HARWINTON, CT – Giving a Harley-Davidson devotee the key to a Zero electric motorcycle is somewhat akin to asking a person who loves greasy bacon cheeseburgers to become a vegan. The response is apt to be a sneer. No way would a Harley-Davidson owner who adores the rumble and roar tolerate the silence of the ride delivered by a Zero.
But Lisa Cheney of Harwinton isn’t a typical Harley-Davidson rider. Yes, she has a 2013 Softail Deluxe, which weighs in at 728 pounds. And yes, she has owned Harley-Davidsons for more than 30 years. Lately, though, she’s been expanding her riding horizons and upping her skills. In the fall of 2014, she added a 2013 Suzuki V-Strom 650 adventure model to her stable. It allows her to ride more aggressively. She’s been doing track days, too, even on the Softail, to become a more proficient rider.
Recently, when Zero loaned me a 2016 DSR dual sport model, I thought it might be enlightening to get on outside opinion on the bike, and targeted Harley-Davidson lover Lisa for a test ride. When I texted her an invitation, she was just home from a five-day motorcycle vacation to Lake Placid, N.Y. during which she rode hundreds of miles and wore out the tires on the V-Strom.
My first experience with a Zero was year ago when I took a test ride on a DS police model. I found the lack of a clutch – Zeros have a clutch-less direct drive transmission – and the lack of motor noise to be initially disconcerting. On the plus side were the smooth pull of the bike’s lithium-ion powerplant and the handling. My guess was that Cheney’s reaction might be similar. What I didn’t expect was the effusiveness of her review.
“They should give this to me. I would ride it everywhere. I’m Speed Lisa,” she said after first laughing with glee having spiritedly ridden the Zero roughly 25 miles over state and (paved and dirt) town roads in Harwinton. “It’s such a sexy bike.”
The 419-pound DSR model is one of Zero’s high-end models. As configured, the loaner had an MSRP of $15,995 (or $14,395 with a federal tax credit). With 67 horsepower and 106 ft-lb of torque, the bike’s range is 147 miles city, 88 miles highway and 110 miles combined. Top speed is 98 miles per hour. It came with a power cord to easily plug the bike into a wall outlet.
“What really surprised me was thinking I was going to miss the clutch and the shifting. Within 30-40 seconds, I’d forgotten about it because I was so impressed with its ability to accelerate uninterrupted,” said Cheney. “The lack of vibration feels like it would reduce fatigue. The way it handles and corners, it’s very confidence inspiring. It hugged the road so tightly.”
What about the obtrusive silence, save for a mild whirr/whine? “After a couple of minutes of being impressed by the performance, I forgot about the (lack of) noise,” she said.
Cheney was admittedly a skeptic when she got on the Zero. How could riding a Zero be classified as “motorcycling” without having to shift and without exhaust notes? “Now I feel like shifting is too much trouble. I did not expect to like it. It’s missing everything I thought I loved about motorcycles,” she said.
Despite her concern that the Zero might have insufficient range for her riding needs, Cheney said, “I want one. I would love to have one. My next bike will not have a clutch.”
Having put approximately 50 miles on the Zero myself, my second impression was likewise positive. The DSR is smooth, stable and maneuverable.
In returning the DSR to Zero’s regional sales manager, Bill Stone, I learned a few interesting features about the bike. While I knew it had three propulsion modes – Eco, Custom and Sport – what I didn’t know was that by downloading a Zero app on my phone, I could adjust the power delivery and top speed on the bike. For an entry-level rider, the rate of power can be ramped up slowly as confidence in riding climbs and the top speed limited until riding experience is gained. “We’re the only motorcycle that can do that,” Stone said.
The phone app also allows owners to remotely monitor the bike. Imagine sitting in a restaurant and wondering how much juice remains. With the app, the owner can check. If the bike is having issues, the app also enables the owner to run diagnostics and send the results directly to Zero. “It takes a lot of question work out of troubleshooting,” Stone said.
Unlike other manufacturers, which force dealers to stock up on new models, Zero dealers just have two or three models on the showroom floor for potential buyers to demo. “If they’re interested in buying, we take an order. Within two weeks maximum, the new bike arrives at the dealership,” Stone said.
Apprised of Cheney’s review, Stone responded that her take on the Zero is not uncommon. “Until you ride it, you can’t really grasp what it’s like,” he said. Currently, there’s only one Zero dealer in Connecticut – Mark’s Motorsports in Enfield.
Electric motorcycles will certainly grow in popularity. Heck, Harley-Davidson even said this month that it will have an electric model on showroom floors within five years.
(Originally published in “The Republican-American” on June 18, 2016.)