Zero FXS: Electric Supermoto

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ZERO INTRODUCED THE ORIGINAL DS, dual-sport model. The FX dual-sport model added removable battery packs.  The “cellbox” battery technology in the Z-Force allows a single battery to be used as a building-block for the entire product line by daisy-chaining multiple units in order to increase available power in either a modular (removable) or brick (internal) design. There is a free Bluetooth-enabled app that connects directly to the bike to review data and modify the performance settings. In 2015, Zero added performance-oriented Bosch ABS braking, Showa suspension and Pirelli tires and introduced the optional Charge Tank, for fast-charging at SAE J1772 “Level 2” public charging stations. For 2016, Zero has combined these technologies and created the FXS supermoto and DSR dual-sport, both with a new Z-Force Interior Permanent Magnet (IPM) motor intended to improve simplicity, durability and performance under heavier stress.

Motor

I rode the FXS 6.5 (kWh), which features two batteries versus the 3.3’s single power pack. The bike is powered by a compact, air-cooled Z-Force 75-5, radial flux, IPM, brushless motor with a 420-amp, three-phase brushless controller and regenerative deceleration, which produces 44 hp and 70 lb.-ft. of torque. The sealed and highly effcient powertrain requires no routine maintenance or complex cooling systems, which will reduce long-term ownership costs substantially. Range anxiety is still a big concern and our bike came with a claimed ability to motor 90 miles in the city, but only 37 miles at a 70 mph highway speed. I took a mixed-use route to work that included 4.5 miles of stoplight- infested urban roads, followed by 12.8 miles of freeway. At just beyond 17 miles, I had only 48 percent battery remaining— not enough to get home. Fortunately, I had scoped out the parking structure the day before. The bike, unfortunately, is not equipped to use the EV station, but I found a 110V outlet. I plugged in and headed upstairs to work. Parking security personnel (who drive electric golf carts), decided to cite me, noting “not EV parking” on the ticket. Adding insult to injury, they unplugged the bike. I returned to find only a 52-percent charge. I headed home, watching the power drain as I rolled down the freeway at 70 mph. I pulled into my driveway at zero charge, a grand total of 35.9 miles—including the 4-percent boost during the brief plug-in.  The 52-pound batteries can be installed or replaced individually or in pairs, charged on the motorcycle or on-board with optional accessories and may be swapped regardless of individual state of charge. Charging time from empty via standard 110V outlet is a claimed 8.9 hours. After running the batteries full dead, I plugged it into a garage outlet and came back the next morning to a full charge, which is all I expected from my three-prong outlet. Pack life is an estimated 200,000 miles before reaching 80 percent capacity. Acceleration is impressive: 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds, thanks to ample torque coming on immediately from idle. Custom ride modes can be configured in the Zero app, including top speed, max torque, max engine and brake power regeneration. “Eco” riding mode limits speed to 70 mph and reduces torque to lessen battery drain. “Sport” mode restricts top speed to 82 mph. “Custom” allows a maximum power regen and a speed of 84 mph. We achieved a GPS measured top speed of 83 mph. However, if the motor or batteries reach thermal limits, the electronic limiter reduces output to lower the temperature. This resulted in several 2 mph speed drops while retaining full throttle. The transition was not smooth, but it allowed the bike to stay near maximum output for short periods of time. The real problem was under heavy stress, after repeated quarter-mile attempts, the overheat condition shut the throttle down completely—the speedometer read 0 and the bike would continue decelerating. After coming to a stop, the throttle would not re-engage the first twist, but releasing it and twisting it again would bring the bike back to life. I was able to reproduce this on two different bikes. I feared an overheat could shut the throttle off at freeway speed, causing the bike to slow, without the benefit of a brake light. This could lead to a dangerous situation for the rider. Thankfully, I didn’t experience it outside of abusive testing. Zero recommends a maximum sustained speed of 75 mph and I would encourage riders to consider their usage before choosing a limit.

Transmission 

The direct-drive system has no clutch, no shifting, no added weight of a transmission and is driven via 132T/25T, Poly Chain GT Carbon belt. It’s geared well for quickness off the line that won’t push the front tire out from under the rider or cause the rear to spin wildly, quite a feat given the low weight and immense torque. The bike rapidly accelerates to about 60 mph, after which it takes a while to pick up additional speed. The entire drivetrain is near silent and surprised just about everyone I snuck up on. Suspension The suspension is a big improvement from earlier models, featuring Showa 41mm inverted cartridge forks up front, with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping. They were set soft, which initially made the bike feel extremely unstable under braking, but increasing compression produced great results. The only time I bottomed out the 7 inches of travel was coming off a tabletop on the dirt section of the kart track. Out back, the 40mm Showa piggyback reservoir shock features an incredible 8.94 inches of travel and is preload, compression and rebound adjustable. It might take some time to get the suspension set up correctly, but the results make it well worth the effort. Brakes and Wheels  The FXS features dual-level, adjustable regenerative braking, which was most effective when cranked up for max regen.  The effect feels similar to engine braking on a midsize twin when rolling off the throttle. The new Bosch Gen 9 ABS works admirably, keeping the bike in line, and can be disabled for the track. I generally recommend leaving the ABS on, as aggressive braking on the front readily causes the rear tire to lift and overbraking the rear makes it go sideways. Braking is very manageable and provides excellent feedback. The J. Juan-manufactured asymmetric dual piston floating caliper up front squeezes a 320 x 5 mm disc and a single piston floating caliper rubs up against a 240 x 4.5 mm disc in the rear.  The high-performance Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires provided excellent traction best suited to use on pavement.

Ergonomics and Handling

The riding position is excellent, and there is nearly zero vibration, which feels very strange at first, as the handlebars, pegs and mirrors do not vibrate. Since there is no clutch or shifter, all that’s needed is a twist and go. The bike can feel a bit squirrelly when being pushed hard, even when the suspension is dialed, due to the lightweight and quick steering. The 9-inch ground clearance is excellent, but a large sidestand is the first thing down on hard lefts. The only complaint is when this silent bike is live, it is not always obvious—I accidentally ran into a few curbs.

Instruments and Controls 

The dash is simple, clear and readable. The biggest two data points are speedometer and battery power. Range anxiety is amplifed by watching the large percent sign tick down one unit roughly every half mile. The most interesting bit was an output and regen bar in the lower right. During acceleration, the bar moves above the line and when slowing it moves below, indicating power is being sent back to the batteries. Regen maxes at approximately 7 percent of output, meaning it won’t be recharging the battery much—I never saw the percent of charge remaining actually increase. The right turn-signal indicator was located below the cables—I often could not tell if the signal was on.

Attention to Detail

I found myself repeatedly saying, “It’s a battery with wheels attached.” When you look at the profile, it’s all batteries and wheels. When you calculate the batteries at 104 pounds of the total 295-pound weight, it is also not far from the truth. There isn’t much here to complicate things and a certain grace in simplicity that actually works well, especially for those who live by the words eco, sustainable or energy-effcient. There is no doubt it is electric when someone sees the bike, which is a conversation-starter.

Value

At $10,990 before any applicable EV incentives or rebates, it’s a bit pricey for the lack of range. One might be tempted to save a little by buying the single battery 3.3 version, but I’d recommend against it based on limited range. I tried to figure out what its best use would be. It’s not perfect for a supermoto, because the batteries only last 30-60 minutes, which would require additional investment in additional batteries, an on-bike charger and access to a higher amp electrical system (some tracks have RV plugs). It’s not great on highway due to incredibly light weight and range between 30-40 miles at a legal top speed of 65 mph. It is practical for quick jaunts around town or a short urban commute, where the worry of having to recharge it is negligible. As a substitute for a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV)—aka “golf carts”—I had a lot of fun bumping around the cul-de-sacs on the Zero, visiting neighbors, jumping speed bumps and occasionally adventuring into the grassy park. Equivalent fuel economy is over 500 MPG in the city and 200 MPG on the highway and a recharge costs under a buck. If you can live within these limitations, you will have a lot of fun on this bike. —David Hilgendorf  OCTOBER 2016

Kevin Wing photos

MODEL COMPARISON

1. The Zero’s Z-Force Li-Ion power pack recharges in about nine hours on a standard 110V wall plug and has a maximum range of about 70 miles, half that on the freeway. 2. MX styling makes the FXS look purposeful. Bug-eye LED lights, vibration-free mirrors and matte-black coloring round out the stealthy superhero look. 3. The Zero FXS ZF6.5 has a trim figure, which gives it a nimble feel when maneuvering, and wide bars make it very flickable. The monster sidestand is the first point of lean contact. 4. The rear setup is athletic, with Showa suspension and Bosch brakes on the 17-inch wheel. The 110V power cable stores nicely in the hole through the swingarm. 5. The Showa inverted cartridge forks, with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping allow for adventuring. Be certain to spend time dialing them in for best results. Bosch Gen 9 ABS brakes with dual piston floating caliper provide excellent stopping (and stoppie) capabilities, but the lightweight bike doesn’t stick to the ground very well. 6. Settings and analytics are accessible through the Zero app, installed on a smartphone and connected via Bluetooth. Operating at maximum top speed can cause an overheat. – RUSSELL EVANS TESTER’S LOG The FXS is a fun little bike, with emphasis on little. It weighs only 295 pounds and felt more like a giant electric bicycle, until I twisted the throttle and it rapidly accelerated to freeway speeds. Once on the freeway I was once again reminded of how small, and top-end limited, it is. Then I acquired severe range anxiety upon arriving to work with only 48-percent battery remaining. This wouldn’t be a problem if I had reliable access to a charging solution. These experiences encouraged me to reevaluate how I would use a small electric bike, so I relegated it to short jaunts around the neighborhood, at which it excels. Everyone wants to talk about it, even if they have no interest in motorcycles—probably because I snuck up on them like that stealthy ninja, Batman. It’s really quite odd to see a motorcycle and not hear anything, there just aren’t many people riding bikes like this, probably because they can’t go very far. Big fun in small doses. – Russell Evans