The Perfect Vehicle For LA: The Zero FX Electric Motorcycle Review
As you know from my review, I loved the Brammo Empulse electric motorcycle, but that 31.5″ seat height was not fun with my 34″ inseam. Sure, I could’ve bought it and built the seat up a few inches. But Harlan at Hollywood Electrics kept hinting that Zero had some really awesome bikes in the works for 2013. I decided to wait and see, knowing that rash decisions have usually not served me well. I wanted to try out Zero’s 2013 S. At the bike show in December, I was still most interested in the S, especially now that it had twice as much power as the previous years model.
The FX looked hot and badass as all hell, but I assumed it wouldn’t be powerful enough for me. It took forever to get a test ride out of Hollywood Electrics, as the first bikes delivered went to the customers who’d pre-ordered theirs. Finally in March I was told by Zero to just get in line behind the rest of the journalists whose publications come with sticks they like to wave around. Actual quote. Ahem. God forbid a bike be mistaken as a “chick bike” because you read about it here first. What’s funny is that Zero presents their entry-level XU as exactly that, while 2/3rds of the FX owners I know are women.
Back around 2004, when I was racing an Aprilia RS250, I bought a Husqvarna SMR450 supermoto bike from a friend. All the cool kids were doing it. However, the Husky was geared for racing, not flying along the LA freeways as speeds high enough for survival. And I couldn’t be bothered to make the simple sprocket change needed to fix that. At any speed over 40mph the bike vibrated tremendously. Unfortunately the ergonomics were such that it was horrendously unpleasant. Thus I dubbed that bike “the vibrating wedgie”. I finally managed to sell it, and good riddance. Sure, motards are cool, but I liked the smooth ride of my Yamaha R1.
Manufacturers insist on constantly lumping short, female and noob together in one bike, so the short riders (male AND female) who want to go fast have to ride bikes that require all sorts of acrobatics on their part just to get rolling. I feel sorry for them, and am deeply grateful I’m tall enough to ride whatever I want. The FX is a new model for 2013, with the 5.7 model boasting 44hp and a whopping 70 ft/lbs of torque packed into an anorexic 275 lbs. with a statuesque 34.5″ seat height. Yes, finally a bike I can tippy-toe. You can call her Naomi (like Campbell), I call mine Shaq.
Yes, I’ve finally bought my very own electric motorcycle, after writing about them since 2009, starting with this ride report of the Zero S. Yes, I too was a fan of loud pipes back then. Last month a fellow Hollywood Electrics customer, let me take his supermoto’d FX out for a spin at Willow Springs, before the guys raced it in the M1GP. I fell in love. Stock, it’s a killer dirt bike. With wheels & brakes from the Zero S, it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on, every day.
I’ve been riding my FX every day since I took delivery last Tuesday, and not only is it awesome to be on such a tall bike, it’s so light it flicks easily wherever you want it to go. It’s all the benefits of any supermotard without the pesky bad vibrations. My commute is 7 miles, 4 of which are on I-10, a freeway where you only drive below 70 mph if it’s rush hour or you’re looking to get rear-ended. The FX eats up about 25% of her charge in a spirited commute. Then I fill up at the office. No more having to wake up a few minutes early to “stop for gas”!
This plate on a Tesla also fits the FX. But even better, I can now AIM at potholes, bumps, whatever, and just ride on through it. It’s so much fun being able to smoothly glide on over the 25% of LA streets with F grades in pavement. I even rode through a broken-up gravelly pothole segment of an alley next to a van blocking most of the alley to unload. Because I could. Here’s a short video from a ride down Alameda on my R1, a ride I do almost daily on the FX without anything falling off or feeling like I’m about to dislocate something.
Carbeurators Suck Gass
My High School Auto Shop teacher, Mr Christensen, hated me. I don’t know if it was because I was goth, or just he knew I was up to no good. But he flunked me out so I had to take his class twice. And still wondered where the hell that 2nd spark plug (and cylinder) was on my Vespa, since we were never taught how single cylinder motors move the crankshaft. He gave me special tasks to keep my grade up, always involving carbeurators.
He’d give me a carb, say “study it and answer some questions.” I’d return the next day having studied all I could about that damn pile of metal, and he’d invariably ask the ONE question I couldn’t answer. I’ve hated carbeurators ever since. Fuel injection is nice enough, but still I left it up to the pros at MPS to map the ECU on my R1. All 2013 Zero’s work via Bluetooth with a smartphone app that enables even the most technically disabled to tune their bike. All these features are adjustable in Eco mode.
That damn R1 needed chain lube & adjustments every 5 minutes. The starter motor is almost dead after about 4 starts/day for 25,000 miles in 3 years. Rather than replace it, I replaced it with a bike where the starter motor IS the motor. And with 70 ft/lbs of torque and 44 horsepower, it’s more than enough for terrorizing the mean streets of LA. Speaking of terrorists, another nice perk of riding electric is how the cops react. On the R1, I was always wrong.
Even going 55mph on the freeway, I got pulled over for having the audacity to pass a cop. Cops love me now, and want to know all about my bike. That might also be due to the optimistic speedo. On La Brea one night, I had a clear run through two speed indicators. The city is so nice for installing these, so we can check the accuracy of our speedos. Mine was registering 10mph over the one provided by the city. No wonder it had seemed like traffic had been moving a bit faster than usual!
The only other complaint I have about this bike is the lack of a clock. Sure, there’s one on the drive screen of the app, but I don’t want to have my phone in my field of vision while riding. There’s a silly countdown clock that tells you how long you’ve had the key on, but that’s useless to me. I need to know what time it is RIGHT NOW without having to keep a separate device charged and on and ready to show me how late I’m running.
I forgot to take my cord home from the dealership, so by the time I was heading home from work the next day, I knew I’d have to take it easy. I could’ve used a desktop computer cord to charge the bike, but didn’t have an extension cord. I ratcheted up the regen to 100%, bumped the torque down to 23%, and lowered my top speed to 72mph.
I took surface streets home, just to be sure, and made it with 8% left. Here’s the story of the time I ran a demo 2010 Zero S down to 0, on the freeway. I love this app so much, because it’s the ultimate FU to that teacher who tortured me so. Not to mention the awesomeness of having a bike whose first scheduled maintenance will probably be a fresh set of Pirelli’s when I’ve toasted these. I always hated working on my bikes, even doing basic maintenance.
Silent but not deadly
Among motorcyclists, there’s a sentiment- “loud pipes save lives”. It’s mainly stated by men who bought their thin veneer of badassness down at the local Harley dealer. It’s a ridiculous statement since most motorists drive with the windows up and music on, and the pipes send the sound behind the bike, while the drivers in front of the bike are the only ones that really matter. On the FX, I’ve had more drivers edge over to give me room as I’m lanesplitting, which is good as the bars are a tad wider on the FX than the R1, and I’m still getting used to that.
The FX is a few inches taller than a sportbike, and has a much more upright riding postion, which contribute to increased visibility. It’s certainly doing wonders for my posture. Being so light and flickable is doing wonders for my confidence, too. I highsided my R1 in December because I’d put the wrong tires on the bike (Other brands don’t heat up like the Pirelli’s I’m used to) and my instinct was to close the throttle, which is how a potential lowside can become a highside, especially on a 420lb motorcycle with 177hp. On a 275lb motorcycle with only 44hp I am eager to find a safe place to explore the limits of traction, and get comfortable with a little sliding.
The truth is, loud pipes don’t save lives. Loud colors do. Except when the lives of animals or distracted pedestrians are at stake. For them, there’s a nice, loud horn. The S brakes are excellent, too. Having wheels and brakes from a heavier bike with a higher top speed means this bike is not only born to wheelie, it can also do great stoppies. At least if I dial in the front forks as stiff as possible. More on that later.