We Rode An All-Electric, Sub-$10K Supermoto
A minute by minute diary of our weekend with Zero Motorcycles’ FXS.
Friday, 9:07AM: This is the quietest burnout in history. I can still hear the conversation the people on the floor above me are having as smoke pours off the back tire of the all-electric 2016 Zero FXS and fills the parking structure. No need to feather the clutch since there isn’t one, no need to upshift since the motorcycle has one gear. I ease off the front brake lever and throw the FXS into a turn sideways, straightening out my inside leg as one should on a supermoto.
Friday, 10:32AM: Sitting at my desk, wondering where I could store a spare pair of battery packs. Batteries continue getting lighter and more compact, but the Achilles of EVs is the absence of capacitors capable of high-density, long-term energy storage. Well aware of the issue, Zero Motorcycles made it possible to swap the FXS’ batteries in just a couple minutes; a metal bar holding the batteries in place is unlocked using the bike’s key, and then twin lithium-ion packs slide out with relative ease. Unfortunately, replacement batteries cost about three grand a pop.
Friday, 5:44PM: I link my phone to the bike via Bluetooth, and then download the accompanying app. You can bypass the bike’s preset Sport and Eco riding modes to establish parameters for your preferred riding style, and then access those settings by toggling to the Custom riding mode. I spend a few minutes adjusting the bike’s limits and thresholds before realizing how geeky I’m being and go inside.
Friday, 11:34PM: The streets are quiet, there aren’t too many people around, and, most importantly, cops are starting to change shifts. I toss the FXS around town with absolute abandon. The front tire lifts off the ground going over humps, the brakes bite down without hesitation, and the rear tire breaks loose in long corners. Seeing how there’s no noisy engine waking up the whole neighborhood, I hoon in near silence.
Saturday, 3:19PM: In my underwear, watching Evander Holyfield highlights on YouTube, when a girl texts to see if I want to go out with her out in Hollywood. That’s when I remember that I forgot to plug the Zero in last night. I run to the garage (in my underwear) and plug the FXS into a 110-volt power outlet on the wall. “Should be good to go in a few hours,” I say to myself, heading for the shower.
Saturday, 6:55PM: 67%. According to the bike’s digital instrument panel that charge translates to roughly 26 miles of range. The girl’s apartment is 25 miles away—perfect. But a majority of those miles are on the highway—fuck. EVs don’t like the highway, because many EVs, like the FXS, have regenerative braking, which trickles charge back into the batteries during braking. Since you rarely brake on the highway, a steady stream of energy pours out of the battery packs. Quickly.
Saturday, 7:27PM: It’s my fault I won’t make it. The batteries are at 2%, and I have eight miles to go. At least. (If I had only charged the bike overnight.) I pull off the highway and into the first place I figure I can syphon a bit of juice from, which happens to be a gritty Mobil station with a taco truck set up out front. I bat my eyelashes at the manager, who reluctantly lets me use an outlet on the backside of the building. I pull around behind the gas station, park the bike between a sleeping bum and a pool of pee, and plug it in.
Saturday, 8:08PM: The petite blonde driving her pearl white BMW 3 Series can’t help but laugh at the situation, accepts my apology for starting off our date on such a strange foot, and lets me make it up to her by buying truck-made steak tacos. By the time we both finish the FXS has 10% battery life. Enough to get me where I’ve been trying to go, and it’ll stay plugged in while we watch The Revenant.
Saturday, 11:58PM: That movie had a 156-minute running time, but the batteries are only half full. (Energy transfer through our old-fashioned wiring is unfortunately inefficient.) “I could just crash here for the night and take the fully charged bike home in the morning,” I quip.
Sunday, 12:06AM: I’m on the highway home, riding at a very conservative clip that’s causing people to honk and holler and point as the pass me by. Going slow in Eco mode doesn’t seem to be helping much; the charge percentage steadily tumbles.
Sunday, 12:34AM: The FXS shuts down a quarter-mile from the exit for Crenshaw Blvd. Last I saw, I had 4% charge; the bike felt differently. I roll onto the shoulder, dismount, and dejectedly walk the bike toward the off-ramp. I see the lights of SpaceX, sister company to Elon Musk’s Tesla electric car company, and decide it’s probably the best place around here to get a charge. I approach the security building and a guard asks if I ran out of gas. I laugh and say, “Not exactly.”
Sunday, 1:24AM: We step over the bright orange extension cord as I finish giving a couple of security guards a walk-around of the FXS. “I didn’t even know electric motorcycles were a thing,” says one of them. “It looks badass,” says the other. They’re completely enamored with the FXS but, noting my current predicament, wonder if they could own an all-electric bike and not let range anxiety freak them out. “With a little foresight and planning, you’d be fine,” I say. “Just don’t be an impetuous asshat like me.”
Sunday, 2:44AM: Using my Arai helmet as a makeshift pillow, I try to nap on the pavement. Through ups and downs, the Zero FXS has neither excited me nor annoyed me, but instead has me feeling hopeful. As compelling, desirable, all-electric vehicles like this—what with striking designs and thoughtful user interfaces—come to market, we’ll be forced to improve battery design and establish an EV-friendly infrastructure that will nix range anxiety.
For now that’s a dream, and that’s fine, since I have other things to fantasize about. Like doing the second quietest burnout in history.