This year has included a glorious mix of adventure riding with local pal Brian, who flaunts his extensive experience (and scrawny 138-pound body) aboard a 2018 Tiger Explorer 800, and my Marin County buddies Ken and Kevin, riding a 2017 Honda Africa Twin and 2022 KTM 890 Adventure R, respectively. This was triggered by a last-minute invitation by Ken and Kevin to join them on a day trip south of Hollister in January.
Not having the same extensive off-road experience, I reminded myself this would be no different than riding my Cervélo Áspero gravel bicycle in comparison, and that my 2004 Suzuki DR650SE was the ideal choice. Besides, Ken and Kevin wanted to limit our highway time to a minimum, so I charted a route running parallel to CA-101 through Morgan Hill and Watsonville that dropped us into Hollister before shooting down CA-25 to Old Gloria Road for my first taste of off-roading. A week later Brian and I extended that southern trek to include Parkfield Grade southwest of Coalinga before meandering homeward on Indian Valley/Peach Tree Road as the sun set hard into the horizon.
I was hooked, but needed more cc’s and horsepower to keep up with my riding buddies. My answer came two months later from fellow Moto Guzzi lover John, who fell in love with an early ’60s Harley Sportster and needed to offload his 2000 Moto Guzzi Quota 1100 ES. This was my chance to increase my enjoyment and travel factor, and I took it immediately.
Between late March and late May, Brian helped me rack up nearly 3,000 miles of adventuring, chasing him through the Los Padres Forest for a quick overnighter in Carpinteria before a nail biting climb up nosebleed-inducing Gibraltar Road above Santa Barbara. We capped off our adventuring exploration in the Eastern Sierras by late May, exploring Alabama Hills and Mt Whitney. I was becoming an expert, gaining confidence and having a blast.
Mind you, all this off-road exploration requires hours of highway asphalt munching, so a true adventure bike needs to go long before one can enjoy the short burst of gravel and dirt, especially in northern California where sometimes gas stations are scarce. All the bikes I’ve included in this story have 5 gallon or so capacity tanks, which provide on average nearly 200 miles of range.
Enter the Zero DSR/X
Our Sunday Moto Club rides have included employees from Energica, Zero and Alta (before it went out of business in October 2018), so there’s always plenty of future tech mixed in with classic and modern machinery on most outings. When news spread of the Energica Experia in late May, I asked some pals at Zero if something was coming anytime soon. Beyond the ‘neither can confirm nor deny’ feedback I received between the lines, it was just a matter of time before the Scotts Valley factory had its response, which came in the form of the all-new DSR/X in late September.
A few weeks later, I got my hands on a demo model for a month. This was fresh on the heels of testing the new Ford F-150 Lightning and overlapping my week with a 2023 Mercedes-AMG EQE 500 4MATIC sedan, so the comparisons of my previous gas-powered experiences with three EVs was at the forefront of this review.
Aesthetically, this is the most attractive Zero yet. I’ve ridden several models since my first opportunity in early 2015, and Zero’s engineers knocked it clearly out of the park with the new swing arm, chassis and upper body. There’s clear purpose, intent and execution to appease both the EV-baptized and EV-curious. The standard model includes a 6 kW Rapid Charge System, heated grips and aluminum bar ends.
Here are additional features worth noting:
After working for a major suspension company, I always gravitate to the quality and adjustability of a new bike’s forks and shocks. Working closely with Showa, Zero specs the Japanese manufacturer’s 47mm Separate Function cartridge forks with adjustable spring preload, compression, and rebound damping in tandem with Showa’s 46mm piston, piggy-back reservoir shock with adjustable tool-less spring preload, compression, and rebound damping to keep the DSR/X comfortable and in control.
Thankfully, rear shock preload settings are hand-adjustable to dial in a smooth ride with light or heavy loads. Zero claims its DSR/X to be the first electric motorcycle with Bosch’s Off-Road Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC) which adds further safety, control, and confidence for riders of all experience levels on/off-road in variable traction conditions.
The DSR/X is Zero’s first bike featuring a linked braking system. Controlled by the integrated Bosch Advanced Stability Control System, it activates instantly upon sensing a loss of traction or any slippage. The system immediately applies the right amount of braking to the front and rear brakes simultaneously, providing added control when climbing or descending steep, loose terrain.
Bosch Vehicle Hold Braking
Vehicle Hold braking is engaged on the DSR/X when you come to a stop on a steep slope by clamping the brake lever all the way down and releasing it. Serving as a temporary parking brake, it frees the rider to make any adjustments needed on a steep pitch. When the throttle is engaged braking automatically deactivates allowing for a smooth start on a steep incline. Additionally, Bosch Vehicle Hold Braking is auto-canceling and will release brake pressure after one minute has passed.
Zero DSR/X Ride Modes
A full suite of pre-programmed ride modes including Sport, Street, Eco, Rain, and Canyon mode are selectable on the fly through Zero’s dash interface and customizable through the next-generation app available for Apple iOS and Android. Along with these included modes, the ability to create custom modes allows for virtually infinite ride profile options to cater to individual riding styles or conditions.
With the all-new off-road capabilities you can also add off-road traction to any one of the pre-programmed modes, which achieve a new level of control in low or variable traction conditions of any kind regardless of the ride mode. Each mode has a different performance profile in key areas such as top speed, torque, braking, and neutral battery regeneration, as well as traction controls and even color and graphic changes. Zero encourages creative experimentation to get the most out of the DSR/X.
Once I became more familiar with the bike’s features, it was time to ride. Ergonomically, my 6’1″ frame felt mostly comfortable with the 32.6-inch seat height, which could be remedied with an accessory upgrade to 34.1 inches if needed. My lower back and shoulders immediately appreciated the upright riding position with high ground clearance. Other reviews spoke of instant and smooth acceleration powered by Zero’s newest direct drive motor, the Z-Force 75-10X, producing 166 ft-lb of torque, the highest output of power ever from a Zero and more than enough to propel the fully loaded DSR/X and rider over any terrain.
Cycling through the modes is easy, accomplished on the fly with a simple toggle button on the left handlebar control. A slight easing off the throttle allows modes to change while moving. Eco mode tops off at 75 mph, which isn’t enough speed to stay ahead of general traffic on my local interstate system. Eco mode also offers the best regenerative braking to balance range lost due to acceleration, incline and headwinds.
Zero DSR/X Range Anxiety
The two questions I received were consistently the same: how fast can it go and what’s the range? The first answer is 112 mph in Sport mode, but range certainly varies. On a typical 29-mile one-way commute to the office humming along at 80 mph in Standard mode to keep up with traffic before climbing CA-17 into the Santa Cruz mountains into Scotts Valley, I was left with 65 percent battery and a 55-mile range after starting with 130 miles on the dash. Fuzzy math for sure, but something to be mindful of with real-world riding.
With the standard wall outlet plug-in charger, it took approximately four hours to bring the battery up to 100 percent. According to Zero, the Level 2 (or J1772 plug type) is found on 80 to 90 percent of the EV charging network in North America. A Zero will charge in about four hours or can be upgraded to charge in about one hour.
It’s hard to reprogram a mind hardwired around the ICE experience of 40 years, but each experience brings me closer to understanding how to manipulate modes and braking to maximize range without forgetting to enjoy the ride.
With Zero, range numbers are calculated based on strict testing conditions. These don’t always reflect average typical use; several factors will impact your range on electric or gasoline motorcycles. Steep climbs, driving into wind, weight, and tire inflation will all impact range.
On my return trip home, I decided to ride CA-9 instead, which is a more gradual climb and descent back to Mountain View through the redwood forests between Felton and Saratoga. With posted speed limits ranging from 25 – 45 mph on the two-lane road, I kept it in Eco mode to maximize regenerative braking, gaining seven miles of range by the time I parked it in my garage to charge overnight! Sometimes you gain range, sometimes you lose. It’s a new frontier with EVs, one that I’m trying to master. It’s hard to reprogram a mind hardwired around the ICE experience of 40 years, but each experience brings me closer to understanding how to manipulate modes and braking to maximize range without forgetting to enjoy the ride.
I repeated this exercise for a couple weeks with the intent of riding the DSR/X down the Central Coast with Ken, Kevin and his pal Gregg from Chicago – who rented a 2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 – in early November, but the cold weather, long charge time/access to charging stations, distances between stops, and elevation change didn’t give me the confidence to slow down our trip, instead choosing the Guzzi Quota for peace of mind. It might have made a difference if Ken and Kevin were riding Zero DSR/Xs as well, because time would stand still as we patiently dealt with longer lead times.
Zero keeps making progress, and venturing into the ADV market was an important step for the small manufacturer. Yes, the DSR/X is shaped like a proper ADV, but the 544-lb machine worked out best as a 60-mile round trip commuter for me more than anything else. Torque and ergonomics are outstanding, only offset by a real range issue not taken lightly by hardcore ADV riders accustomed to blasting 250 miles or more between fueling stops.
As I’ve noted since my first Zero demo experience in early 2015, the technology keeps improving and expanding. Zero has drawn a line in the sand for future ADV glory, and to date only Energica has delivered an equally accessible EV. Hopefully this will prompt the other major manufacturers to step in and broaden our choices, pushing the technology envelope so range anxiety lessens and pricing eventually stabilizes. Going long on mixed terrain is a treat worth savoring by all riders, and I plan to do more in 2023.
Base MSRP for the Zero DSR/X is $24,495 before additional dealer fees.