Video: A quick fang on Zero's 2016 FXS supermotard
When we rode the Zero FX back in 2015, we instantly proclaimed it "the naughtiest of all the Zero bikes" due to its aggressive, wheelie-happy attitude and light weight. As the only remaining dirt bike in the Zero catalogue, it's a cheeky little blighter of a thing and a lot of fun.
For 2016, the team in Scotts Valley has tweaked it for the road and relaunched it as a separate model - the FXS supermotard.
The FXS features the new Internal Permanent Magnet (IPM) motor that's now standard on most of the Zero range - but not on the FX bikes yet. That means the FXS enjoys a more efficient powerplant to the tune of 10 percent more range, and the ability to go harder for longer without tripping the thermal cutback system - which itself is a much smaller reduction in power than the old motor's more aggressive heat management routine.
The new motor makes the same power and torque as the old FX motor - 44 horsepower and 70 foot-pounds assuming you've bought the ZF6.5 with twin swappable battery packs. Power drops down to 27 horsepower if you get it with just the one battery, and range is halved too. I can't really see the point of buying one of these with just one battery.
Range with the full 6.5 kWh of batteries on board is quoted as 90 city miles, or 37 highway miles at 70mph - so this is definitely a short range fun machine. Mind you, 70 mph is damn near top speed with a burly bugger like me on board; 73 was the best I saw flat out on a slight downhill slope.
As a motard, it's got street wheels and tires - 17-inch cast wheels straight from the S-model parts bin, as opposed to the 21-inch and 18-inch spoked wheels on the FX. Tires are Pirelli Diablo Rosso II sports hoops, and the front suspension has an inch and a half less travel - although it's still 3/4 of an inch more than the S streetbike gets.
So, how does she go? Setting out from Alice's Restaurant in California on a brief test loop, we head for some tight, gnarly roads where a super-flickable, 133 kg giggle machine like this can shine.
And shine it does - in tight corners this thing is as fun and fast as anything I've ridden. The engine's very well behaved, and although it takes a long turn of the throttle to access full acceleration on a corner exit, the quiet thrust of the thing is impressive when you do.
Most of the roads on our loop are damp and greasy - it is, after all, the middle of the California winter - but when we do find a dry corner or two, the FXS carves them up with glee. It's quite comfy for such a tiny thing, too; your butt would well and truly outlast the battery pack.
One of the hidden benefits of electric propulsion is that there's almost no vibration from the motor. Couple that with the belt drive, and the two major sources of footpeg vibration are gone altogether. That means feedback through the footpegs is extraordinarily detailed; basically everything you feel through your feet is information about the road, with almost no noise clouding the signal.
So, as a zippy little mountain road carver, the FXS scores very highly. But it's got the word Supermoto next to it in the catalogue, which confers an additional set of responsibilities. Hoony hooligan ones. And here we run into some problems.
The FXS just doesn't want to wheelie like its FX brother. That could be because of the smaller rear wheel, which effectively gives it a higher final gearing than the FX. It could be because of the new IPM motor - the old surface mount magnets sat further out than the new internal ones, so maybe it's easier to make aggressive torque with them. It could be that the torque is tamed by the software under 15 or 20 mph for our own safety.
Whatever the culprit, getting this thing to wheelie is a delicate and precise art that I didn't manage to get the hang of in my brief time with this bike. And boy did I try, with an assortment of respected motorcycle journalists looking on in bemusement. It took me back to a formative humiliation I had as a teenager, spending two minutes locked in a cupboard with a girl during a game of "spin the bottle," and stepping out without having convinced her to kiss me. The embarrassment. The shame. The public failure of being a motorcycle writer who can't wheelie a freakin' supermotard. Instead, I have to post photos on a tilt so it at least looks like I can get it up.
The FXS also ships with standard Bosch Gen 9 ABS - another curious inclusion for a supermoto, because when it's on (and it's always on unless you turn it off at a standstill) it prevents stoppies and rear wheel slides, two more of the main reasons why you'd choose a motard in the first place.
The ABS on my bike suffered some of the same issues we had with the 2016 Zero DSR - it intervenes early and doesn't seem to release properly until you let the brake off and re-apply. This is only a problem when you're going hard and braking strong on bumpy corner entries, but once you've got a weird feeling about the brakes, it's hard to shake.
As we pointed out with the DSR, this is not Zero's fault - or indeed unique to this bike. I've felt similar issues on KTMs and Triumphs, and I've pulled the ABS fuse out of my own bike because I feel safer on the brakes without it when the chips are down. It's effective on wet, smooth roads, and handy for learners, but when things heat up on an irregular surface, I trust my own brake control more than the ABS.
So at the end of the day, the FXS is a fine and fast bike that's quick in the corners - but it lacks the lawless, feral edge you expect from a supermoto. Or maybe it's just what I expect, because all the supermoto guys I know are proud, card-carrying members of hooligans anonymous.
It'll make a monster commuter - albeit for a handsome price just under US$10,000 when subsidies are taken into account, and this will be the Zero bike of choice for a tight racetrack, where I bet it'll be an absolute hoot.
It's also going to be a strong contender as a short range fleet bike for police, security and other professional use cases that can take advantage of its swappable battery packs to keep bikes on the road round the clock. And I can't see the police complaining too much that it's hard to wheelstand.
Either way, as the market leader in performance electrics, Zero is slowly re-writing what it means to be a motorcycle for the coming electric age. It's a pleasure and a privilege to watch this company develop.
Check out our video review of the Zero FXS and DSR below!