the Dynojet dynamometer where the SR/F raised some eyebrows; Zero lists the bike’s peak torque at 140 pound-feet, and peak power as 110 hp (82 kW), both at 5,000 rpm from the 14.4 kWh Z-Force lithium-ion battery pack and ZF75-10 air-cooled AC motor. Sport mode would be where the peak numbers lived, and, surprisingly, our dyno runs came pretty close. Chris was able to wring 101.65 hp at 4,920 rpm and 131.98 pound-feet of torque at just 1,350 rpm from the SR/F. Not too shabby.

SR/F dyno
On the dyno, the SR/F very nearly lived up to its manufacturer’s power claims, putting out a whopping 131.98 pound-feet of torque.Courtesy Cycletune

Sport is where the motor is unleashed to its full capability, and we noted a sharp performance difference between Street and Sport modes—a more than 30 percent power drop-off for Street. We were wowed by the Zero’s output on the dyno—and, yes, the uncanny silence. We all stood around talking afterward about how a lack of sound affects your experience on a motorcycle and how I almost creamed a bicyclist on the way over to the shop. He’d nearly swerved into me because he didn’t hear me coming—an issue that many electric car owners experience as well.

SR/F handling
Easy ergos, neutral steering, and a compact footprint make the SR/F an easy ride in urban or rural environments.Mirifoto

With the dyno runs in the books, I planned a longer ride on the Zero from my abode in metro Portland to the Oregon coast to see how far the bike would get me outside city limits and test the claimed range. It’d be interesting; on the one hand, Portland is a town packed with Level 2 EV charging stations, but out in the sticks, I’d be taking my chances. A one-way ride to Cannon Beach, according to Google Maps, was 81 miles — a range I should be able to achieve comfortably given Zero’s claims of 123 miles in mixed city/highway use. The problem was the route to the beach would be 90 percent highway, for which the SR/F claims 99 miles of range—at 55 mph. At 70 mph on the highway, your range drops to 82 miles. I’d have to manage the throttle judiciously or set cruise control at 60 mph to maximize mileage. Range anxiety set in.

My first mistake was not switching out of Sport mode as soon as I left. Only 10 minutes (and less than 10 miles) of spirited riding sucked down 7 percent of my SoC (state of charge) before I even noticed, so I was already handicapping myself. Smart. The minute I toggled back over to Street mode, the remaining charge instantly went up 10 percent, and I knew I’d boosted regen braking, so that was somewhat of a relief. But the anxiety wasn’t completely banished; I still had to maintain a steady throttle (and a speed below 60) to maximize range. About 30 minutes in, I was asking myself, what fun is it to go 55 mph when I had all that potential on tap? It was hard to settle for Street mode once I’d tasted the joys of Sport—all that power was addicting. As I rolled into Cannon with less than 10 percent remaining on the clock, I breathed a sigh of relief. The realization was a bit of a wet blanket, but you need iron-like self discipline to make your range numbers count.

On the plus side the riding experience itself was a, ahem, gas, with the SR/F’s upright but slightly forward riding position and (potential) power coaxing a big stupid grin out of me on the winding roads we tackled. The bike’s steering is neutral, with a wide handlebar giving me all the leverage I needed to slip through the esses on those grippy Pirellis. Turn-in is heavy at first; there’s definitely some battery mass to contend with, though the weight is carried well low. If anything, the Zero feels supremely stable, and not even braking in mid-corner will disrupt it off its line thanks to the cornering ABS. The Showa fork soaked up almost anything I threw at it after dialing in its settings, which initially felt far too stiff for my 160 pounds.

Along the way, the 5-inch color TFT display kept me up to speed on all the relevant metrics (it’s configurable, so you can pick and choose what’s displayed). To control the interconnected systems working within the SR/F, Zero’s engineers created the Cypher III operating system, which manages the 12-volt system, charging system, battery and battery monitoring system, controller and motor, Bosch MSC, TFT dash, app connection, and cellular connectivity module. That cellular bit allows riders to remotely check bike status, charging parameters, “ride & share,” and system updates via the SR/F’s cloud-based connectivity.

Zero’s Power Pivot
Zero’s Power Pivot—a custom-designed, large bearing swingarm that pivots around the motor’s drive shaft—allows the bike’s drive belt tension to remain the same as the swingarm moves through its range of travel.Mirifoto

So how does the Zero stack up against the presumed competition in specs? Let’s face it: Every electric will be compare it to the soon-to-be-released LiveWire and, in that regard, the Zero has a leg up in both range and price—though to be fair, once you add in all the premium and available options, the SR/F edges quite a bit closer to the Harley EV’s $29,799 price tag. The Harley will offer Level 3 fast charging, however. We’re also curious to see what comes from Lightning’s new Strike model (the Carbon Edition) which claims 120 hp and 180 pound-feet of torque, nearly 200 miles of combined range, and a 6.6-kilowatt charger with Level 3 DC fast charging, and is priced at $19,998. The Eva EsseEsse9 from Italian builder Energica is also in the mix with its $23,400 sticker price and range figures.

SR/F storage compartment
The Zero fuel-tank-looking hump is actually a storage compartment where you can stash a charger, or Zero will also have a Power Tank (to add range) later this year.Mirifoto

The SR/F takes mass-production electric bikes firmly out of the novelty category with its clean-sheet, fully formed design that is well within the visual and ergonomic realm of almost any ICE motorcycle. Zero calls the SR/F a “halo product,” which makes it pricey, but its awesome power and above-average road manners puts Zero in the top-end of electric motorcycle manufacturers—in fact, the company even entered the SR/F in the recent Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, keeping it as close to stock as possible. When the smoke cleared, the SR/F finished with the 9th-fastest time of all bikes and the 5th-fastest in the Heavyweight category.

SR/F brakes
Dual 320mm discs with J.Juan four-piston calipers upfront haul down the 498-pound SR/F Premium.Mirifoto

During a street ride though, the SR/F’s biggest limitation is the dance you have to execute between enjoying all that power and getting a reasonable amount of range from your ride. A current (get it?) reality for all electric motorcycles in this day and age. Performance is remarkable, and if your average commute or local ride fits the range, there is really no barrier here. And as Zero’s and battery technology in general progresses, range is expected to increase. But for now, there is a lot of utility and style for the right customers.

Riding GearMirifoto

Gear Box

Zero app
Zero’s new app has a clean look and intuitive UI, making it simple to access various status screens, like State of Charge (SoC) and/or tweak mode settings within.Andrew Cherney

2020 Zero SR/F Base/Premium Specifications

MSRP: $18,995 (base) / $20,995 (Premium)
MOTOR: ZF75-10 air-cooled AC motor
BATTERY: 14.4 kWh Z-Force 14.4 lithium-ion battery pack
CHARGER: 3.0 kW / 6.0 kW
CHARGE TIME: 4.5 hr. (100%) / 2.5 hr. (100%)
TRANSMISSION: Clutchless direct drive
FINAL DRIVE: Carbon belt
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER: 110 hp @ 5,000rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE: 140 lb.-ft. @ 5,000rpm
MOTOR MANAGEMENT: 900-amp three-phase AC controller w/ regenerative deceleration
FRAME: Steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION: Showa 43mm Big Piston Separate Function fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION: Showa 40mm piston piggyback reservoir shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 5.5-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE: J.Juan radial 4-piston calipers, dual 320mm discs (w/ Bosch MSC)
REAR BRAKE: J.Juan 1-piston floating caliper, 240mm disc (w/ Bosch MSC)
TIRES, FRONT/REAR: 120/70-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso III / 180/55-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso III
RAKE/TRAIL: 24.5°/3.7 in.
WHEELBASE: 57.1 in.
RANGE: 161 miles city, 99 miles highway, @ 55 mph, 123 miles combined
SEAT HEIGHT: 31.in. (available low: 30.3in; available tall: 31.9 in)
CLAIMED WEIGHT: 485 lb. / 498 lb.
WARRANTY: 2 years motorcycle, 5 years power pack
CONTACT: zeromotorcycles.com

Correction: We erroneously published a 0-60-mph acceleration time measured on a dyno. This figure does not accurately reflect a true 0-60-mph time as measured in our normal performance testing and has been removed. Read a full test of the 2020 Zero SR/F, and read the background on why we changed this First Ride here.