First Ride: 2016 Zero Electric Motorcycles FXS

Who knew Zero’s electric hooligan, the supermoto FXS, would be this much fun?

2016 Zero Motorcycles FXS
2016 Zero Motorcycles FXS
The electric hooligan!©Motorcyclist

They say: "Ride the city. Rail the track."
We say: "Avoid law enforcement on the way to the track."

Zero Motorcycles' product line continues to grow and evolve, and through it all you'd have to call even the spunkiest models "lively." Because torque spills from the air-cooled electric motor in a steady, predictable stream and the aluminum chassis carry a massive amount of battery power, none of the current bikes (pun intended) seem capable of acting out. They're steady, functional, capable, and developed with a new rider strongly in mind.

2016 Zero FXS side view
2016 Zero FXS
Does this look like a hooligan ride to you? Good call, son, good call.©Motorcyclist

It's a new day, thanks to the Zero FXS, just hatched for 2016 and selling for $10,990 (before tax incentives), based on the bones of the FX lightweight dual-sport. The last time I rode the entire Zero model line (see 2015 First Ride here), I found myself appreciating the larger DS dual-sport but really starting to fall for the FX. Tall and spindly looking, the FX has the smallest motor and the least battery capacity of the consumer Zero line, yet its low weight and outgoing personality had me grinning.

Okay, so take the FX and replaced dirt-ready spoke wheels with 17-inch cast hoops carrying sticky Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires. Showa provides a 41mm cartridge fork with 7 inches of travel, down 1.6 inches from the long-legged FX. Behind, a Showa fully adjustable shock retains its FX-spec, 8.9 inches of travel. So not only do the tires help amp up the FXS’s responsiveness, but the suspension changes help tip the little supermoto up on its nose. To say the FXS responds to your fists quickly is an understatement; it heels over rapidly, changes direction like a second-thoughting ground squirrel, and feel no bigger than the twin batteries and compact electric motor beneath you. Hell, the instrument panel is barely in view under your chin.

2016 Zero Electric Motorcycles FXS battery
2016 Zero FXS Battery/Motor
Range and power are dictated by battery capacity, so the FXS ZF3.3 has a power rating of 27 hp at 3,700 rpm while the same bike with the extra battery is rated at 44 hp.©Motorcyclist

In case you’ve been sleeping or purposefully ignoring Zero’s eBike efforts, understand that the FX platform is one of two the company builds. It carries a pair of rapidly removable batteries in an alloy frame, giving a total capacity of 3.3 kWh or 6.5 kWh, depending on whether you get two batteries or one. In electrics, range and power are dictated by battery capacity, so the single-cube (the so-called FXS ZF3.3) has a power rating of 27 hp at 3,700 rpm while the same bike with the extra battery is rated at 44 hp. In both cases, the FXS puts down 70 pound-feet of torque. Both models have the same 420-amp controller and proprietary computerized management system. (Zero says there’s a lot of “secret sauce” in the management system, which oversees how the bike performs, how much regenerative braking is applied, and even how the batteries are charged, either by external means or by the internal 120-volt AC charger.)

2016 Zero FXS Motor
2016 Zero FXS Motor
For 2016, Zero has upgraded the motors for most models (including the FXS) to have greater efficiency and to run cooler.©Motorcyclist

For 2016, Zero has upgraded the motors for most models (including the FXS) to have greater efficiency and to run cooler, and the batteries have improved chemistry to give the vehicles more range without sacrificing power. If you’re a battery geek, you appreciate that this is usually a teeter-totter of features, with energy density, which dictates range, taking a toll on discharge capability, which influences performance. No doubt this proves that there’s constant, relentless battery development.

I rode only the ZF6.5 version, which posts a maximum top speed of 82 mph (75 mph sustained) and a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds. Range? Again, limited by the battery capacity, falling between of 37 and 90 miles. If you’ve been following eBikes, you know that highway travel, where you’re sucking the amps at a constant, relatively high rate, is the worst case, which is why the FXS ZF6.5 has a pure highway range (at 70 mph) of just 37 miles. “Combined” ratings, which have half urban and half highway expand range to 52 miles (with the highway portion at 70 mph) and 54 miles (with the highway portion at 55 mph). By far the greatest range comes in the city, where there are frequent stops and more opportunities for regenerative braking—the inertia of the bike turns the motor, which begins recharging the batteries.

Wait a minute, you’re saying; 44 hp isn’t much. How could this thing be any fun at all? Well, it feels good because of the near-immediate torque and the FXS’s low weight, which Zero says is 293 pounds. (A single-battery FXS weighs a mere 251 pounds, so you can see the result of adding capacity.) No, the FXS doesn’t want to spin the rear tire away from every stoplight, or even wheelie without some significant provocation, but that’s more the result of the single speed—gearing has to be a compromise here—and the intentional programming of the controller to prevent a big “torque dump” from scaring a new rider—and, probably, tearing up the belt drive, which already moans heartily under heavy acceleration.

2016 Zero FXS
2016 Zero FXS
Light, flickable, fun. What more do you need?©Motorcyclist

Still, still…this bike is a carnival ride. Tall, light, and narrow, the FXS also benefits from a moderate 24.4-degree steering-head angle allied to a minuscule 2.8 inches of trail to make it incredibly flickable and responsive. What you might lose in terms of instant power delivery off the bottom—really, it’s fine once you’re rolling—you more than make up for in the ability to place the bike anywhere you want in the corner. Even as a last-minute gesture. Corner clearance seems fine, though the cold-and-wet conditions made it hard to comprehensively flog the little machine. You power out of corners to the groaning belt and a high-pitched whine from the motor, not the blatt of a single-cylinder engine as you half expect.

Minimalist perfection on two wheels? Close, but not quite; let’s call this a 95-percent charge. For one, the J-Juan brakes, while a dramatic improvement over the off-the-shelf items used prior to the 2015 model year, lack a little bit of feel in this application, and two different FXSs I rode had noticeable front-disc pulsing. (Supposedly a change to rotor material is coming.) Along the same lines, the Bosch ABS seems to be conservatively programmed, so that once activated it takes a tad too long to give the rider control again, making eyebrow-raising moments on the way into bumpy corners. Finally, the fork is unreasonably harsh in the standard setup, which no doubt contributes to the ABS’s difficulties. At the midpoint of the FXS loop, I checked the settings; both the fork and shock’s compression damping was turned almost all the way up. Backing off six clicks up front and five at the rear helped free up the suspension for the second loop, though there’s still work to be done here. It’s likely the setup is there to be found, but I didn’t have the time.

Time matters when you have to think about recharging. As part of the demonstration, Zero techs swapped batteries after the first loop of 16 miles (with 2,000 feet of elevation gain), and I ended both loops with between 56 and 58 percent power remaining. One intrepid journalist elected to run the 32-mile course on the original charge; we didn’t have to leave him behind as bear food, so that’s good. Still, it bears repeating—sorry—that this demo ride was all but flat out, with a couple of stops for photos. Maybe a constant 75-mph on the highway would be theoretically worse for range, but we weren’t sparing the amps by any means.

You probably already know if you want this cheeky, bugeyed Zero FXS, or can fit one into your lifestyle. If your commute is 40 miles or less in each direction, you work eight-hour days, and have a place to plug in at the office, you’re golden. With the onboard charger, the ZF6.5 pack recharges to 95 percent in 8.4 hours, which is why you can’t really take it to near-zero on the way into work. Adding an extra outboard charger reduces the time to 3.3 hours. (The FXS is not able to accept the new SAE J1772-spec Charge Tank quick charger that’s an option for the SDS-series bikes, which triples on-board charging speeds.)

Early eBikes were, not to be unkind, a bit dull. You had to be a total eGeek to find pleasure in motivating purely by electricity and tolerate the short range and limited options. It’s a different world in 2016, and while the FXS’s two-battery configuration keeps it from matching the range of its bigger siblings, it more than compensates with a verve and, dare I suggest it, a kind of charisma not associated with combustion-less motorcycling. If the Tesla electric car can have an “insane mode,” why can’t motorcycling have a true hooligan powered by batteries?

2016 Zero FXS Ebike on dyno
2016 Zero FXS
The 2016 FXS puts down 70 pound-feet of torque. Every Zero is tested on a dyno, and every battery pack is constantly QC'd, tested for power capacity, and checked for proper charging characteristics before leaving the factory.©Motorcyclist

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION  
Based on the FX lightweight dual-sport, the FXS adds sharper chassis geometry, 17-inch wheels, and a power transformer full of personality.
RIVALS  
[Zero][] FX
TECH  2016 Zero FXS ZF6.5
PRICE $10,990
MOTOR TYPS a-c permanent-magnet AC
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 1-speed/belt
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 44.0 @ 3700 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 70 lb.-ft. @ n/a rpm
FRAME Aluminum double cradle
FRONT SUSPENSION Showa 41mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 7.0-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Showa shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 8.9-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE J-Juan two-piston caliper, 320mm disc with ABS
REAR BRAKE J-Juan single-piston caliper, 240mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 24.4º/2.8 in.
WHEELBASE 56.0 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.9 in.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 293 lb.
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT [zeromotorcycles.com][]
VERDICT  
Brilliantly fun, becoming a better value (with improved battery/motor tech) but still a range-limited joy toy.