Electric motorcycles are currently one of the most polarizing topics in the motorcycling community. Some people love them, and others hate them. Some see only doom and gloom with electric’s quiet, smooth power. And they bemoan the loss of the exhilaration provided by the explosion of fuel mixed with air and the sound of escaping exhaust gasses and moving mechanical parts thrashing below them. And to some extent, I’m one of those people.
But times are changing, and it’s beginning to look like the more than the 100-year reign of internal combustion engines is coming to an end. And, sometimes, change is good. After riding a few electric motorcycles, I’m beginning to think that an electric motorcycle may not be such a bad idea after all.
The Zero FXE
The latest example provided to me comes in the form of Zero’s newest model, the FXE. Zero invited a few journalists to Santa Cruz, California, to spend the afternoon on its newest and smallest street bike, the Zero FXE. And in the very short period of time I had to ride the bike, I can say that the Zero FXE surprised me.
When they first pulled the cover off the machine, I was impressed. To me, the FXE looks like it could have rolled out of an aircraft factory. Its long pointy nose (perhaps a little too long for some) seems to have been designed to pierce the air. The slender, smooth, and narrow-waisted silver upper bodywork recalls the look of jet fighters; smooth, swoopy, and ready to do business.
Zero’s CEO Sam Paschel called the FXE’s design “billet one-piece styling” using a floating essential surface over the core. And he is correct in that assertion. To me, the FXE’s style hits that mark. Surprisingly, the FXE looks amazingly similar to Zero’s concept machine in partnership with HUGE Designs. It’s not often that concept designs closely mirror the production machine.
My initial reaction was if it rides as good as it looks, this could be fun. And as we’ll get into in greater detail, it was.
FXE First Ride Impressions
A small group of us (six) headed into the California hills to try the FXE on some twisty canyon roads for a first impressions ride. Unfortunately, we’d only have a few hours in the afternoon. Ultimately, some tight and open corners coupled with nice elevation changes would tell us how well the FXE could perform. Unfortunately, a longer ride and a full review will have to wait until later this year.
Small And Agile
When I first sat on the machine, it felt small, probably because it is. The seating position gives you a bit of that “riding the front wheel feeling.” There’s not a lot of bike in front of you, just the handlebars, the easily readable 5″ TFT display, and the road. Strangely, the bike’s seating position felt a little wide splaying your knees a bit, even though the bike looks to be very narrow.
To get into the California hills above Santa Cruz, we were given our choice of either a Zero SR/F or SR/S to ride to and from the ride site. So I took the SR/S to the ride site and the SR/F for the return. If you are interested in either of the other two bikes, we have more information on the SR/F (link) and the SR/S (link). But this is not a review of either of these bikes, so let’s get to the FXE.
Upon arrival at the ride site, we were each given an FXE. Still, once underway, the bike’s small size and light weight were evident. Directional changes can be made quickly and easily with little effort through the bars.
The FXE comes equipped with an all Showa suspension setup. Upfront, you’ll find 41mm inverted cartridge forks with adjustable spring preload, compression & rebound damping. At the rear, there’s a Showa 40mm piston, piggy-back reservoir shock with adjustable spring preload, compression & rebound damping.
The FXE has generous suspension travel for a street-oriented bike. The front fork provides 7 inches of travel, while there are almost 9 inches at the rear.
On the road, when the road surface was smooth, the bike felt planted and confidence-inspiring. However, when the surface was less than smooth, the bumps and ruts readily come through the bars. It’s not overly harsh, but it is noticeable. That said, we didn’t have the opportunity or time to adjust the bike’s suspension settings to our liking.
With some twiddling with the bike’s adjusters, we may have received a more compliant ride. But even without being able to adjust the bike’s suspension, the FXE still tracked true to its intended trajectory with no wallowing or “pogo-ing” even when pushed fairly hard.
The FXE is powered by Zero’s Z-Force 75-5® passively air-cooled, high efficiency, IPM (interior permanent magnet), brushless motor. Zero says it produces 46 horsepower and 78 ft-lb of torque. Completing the motive package is a 7.2 kWh Li-Ion integrated battery power pack. Overall, Zero says the package is capable of providing 100 miles of city riding. Top speed is a claimed 85 MPH, which for this bike’s intended purposes is enough.
After riding the FXE, Zero’s power claims seem to be about right. As you might expect with an electric motorcycle, the FXE’s power comes on smoothly. There’s no big hit of power to be found anywhere, just a smooth linear rush of speed accompanied by a soft whine. But what is noticeable is that the torque is available immediately upon opening the throttle.
The bike’s 48 HP and is more than enough to make things exciting in the corners. It feels light, changes direction easily, and reacts quickly to handlebar inputs. However, in the sharper left-handers where you’re adding a significant lean angle, the sidestand can touch down. It’s a bit alarming at first, but no one in our group said it affected their bike’s handling. And, some riders didn’t experience it touching down at all. But it is something that Zero should take a look at.
When it’s time to slow things down, at the front, a J-Juan asymmetric dual-piston floating caliper grabs a 320mm single disc. It provides plenty of stopping power, particularly considering the bike’s claimed 298-pound weight. At the back, there’s J. Juan single-piston floating caliper pinching a 240mm rotor.
The FXE is also equipped with Bosch Gen 9 ABS. And if you are rough with the rear brake, you can readily feel the ABS kick in through the pedal. It didn’t feel overly intrusive, but it is noticeable. I never felt the ABS activate with the front.
Making leaning the bike over an easy and confident affair is a set of sticky Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires. Traction was never an issue during our frisky jaunt through the canyons.
There’s something to be said about the fun of slinging small bikes from apex to apex. And the FXE can deliver that fun. With that said, thrashing apexes with the FXE isn’t the bike’s true intent.
Zero says that the FXE is a machine made for the urban environment. They are aiming squarely at that consumer, mostly for transportation around the city on an agile lightweight bike. As mentioned previously, Zero claims 100 miles city from a full charge.
As such, the FXE hasn’t been designed for long-range travel. But, if Zero’s 100-mile city range claim is true, that’s a lot of mucking about from stoplight to stoplight. Or, if you have a shorter commute and some nearby twisties, the FXE could make getting to and from work oh so much better.
Since we only had the FXE for a part of a day, and we were really hooning around on the bike, I can’t confirm Zero’s range claim. But I can tell you what I experienced during the afternoon’s festivities. You can adjust the FXE’s power delivery to one of three riding modes; sport, eco, and custom.
Zero kindly set the ride mode to “sport” on all of our machines. Of course, sport delivers the most power at the expense of battery range. Eco would provide more range, while custom is a user-definable setting that lets the rider choose from several parameters.
We spent about 3 hours riding the FXE from corner to corner. With that as background, when the afternoon’s riding was over, I had covered a little over 30 miles, and the TFT panel said that 30% of the bike’s battery charge remained. If we kept using the bikes as we had been, it would seem that the bike’s range would have been about 45 miles.
The way we were riding the FXEs in only Sport mode is nothing like the experience of city/urban driving in other lesser power-hungry modes. So obviously, we were riding the bike far outside its design parameters.
Charging the little steed can be done from a standard wall outlet. According to Zero, when using a 110/220 outlet, charge time from 0 – 95% is a claimed 9.2 hours. 0 – 100% will take 9.7 hours.
With an accessory Zero Rapid Charger (1kW – $600), the 0 – 95% charge time drops to 3.6 hours and the 0 – 100% charge time is 4.1 hours. If you were to purchase more than one rapid charger and use them on different circuits charging time decreases appreciably. At a maximum 4 chargers, charge times drop to 1.3 hours and 1.8 hours, respectively. You’ll have to decide whether your time is worth $600 per charger.
The FXE has an MSRP of $11,795. At first blush, that figure seems pricey. That’s still a lot of money for a 100 mile range machine. But Zero is targeting a clientele that is not looking to travel long distances. They simply want to provide exciting transportation in a small motorcycle package. And they’ve done it with much sturdier and expensive components than much of the competition. The FXE feels like a motorcycle through and through, not a battery powered, ruggedized bicycle.
Ultimately, in the short time I was given to ride the FXE, I came away with the impression that the Zero FXE is a lot of fun. Although Zero says the bike is designed for urban duties, I can envision an FXE road racing series similar to the old Aprilia RS250 Cup. With strict limits on modifications, thrashing around tight twisty circuits would be great. It would also be educational because the FXE would reward corner speed rather than outright speed.
More thorough review
Zero has promised us an FXE for a complete test later this year. It will allow us to get a much firmer handle on the bike’s capabilities, range, and charging times, as well as a good feel for what it’s like to live with the FXE day-to-day.
When all is said and done, I really liked my time on the FXE. It’s an electric motorcycle that I would seriously consider for making a short commute to work much less mundane and so much more fun.
All photo credit: Kevin Wing Photography