2014 Zero SR Micro-review

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Yes, I rode one yesterday.  A 2014 Zero SR.  Actually, I’ve worked too hard on actual reviews to really call this a “review”, let’s just call it a “first hand impressions” post, shall we?

My last encounter with an actual Zero in the flesh was a while ago – oh jeeze.  It had to be 2011, so we’re talking at best the 2011 Zero S.  I was a little less than impressed.  Let me just start by saying this bike is a whole different beast.

It was at the Olin/Babson Auto show, and the Zero van was the first thing I saw when I pulled in.  Mark Muraoka, the Olin College student organizing the event put in some time interning at Zero and was actually on the design team for the SR.  I also met Glenn Wakefield, the East Coast Regional Manager for Zero.  Here’s a shot of Mark on the SR – actually the first time he’s had a chance to ever ride one.

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…that’s Glenn right behind him, and a couple members of the Olin REVO team.

So.  The bike.

Visuals: First, and understanding I’m somewhat of a traditionalist that never quite got past about 1975 in motorcycle development, I’m going to say the bike is a hell of a lot more cool looking in person than in photos.  A lot of the styling and sculptured plastic that I thought I hated actually looks much more incorporated and integrated in person.  I’m not sure why that is, and I’m not sure that means if I owned one I wouldn’t start by ripping all the extraneous plastic off it first thing, but it’s far cleaner than I’d expected.

The riding position: Again, I’m old-school.  Sitting on this bike feels very unnatural for me.  Not uncomfortable, and not at all like I’m not in a position that would make me unable to control the bike, but just very different from what I’m accustomed to.  For the record, the last new bike I rode was a Guzzi Griso. I didn’t really have that forward-position impression on that bike. I talked to Glenn about that, before I even started the ride, he was describing the bike as a very similar frame as the Buell Cyclone.  Here, for the record, is what that looks like – in a slideshow format so you can compare better:

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…not really too much of a stretch.

That said, I still felt like I was sitting on top of the bike, the bars were in my sternum and  the seat was pushing my ass way forward…  sort of the feeling I get when I have a large passenger on my SRX.  It was fun riding around campus like that, but I’m not at all sure how I’d feel about it on the highway, where I like to stretch out, put my feet on the passenger pegs and lean more into the wind.  My first reaction is to want to have the bars about 6″ forward and 6″ down…  even more forward than where clipons would put you.

Now, the controls.  The instrument panel is really simple, clean and organized.  Check this out:

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I’m not a fan of overly distracting readouts.  Besides anything else, I think it’s dangerous, and I’m not sure if the Brammo display is different now, but when I rode one you could actually switch screens for more information.  If a rider claims he never does that while riding, I’d call him a liar.

One feature I really like is the Mode changing…  you can change riding modes with a simple push of the button – (right thumb) while riding.  Not that I think I’d ever be riding in any mode other than Sport, but I’d assumed it was a more complicated lock-out type of setting, almost like a governor, than a simple selector switch.

I’ve also got to say, the fit and finish of this bike is top-notch.  Everything I’ve seen in person from Zero and Brammo (albeit from years past) has had a not-ready-for-prime-time feel to it.  There was none of that here.  This bike feels as well detailed, finished and constructed as any new sport bike on the market, and that includes the aforementioned Griso.

The ride: I started out by tooling around in the parking lot in Sport mode.   And yes, I wanted to wheelie it…  and couldn’t.  Off the line it pulls fairly hard, but not as hard as I’d like.  Once you’re up to about 20 or 30mph, it starts pulling like a hellbound train – it was a very similar feel to riding a bike with an AC motor, like the AC20 a friend of mine is running.  Since the motor is a brushless DC, that’s not a huge surprise, and it’s very much like the feel of a sport-bike where you start hitting it’s sweet spot at high speeds.  I’m more of a fan of the low-end torque, and I’m pretty sure that my PMDC brushed Motenergy running cells that don’t sag like the CALBs do, I could take the SR on the R5e…  at least up to about 50.  After that, the SR would walk away from me, no doubt whatsoever.  One of the others who rode the SR and rode the R5e commented that the SR in Economy mode was very similar to riding my bike…  but in Sport mode they’re completely different.  I’d have to agree.  (And now I REALLY want to get some badass batteries back into the bike…  )

The bike makes the most awesomely cool whine – I’m not sure where it comes from, but instead of the little brush noise my motor makes along with the chain noise, you get a sound that’s straight out of a sci-fi film.  It’s awesome.  And it absolutely turns heads, if that’s what you’re into.

Tooling around campus was just sweet.  The weight of the bike was completely comfortable, and, coming from riding a 600cc single that weighs 360lbs, I honestly didn’t even notice the bike being any different in weight or center of gravity.  The more I rode it, the more it started to feel just right.  Even the bars.

Conclusions?  Undeniably, Zero has a bike that can hold it’s own in the market.  I have no complaints, just a few preference issues, and there’s not much I can ask for in going head-to-head against the gassers.  Interestingly, a guy who rides (and races) a CBR1000 took the SR for a spin, and came back very impressed.  Excitedly-babbling-giggling-like-a-little-girl impressed.  Assuming Zero’s got a few developments in the works, it will be great to see what 2015 looks like, but if they choose to let it sit right where it is, and offer essentially the same bike next year, they’ll still be on the mark.

Zero won the “People’s Choice” award for the show, and it’s well deserved.  There was never a point at which there wasn’t a crowd around the bikes, and you could take a test ride if you were licensed and signed the release.  A lot of heads were turned yesterday.

Here’s a shot of Glenn and Mark enjoying that moment:

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