Zero DSR Brings the 'Whee!' — Ride Review
Here are some words strung together: interior permanent magnet, surface mount permanent magnet, graphene matrix. You'll hear words like these when someone tells you about a Zero motorcycle.
But if you are like me, your eyes will glaze over because those words don't create pictures in my mind of what part they will or won't play in my sitting on a motorcycle and shouting: "Wheeeeeeee!"
After all, that's what really matters: The joy of being on a motorcycle. If you want technical words, go read someone else's review. If you want to know about the incredible "Wheeeeeeee!" that the Zero DSR delivers, read on.
The Past and Future of Motorcycling
My experience with the DSR starts in Birmingham, England, which is home to Zero's only UK dealership, Streetbike.
Birmingham has strong ties to the glory days of motorcycling. Triumph, Norton, and BSA are among the brands that started in "Brum." They've moved on, but motorcycling still runs deep. Birmingham is home to the National Motorcycle Museum, and the UK's largest motorcycle show, "Motorcycle Live."
There's symmetry in the fact that Zero, a manufacturer many see as representative of motorcycling's future, has found a home in a place so intricately linked to the motorcycling past.
'Am I Moving?'
Birmingham is a sprawling urban area, and I don't really know how many miles I'm going to rack up today, so I set the DSR on Eco mode.
The DSR has three riding modes: Eco, Sport, and Custom. Eco helps conserve energy and thereby ensures longer range. Sport allows you to enjoy the full whump of the DSR's 106.2 ft. lbs of torque. Custom is set with a smartphone app, allowing a rider to choose speed, torque and regenerative brake settings.
The DSR is a twist-and-go bike— no clutch, no gears to shift —and it takes a moment for my head to wrap around this concept.
"Am I moving?" I ask aloud.
The lack of engine noise has also confused me. I touch my feet down, feel them drag on the street. Yes, I'm moving. I glance in one of the bike's well-placed, decently sized mirrors...there's a Land Rover there. I hop the bike up a curb onto the sidewalk, and give myself a chance to regroup.
"OK, it's a motorcycle," I tell myself. "It will go at motorcycle speed. Let's pick up the pace."
Off the curb and back into traffic. Eco mode neuters the DSR noticeably, but twist the throttle all the way back and there's the oomph to beat most cars off a stoplight. This mode reminds me of a 125cc commuter. That's not a ringing endorsement, perhaps, but there's enough here for city traffic.
It doesn't take long to get used to the absence of gears and clutch. Soon it's feeling natural. Feeling fun. I mean, golly, is this thing ever fun!
With a claimed weight of 418 lbs., the DSR isn't featherweight, but its bulk is distributed evenly and the bike is well-balanced. I wouldn't use the word "flickable," but on this bike, I feel comfortable hitting some pretty tight gaps as I lane split.
Birmingham's Gun Quarter is so named because it was once a bustling hub for arms manufacturers— one of which was the Birmingham Small Arms Co., or BSA. The company expanded into motorcycles in 1910 and by 1951 had become the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer. BSA had a devoted following, but not so devoted that the company could survive managerial bumbling. And by 1972, it had given up.
No one's making guns in the Gun Quarter these days and all the old alleyways are gone. It's just office buildings now and there's no sign of where BSA might have been. Again, I ride up a curb onto the sidewalk. I step off the bike and take a moment to really look at it, to take it in. The DSR is proper-sized: It looks (and feels) like a motorcycle. For some reason, I had been expecting a glorified mountain bike: small, rickety, whining like an RC car on Christmas morning, but no, this thing is solid.—you don't have to apologize for it.
Zero's models seem to suffer the Honda curse of not being photogenic. But in person, build quality is good. Fit and finish is up to snuff, and all the components look sturdy. It doesn't look plasticky or cheap, and the Pirelli MT-60 tires make it look kind of...cool.
I'm not a fan of the swingarm, and I'm concerned the tiny tail light, which seems to attract road muck, may— like the headlight—not be bright enough.
The digital dash is simple and easy to understand, and switchgear is intuitive. Because there's no need for gas, the DSR has a storage compartment where the tank would be. It holds my bottle of water, camera and map of Birmingham, but wouldn't fit a full-size helmet. The compartment's lid is of the soft luggage sort— accessed via a zipper that keeps getting stuck.
READ MORE: British Riders Are Better | RideApart
It's better, then, to fill that space with Zero's optional Charge Tank, which allows you to use charging stations at IKEA. In Europe, IKEA's charging stations are free for customers. If I owned an electric vehicle I would eat lunch there every day: "These meatballs are payin' for themselves!"