Home Reviews 2021 Zero DSR Black Forest: Past, Meet The Present.

2021 Zero DSR Black Forest: Past, Meet The Present.

Zero on Magnolia Road over Boulder Canyon

Zero Motorcycles has been a staple, often THE staple for electric motorcycles. For over 15 years, they have been developing and fine-tuning their technology to stay class-leaders in the niche in which they exist. The DSR is their flagship Dual-Sport bike, providing street performance with off-road capability. It provides a certain sense of freedom, unplugging from the charger and knowing you have the world at your fingertips, at least within the limits of its range. I found myself both impressed beyond belief and simultaneously wishing for more modernity. Let us dissect the 2021 Zero DSR.

SwerveAutos Score 76.5/100

Styling 7/10

Zero DSR badge close-up.

Objectively, it’s good, maybe great. But when I consider the context, I’m a bit disappointed. It has been years since a major update in the style department. It’s a good looking dual-sport design, but it doesn’t advertise “forward-thinking” like you might expect from the company that successfully spear-headed EV motorcycles. 

The headlight, taillight, and turn signals all carry a significant weight to the overall design of a motorcycle, especially since there is a small amount of real estate in body lines. A unique LED light from both front and back would be an incredible improvement. Again, it’s a fine design, but I kept wishing the aesthetics matched the incredible engaging and electrifying performance, pun intended. 7 out of 10. 

Quality 7/10

Instrument cluster and handlebars.

Unfortunately, Zero hasn’t been known for the premium quality of materials. This is no exception. It’s fine, it stays the course and doesn’t simply fall apart while riding. But there is a tremendous amount of plastic, even in places where I would hope for metal. I understand the challenging position they are in, with so much R&D going into the drivetrain. But the price tag is hard to swallow while receiving a bike built in this manner. On most rides, we opted to carry a spare belt, since those can be prone to break especially in off-road trail scenarios. The bike is decent though, and so is the score: 7 out of 10. 

Performance 9/10

Showa shocks

This is where my verbiage of “impressed beyond belief” comes in. I’ve driven many electric cars, and the acceleration is no longer a crazy phenomena to me. But a motorcycle is another world. It’s the same feeling, but you’re not thrown back into a seat. Instead, you’re holding on for dear life on the handlebars, squeezing the fuselage with your legs, and smiling, maybe crying, depending on your emotional capacity and state. You’ll find 3 driving modes: sport, eco, and custom. There’s a reason Zero won’t let you test-ride it started out in sport mode. 

It’s acceleration is mind-bending, especially looking at the DSR Black Forest as a whole. The DS and DSR have an obvious air of adventure and off-road capabilities, so the super sport bike acceleration simply doesn’t match the imagination. It does roll off after around 50-60mph, but not drastically. Even well into fast highway speeds, it retains plenty of passing power anywhere in the spectrum. 

The custom riding mode is configurable via the app, and we’ll get to more on that in the tech section, but it adds to the performance aspect, giving you a lot of control over the main factors of ride dynamics. The Showa shocks are heavily adjustable as well, both front and rear, from soft to hard and anywhere in between. I enjoyed it on full-hard for nicely paved city roads, and moved to full-soft for the rugged trail I took when camping. It handled everything I through at it, and impressively at that, 9 out of 10 in performance.

Practicality 9/10

Zero profile shot with mountains behind.

The Black Forest edition of the DSR specifically is one of the most practical bikes money can buy. The large storage boxes carry an impressive amount of luggage, comparable to the trunk of my own car. Granted, a Miata isn’t known for its practicality. But I actually camped out of the Zero one night, and it was brilliant. I fit a sleeping bag, pillow, hammock, ample food and drink, a variety of alpine coffee-making supplies, and clothes. All without needing to wear a backpack. 

Then there’s the aspect of fuel economy, which is impeccable. EV jokes aside, this is about as efficient as it gets. It claims up to about 200 miles on a charge in the city and I found that to be pretty accurate. Highways do dramatically decrease it due to the aerodynamics of “horse” and rider, but it’s absolutely usable even in a large city. Even when you charge, it’s so little energy and cost. Total practicality is an impressive 9 out of 10. 

Comfort 5/10

Seat with Zero branding.

This was surprisingly my biggest disappointment. But more so than cars, motorcycle seat and ride comfort is very subjective and dependent on the individual. There is no seat movement, adjustable lumbar support or steering wheel adjustments to be made. I’m exactly 6 feet tall, and I actually found the riding position to be good. But the seat itself left me a bit sore after 30 minutes, and considerably worse for wear after an hour. On the bright side, I’ll be more exhausted than the bike’s battery by the end of my ride segment, and I would welcome a charging break. The handlebar grips are also nothing to write home about. They’re fine, but that’s all to report. My physique has it at 5 out of 10 in comfort.

Tech 7/10

Zero app on iPhone showing drive screen

The saving grace in a technology standpoint is the app. Though even that can be a little buggy at times and send me unnecessary notifications about the bike’s connection status. But I love the configuration it allows, with regenerative braking amount, throttle response, and even top speed. The latter felt like a bit much of a gimmick until I realized how easy it is to ride fast. And speed has a direct correlation with range given the aerodynamics so I actually found myself using it for some highway rides.

The display is the main disappointment here, being neither colorful nor very customizable nor bright. It’s what I would expect on a nice bike from 2011, not 2021. But the other newer models received some nice updates, and we just found out the 2022 S, DS, and DSR will get it as well. Though nothing else is added. Even Bluetooth connectivity and controls would be convenient for those who put music or calls into their helmets. But overall a decent 7 out of 10 for tech. 

Safety 8/10

Helmet sitting on luggage case

A big proponent to safety is the inclusion of ABS, which comes as standard. And it works very well. It’s not something I typically want to test in the real world, but it saved me from a pretty close-call on a mountain road with a lot of loose gravel sprinkled over the pavement in a sharp turn. I couldn’t believe how well it worked to stop me before the guard rail. 

A common concern with EV motorcycles could be the lack of sound, contradicting the debated phrase “loud pipes save lives”. It’s less of a concern to me, as more and more cars these days are so isolated from the road noise regardless. The “zippiness” of the motor gives me ample capability to rush out of the way in the case of defensive driving. 

Left handlebar with kill-switch and turn signal.

The DSR is also excellently balanced. I always test, carefully, the balance of a bike when you take your hands off the handlebars. It had no shake or instability whatsoever, even with the regenerative braking drastically reducing the speed. Granted, I had the regen-level turned up as far as it would go in my custom ride setting. Balance is important in the case of suddenly needing to let go of the bars or if a bar or mirror clips something. A solid 8 out of 10 for safety.

Value 7/10

Close-up of front fascia and headlight.

The value is a challenging calculation. The Black Forest edition of the DSR specifically puts it above $20,000 which is a lot for a motorcycle. But the underlying beast is just as fast and capable as some of the premium competition. The materials and technology hold it back, but it still leads me down the mental rabbit trail of, “Is there any way I can justify buying this? Because I want it.” It’s a hefty price, but it gives you a lot of bike. 7 out of 10 overall for the value. 

Fun Factor 9/10

Pure, ecstatic, fun. The Zero can make any rider giddy beyond belief once experimenting the acceleration. The quiet drivetrain can even benefit the experience, somewhat ironically. Your mind almost begs a loud exhaust note to be paired with such acceleration, so I found myself being caught off-guard many times early in my rides on the DSR. The fully adjustable suspension allowed for the same fun to be had off-road. I felt like nothing was in my way, not even a transmission. Silent, electric off-roading is truly a spectacle through which to experience nature, and the lower speeds actually allow for more range than comparable highway time. Overall I found it to be an extremely fun 9 out of 10 with the fun factor.

Editor’s Influence 8.5/10

Helmet and gloves in front of Zero

Simply put, I love this bike. I’ve been watching Zero for years and years, and after seeing the updates to the lineup with SR/F, SR/S, and now the FXE, this is one of the only remaining segments waiting on a much-needed update. It has adequate technology and adequate styling, it’s certainly not ugly or seriously lacking, but it’s not giving an impression of forward-thinking or modernity that I would hope for from the brand that proved the marketplace of EV motorcycles. The Black Forest additions were very functional and I would love the accessories to accompany my garage if not always on the bike. I want one, badly, but my obsession with style and technology would lead me to wait and see what happens with the much-anticipated updates. And I hope to see that soon. 8.5 out of 10 as it stands, as I am still pretty darn smitten. 

Zero parked with mountains in background.
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I love the trajectory of transportation. It's always fascinating to see the emergence of technology within vehicles, and how they compete. I have a tremendous appreciation for EVs and old British all-mechanical roadsters alike. My personal daily driver is a NC Miata, but hoping to add an EV to the mix soon.