HANDING an electric motorbike to a confirmed and lifelong petrolhead – whose dad raced bikes and mum raced cars – could have been the worst idea Zero had that day. Especially a petrolhead that grew up in and around race paddocks and spends entirely too much of his time in said places.
Having been riding since the age of three (which is now 40 years), engines are as much a part of my existence as Marlboro reds used to be. But that changed and, after riding and falling slowly off the electric Zero DSR Black Forest adventure bike, maybe pistons and crankshafts aren’t quite as much of a necessity as they used to be.
Electric transport has never appealed to me. There is something about the sound of an engine at high rpm that gives you a fizz in the porco area and having none of that, and no gears either, and no clutch come to that, is, well, weird at first bash
Also weird is the abundance of shove. When you crack the throttle in sport mode, the Zero DSR takes off like a litre sportsbike, only faster. No, really. There are nearly 130 torques coming out of the lithium ion battery pack and the drive from the upgraded ZForce motor is astounding – there is no other word.
In fact, it catches you out, because unless you’ve ridden one before, the grunt an electric bike produces from zero throttle is eye-popping. When you get on an R1, Fireblade, GSX-R1000, you know what you’re in for. On this, you absolutely don’t. And it brings a similar smile as the first time on a big bike. It’s something brand new, and brand new experiences always invoke a strong reaction.
Those are not always necessarily good but this one is. It’s an easy thing to ride and for most journeys there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. There, it’s said and out loud.
When you’re over the no-noise and focus on the bike as a riding experience, it’s good. Electric bikes in the past have suffered on the cycle-parts end of things. Cheaper brakes, wheels, suspension have been employed to mitigate the whopping cost of a whopping battery. But not so here. ABS-equipped Bosch stoppers and Showa forks all work as well on this as you would expect on the equivalent normally-combustible version. Everything in the bouncing department is fully-adjustable and created by Showa bespokely (if that’s even a word) for Zero.
Although the Black Forest is not built for fast road work (you’d need the sweet SR for that), it gets on with it without any complaining. Even in the quick company on this UK launch in the Leicestershire countryside, staying with two other guys who are way faster than I am was no great problem.
And it’s not only riders that are taken by surprise. A horsing type was agog when she had seen us approaching but couldn’t for the life of her work out why there was no noise. You could see the indignant telling off she had hoped to be giving drain right out of her face. The flipside of that is that electric bikes don’t turn the heads of Uppingham School sixth-form girls in the same way that a booming pair of Termignonis do. Oh well, it’s all a trade-off (only for dirty old men – Ed).
And it works off-road too, although you’ll need to let some air out of the tyres to get the full benefit. The forks and shock are well up the job should you want to go on an adventure, and, as was discovered, all those instantly-available foot-pounds can overwhelm the rear Pirelli MT60 before you’ve even thought about it.
It’s no contender for the Erzberg, that’s for sure, but it holds up well on byways and very probably other types of lane that are legally the preserve of Pedigree Chum tins in waiting.
As with everything battery-powered you have to charge it up. The DSR takes about an hour and a half to go from, ahem, zero to hero using the fast charger and that will last you around 260 miles around town or 80-100 miles outside, but costs £1.80 depending on how much your chosen electricity company nails your hat on every quarter.
Charging points are now pretty commonplace, and we even found one in a small, Rutland market town, so juicing up on motorways and big A-roads is becoming less of a problem if said roads have sufficient service areas installed (like the M25 and A14 still don’t).
The Black Forest, and other models in the Zero range, also come with a trick smartphone app that talks directly to the bike and will tell you how much charge is left, displays real-time power usage and you can dial in things like the equivalent of engine braking amounts from your sofa.
After dropping the thing, I found that it is very heavy to re-instate to a vertical base. Like 190kg of heavy. But you don’t feel that on the move. Seat height is good for those of an average stature and it’s comfy (ours came with a pre-production seat) and all the handlebar controls are where they should be.
There is one extra button which switches engine power modes to sport, eco and custom. The first two are pretty self-explanatory and custom mode can be set and adjusted from your smartphone.
So, we’ve found this battery-bopper is a proper motorbike. The only downside is that at the business end of £17,000, it’s the same price as two proper motorbikes. And you don’t need to be a rabid petrolhead to quail at that.