The monikers for motorcycle genres are charmingly descriptive. A bagger has bags, a naked bike is scant on bodywork, and an adventure bike is for riding to the sort of places where you have to bribe a local official to buy three gallons of gas siphoned out of a crop-duster. To that end, adventure bikes are tall, with leggy suspension travel, big fuel tanks and tires that can tolerate some dirt. The Zero DSR/X offers all of that, except the big gas tank, because it’s powered by this newfangled electricity everyone’s talking about. Fortunately, this bike can tote quite a lot of juice.
In its standard specification, the DSR/X packs 15.2 kilowatt-hours of usable capacity into the rectangular lithium-ion battery slung low in its trellis frame. Another 3.0 kilowatt-hours or so can be added via the optional $3200 Power Tank, which replaces the storage cubby in front of the rider with another battery. A 6.6-kW onboard Level 2 charger can charge the battery from zero to 95 percent in about two hours, with the optional $3000 dual charger cutting that time in half (but being incompatible with the Power Tank).
Range is 180 miles in city riding—scenarios with plenty of regenerative braking and not much high-speed aero drag, which could also mean picking your way along a trail. At a steady 70 mph, though, claimed range drops to 85 miles. During a ride weighted toward fast back-road travel, we managed about 100 miles. Is 100 miles a long way to ride a motorcycle? Sure. But adventure bikes aren’t supposed to be about blasting a canyon loop and ending up back at your front door an hour and a half later. They’re about going somewhere, which means that in this case you’ll need to do some planning ahead of your rides. Out in the boonies with friends riding a Royal Enfield and a Honda Gold Wing, our turnaround point was dictated by the Zero’s state of charge—when the battery’s at 50 percent, you either head for home or calculate the mileage to a known working Level 2 charger.
This can be surprisingly tricky. I considered trying to ride the Zero to the North Carolina coast, but from my house 140 miles away, there was no good way to do it with only one charge break, since the area around the halfway point is a charger desert. Zero probably chose Level 2 charging for the DSR/X because of its ubiquity, but along highways Level 3 chargers are now almost easier to find than Level 2, and plenty of DC fast-charging has sprung up around the corridors to the coast. If the Zero could accommodate both Level 2 and DC fast-charging—as any fully electric car does—then a wider range of destinations would be possible. But motorcycles, so sensitive to weight and packaging, tend to go with one charge style or the other. The Harley-Davidson LiveWire One accommodates DC fast-charging but not Level 2 (due to limitations in the onboard charger), while Harley’s S2 Del Mar is the opposite.
Both of those, and the Zero, can plug in to your household outlet and charge at 1.0 kilowatt or so, which might prove useful. One day, we plugged in the Zero on a Level 1 charger during a pit stop at a fellow rider’s house and upped the charge by 5 percent. Which was important, since we rolled back into the driveway with 4 percent charge remaining. Hey, motorcycles are supposed to be exciting, right?
Range is always on your mind, because the Zero’s prodigious thrust makes it difficult to exercise restraint with your throttle wrist. The electric motor’s 100 horsepower is nice, but it’s that immediate 166 pound-feet of torque that makes the bike feel lighter than its roughly 550-pound weight. There are mellow riding modes, like Rain and Eco, but we spent most of the time in Canyon, which delivers aggressive throttle response and enough regenerative braking to handle deceleration for most corners (unless, say, you’re trying to hang with a pair of maniacs on a Royal Enfield and a Gold Wing). The Showa suspension is happy to soak up potholes on a dirt road, but with 7.5 inches of travel, a Honda Africa Twin it is not (the Honda offers 9.1 inches of travel up front and 8.7 inches out back). But if you really do intend to hit the dirt, Zero offers knobby Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires and a chain drive to replace the standard Gates belt drive. Also a potential boon off-road: reverse, so you can back out of situations you shouldn’t have ridden into in the first place.
At $24,495, the DSR/X is significantly more expensive than the $18,874 you’d pay for a top-of-the-range Africa Twin ES DCT—and just about twice the $12,390 sticker for a 99-hp BMW F 900 XR. Of course, there may be incentives, but the Zero is always going to be a premium bike among the premium bikes.
Is it worth it? That depends on what kind of adventures you’re after. If you can hopscotch from charger to charger, you can get a lot of places by covering 100 or 150 miles at a time. The irony of a bike like this is that it seems tethered to civilization, but is ultimately the only of its peers that could truly function off the grid, indefinitely, wherever the sun can shine on some solar panels. All you need is time.
2023 Zero DSR/X
Vehicle Type: mid-motor, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger motorcycle
Motor: permanent-magnet synchronous AC, 100 hp, 166 lb-ft
Battery Pack: air-cooled lithium-ion, 15.2 kWh
Onboard Charger: 6.6 kW
Wheelbase: 60.0 in
Curb Weight (C/D est): 557 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
60 mph: 3.5 sec
100 mph: 9.3 sec
1/4-Mile: 12.5 sec
Top Speed: 112 mph
Ezra Dyer is a Car and Driver senior editor and columnist. He’s now based in North Carolina but still remembers how to turn right. He owns a 2009 GEM e4 and once drove 206 mph. Those facts are mutually exclusive.