Jet packs. This was supposed to be the future. Zero’s CEO Sam Paschel was disappointed, like many of us, in the current lack of jet packs. Today was supposedly that future, with so many gadgets of popular culture that never came to fruition. But unlike the jet pack, Zero wants to actually deliver on its promises.
The world saw an unprecedented year with the pandemic, and California was met with an extreme wildfire season, causing many Zero employees to relocate. But nearly 15 years experience in the EV motorcycle industry and sheer determination helped them prepare and develop an important new addition to their lineup.
In 2019, Zero unveiled the SM concept. People loved it, Zero loved it, but it’s not always easy, or even possible, to make a concept into reality. The SM was perhaps somewhat misplaced, being shown in a show full of leather, custom choppers, and homage to the past and present of deep-stated motorcycle cultures. But the SM concept and its unique tribute to aerospace and modern industrial design caught the attention of everyone who came near, and it left many people impressed and intrigued. With the positive impressions and feedback from the spectators, Zero’s goal was to turn the futuristic concept into a tangible, real machine. In their words, this is “the bike of tomorrow, available today.” Enter, the FXE.
The FXE is based entirely around blending the existing FXS with the SM concept, which was a partnership with Huge Design, and Bill Webb of Huge Moto. It sports a (seemingly) one-piece bullet fuselage, very much inspired by aerospace industrial design. The fuselage is plastic, to save weight and keep the center of gravity as low as possible, but gives the appearance of a matte billeted aluminum. Even the color choice of a neutral muted silver adds to the aerospace ambiance. From the sitting position atop the bike, it really does feel like a long, single piece, floating above the rest of the drivetrain and components and leaving them out of sight, out of mind. A distinctive part of the fuselage is the gloss red accent below the rear part of the seat. It is actually a functional access port to under the seat, where you can mount things like saddle bags, access electronics, etc.
The FXE as a whole does bear strong resemblance to the FXS it is replacing in the lineup. But another distinct difference is the front end, with the “retro modern” headlight and straight front fender. As standard, the headlight and taillights are LED, and turn signals are an optional upgrade, incandescent by default. The front fender is an interesting departure from traditional supermoto styling, but again a nod to the future, leaning towards more straight lines and angles rather than curves. The rear fender is a necessity for many legal purposes, such as license plate placements and rear turn signals, so that is an unfortunate addition beyond the concept on which the FXE was based. But all in all, it’s an incredible and eye-catching design. Zero brought about an impressive adherence to the SM concept while retaining the safety and legal requirements for street-legal fun.
With the advent of the SR/F and the SR/S, Zero brought to light their take on a full-color TFT screen. In this case, a Cypher II optically bonded display, with minimalism at the forefront of user interface and user experience. You’ll find the familiar “SEL.” and “ADJ.” buttons from prior models at the bottom corners. They perform the select and adjust functions like before, but the beautiful 5” display improves the experience in simplifying what is viewed. The buttons will adjust what is displayed on the left and right side of the speedometer, including things like motor RPM, motor temperature, trip information, range, and more. The speedometer itself is a simple circle, with a colorful bar filling the rim of the circle alongside the digital speed readout. Below is a “REGEN / TORQUE” meter, similar to what you would see on other EV or hybrid vehicles. The overall color scheme will adjust based on your drive mode, controlled on the right handlebar. You can switch between ECO, SPORT, or CUSTOM, which can be adjusted via the Zero Motorcycles app, to tweak max speed, torque, regain, and brake response.
The drivetrain consists of Zero’s Z-Force 75.5 air-cooled brushless motor. It features IPM (interior permanent magnet) and sends power to the rear wheel via a belt drive akin to the rest of the Zero product line. The motor is capable of 46 horsepower and 78 ft-lb of torque, impressive numbers for the size. Weighing in at 298 pounds, it also gives it an impressive power-to-weight ratio. The battery is a 7.2kWh pack and can provide up to 100 miles of city range, or as little as 40 miles at 70mph highway speeds. With mixed riding as most people do, you can easily accomplish most local commutes, though it’s not quite enough range for my bigger city rides. You’ll also find Bosch ABS and adjustable Showa suspension as standard. It’s a fairly full-featured bike, and I appreciate Zero’s gradual update to the entire lineup with the color HD display. I’ve always felt their riding dynamics and electric prowess was impressive, but they will need to continue to innovate the user interface and experience from a technological perspective to stay relevant and attract external interest.
The experience is what sold me on the FXE. I’ve always been extremely attentive to design, and it was certainly surreal to see the black sheet pulled off in the unveiling of the FXE’s final look. But my first thoughts were mixed. I love the design objectively, but I expected to miss the feel of a traditional sport or naked bike, especially the larger bikes from Zero. After the unveiling, Zero wanted us to experience the bike, but it was still unreleased and not yet publicly unveiled, so we had to travel to a hidden location. Interestingly enough, they had us ride SR/F and SR/S models to that location, and that was a brilliant move for comparison’s sake. After dismounting the SR/F and jumping on to the FXE, I was immediately met with near disbelief…how can something be this nimble? The riding position was taller and extremely comfortable. It offered a higher vantage point to see the world pass by, including an obvious peripheral benefit at intersections. With no fairings or wind screen of any kind, you just see the screen and then the world around you, with no startup noise to disrupt the environment. It almost felt like a bicycle, but then I pulled on the accelerator.
The power is distinctly Zero, and by that I mean plentiful. Being roughly 2/3 of the weight of the larger Zero models, its immediate acceleration is impressive, especially from about 5mph to 30mph. It will continue carrying you all the way to its top speed of 85, but above 40 you can tell it’s not the larger, more powerful bikes with their 14.4kWh batteries. That being said, it’s a tremendous joy to ride and feels quick, agile, and more than capable for any city roads and even short highway bursts. We rode in the mountains around Santa Cruz, through forested areas of their famous redwoods and panoramic views of the city and ocean beyond. I could not picture a better vehicle for such an adventure.
We did about 25 aggressive miles on twisty mountain roads, plus a fair amount of static time with bikes powered on. Upon arriving back at the secret lair, we all had roughly 45-50% battery remaining. This is about what I expected given the 7.2kWh battery and our riding intensity, and I found myself needing a break before the bike did. After a couple hours with the FXE, I reverted to the SR/F for the ride back to the hotel, and used some active evaluation to compare them yet again. The SR/F was just slightly slower off the line, but quickly made up for it with more power than you could possibly use and it just keeps climbing. But the weight and size of the SR/F made me appreciate again just how nimble the FXE is. Both are excellent in their own ways, and honestly, both would exist in my dream garage.
Zero’s mission has always been two-fold, delivering some of the best engineering that can be had on an electric motorcycle, and making it accessibly and competitively priced and possible to obtain. They have over 200 dealers worldwide, with more coming, and tax credits nearly everywhere to help offset the price tag. The $11,795 MSRP may seem daunting for some, but if you gauge it against comparable power or EV motorcycles, it turns out to be an impressive bang-for-buck. There is a lot of competition, which is good in its own right, but I value the work Zero has done to really fine-tune their machines. The FXE is an impressive commuting machine, and depending on incentives can be found for under $10k. That, plus the impressive 5 year, unlimited mile warranty, makes it a compelling, accessible vehicle that is practical with regard to efficiency and fun regardless.
City commuting is an obvious use-case the FXE can excel at. Though I will say commuting is a bit of a disappointing word in describing the exhilarating feel of riding through any environment. It excels at turning the mundane commute into breathtaking adventure. Over 150,000,000 miles have been ridden on Zero motorcycles, and they have established an impressive space in the industry. Those who pay attention to the cross-section of electric vehicles and motorcycles have seen Zero grow in the past 15 years, and the FXE joining the new generation lineup continues to fuel my excitement for their trajectory.
The FXE is proof that what makes a concept vehicle good can exhibit itself in the final production release. I asked Abe Askenazi, CTO of Zero, what the biggest challenge was in developing the FXE. He talked about how they strove to make it as close to the concept as possible. The concept was aesthetically stunning, but it was wide and un-rideable. They simply took that vision, applied legal requirements and rider comfort, and turned it into a beautiful reality.