Stand by for a shock – although the Californian company’s new adventure bike is still expensive and hasn’t the range of its petrol equivalents from BMW, Triumph, Ducati or KTM, Geoff loved riding it more than any of them
You see, there was a time when the range of electric machines was about 100metres, so you bought one, rode it down the road from the dealer until it ran out of electrons, then walked back and bought a nice sensible petrol bike.
Now that’s laughable compared to, for example, the 372-mile maximum range of the class-leading BMW R 1250 GS Adventure, but it’s better than most electric bikes, so let’s give the bike the benefit of the doubt for the moment.
Zero certainly has high hopes for it – at the launch in Sicily, designer Matt Bentley waxed lyrical about unleashing the power of the beast, feeling a profound purity which was like flying as part of the air itself and distilling the very element of the bike’s essence.
Either he’d been on those drugs again, or his script was written by Meghan Markle.
The good news is that it looks gorgeous – much nicer than early Zero bikes when the Californian company started producing dirt bikes 16 years ago, and than the company’s last stab at an adventure bike in 2020, the DSR Black Forest, which had a practical range of about 97 miles and handling so languid that I suspected the suspension was made of the cake after which it was named – not to mention the fact that it took about three years to charge.
A surprising practical touch is that even without the optional top box or panniers, there’s 28 litres of storage on board in one space where the petrol tank would be on a conventional bike and in two side compartments.
The mirrors are brilliant, the screen is easily adjustable, and a nice big TFT dash has all the info you need, including which riding mode you’re in – Eco, Standard, Sport or Canyon, the latter giving you lots of regenerative braking to keep the battery smiling.
Simple – The riding mode is controlled by a switch marked Mode. We like simple
I didn’t bother with Eco mode. After all, what have polar bears ever done for me, apart from eating Carruthers during that ill-fated Svalbard expedition?
However, even in Standard, progress is a seamless swoosh of joy, like being a boy on a summer holiday pushbike, except with superpowers.
Mind you, it’s hardly surprising, with a monumental 166 ft lb of torque which makes the 92 of the Multistrada look positively weedy. Heavens, it’s even more than the 163 ft lb of the 2500cc Triumph Rocket 3.
Swift – Even in Standard riding mode, progress is a seamless swoosh of joy
Handling, thanks to the low centre of gravity, perfect balance and high, wide bars, is superbly featherlight and instinctive, and the Bosch stability system proved its worth when the back end stepped out on one gravel-strewn corner and the bike sorted itself out before I’d had a chance to react myself. Impressive.
Bikes designed for off-road use usually have 21in front wheels, but since the percentage of riders who actually ride off-road is about the same as the number of Range Rover drivers who get their shiny toys muddy, Zero has wisely gone for 19in front and 17in rear, which is another reason why the handling’s so brilliant.
The linked brakes make soaring around even downhill hairpins laughably easy, and the only minor criticism is that the Showa suspension was slightly clattery on some rough sections, and is only adjustable by hand compared to the electronic system of the BMW GS.
The real surprise, though, was when we hit the off-road section. Now, I’m to dirt riding what George Best was to sobriety, but the bike lends itself to a perfect position standing on the pegs, leaving my hands resting lightly on the bars so that all I had to do was look up where I wanted to go while the bike proceeded merrily through even deep sand and up steep rocky sections which would normally have had me bursting into tears and going home to my Mum.
Success – Even after a steep uphill section of rocks and sand, Geoff was still smiling
On a petrol bike off-road, you’re always thinking about what gear you’re in, feathering the clutch and worrying about stalling and dropping it, but an electric motor is so smooth that I actually found myself enjoying it. Astonishing.
Either way, I still wouldn’t like to take one across the Atacama Desert, but with battery technology increasing all the time, range will improve, and rapid charging for this is now in as little as an hour.
On the subject of batteries, a colleague who works in the energy sector tells me that a big leap forward in battery tech is due in about a year and a half, and that will filter down from cars to bikes and mean a significant increase in range.
In terms of price, the DSR/X isn’t that much more than a fully-specced GS Adventure, although notwithstanding that mammoth torque figure, it’s less powerful than the GS, the Multistrada, the Tiger and the KTM 1290 Super Adventure, and doesn’t have their gizmos or their range at the moment.
But you know what? I loved it. In fact, I enjoyed riding it more than any of them, with its brilliantly effortless performance and handling giving such a purity of pleasure both on and off-road that I got off it and walked away regretfully, wondering as I did why anyone would bother with the noise, clutch, gears and complexity of the internal combustion engine.
If you put all those bikes in a row and asked me to pick one for my own use, I’d pick this.
So mark my words. The future is closer than we think.
Power: 100bhp @ 3,650rpm
Torque: 166 ft lb
Colours: Sage green; pearl white