Zero Motorcycles started in 2006 with one motorcycle, the Zero X. It was designed by a former aeronautical engineer who had also designed mountain bike frames for the likes of Santa Cruz, Trek, Mountain Cycle and Haro. The Zero X weighed a mere 140 pounds, had 3-inch motorcycle tires and was on the spindly side, but it could rip its way up to nearly 60 mph in about 3 seconds. It was properly scary, but really fun to ride.
“It begs you to bathe in the thrill of the torque!”
Since then, Zero has gotten away from making what would today be considered overbuilt mountain bikes, and they’ve moved stridently into the world of manufacturing full-fledged e-motorcycles. They now offer three main platforms—SR (sportbike), the FX (trail and on-road) and the DS (dual-sport). Additionally, they also have a few specific models that are more sport-specific to the main three. The FXS tested here is a Supermoto version of the FX. We reviewed the DS last year and loved it, and they asked us if we’d like to try the FXS. Do you think there’s even a 1-percent chance we’d say no?
Each of the Zero bikes has its own frame design. The FX platform traces its roots back to the Zero X. The black aluminum frame encloses the battery, where you’d expect the internal combustion engine to be found in a regular motorcycle. There are two options on this bike—one with a 3.6-kilowatt-hour battery that is removable/hot swappable and one with the built-in 7.2-kilowatt-hour battery. Both have about 10 percent more capacity over last year’s models.
Without a doubt, the Zero is a true motorcycle. Instead of an internal combustion engine, the permanent magnet motor sits behind the battery near the base of the swingarm. Most of the plastic cladding is found on the front of the bike near what would normally be a gas tank. Dual headlamps are in a high-beam/low-beam configuration and have a more modern look than a single headlight would.
As Henry Ford once said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black.” Zero follows suit here by only offering the FXS in black. It looks so good, and the black cloaks the fact that the bike is electric to most people.
The Z-Force motor is designed to be both powerful and efficient. It delivers up to 70 horsepower and 116 pound-feet of torque. The motor and battery technology is something that Zero has engineered from their experience in a decade of making electric motorcycles. The new 550-amp controller is virtually overheat-proof, even at high loads for long periods of time. Improvements for 2017 include 19 percent more torque and 11 percent more power, and a wider, stronger drive belt to handle all of that.
The battery is warranted with a five-year, unlimited-mileage replacement guarantee. Zero claims the battery is good for 300,000 miles before it’s down to 80 percent of its rated capacity. By then, you’d likely want to upgrade to a new model. At the rate they keep adding capacity, your next battery
could be your last.
Zero worked closely with Showa to design the front and rear suspension with full adjustability in spring preload, compression and rebound damping for a customized ride. It made for a supple and very predictable ride, even over uneven roads.
WHO IT’S MADE FOR
With so much torque and power, we almost hesitate to say the Zero is good for beginners, but you can ease into the power easily in Eco mode. With no clutch or shifting to deal with, riding the Zero is much simpler than a traditional motorcycle. It’s definitely one less thing to think about while riding. Experienced riders will miss it, but beginners will welcome this. You don’t need a “friction zone” to get going slowly.
Starting at $8495, the FXS is the lowest-priced electric bike of the Zero line, making it a great entry-level way to get into an electric vehicle. And unlike any affordable electric vehicle out there, it’s something you’ll find any excuse to ride because of the fun factor. It’s also great if you live in an area full of houses or apartment complexes, especially if you leave for work early in the morning. Unlike those neighbors with loud cruisers, nobody will be awakened by your departure.
It’s strange to turn the key on a bike, then slide the rocker on the start switch and hear nothing. There’s no engine to turn over. It is dead silent. No vibration under you, nothing. That can be a little off-putting and even misleading. If you like to blip the throttle, you can’t here. Since there’s no transmission, there’s no clutch. When you twist the throttle, the bike moves. Simple, but if you’re used to a conventional motorcycle, it’s a foreign concept.
There are three power modes. Beginners will enjoy the Eco mode. It allows you to ease into riding this beast. It offers a slower power curve, conserves battery by not accelerating like a banshee and when you let off the throttle, the direct-drive motor offers some regeneration. At the other end of the spectrum is Sport, which offers some of the highest performance and quick acceleration we’ve ever experienced.
The third mode is called Custom and is set wirelessly via a mobile app that allows riders to customize the power output, regen and more. We loved this mode, setting the torque, top speed and power at the highest settings, but also maxing the regeneration. This allows for all the performance you can get, but enough motor drag to feel like you’re downshifting when you let off the throttle. In town we were able to use little to no braking at all coming up to lights this way, and in corners it felt natural with a little drag going in, then transferring to power on the way out.
When we first took the bike out, we tried it on a twisty road near the office. Getting to the road (about four miles away) used 10 percent of the battery. Now, we were riding in Custom or Sport the whole way and not sparing any acceleration when leaving lights. Why accelerate slowly when you can get to the 50-mph speed limit in a couple of seconds, right?
The long climb up that road with a lot of elevation gain didn’t seem to take that much out of the battery after that. In fact, we did get about 1 percent per mile, depending on how hard we hit the throttle. Electric bikes use more energy the faster you use them, and Zero claims that at 70 mph on the freeway, you can get as little as 30 miles per charge. It’s made more for commuting. We split our time on the bike between city riding and canyons.
The DS model we had last year had a nearly 14-kilowatt-hour battery, twice the capacity of the battery in the FXS. We did get 100 miles out of the DS. The longest ride we put in on one charge was a 55-mile ride, ending up with 38 percent of the battery left. That seems to equate to almost 90 miles, especially if it was kept in Eco and ridden modestly, which is really, really hard to do on this bike. It begs you to bathe in the thrill of the torque!
Cornering was fantastic on pavement. The bike felt so planted in corners, it almost felt like it had traction control. The only time the Pirelli tires slipped was a hard turn through a painted crosswalk at an intersection, but it never lost full traction. We spent a lot of early mornings or late afternoons after work playing around in the canyons in Malibu. At first, we were concerned about range on some rides up Pacific Coast Highway, but even at highway speeds, the concern over range didn’t worry us. After a week or so, our range anxiety disappeared.
For longer rides, we did think that an optional windscreen would be a great idea to help with wind resistance and to help battle fatigue. Even without that, the ride is still sublimely quiet; all you can hear is the wind in your helmet. Riders used to playing music while riding could keep it at a far lower level than on a regular motorcycle.
We did take the bike off-road, and it’s pretty capable on rutted dirt roads. Suspension was a little stiff for major off-road use, but still capable of some fun. The FX version, with different tires, is a better setup for dual-purpose riding. Our sister zine, Dirt
Bike magazine, tested the bike last year, and it proved to be faster than any 250cc two-stroke or four-stroke and was encroaching on
Zero has come a long way since they began production, and they now have some of the best range and performance available in the relatively small electric motorcycle space. Their technical, design and manufacturing experience really shows in this bike.
We think beginners will love the FXS because it has no clutch or shifting duties to worry about. The price is great, with the smaller, swappable 3.6-kilowatt-hour version coming in at just over $8000, or the 7.2-kilowatt-hour version at $10,495. Experienced riders, too, would like the Zero despite missing the thrilling noise and audible feedback that you get with an internal combustion engine. It has decent range if you’re using it for a couple of hours a day, whether commuting or just getting out of the office for a bit to ride some twisties and clear your head.
There’s virtually no expense to running this bike, other than electricity, which is far cheaper than the cost of gas. Maintenance includes occasional belt checks, tires and brake pads. It can be charged overnight from a 110-volt household plug, or there are some third-party supercharging setups to cut that time to about two hours.
If it makes sense to you for the rides you take and you can afford the up-front costs, you might want to find a dealer near you for a test ride.
SPECS ZERO FXS ZF7.2
MSRP: $10,495 (as tested, $8495 for the ZF3.6 Modular)
Frame: Zero aluminum
Fork: Showa 41mm inverted cartridge with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear shock: Showa 40mm piston, piggyback reservoir shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Battery: Z-Force 7.2 kWh
Charge time: 9.7 hours from 0%
Top speed:85 mph
Range: 40–90 miles (tested)
Drive: 90T/18T Poly Chain HDT carbon belt
Brakes: J Juan with Bosch Gen 9 ABS, 320mm/240mm discs
Tires:Pirelli Diablo Rosso II 110/70-17 (F), Pirelli Diablo Rosso II 140/70-17 (R)
Weight:293 pounds (133 kilograms)
Color choices: Black
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