Silence is Golden – Bike Review of the 2016 Zero FXS

In America, Reviews, Sport by AbhiLeave a Comment

The MotoGP festivities in Austin have left me with no time to share the usual daily amount of bikes for sale (what a way to whine, huh?), so instead today you’ll get one large post on one bike. Hope you enjoy!

This review was originally published on RideApart.

Since this review was published, some buddies and I created a quick video of our time with the Zero. Take a look:

Criticizing an electric motorcycle isn’t difficult, thanks to the limited range and length of time to recharge. But if you can be a little open-minded, you’ll find that Zero’s FXS is quite possibly the most entertaining commuter bike available for purchase today.

Let’s just get the obvious issues out of the way first:
1. Zero claims a range of 90 miles in the city. I have a heavy throttle hand and couldn’t get more than 70 miles, but that’s because the power delivery is addictive and I found every excuse I could to pin the throttle. Before you start coming up with reasons why that’s not good enough, think about how many miles you would get out of a supermoto that could keep up with this (no, a DR-Z 400SM doesn’t count) before you would run out of gas as well.

You’ll get real familiar with this Zero logo.

2. It’ll take about 9 hours to charge the battery from a complete discharge. It’s rare that you’d get the battery down to 0%, but the length of charge time was the biggest issue for me from a day to day commuting perspective. If you just ride to work, plug it in, then ride it back home, you’ll be fine. But if you’re expecting to meet someone for lunch or run some errands, you’ll need to become good at planning!

3. While having just one gear means you can ‘twist and go’, it also means there’s no clutch or shift lever, and that takes away a little bit from the experience. It does make doing this easy, though:

Here’s why you shouldn’t let any of that bother you: this motorcycle is absurdly fun. There are two fundamental characteristics of the FXS that make it such a joy, and they both stem from the electric drivetrain. I expected the first attribute, which was instant power delivery. The second attribute took me by surprise – the near-silence that comes when your fuel comes from protons and electrons and not gasoline.

Old and new.

Let’s start with the power delivery. Zero claims 70 pound-feet of torque, which is staggering for this kind of bike. For the sake of comparison, that’s basically double the peak torque figures of all the new 450cc motocross bikes. Because there’s only one gear, you can just twist the throttle for easily replicable joy. From about 15 mph to 50 mph, this bike provides the most effortless fun I can remember experiencing on a street bike. This invited me to shoot gaps in traffic that I would not try with other motorcycles to the point that I had to tell myself to slow down. The power combined with the light weight and riding position make this a scalpel on city streets.

You might be wondering why I specified this bike was fun after 15 mph. Zero knows that this amount of power (and especially torque) off the line could lead to trouble, so they’ve sadly toned it down until you hit approximately 15 miles per hour. It was a logical decision on their part but a sad realization on my end as it makes it difficult to loft the front wheel up. Riders more talented than I are able to do it, though:

You’ll encounter plenty of surprises as you get familar with the FXS. You’ll occasionally reach for a clutch lever that isn’t there. You’ll catch yourself wondering if using the high beams or turning on the hazard lights will affect your range. You’ll appreciate the convenience of just plugging your motorcycle in at night instead of heading out to a gas pump. You’ll wonder if Zero FXS is pronounced “Zero Fucks”, and then your friend who spends too much time on the internet will make a dumb joke about the meme that you’ll ignore.

What you won’t ignore is the the battery percentage meter. Range anxiety is real!
With most gas powered motorcycles, fuel gauges are vague and usually in intervals, so you just think that you have half a tank or a third of a tank left. The Zero’s battery percentage meter is more like the “Estimated Range Remaining” readout you’ll get in newer bikes – in some ways it’s too precise because it makes you more conscious of the energy depletion, and on the Zero you may start to panic a little when you’re on the highway. I noted above that Zero claims a range of 90 miles, but that’s only if you’re in the city. Because there’s only one gear, sustained highway travel requires the electric motor to spin at high RPMs for a long time, and that depletes the battery quicker. So, if you’re doing 70 mph on the highway, your range drops to 37 miles. And if you’re like me and you hit max speed just to see what this bike can do (83 miles per hour, by the way), you can actually see the battery meter lose a percentage point every 10 seconds or so. To be fair, if you’re doing 30+ freeway miles a day, this bike isn’t for you. It’s just something worth noting.

Also worth nothing – the FXS is available with one battery or two, and despite the extra $2,254 and 42 pounds for the additional battery, you’d be foolish to just leave the dealership with one. While you can remove and replace batteries within about a minute or so, the weight and form factor don’t make it convenient to lug them around so you’ll probably just keep both batteries in the entire time.

Photo courtesy of Zero

The torque is the same despite the number of batteries, so if you’re just running a few laps at Adams Motorsports Park you may want to run an experiment to see if the decrease in horsepower from one battery is worth the 40+ pound savings in the corners. I’d watch that!

Photo courtesy of Zero

With all of that said, the biggest surprise of the Zero FXS is the silence. You thought car drivers didn’t notice you before? This bike will keep your defensive riding skills sharp. With that said, the silence leads to the best part of this motorcycle: you can explore all kinds of places with the FXS without troubling anyone. Any supermoto is inherently a great bike to goof around with, and in this case, the lack of noise lets you get away with plenty.

Want to take a shortcut down a staircase? Done.

Cut through a park? Have some fun in the process!

Ride by a cop? No problem.

Stop and smell the flowers?

Or just ride through the office and park right at your desk.

This bike will revolutionize your commute. If you were to do these things with a normal supermoto in Los Angeles, you’d be attracting plenty of unwanted attention. But no one seems to care when you’re on the FXS, and it’s liberating! However you want to have fun with this bike, you can do it without the worry of disrupting other people. Hop over to a large parking lot and you can do burnouts, top speed runs and practice locking up the rear wheel to your heart’s content – someone in an office 30 feet away won’t even notice you’re there. Just know that if you want to jump this bike, you’ll need to equip the optional chain conversion first!

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with the FXS, but as it is with every bike, this Zero ain’t perfect. My major complaint is with the ABS system. The J Juan brakes are strong and exhibit minimal fade, but the Bosch ABS system is seriously lacking. It kicks in way too early and it often takes too long for the system to re-apply brake pressure. I’m not one of those people who thinks I can always do better than a computer, but at least on dry surfaces, I found this ABS to be counter-productive and I was able to stop in shorter distances with the system off. You can turn ABS off with a combination of buttons but you’ll have to do it every time you start the bike (or pull the fuse, I guess). My speculative thought is that Zero uses the same system in this bike as they use in their ~460 pound SR model, so the calibration isn’t correct for the ~300 pound FXS and thus it’s easy to engage the ABS.

Photo courtesy of Zero

A minor complaint has to do with storage for the charging cable. If you’re just using the FXS as a track toy, great. But if you’re using it as a commuter, you’ll want to carry a charging cable around with you unless you’ve got multiple waiting for you at your home/office/friend’s place/secret underground lair. Conveniently, you can plug the FXS into any standard outlet, and the supplied IEC charge cord looks a lot like what you’d normally plug into the back of your desktop PC. However, those cords are often rated at 10 A and the FXS requires a 15 A cable.

The FXS is obviously supposed to be the lightest, quickest option in Zero’s model range, so an argument could be made that they’re trying to save as much weight as possible. I can sympathize with that, but I think a charging cord is an integral part of the bike and this is a concession that has to be made for practicality’s sake. The problem is, there’s no place to store one, so I was always lugging around an Aerostich messenger bag or a Velomacchi backpack with me just to store the power cord. There’s an odd cylindrical shape in the front of the swingarm that could easily store the cable, and if I owned a FXS I would source some end caps to create a mini storage space:

If I’m really nitpicking, I don’t care for the side stand. It’s surprisingly difficult to get the stand down without looking at it, and I think the silver color stands out in a bad way in the sea of black that is the FXS. Still, those are very minor issues.

Photo courtesy of Zero

The FXS didn’t just entertain me, it actually filled me with a sense of wonder. It’s legitimately fast and fun at city speeds, and it’s just about impossible to get off the bike without thinking it will be the future of riding. Yes, battery technology has a way to go, but Zero isn’t the only company investing lots of money into that field. The advancements will come. Pedestrians (and especially cyclists at stop lights) would constantly ask me the usual questions: price, range, and charge time. Whenever I told them the range, they would usually respond with a confused facial expression. If you want maximum range, go get a Zero SR with the optional Power Tank. But if you want to have as much fun as possible on an electric motorcycle, grab yourself a FXS, an excellent addition to Zero’s portfolio.

Like I mentioned at the beginning, this was originally shared on RideApart. Many thanks to Jim Downs for providing the Zero for me to enjoy! But I solicited questions from y’all when I first got the bike and I wanted to make sure I answered everyone, because I’m not a good enough writer to weave all of these answers into the review itself. So, here’s an impromptu Q&A just for you guys and gals:

Kendall asked: Abhi, It’d be great to get your impression of real life riding. Charge in the morning, ride to work. Run errands after work, head out to dinner then ride home…. How many miles and overall sense of the charge that it has on a daily run around. I’m quite interested.
This is a tough one because everyone obviously has a different day-to-day experience with riding. I’ll just share what my experience was and then you can try to relate as much as possible to your own situation. My ‘real’ job is all of 4 miles away from my home, whether I take side streets or the freeway. If I was just riding back and forth to work and doing nothing else, then I obviously wouldn’t not have a problem with range. On average I found that if I took side streets to work, I’d have 95% of battery life left when I got arrived in the morning, and if I took the freeway I’d have 90% – constant high speed mileage really drains the battery, I’ll get more into this in a later question.

Pictured – not me going to work. Photo courtesy of Zero.

Even though the battery was barely depleted I would make it a habit to plug the bike in when I got into work. I usually don’t ‘travel’ much once I’m at the office for the day, nothing beyond a local restaurant for lunch. However one day I had a client meeting at Keck Hospital of USC, which is 17 miles away from my office. As mentioned above, if you’re doing 70 on the freeway, your claimed range is 37 miles. I didn’t want to chance it (because I surely would have been going faster than 70) so I went home, grabbed my K1200R, and took that to the meeting instead. Not the epitome of efficiency, I admit, but it was the only time in 3 weeks where I felt limited by the Zero’s range on a day-to-day basis. Otherwise the general daily routine of work – lunch – work – home – errands – dinner with friends – home did not present problems.

GarbanzoBean asked: Is it easy to wheelie? How much does it hurt to push it past a gas station with a dead battery? Do you miss having a thumping and burning metal lung between your legs when you ride it? Will any part of it burn you?
I referred to this above but I found it very difficult to wheelie. Again, this is by design as Zero has programmed the motor controller to restrict output at low speeds. I’m guessing if you tried a stand-up wheelie and compressed the front forks first it’d be a bit easier, but I’m not comfortable with that on my own bike, let alone some company’s press bike! The Instagram video above hopefully shows that other people can do it just fine. Something I didn’t get into with the review is Zero’s phone app, which connects via Bluetooth to share some information and let you program the torque output and regeneration of a “Custom” ride map. I bring this up to illustrate that there’s a lot of technology involved with the FXS, so hopefully someone is able to figure out how to crack the mapping and allow full torque from a stop (and I’d completely understand if this voided the warranty). I searched around online a bit but it looks like no one has figured this out. Yet.

I wouldn’t know how much it hurts to push the bike past a gas station because I got a gold star in route preparation! Seriously though, at less than 300 pounds this isn’t the worst bike to push a few blocks, but I hope it’ll never come to that.

I didn’t miss the engine as much as I missed the clutch lever and gear shifter.

Lastly, I don’t believe any part will burn you. The bike does monitor (and display) battery temperature and if it gets too hot you’ll activate a limp mode of sorts. I can’t imagine I ever came close to doing so – I suspect you’d either have to be doing a very long burnout or be riding in Death Valley to have this be a concern.

Dnaj asked: I want to know if it’s cool? Or is it just a Prius on two wheels.
I think it’s VERY cool, but I am also a terrible judge of what’s cool nowadays. Hell, I’m geeky enough that I thought the 2nd generation Prius was cool when it was first released, too. I’m sure Zero would love for their bikes to become so ubiquitous that we find them boring in the future. But back to reality – it felt like everyone who noticed this bike felt obligated to comment on it, and they all wanted to know more about it. Think being the center of attention is cool? Then yes, this bike is cool.

I also think it’s cool-looking in a sort of ugly way. You might look at the front and see something inspired by the Terminator. I see a ‘robot owl’:

Just remember that I daily ride a K1200R and a R1150GS, so clearly aesthetics don’t matter to me.

Jackola asked: Like a Tesla, that you cant run it wfo with radio, lights and a.c. on and get very far. Ride a race “zero” wfo and see how far you get.
I’m still not sure if this was a declaration or a question asking me to confirm the statement, but either way this comment is true – you won’t go very far if you’re just riding at top speed because the electric motor has to spin so fast and it just drains the battery. A second gear would do wonders for the range.

If you want to race the FXS on a supermoto track, that’s great, and you’ll rarely approach top speed on those courses before you’re braking for the next turn. If you need to ride 30 miles at 80 mph, this just isn’t the bike for you. And that’s OK!

Smudge asked: Hey Abhi, What do you think of the pricing? Is it value for money?
No, I don’t think it’s value for money, but I also don’t think it’s unreasonable. MSRP is $10,990, though after the federal tax credit you’re effectively looking at $9,890. Operating costs are definitely lower, and Zero has a cute guide to the top 15 things you won’t have to do anymore:

Courtesy of Zero

This bike isn’t for someone who’s looking for the best bang for their buck, it’s for someone who wants to have fun and can deal with the current limitations of battery technology. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I’d say (at least in the US) that most riders didn’t buy their bikes because they wanted the cheapest way to travel – they bought it to have fun and the gas mileage is just a bonus. The components of an electric powertrain are getting cheaper to produce and there will be a day where the electric option will be a cheaper initial investment than the gas option. Until then, you’re stuck paying a premium if you want to be part of the movement.

Wally asked: Real simple. If you were shopping for a new motorcycle, would you buy one?
When you first asked this (before I got the bike), I assumed my answer would be no. But now I’m surprising even myself by saying that I would absolutely consider one, as long as it would be a 2nd or 3rd option in the garage. The problem is you’re asking the wrong person – if I’m spending my own money, there’s approximately 40 used bikes I want my grubby hands on before I’d consider any new motorcycle. For what it’s worth, I’ve spent plenty of time on the phone with my father discussing the FXS and he wants me to ask Zero if I can get a discount on the press bike…so I might just be answering this question with my wallet after all.

Jarrod Pirtle asked: How’s the range anxiety? Psychologically, are you able to get over it?
It’s real, and it’s especially disconcerting when you’re doing 80-ish and just counting down the percentage points of the battery gauge. You just learn to plan ahead – and to take side streets instead of the freeway.

Have no fear, though – we found a solution. Just plug the Zero into the inverter of a car while you’re rolling, and you’re all good:

Note: This does not actually work.

Mort Smith asked: Off road prowess?
Much better than I was expecting, but I was expecting next to nothing thanks to the Pirelli Diablo Rosso tires and belt drive. I included that sliding photo just for you! With that said, if you wanted to get dirty on a regular basis you should really be looking at the FX, which is basically (I’m oversimplifying) the same bike with Pirelli Scorpions and a 21″ front wheel. Oh, and don’t forget that chain conversion kit! As an aside, I test rode a FX over a year ago on a whim and found it much easier on that bike to loft the front wheel. Don’t know why.

Alexei Groff asked: Do you make engine noises while driving it?
I tried to but my passenger kept telling me to shut up. Seriously though, you won’t even want to – it actually makes a cool whirring sound that’ll you love if you’re a little geeky.

Here endeth the Q&A. Hope you enjoyed the review!