2016 Zero FXS

Editor Score: 85.0%
Engine 18.5/20
Suspension/Handling 12.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 10.0/10
Brakes 8.0/10
Instruments/Controls5.0/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.5/10
Appearance/Quality 8.5/10
Desirability 8.0/10
Value 6.5/10
Overall Score85/100

If you’ve been keeping tabs, we’ve ridden the Zero FX quite a lot. First in 2013 when I rode one to the top of Pikes Peak, during the 91st running of the iconic event. Later that year I was fortunate enough to be drafted onto a team that raced another FX twice around the clock, making history as the first electric motorcycle to do so. In 2014, Zero’s VP of Global Marketing, and off-road racing legend, Scot Harden, invited E-i-C Kevin Duke and myself to his backyard track to get a taste of the FX in its natural (dirt) environment. Following that, Editor Roderick and I took another FX to Adams Motorsports Park to put it head-to-head with a Suzuki DRZ-400SM, for a gas vs. electric supermoto face-off – where it won! And, because I hadn’t had enough of the FX, in early 2015, I had the bright idea to take one to the short track at Del Mar to try my hand at flat track “racing” (in quotes because I had no idea what I was doing). So, with no less than five Zero FX stories in our archives, a natural next question might be: “Another Zero FX review?!”

Yes indeed, and here’s why: save for the trip to Harden’s compound and the trek to Del Mar to play in the dirt, each time we rode the FX on pavement the bike had been modified for supermoto use by Harlan Flagg of Hollywood Electrics. The most obvious change being the switch to 17-inch wire-spoke wheels and sticky rubber to replace the 21-inch front and 18-inch rear that comes standard. At around $3,000, Flagg’s top-of-the-line SuMo kit for the FX transforms the bike into an immensely entertaining kart track or backroad bomber, but it’s a hefty price to pay on top of the $10,990 for the bike itself ($9,890 after a $1,100 federal tax credit).

Fitting 17-inch wheels and sticky Pirelli rubber on an FX chassis to create the 2016 Zero FXS is an idea we’re surprised Zero didn’t come up with long ago.

Fitting 17-inch wheels and sticky Pirelli rubber on an FX chassis to create the 2016 Zero FXS is an idea we’re surprised Zero didn’t come up with long ago.

Give ’em What They Want

For 2016, Zero dug into its own parts bin of 17-inch wheels from the S and SR models to offer the FX in supermoto trim direct from the factory. The result is the 2016 Zero FXS. In addition to the wheels, 110/70-17 front and 140/70-17 rear Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires are also fitted, the same rubber used on the SR. The S platform also donates its bigger brakes to the FXS, the 320mm disc replacing the 240mm disc on the FX. A J. Juan twin-piston caliper bites down on the disc, supported by steel-braided lines and switchable Bosch ABS.

Zero’s partnership with Showa sees a 41mm fork working in conjunction with a single shock. Both units are fully adjustable, but damping is adjusted slightly from the units on the FX to better suit road duties. Front suspension travel is 7.0 in., rear 8.94 in.

Zero’s TJ Aguirre in the process of removing the retaining bar for the swappable batteries. The premise for the removable batteries was inspired by Zero’s military contracts, which stipulated that the motorcycle had to be able to go from zero to full charge in 60 seconds or less. There was no way Zero’s existing batteries and charging systems could achieve this, so the solution was to simply make the batteries removable and replaceable.

Zero’s TJ Aguirre in the process of removing the retaining bar for the swappable batteries. The premise for the removable batteries was inspired by Zero’s military contracts, which stipulated that the motorcycle had to be able to go from zero to full charge in 60 seconds or less. There was no way Zero’s existing batteries and charging systems could achieve this, so the solution was to simply make the batteries removable and replaceable.

As for the electrics, both the FX and FXS see a 14% increase in capacity from their hot-swappable batteries, the single battery rated at 3.3kWh and the dual-battery setup 6.5kWh (2.9kWh and 5.7kWh nominal, respectively). Zero’s new Z-Force Interior Permanent Magnet (IPM) motor is equipped on FXS models, its ability to create less heat and to more efficiently dissipate heat is a big benefit to supermoto riders (read the Zero DSR review here for more details on the IPM motor, or grab some popcorn and watch this video of Zero’s Director of Powertrain Engineering, Ryan Biffard, give an in-depth explanation of his patent-pending creation).

Meanwhile, the FX (no S) will retain the Surface Mount Permanent Magnet (SMPM) motor used previously. Power output doesn’t change regardless of the motor, meaning 70 lb-ft of torque is on tap, as well as 44 hp (27 hp with the single ZF3.3 battery). Combined with a claimed curb weight of 293 lbs., the FXS has all the ingredients to upset sportbike riders in the canyons.

Let’s Get Crackin’

The world famous Alice’s Restaurant would be the start/finish point for our ride aboard the FXS. If you’ve never been to this popular moto-hangout, it’s nestled deep in the woods of Northern California, which means it’s surrounded by wonderfully twisty ribbons of pavement in all directions. Zero devised a guided loop for the assembled journos to ride, with a pace that left nobody wishing for more. Overnight rains in the area meant the roads were less than ideal, and Zero personnel warned us repeatedly to be mindful of throttle application, as sport tires, damp roads and 70 lb-ft of torque were a potential recipe for a highside.

Roads like this are what the FXS lives for.

Roads like this are what the FXS lives for.

My plan of attack was to ride like I would on any other canyon ride, with no concessions to battery savings. The FXS stayed in Sport mode to take advantage of full power. The reasoning was twofold: First, I wanted to test the bike’s range in a setting that would drain the battery quickly. The second reason is inspired by the experience Roderick and I had during our Gas vs. Electric comparison, where the FX would provide two thrilling laps before thermal cutback diluted the fun significantly. Basically, I wanted to try and overheat the new IPM motor to see how it would react.

From the start, I was liberal with my e-throttle application, careful not to spin up the rear tire, but also demanding as much juice as possible. It’s said over and over again, but the sheer acceleration of electrics is intoxicating, and the FXS is no exception. Power delivery didn’t seem as instant as I remember on past FX models, but without having one to test side-by-side it was impossible to know. Zero says the software hasn’t changed. Still, acceleration is fierce, and if you time it right, goosing the throttle can point the front towards the sky.

The FXS shares its brakes with its S and DS cousins that weigh over 100 lbs. more. On the FXS, that translates into being able to brake late with just one finger.

The FXS shares its brakes with its S and DS cousins that weigh over 100 lbs. more. On the FXS, that translates into being able to brake late with just one finger.

The FXS’s slim body, light weight and wide bars make for a motorcycle eager to be tossed into turns, though the wet roads meant exploring the edge grip of the Pirelli tires would have to wait until another time. That said, the Diablo Rosso II rubber allowed for respectable lean angles considering the conditions.

As with the DSR, some of the assembled journos weren’t happy with the ABS, claiming it intervened too soon and got especially confused while braking over bumps. I personally was never able to activate the front ABS, except while squeezing the lever over rough patches of road. Depending on your riding style, applying the brakes earlier but with less force could be the answer. Either that or switching off the ABS entirely.

Wide bars and relatively little weight make the FXS easy to manhandle through turns.

Wide bars and relatively little weight make the FXS easy to manhandle through turns.

From a performance standpoint, the FXS lives up to the hype of being a supremely fun and entertaining canyon carver. On tight roads I have no doubt it could hang with nearly anything out there. As always, one of the issues with electrics centers around range. Our test loop was exactly 37 miles, according to the tripmeter on my FXS. Granted, it was a brutal 37 miles from a battery life standpoint, but after a thorough flogging, the battery percentage indicator on the dash read 13% charge remaining, with acceleration getting noticeably weaker beginning at 20% charge remaining in order to conserve battery life. Considering Zero claims 52 miles of range in combined city/highway use (“highway” meaning sustained speeds of roughly 70 mph), still having 13% charge left after nearly 40 hard miles is respectable.

Looking at the bigger picture, riding the FXS to the canyons, making a few runs, then heading home seems nearly impossible unless your backyard literally is in the canyon or you take a long lunch break to recharge. And you’ll have to plug into your standard wall outlet, as, unlike the S, SR, DS and DSR, the FXS isn’t compatible with the Zero Charge Tank, meaning it isn’t compatible with J1772 charge plugs at level 2 stations.

Ergonomically, the FXS’s MX roots are obvious with its narrow seat, slim waistline and upright bars.

Ergonomically, the FXS’s MX roots are obvious with its narrow seat, slim waistline and upright bars.

As for the motor overheating, despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to reach the IPM motor’s thermal limits on this ride. Taking into account the chilly ambient temps (55ºF) and periods where we were stuck behind slow-moving traffic, a more thorough test will have to come later when we can stick the FXS on a track.

Better Late Than Never

As far as fun quotients go, the FXS on a tight road is a small slice of heaven. It’s so easy to toss around and, as we experienced during our Gas vs. Electric comparison, it can leave its internal combustion counterparts in the dust with a twist of the throttle.

You’d never be able to ride your internal combustion trail bike on a city park walking trail without pissing off pedestrians. With the FXS, park walkers hardly give you a second look.

You’d never be able to ride your internal combustion trail bike on a city park walking trail without pissing off pedestrians. With the FXS, park walkers hardly give you a second look.

Limited range, long charge times, and relatively high costs are an inherent downside to electrics and the FX is no exception. Sure you can spring for extra FX batteries at $2,852 a pop, or supplemental $599.99 Quick Chargers, but neither option is cost effective or convenient. A federal tax credit of $1,100 helps bring the overall cost of the FXS down to $9,890, with further incentives available in select states. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether the FXS is worth it. If a thrill ride is what you’re after and the above limitations don’t deter you, then the 2016 Zero FXS is worth a look.

Zero FXS
+ Highs

  • Thrilling acceleration
  • Toss-anywhere handling
  • A factory, street-legal supermoto from someone other than Suzuki
– Sighs

  • Limited range
  • Long charge times
  • Still expensive despite federal credit

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  • schizuki

    It was WELL over five years ago that one of the MO honchos (Kevin Duke?) responded to my dismissal of electrics with, “Well-informed ppl say practical battery technology is 3 to 5 years away.”

    Reading this review (and others of the type) tells me that my ignorant opinion continues to be the correct one. It’s been “3 to 5 years away” since I was a kid in the ’70s.

    But hey, I’m sure really cool, practical, economically-sound electric vehicle technology is just around the corner! And I’m sure the usual folks will chime in to tell me so.

    Electrics – the vehicle of the future since 1900.

    • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

      It is here today. A motorcycle commuter would find a bike like this or the Zero S is very practical and affordable for a 20-40 mile round-trip commute. HOnestly, though it is taking longer than I thought it would, but car EV technology is advancing more rapidly. An affordable 200-mile range car will be in the showrooms from 2 manufacturers at the end of 2017. Motoryccles are a tiny market here (even for gas-powered ones!), so I think we’ll have to wait a while longer for a 200-mile range E-moo with a 30-minute charge time. But the technology is here, it’s just a matter of getting to a reasonable price point.

      You have to admit we are way closer than we were in 2009-2010. It’s not like there hasn’t been any progress since then.

    • ZeroLover

      The “better” is always 3-5 years away, quantum computers, fusion energy, crisp TV’s and “clean” diesel.

      Electric motorcycles are already here. I’ve got 10,000 miles on my odometer showing the daily commuter niche has been successfully filled. The “epoch” change was back in 2013 and the updates since then have just been more icing on the cake.

      • schizuki

        “Electric motorcycles are already here. I’ve got 10,000 miles on my
        odometer showing the daily commuter niche has been successfully filled.”

        “Daily commuter” niche. Not “practical motorcycle” niche. If all you want is a fair-weather commuter vehicle, great. If you want a motorcycle – as in, ride all morning, grab lunch, ride all afternoon – you’re still waiting.

        • Craig Hoffman

          Would actually like to see an electric in a scooter format that has roughly the same performance envelope of a 250/300cc scooter with the range of the current Zero. That would be a great commuter module.

          • newbould

            Have you seen ZEV? For some reason these are note reviewed on this website. http://zelectricvehicle.com/22.html

          • Kevin Duke

            Because even after more than a year of trying, ZEV still can’t get us a bike to test.

        • ZeroLover

          I’m not waiting – I’m not that kind of rider – (how often are you? and for how much longer?) you will have to check with Ben Rich, Thad Wolff, Terry Hershner (who have gone USA Coast to Coast and more) and you should find the Electrics are up to the task.

        • Jason

          Riding a motorcycle to work everyday isn’t “practical”? That sounds a lot more practical to me then using a motorcycle as a weekend toy.

          • ‘Mike Smith

            My R1 is now my weekend toy, while my Zero SR gets used almost daily. I find it funny that someone would look at the Zero FXS and lament, “If only I could ride it for 14 hours.” Who rides a gas powered supermoto all day, cross country? After nearly 100 miles on my Zero (or the R1 for that matter), I’m ready to get off and have a beer or 3.

    • Doug Shepherd

      Well, you’re free to ignore the Tesla all you want, but let me remind you that it’s very possible to drive an EV several hours at freeway speed, then recharge in 1/2 hour. It’s been done, on a production vehicle, and it’s satisfied MANY owners. Of course, you’re entitled to be a curmudgeon if you wish.

      Granted, it hasn’t yet been done on a motorcycle. For some reason, the largest battery pack you can get on an electric motorcycle is ~15kWh, which is only enough for maybe 1-1/2 hours on the freeway. There is also no equivalent of Tesla’s “supercharger” network for bikes; CHAdeMO comes close but there are serious compatibility issues with that “standard”, to such a degree that Zero used to offer a CHAdeMO option, but doesn’t any more. But there’s no reason it couldn’t be done.

      I’ve been riding my 2014 Zero SR for two years now, and have 23,000 miles on it. It has a battery capacity of 11.4kWh; battery improvements have given the 2016 model a nameplate capacity of 13.0kWh (without the power tank). But the SR is quite a small bike, and in particular is really narrow-chested. I don’t think it would be at all difficult to shoehorn twice the battery capacity in. It would be expensive, but it would have been nice to be able to decide between my bike and one with twice the capacity, even if the upgrade price had been $5,000. An option, by definition, isn’t something you have to buy.

      There’s also a company (DigiNow) that’s introducing a fast-charging unit that fits inside the “gas tank” bodywork on a Zero DS, S or SR, which will charge at a ~10kW rate. Even with a double-size battery pack, that still wouldn’t quite get to the “drive several hours, recharge 1/2 hour” point, but it wouldn’t be too far off. Drive a couple of hours, recharge for an hour isn’t a bad touring regime for a motorcycle. A full fairing could nearly double the range of the bike, getting even closer to a Tesla’s touring ability.

      So the situation is complicated, and sure, it’s idiotic to say “Well-informed ppl say practical battery technology is 3 to 5 years away.” But it’s no more idiotic than “electrics – the vehicle of the future since 1900.”

      • schizuki

        “But it’s no more idiotic than “electrics – the vehicle of the future since 1900.”

        That which is empirically true cannot be idiotic. I was told that mass electric vehicles were just around the corner in the 1970s. My skepticism comes from long experience. That’s why guys my age are “curmudgeons”.

        Would it be curmudgeonly to point out that my present motorcycle has a range of 160 miles, a “recharge” time of about five minutes at a cost of five cents per mile, and cost $6500? Or that Tesla’s profits flow solely from taxpayer subsidies? Or that 65% of our electricity comes from coal, which the present administration is regulating out of existence?

  • Auphliam

    I see the mention of the tax credit in all the Zero reviews. Anybody know if it is available on the Victory as well?

    • ZeroLover

      It is for electric motorcycles with a battery over 2.5 kWh, and the Victory qualifies.

      • Auphliam

        Thank you

  • Travis

    So where can I find the FULL SIZE pictures from this article? When I open these, they are still small.

  • ken mcguire

    While most concern themselves with price, range and charge times, I’m curious why it has cast rims instead of spoked..?

    • ZeroLover

      Most are cast – The FX Dirt version is spoked, this article is the FXS. (Zero has 6 models)

  • John B.

    … and a depreciation curve with the same slope as the back bowls at Vail!!! It sounds like electric bikes may be a great option some day. I paid $2.03/gal for premium gasoline today; that’s about 5 cents a mile on my bike. Sweet!

    • Jason

      How long to you think the oil trade war between OPEC and frackers will continue?

      • John B.

        Technological innovation sets a high limit cap on oil prices and will eventually destroy OPEC. For example, advances in drilling technology have increased the oil supply at higher prices. Technology becomes less expensive over time, which means even at lower prices the supply will continue to increase putting downward pressure on oil prices. Similarly advances in battery technology will eventually make electric vehicles equal to or better than IC vehicles, which will reduce demand for oil and put downward pressure on oil prices. Electric bikes are very cool. Once an electric bike can do everything my Concours can do for about the same price I’m in!

        • Jason

          OPEC produces oil at a much lower price than fracking or oil sands. One buy one they are putting their new competitors out of business. The fracking companies go out of business, prices go back up, OPEC is happy again. This isn’t the first time they have played this game.

    • Jason

      5 cents per mile sounds incredibly expensive to me. My car clocks in at 4.5 cents per mile for gas.

      More on topic, in the 8 months that have passed I have leased a Chevy Spark EV. $0 down, $100 per month, 39 months. I wasn’t looking for an EV but stumbled onto it when looking to replace my 05 Toyota. Today I have 2000 miles on the clock and my cost per mile for electricity is 1.9 cents per mile. ($0.105 per kWhr / 5.5 kWhr per mile = $0.019 per mile) Well it would be if I paid for the electricity – my company provides free EV chargers so I charge at work 99% of the time.

      • John B.

        And what’s the market value for your (used) car now? Market value = the price a reasonable seller and buyer prudent in their respective affairs would agree to. How much have you lost in depreciation?

        • Jason

          I haven’t lost anything in depreciation. It is a lease. MSRP is $26K. I could have purchase it for $10,600 after the GM rebate and Federal tax credit. I can purchase it at the end of the lease for about $9900. GM is clearing out the remaining stock of Sparks because the Bolt is about to come out. No one is going to buy an 82 mile Spark when it is sitting next to a 243 mile Bolt.

          I would say it is worth the price as the operating costs are much lower and it does what I bought it to do. 82 miles (really about 95) takes me to work and back twice or anywhere in my metro area and back on one charge. I could have got the Combo charger will charge it from 0 to 80% of charge in 20 minutes but I didn’t see the need. If we need to go farther we drive my wife’s car.

          It is also pretty peppy and fun to drive. 0-60 in 7 seconds, not bad for little hatch. I guess 325 lb-ft of torque at 0 RPM will do that. It is SEVERELY traction limited with the stock low rolling resistance tires. Dip into the throttle at all and it lights up the tires. This drivetrain in a Toyota MR2 spyder would be nirvana.

  • Craig Hoffman

    Would love to have one of these for silently committing hooligan activities. Wheelies, riding up and down concrete staircases, ripping around empty business parks and parking lots on weekends, you name it, all in non attention grabbing quiet. One could own a 5 acre parcel, build a track and moto their brains out with the off road version and the finger wagging eco minded neighbors really could not have a right to complain. Think of the possibilities!

  • john phyyt

    If you live in SoCal;and have a shortish 10 to 15 mile commute. Would it be feasible to have a solar array on your roof and a spare battery pack and swap them out daily: Or am I dreaming. Could someone who knows; do the math; please.

    • Craig Hoffman

      I know a guy who is very granola (and also very wealthy due to stock options) who has a plug in Prius and a large PV array that powers his house and charges his car. Probably spent 100 grand, but he does not have to buy gas or pay utility bills and he is green. It takes a lot of the cash green to be green it seems.

      • QKodiak

        If you bought the panels for cash and had them installed it would be, but most solar companies have a zero money down option for solar panels. The Plug-in Prius is not expensive either.

  • John B.

    Just don’t buy an electric bike to save the planet. Climate Change just might be a politically motivated snow job! (Yes, I’ll voluntarily appear for my public hanging at noon!)

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-climate-snow-job-1453664732