The Bike Electric: Zero FXS

By Max Klein
Photography: Max Klein
Rider: Fish

When I picked our FXS up from Zero, I asked the only question that really mattered to me: “What’s the range?”

The guy looked at me like we were at a carnival and he was the guy who guesses people’s weight for a living. I picked up on his mental calculations and said, “I’m about 210 in full gear.”

His reply was quick and scary: “With you on it? 40 miles, give or take 20. Less than 20 if you are on the freeway, probably less than 10 actually. That’s Eco mode. Don’t be that optimistic if you are in Sport.”

With the range anxiety of electric bikes past still haunting me, I thanked our Zero rep for his candor. You might remember the last Zero we rode (“From Zero To Hero” – June 2016) and how I was a sweaty bundle of nerves when I attempted a typical Bay Area commute on it. By “typical,” I mean an hour-ish ride one way, not the neo-Neverland tech bro longboard jaunts swiftly becoming the norm for those that live and work in The City. I ran that bitch down to double zero on the range meter and finished the last 3 miles on hopes and dreams.

Back to the FXS.

For 2017, Zero offered three versions of the FXS: the 3.3 modular that we were bringing home, a 6.5 and a 6.5 modular. The number signifies the maximum battery capacity (3.3 kWh in our case) and the “modular” descriptor means that if you find an extra $2,895 between your couch cushions and don’t want to sock it away for your 2018 Dirtbag build and a couple sets of tires, you can buy an extra battery and hot-swap a freshie in without waiting for a recharge.

Zero has just released their 2018 model info and the FXS line has been simplified to two bikes, both with improved range. The 3.3 has been bumped to 3.6 kilowatt hours and remains modular, while the 6.5 has had what we’re gonna start calling its battery displacement bumped to 7.2 kWh, and is now available only in non-modular form—no swap for you! The 2018 bikes are otherwise unchanged, the bump in capacity gets the 3.6 another 5 miles in the city, while the 7.2 gains 10 miles of range.

My research indicated that our 3.3 modular could do 45 miles in the city, with that dropping to 18 miles if you tickle 70mph on the freeway for a combined average of 26 miles. Not as bad as I’d feared (and been warned).

I have a specific, secret route that I take from CityBike World Headquarters to our satellite office in Pittsburg. I try to take every bike on this 50.6 mile, one-way journey to establish a baseline. The route includes zero freeway miles, but lots of elevation changes, a couple stretches where the speed limit is 50mph, and several stretches where I ignore the speed limit.

On paper, it looked like I was probably hosed.

I sent the wife a text, letting her know to have the van prepped, and called a couple friends who live along the way to figure out who was making the best dinner.

I immediately realized that the FXS is definitely not comparable to any of the other Zeros I’ve ridden. It weighs in at a feels-lighter-than 251 pounds wet or dry—a full 200 pounds lighter than the last Zero we rode, an SR.

I set off from World Headquarters and watched as the battery dropped three percent in the first 10th of a mile. It was down nine percent 2.3 miles later.

I started getting nervous, but reminded myself that I’d been going uphill the entire way so far and that I would have a few downhill sections to coast and regen a little. I tried to remain confident that I’d have enough juice for the final push up Kirker Pass… hopefully avoiding physically pushing the bike up Kirker Pass.

That confidence dropped faster than the battery on a Zero FXS doing 60mph uphill when I accidentally did 60mph uphill… No matter how hard I tried to go slow and manage my electrical expenditures, I ended up doing stupid stuff. The FXS’s motor produces just 27 horsepower, which might not sound like much but when backed by 78 pound feet of torque at basically 1rpm?

Stupid tons of torque. Always available, always tempting me.

It didn’t help that the bike changes directions with the ease of a butterfly knife wielded by someone that can actually wield a butterfly knife. Flickable is an understatement, thanks to the light weight and better-than-budget suspension. The inverted 41mm Showa fork features adjustable preload, compression, and rebound. Showa is also responsible for the piggyback reservoir shock and its similar adjustability. These bits deliver 7” of travel in the front and 8.94” in the back, handling even the worst East Bay sinkholes with minimal complaining.

The Bosch ABS-assisted brakes work quite well, featuring a 320mm rotor up front and a 240mm disk out back. Regenerative braking also helps to put a bit of juice back into the batteries—a concept I pondered as I pushed the bike towards the limits of its range.

The old adage, “It’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow,” is still true, but once I couldn’t take any more slow, I switched from Eco to Sport mode. I was about 38 miles into my baseline run when I made the switch, and the “fuel gauge” showed 4% remaining. At this point I was walking distance from my friend that was smoking ribs for dinner, and a short drive for my wife if I needed a rescue.

Remember “40 miles, give or take 20?” I got to 00% battery remaining at 42.2 miles. The strange thing about the double zero showing on the power meter was that the bike still ran seemingly unaffected by its empty electron tank.

So I wheelied away from every stoplight, and it wasn’t until I was most of the way up Kirker Pass that I felt the bike beginning to bog.

I made it home thanks to almost two miles of downhill. That stretch of gravity at the end proved not only that Zero’s claimed 85mph top speed can be broken but also that there’s at least 8.4 miles in an FXS’s empty tank.

The next day I rode it back to World Headquarters on the same route.

Fun fact: Oakland, despite being closer to the sea, is actually farther away from sea level than Pittsburg. I was not aware of this until after I completed my ride back to World Headquarters. I took the same route, using Eco mode… and saw the power meter hit double-naught at 35.6 miles.

15 miles away from my destination.

At this point I was equal parts pissed and confused. I swapped over to Sport, rode hard and again, somehow, I was able to put the kickstand down in the garage after silently hooning a depleted battery.

Well, almost silently. Because the bike is so damn quiet I found myself making two-stroke exhaust noises as loud as I possibly could as I ripped past bicyclists. As an aside, the FXS also brought “conversational burnouts” back to our repertoire—Fish even executed a 1mph indicated burnout on our way back from the photo shoot.

I was fortunate that my first two rides on the FXS were planned as one-way trips, because like it or not I was not going to make it back to my destination, at least not without charging for a few hours.

Without a quick charger, the FXS 3.3’s depleted battery takes about 5 hours to get back to 100%. If you have the cash you can get that charge time down to about 2.5 hours with a $600 quick charger, or an even-better 1.5 hours with a second quick charger connected. The 3.3 (or the 2018 3.6) maxes out at two chargers, but Zeros with bigger batteries can utilize up to four quick chargers at once—as long as your home’s electrical system can handle the draw.

My average range of 38.9 miles on the FXS before indicated empty is short of any round-trip commute I’ve ever had in my adult life, and well shy of any of my go-to fun rides. But what about for running errands?

Due to the FXS’s lack of freeway viability, getting to and from any of my regular destinations includes a lot of uphill both ways. My grocery store is a 12.2 mile round trip. Favorite taco spot? 21.2 miles round trip. Visiting my wife’s office for lunch? 28.2 miles.

While all those numbers fall under my average range on the FXS, I have to travel at a faster speed with few regen opportunities. The roads that I travel to get to all three places have speed limits of 50mph for some stretches, and there are hills. When the speed limit drops into a range-friendly 35mph, I still have to do at least 45 just to avoid getting run over by Timmy Text-Reader.

So I could do only one of those tasks at a time without the dash telling me the battery is flat. Actually, if I charged the thing while my wife and I ate lunch, I’d be able to pick up a loaf of bread from the store on my way home… that is, if the additional wind resistance of my backpack didn’t dick with the mileage too badly.

Don’t get me started on how long my fun routes are.

For those not residing in never-neverland, it’s clear that the average rider cannot make do with the Zero FXS as an only bike, at least not without being a nervous wreck. All. The. Time.

Range anxiety is a given with electric motorcycles, but I would worry every damn night about a tripped circuit breaker or a neighborhood power outage. At least with the other Zero models, I’ve been able to get away with missing a charge, but the FXS? Not so much. Sure, if you have a modular model you could invest in extra batteries, but at $2,895 each? For that you could buy one of those supposedly never-raced, never-down cheap-o KLRs that always show up on Craigslist, a year’s worth of gas, and the ability to sleep well at night.

This inability to quickly “top off” the range remains the primary limitation of electric bikes—even if completely out of gas, that busted-ass Craigslist KLR would be good to go again in just minutes—or at least as good as it was before it ran out of gas.

But the extreme range limitation of the lightweight FXS is model-specific—unless your riding is limited to skate parks, sidewalks, and staged police chase photoshoots, the larger-capacity FXS doubles your range for the costs of a reasonable 42 pounds. Oh, and another two thousand dollars.

But I if you’re thinking of dropping a few KLR’s worth of cash on an electric supermoto, bumping from the low-capacity modular bike’s $8,495 to the big dog’s $10,495 for double the miles is a no-brainer.

Back to the 3.3: while it won’t work as a daily use machine for me, I was impressed: the almost “real dirtbike” light weight coupled with its predictable, impressive, and silent acceleration made it a lot of fun.

If you’re a nouveau riche city slicker, your neighbors are Rufio and Peter Pan, or you’re looking for a giggle-inducing short distance toy, then the FXS just might be the bike for you. Even if you live this side of reality, you know, where things are more than a couple miles apart, it’s still a solid purchase for silent, nocturnal jaunts through golf courses (not that CityBike condones such activity) and so Tinker Bell will have something to ride when she visits.

This story originally appeared in our December 2017 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.

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