2017 Zero FXS ZF6.5 Review | Electric Motorcycles Keep Improving
It has been a long time coming, but ever since I was a young buck, I’ve heard about the prospect of electric vehicles. My mind would wander during elementary school about elegantly styled, blazing fast cars and motorcycles zipping around the country with glee in the near future. It seemed like a forgone conclusion; it was just bound to happen in my lifetime.While the prospect of an electric car always held some interest, the reality has never come close to my expectations; most resemble eggs and are the automotive equivalent of food suspended in aspic jelly.
As usual, motorcycles have solved life’s quandaries and presented a solution to the electric-powered vehicle problem in the form of the 2017 Zero FXS ZF6.5.The FXS debuted last year and is the Zero FX dual sport motorcycle in supermoto trim, and it certainly taps into the nature of supermoto. Agility and entertainment take center stage, without detracting from its overall utility. In short, it can deal with a variety of riding situations without too much trouble.Aesthetically, the FXS is an interesting specimen. With its perimeter aluminum chassis on display and bug-eye headlight, it appears to be a function-first machine that has its own unique charm. While outside a store, a passerby inquired about the FXS and when I informed him that it was an electric motorcycle, he commented, “It looks like an electric bike.” To me, that is a compliment. It doesn’t ape its competitors; it marches to the beat of its own drum.For the 2017 model year, Zero is boasting a few changes to the FXS. Most notably, the Z-Force 75-5 interior permanent magnet (IPM) brushless motor has improved temperature thresholds, plus a new, higher amperage controller that allows for more torque.This year’s FXS produces a claimed 78 ft-lbs of torque and 46 horsepower at 4300 rpm (up two horses over last year), and 78 ft/lbs of torque (an increase of over 11 percent). I will not lie to you and admit I understand how Zero engineers achieved this, but it is beginning to eerily sound like science or perhaps more eloquently put, nerd stuff.If we are to look at the spec sheet alone, those seem like some welcome but minor improvements. The true difference over the previous FXS is how power is delivered.Linear in every possible way, the FXS ramps up to speed as fast or slow as you’d like it. It’s easy to become enticed by the throttle on this bike. Launching from a stoplight, I’d instantly get up to cruising speed; when I got a bit too hungry on the throttle, I’d pick up the front end a wee bit.Aside from a bit of throttle-lag during the initial input to keep takeoffs manageable, the throttle response is exacting. When I’d apply 15 percent of throttle, I’d get 15 percent of power almost instantly. Pushing into corners, and then rolling the throttle on, will deliver gobs of torque to the rear wheel with brilliant results.That sits well with me, as the FXS is supposed to be the rambunctious, urban minded prowler of the Zero lineup; with a motor such as this, it can live up to that title. Make no mistake, the FXS has a bit of get-up-and-go, so this isn’t something that experienced motorcyclists should underestimate. In fact, a rider will enjoy its ability to pick up pace at any speed, as long as you don’t hit the 85mph limiter.Riders with a broken sense of masculinity that use a motorcycle as means to prove that they’re men will admonish the Zero for a number of things. I’m not going to say that the FXS is objectively better than a motorcycle that uses an internal combustion engine (ICE); instead, I’ll present the cold reality—it is different. Being different isn’t bad, of course, which is how you’ll explain your browser history if anyone were to take a peek.The most jarring aspect when first riding the Zero is the lack of shifting. While I welcome it—one variable from the equation is removed—a seamless transmission makes for a completely different experience.Consider this: as you move away from a stop light on an ICE-powered motorcycle, you consider your shifting points. Shifting gives a frame of reference for your speed. Remove that aspect, and you’ll quickly find yourself breaking traffic laws, which is okay because in the eternal words of Paul Ruebens’ legendary character, “I’m a loner, Dottie, a rebel.”Thanks to electric motor regeneration the Zero does have engine braking, just not compression braking. While it doesn’t have the feel that shifting down through the cogs does, there is not a freewheeling sensation that is uniquely terrifying. On that note, this is a characteristic that can be altered to taste. If you’d like more motor regeneration braking, just go into the app and raise it up.The Zero FXS has three riding modes—Eco, Sport, and Custom. Eco tames the Zero FXS and encourages riding that benefits battery longevity over fun. Sport gives you the full force of the electric motor, while Custom is set aside for the owner’s personal preference.I set torque, regen, and regen braking to 100 percent, which allowed for a little more feedback when slowing the bike during corner entry. It also boosts your ego, knowing that you’re now riding a bike at 100 percent of its ability.Whipping the FXS around town is without a doubt a joy, which is where the FXS’s strengths lie. Maneuvering through traffic is a snap as the FXS upright riding position provides a nice perch to check out all of my surroundings.When it comes to the suspension, Zero didn’t skimp on the goods—the FXS uses fully adjustable Showa units. Fresh off the lot, the Zero’s suspension is supple and compliant, while being road-minded. Under hard braking, a rider will experience a little more brake dive than I’d normally like, though dialing up more compression damping will help. Around town, the suspension is perfectly fine against potholes and other road irregularities.Even when being pushed, the stock suspension settings allow for good control when cornering, keeping the FXS on line. Heavier riders or more experienced riders could potentially over-ride the suspension but it is fully adjustable, so one can easily set the FXS up to be a competent little canyon carver.With its relatively short 56-inch wheelbase, 24.4 degrees of rake and just 2.8 inches of trail, the FXS is a nimble character. Fortunately, it translates all information to the rider, which builds confidence by letting the pilot know exactly what’s happening on the road. High quality Pirelli Diablo Rosso II rubber is a willing accomplice.Braking duties are handled by a J-Juan asymmetric dual piston floating caliper and 320mm disc in the front. The rear wheel gets a 240mm disc. For the speeds achieved on the FXS, both brakes do an adequate job and can certainly help you do a few stoppies. Should you pilot an FXS, one can expect a confident and progressive brake feel that lacks harsh initial bite, making them accommodating for newer riders.Advanced riders will most likely want more attack out of the brakes. Given that the FXS ZF6.5 weighs a claimed 293 pounds—the heaviest version in the three-bike FXS line—the two discs do their job well, especially if we’re focusing on urban riding.If there is a flaw in the braking, it’s that the Bosch Gen 9 ABS tends to trigger prematurely. When braking over bumps, and other inconsistencies, the ABS steps in for a fleeting moment. Though the ABS can be switched off, I left it on, despite its idiosyncrasies.Zero claims that the FXS ZF6.5 can achieve 90 miles on a single charge, if ridden in the city only. At a sustained 70 mph, the range plummets to 37 miles. My daily round-trip commute is around 25 miles. By the time I’d reach the office, I’d usually have expended about 30 percent of the battery capacity. That sounds bad, until you factor in that I would attempt to do power wheelies everywhere and make use of all the torque the FXS has to offer. On the days I rode like an average, law-abiding citizen, I’d use about 17 percent of the range.Charging times are a thing to consider as well. Without any quick charging add-ons, it takes roughly eight hours to charge a set of ZF6.5 batteries from Zero. In the real world, most of us head into the office with no intention of leaving for eight hours. That means you’ll have enough time to charge your bike. Seeing as a good percentage of the US population lives within 25 miles of their workplace, many people could ride like hooligans to work and repeat the process on the way home without running out of juice.There’s also a ZF3.3 Modular version of the FXS that has the same power, but only have the battery capacity and range. If that suits your needs, you can save $2000.We should also be keen to notice that the Zero FXS doesn’t require a specific charging station, it can be plugged in to any standard 110v socket, meaning that you can steal appropriate power from just about anywhere.The range and recharging rate is what the current state of battery technology allows. The old guard writes off the potential of electric motorcycles because of this, but perhaps we should look into the history of air travel. Planes used to have to stop and refuel at a far greater rate than they do now. As technology improved, so did their range. Nobody gave up on air travel in the early 20th century because they had to refuel, and we shouldn’t give up on electric motorcycles. Give it time, and it’ll come around.Obviously, there are some limitations when it comes to long distance riding—that’s fine, because I’m a hermit. As an urban machine, something for everyday use, electric motorcycles makes their own arguments in spades.In the case of the 2017 Zero FXS Z6.5, it shines when ripping around the industrial park and through neighborhoods, curb hopping the whole way. Given a chance, it’s a motorcycle that will put a smile on the face of even the iciest gearheads.Photography by Don WilliamsRIDING STYLE
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From all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!