Riding all the seasons: Spring starts with a test ride on a Zero DSR
In the second part of his journal of riding through the seasons, Spring is in the air and that air is pretty filthy with exhaust fumes. So Parker takes a test ride on a Zero DSR to see if he’ll take to an electric bike.
The glowing, warming embrace of Mother Nature’s Spring breathes life into land once more as oily fingered bikers arise to change fluids and filters, coxing faithful steeds out of hibernation like a mother wakes her child after a long and restful night’s sleep.
Ready for another season of thrills and occasional spills, the sound of engines rise to combine and create a glorious pre-dawn chorus; drawing neighbours from beds who stumble out, bleary-eyed in the unfamiliar mornings light to shout, ‘Do you have any idea what time it is?!’
‘Of course, we do,’ We reply over-revving engines, our noses thick with rich fumes, ‘It’s biking season!’ Today is the first day of May and Spring is well and truly here.
Having helplessly watched the light dwindle through autumn and suffered the struggles of a frigid winter mid Spring is the biker’s much-anticipated reward. Paid for with a stiff upper lip and fortitude in the face of such great a foreboding and lengthy depression, Spring marks the beginning of new life; and I, for one, was happy to be alive after headbutting a ford just before Christmas.
‘Don’t even think about it’, Pete says with a smile on his face, ‘You can’t even keep your SV upright’. I assume that he must be joking, or, at least I hope he is as I am currently sniffing around his new Zero DSR- an oversized kids toy, in my opinion.
Pete has spent some serious money on this little thing, though. Selling for around £17k, this eco guilt trip had become even more expensive with the addition of a power tank and quick charger, upping the total price to, near as makes no difference, £20k.
This, as far as I am concerned, is far too much money for any motorbike, let alone one that comes without an engine. And like all real bikers, I am stuck in my ways: I like nothing more than spending an evening the garage, getting covered in oil and grease as I fettle and clean, tinker and adjust. I am not so sure that I want to mess around with a battery that could fry my brain faster than the Texas Department of Corrections after switching to a cheaper tariff.
Still, I have to admit that the DSR does look good. Its adventure styling makes it look tough and robust, and I do find myself somewhat intrigued, and confused, by this bike- not unlike the time I went to see ‘Ladyboys of Bangkok’. Fundamentally it goes against every fibre of my being and identity, but there is an allure in the exotic and unusual charms.
Pete tells me that this overpriced tree hugging machine is his new ‘about town’ toy and that the custom levers alone are worth more than my left testicle – a thinly veiled threat. Forbidding me from touching, he beckons me out of the shop front, away from the bike and into the bowels of the garage. I run my hand over the DSR as I pass – because gangsta.
I follow him into the deepest, darkest depths of the garage and over to the bead breaking machine. Where, sitting forlornly and dejected, she waits: my poor little SV. Her forks broken, fairings smashed, tank split open and her frame warped, there was nothing anyone could do to save her as oil dripped onto the hard concrete floor; her lifeblood draining away.
She had been a very faithful bike over the last 6 years. A bike that has given me great joy over 50,000 miles; a lot of laughs, a lot of fun and my first real taste of ‘big bike’ life. Now she sits condemned as spares or repairs; to be dissected for her innards and cannibalised. I draw comfort from the fact that her death may allow another bike to live, but still a jolt of pain shoots across my heart as I say a final goodbye to my faithful friend of many years. I touch her frame with a gentle hand for the very last time while holding back a small, but ever-so-manly tear- my lip definitely not quivering.
A merciless piss-taker, I am sure Pete regards me with the same, slightly patronising, fascination that a man might view an ape learning to use a primitive tool for the first time. Yet, despite this, I still believe that he genuinely likes me. Still, I am thankful that he doesn’t notice my moment of anguish.
‘Found another bike yet? I have a moped that you might just be able to handle?’, he mocks while laughing to himself.
Being the honest and slightly masochistic fellow that I am, I inform Chuckles that I am looking for a car to replace my dear departed Grace (Yes, I name my bikes… deal with it).
‘Don’t be such a Jessie’, Jessie being his chosen nickname for me whenever he deems my actions as unmanly. ‘You don’t need a car, just a pair of testicles’, He pauses for a moment, his mouth twisting from one side of his face to the other, appearing as though to be weighing something in his mind, ‘Have a go on the DSR,’ he offers tentatively with a tinge of reluctance about his tone.
It is a very kind gesture, but always having been of the opinion that electric bikes would be the death of motorcycling, I can see no point in it. It was the speed, the engine noise, rebelliousness and style of it all that inspired me to ride bikes in the first place. The DSR inspires little more than a feeling akin to watching a David Attenborough documentary about Polar Bears and ice: nagging guilt.
He continues, ‘It has a surprising amount of torque and a good frame. It would destroy your SV in a straight fight… and it’s good at staying upright’.
Given the current state of my SV, a snail would beat it in a straight fight. I pull a face to suggest that I am not all that interested and move to end the conversation before I open myself up to more ridicule.
‘Honestly, it’s a good, fun commuter bike and one that even you could handle’, He concludes. Walking off to fetch the boiling kettle, playfully cuffing the back of my head as he passes.
I shout after him that I will, under no circumstances, ever ride that bike. Hell could rise up and into our realm with the Devil himself damning me to eternal torture unless I ride that bike, and I still wouldn’t ride it. Seriously, nothing will ever get me on that bike.
Sitting astride the tall DSR, I feel like a king lording over my serfdom while riding atop a large and powerful, buzzing, horse. Such is the lofty position that I find I have to restrain myself from yelling at the peasants as I silently breeze by. Instead, I find amusement in the joy of kids faces turning to confusion as the expected roar of exhausts is replaced by a whisper and whine.
Dogs, usually thrashing at their leashes to get free and rip the noisy, smelly motorcyclist to bits, remain calm as I pass, their heads cocking to one side in a vain attempt to decipher this new curious being; the complex juxta of thoughts: ‘to bark or not to bark, to chase or not to chase. Oh, a lampost I haven’t peed on yet’.
The DSR seems to catch every eye: the sight and sound of an electric vehicle is still not the norm and very much still out of place in sleepy, slow Suffolk, and I feel as though I am riding through ye olde lanes on a machine from the future – the Schwarzenegger of bikes – I make a point to check that Skynet had no involvement in its design.
Rutted and crumbling roads offer little by way of challenge to the DSR’s suspension; it smooths them out and I ride upon a plush velvet cushion as my flailing foot searches for a non-existent gear lever. My hand grabbing at a non-existent clutch. Feeling quite the fool, I soon get into the twist and go mentality- You twist, and you go. You twist some more, you go some more.
Using a national speed limit sign as a rolling start line, I pin the throttle- expecting little but getting much, inspiring a hearty twitch from inside my trousers. With the engine mapping- sorry motor mapping- set to the ‘Torque’ setting, the DSR really does pick up its skirts and get moving, the front end going light as the gargantuan amount of torque sets about propelling the bike to 88mph and back to the future.
Never quite enough to lift the front end off the deck, it feels like the power has been tailored for just enough acceleration to inspire fun, yet leave some power in reserve. Which is no bad thing… A brief blast around country roads that lasted all of ten miles was enough to drain the battery by about a third.
But it is in towns where this bike comes into its own. Pulling away from traffic lights like a fart in a gale, every vehicle is left to eat my environmentally friendly dust. Narrow and light, the DSR is easy to handle in the stop-start traffic, as weaving between vehicles and suicidal pedestrians becomes an enjoyable game; the brakes reassuringly strong.
Of course, the electric bike’s element of stealth may not always be an advantage. I have always run bikes with stock exhaust and found these to be loud enough for my purposes – that is except for my ZX6r, which had an exhaust louder than my fathers 80’s Hawaiian shirt collection. The advantage of a louder bike is that drivers, in their plushly insulated cars, can hear your coming.
This is a contentious belief, but whenever I approach a suspiciously dozy looking car- straddling the white line and not keeping up with the car in front- I will blip the throttle to get their attention, letting them know of my presence, waking them up with a start and making a little bit of wee come out- hopefully.
I start to feel more than a little exposed without an exhaust and begin to think about heading back, but filtering to the front at some traffic lights I experience the amusing side of a silent bike.
Some poor chap on a hog had the fright of his life as I suddenly, and silently, appear by his side; quite unexpectedly. The large heavily built bloke with the manliest of manly long grey beards returns my wave, but only after having recovered sufficiently from the mild heart attack I just gave him – A heavily inked, chubby hand still clutching at his blubbery chest. I am 6 foot 2 inches of skin and bones. I have no muscle to speak of, so me being able to put the fear of God into a bloke that could kill me with his little finger offers immense satisfaction and amusement.
He eyes the bike with suspicion and, not unlike the dog, his head cocks to one side as he tries to decipher by just what magic my bike is powered. No time to explain, the lights turn green, and I am off quicker than a startled guinea pig on a good grippy surface.
Touring roundabouts and junctions with confidence, the DSR inspires a sense of calm and control that rivals any bike I have ever ridden. But still, I find myself missing my SV: She was a workhorse; able to get me from A to B, to be abused and neglected and keep on rolling. She had soul and heart, spirit and a personality. I knew that bike inside and out after having replaced much of her over the years. I treated her like a loved one and her loss has left an empty space that will be difficult to fill.
The DSR, however, is giving it a bloody good go. It feels suitably like a workhorse, but no mule. Pete is not wrong; this is a good, fun bike and would make a great commuter. But something is still holding me back from fully embracing this machine… I just don’t know what.
I ride down the town’s main drag where a huge new cinema complex has just been built. I find it incredulous that the council would think such a structure suitable for a town such as this; the modern styling completely fails to integrate with its historic surroundings. But the majority of the town’s inhabitants have embraced it and actually regard it with admiration. I do not share this opinion: I think it sticks out more than a virgin at strip club and ruins the feel of the town. Add to this that I hate change and I may have just discovered why I am still unsure of this bike.
The battery life lasted a little longer in town, but I soon found it was time to return to Pete’s garage and get her ‘juiced up’. The ride back to Pete’s was gentle as I became stuck behind a 40mph’ average it’ driver- you know the ones… They drive 40mph everywhere: in 60’s, 50’s and even 30’s. So I had time to appreciate the comfort aspects of the bike…
The pegs allow for comfortable leg positioning and the seat is well padded. If it were not for the battery then I could see this bike being a great long distance tourer, its tall screen giving superb wind protection and minimal buffeting.
The quality of the bike is also pretty good: nothing about the bike looks ‘cheap’ or rushed or even out of place: The dash is simple and easy to read; no fuss, just does the job. Being a pragmatic person I feel that this aspect of the bike appeals to me more than it may others, but in an age of overly complicated displays I think most will agree that this is a refreshingly nice. The DSR feels as though it has been designed and built for a specific purpose, and that purpose is… Fun: yes. Comfort: yes. Consumer friendly-ness: yes. A step forward in electric bikes: yes.
I make it back to Pete’s just as the power limiter kicked in to preserve the battery life. I crawled the final mile through the village with all the power of a 125cc moped.
I try to hide the smile on my face as I remove the helmet, but Pete already knows what I am thinking.
‘Surprised, eh?’ He says with a knowing expression and an almost smug smile across his face.
Yes, I admit, I really like the bike. It feels like a motorbike, with all the clinical elements of precision that I have come to expect from all modern motorbikes. Of course, a part of me still longs for the older bikes, like my ZX and SV- full of personality and quirks. But for commuting, it is reliability and dependability that I need – and this bike feels like it has that in spades.
The DSR is very easy to ride and offers almost instantaneous gratification through near limitless, and always on tap, torque. She flows through sweeping corners, providing stability and rigidity yet retaining a nimble nature in town; the suspension ironing out any lumps and bumps along the way. The range is still not great and I would hate to get caught out in the middle of nowhere, forced to knock on doors and beg for somewhere to plug in the bike, but at least this would allow me to show the bike off to complete strangers.
It’s fun, different and very, very eye-opening. For a closed minded individual like me, I have learnt something today: that the old adage is correct- never judge a book by its cover.
I watch as Pete wheels the DSR back into the shop front, cooing as he goes. I hear him shout over to me and ask if I will be getting one.
Being British, I always root for the underdog. Zero is a small company trying to succeed where others dare to tread. They are the pioneers of a new tech, bringing it kicking and screaming into the light. They are the ones that could change the entire world for the better, and this sense of passion behind the DSR, can be felt. It feels like a game changer. It feels like a bike that is ready to change the world.
I am not the biggest eco-warrior in the world, but I do my bit: I recycle, use a green energy tariff, lower my electric consumption and generally try to walk or ride one of those funny things with pedals as much as I can. So I want to support Zero in their dream and hope for their success.
I really do think that this could be the bike for me… Zero has shown me that electric is the future for bikes and it looks as though it will be electrifying (Sorry). But will I be getting a DSR?
So, what did I replace my beloved SV with? Well, I got a car. But I have a 765RS in the garage and a new project bike so I think I can still call myself a real biker.
So why didn’t I get the DSR? Well…
Some of you reading this may recall the Betamax vs VHS battle (For an up to date reference please see HD vs Bluray). The result of which left those Betamax buyers shit out of luck and in the cold… We find ourselves in a similar situation with electric vs hydrogen fuel cells.
The market and the tech could go either way… and I really don’t have the money to bet £20,000 on electric right now.
I very much doubt that I am the only one in this boat, rowing as hard as I can just to stay in place, fighting against the strong pull of the economic tide and working just to get by. For people like me, a cheap bike or car for around £5k is about all we can hope for. £20k on a bike that may never have the infrastructure it needs is just too much money to gamble. I will have to stick to burning dinosaur bones for now.
But green is the future, I hear you cry… save the squirrels!
Well, if we are going into the nuts and bolts of an eco-warriors point of view, then it should be noted that buying a new bike will chuck far more carbon dioxide into the air than keeping an older bike running for a good ten years. This is further antagonised by the fact that the production and disposal of batteries can be very damaging to the environment. Plus, until the grid is green, the bike will never be entirely guilt-free.
So, like many others, I will have to wait. I will have to wait for lower prices. Better range. Better infrastructure. Ultimately what I am waiting for is mass production and adoption, which is kinda a case of ‘what came first, the chicken or the ethically farmed egg’ and it will be a long wait for that one to be resolved… unless the bigger manufacturers get involved…
We have seen proposals from Suzuki, Yamaha, Honda, Triumph… the list goes on. These companies have the substantial production assets needed to produce these bikes at a much lower cost and kick start the market. But, as good as this may be, it does give me concerns for the future of Zero, the company that I have come to admire, as much as I am taken by my first ride on the DSR.