Track Testing the 2016 Zero FXS

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There are only a few things I won’t pass up on—one of them is a track day. It’s the cornerstone of sport riding—the smell of exhaust, going through tech, checking tire pressures, making sure you and your machine have all the proper fluids; the whole experience is something of a meditative experience to me…except there was one small difference at this Zero Motorcycles track day.

There were no exhaust fumes, no measurable chemicals, and there was no heat emanating from a finely tuned performance engine—just the gentle whir of the electric powered 2016 Zero FXS. Combustion engines be damned, I spent an afternoon whipping Zero’s latest creation around one of Southern California’s favorite supermoto haunts, Adams Motorsports Park in Riverside. The tightly cornered, petite kart track is the perfect environment for Zero’s supermoto machine. Featuring both on and off-road sections, it’s about all you can ask for on a mid-week morning.

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2016-Zero-FXS-Supermoto-Track-Day-test-review- 2The Zero FXS first rolled onto showroom floors this year. On paper, the 2016 Zero FXS isn’t a great deal different from the dual-sport oriented FX. Of course, the lives of many supermoto machines began off-road and like its combustion engine cousins, so, too, did the FXS.

For our purposes, we made use of the ZF6.5 edition of the FXS, which has some specs that put its gasoline fed competitors to shame. Coming in at a claimed 293 pounds, it is already checking one of the hallmarks of a true supermoto—light weight. That’s good news, but let’s investigate further and talk about the most divisive component, the motor.

The FXS Z-Force uses a 75-5 passively air-cooled, high efficiency, radial flux, interior permanent magnet, brushless motor. That description sounds eerily reminiscent of the type of thing I would have been screwing into an RC car chassis as a kid, however they weren’t producing a claimed 44 hp and 70 ft/lbs of torque.

What matters is how that power can be used in a track setting, where aggressive riding isn’t just encouraged, it is the whole reason we headed out to Riverside—a place that has more commonalities with the Mad Max franchise than it does with the United States as a whole.

Now, we do need to be clear on a couple points. First, our track-ready Zero FXS was decked out with a traditional chain-and-sprocket setup, as opposed to its showroom belt drive. The reason for that is simple— while belt drives have many advantages for road use, such as less maintenance and potentially higher mileage, they do not fare well in dirt environments. Adam’s Motosports Park happens to have a few rollers, table-tops and a berm to hit if you get sick of the track.

2016-Zero-FXS-Supermoto-Track-Day-test-review- 5The Zero FXS also had some upgraded footpegs, as well as hand-guards, but the key thing to remember is that all of these components are available for the consumer. This wasn’t an unobtainable treat bestowed from on high to journalists.

Out of the canopy I rolled, out on to the hot summer tarmac, and was met with one of the smoothest, most predictable and progressive power deliveries I have experienced to date. When you’re out on a track where you have never set rubber down, having a motor with both power and amicability between your legs isn’t something to shrug off.

There is no hesitation with the Z-Force motor. The FXS’s torque is omnipresent but, more importantly, never delivered in a shocking fashion. It simply spins up and quickly propels the scamp-like FXS to its top speed of about 75 mph in quite a hurry. According to Zero, the FXS will do most of the 75 mph in less than four seconds.

The electric platform shouldn’t have anything left to prove in 2016. Electric motorcycles have put in impressive times at the Isle of Mann TT (for just one lap, granted) and the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and they can be found circling our American streets with glee.

One of the greatest strengths that the Zero FXS has to its name is the ability to give the rider more feel at the wrist. That doesn’t seems any different than usual—all motorcycles are controlled with throttle input. However, there are so many other variables at play with a combustion engine bike–one of the biggest being the transmission–and the Zero simply doesn’t have to deal with any of that.

So on the track I didn’t have to concern myself with gear selection, or where and when to shift. Instead, I could just learn the track and building up a pace—quickly becoming acclimated with nothing to detract from my focus on the next corner.

Critics of the electric platform speak about the lack of engine feel, but the experience with electric isn’t in the least bit alien to me. I ran the Zero FXS with the highest possible regenerative braking, which gave considerable feedback.

As someone who spends a lot of time on twin-cylinder ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) machines— especially performance oriented twins—it doesn’t even come close to the Zero, so a style change is certainly in order when hopping on an electric for the first time.

2016-Zero-FXS-Supermoto-Track-Day-test-review- 11While a rider might not be able to use the motor to slow down as effectively with (battery charging) engine braking only, there is a nice benefit to it all—higher levels of forgiveness at the wrist. If you happen to be sloppy on the throttle, the 2016 Zero FXS doesn’t reward your carelessness with a trip into the concrete. Rather, you’re met with very little upsetting of the chassis. All in all, that creates a more than positive learning condition for many new riders, as well as riders who are immediately up to speed and just want to flog it severely.

As mentioned before, the Zero weighs a claimed 293 pounds. This puts it in contention with other supermotos—the Suzuki DR-Z400SM, for example, weighs 322 pounds gassed up. Many electric bikes seem to be plagued with severe obesity issues and, in this case, Zero’s Santa Cruz, Calif. based engineers have apparently worked around those problems, keeping it truly at a fighting weight. The result is as you would expect—precise handling and flickability that every sportbike enthusiast craves.

What aids in that brilliant turn-in is the relatively steep 24.4 degrees of rake and the FXS’s 56-inch wheelbase. When approaching the hairpin turns of Adams’ Motorsports Park, nothing is more adept than a supermoto machine.

Spot your entry, dive into the corner, and wrench the throttle to pick the FXS up out of the apex—that is exactly what the Zero was meant to do, time and time again. The FXS whips out of corners about as quickly as you can get into them, remaining compliant and predictable the entire way through. Transitions are blazing fast, making chicane work a snap.

2016-Zero-FXS-Supermoto-Track-Day-test-review- 9None of that would be possible without the fully adjustable Showa suspension. After a few laps, the Zero staff and I decided to bring up the preload a few clicks and, once that was sorted out, things improved still further.

Adams offers plenty of opportunities to get on the binders and I found there wasn’t a massive amount of fork dive under hard braking. Overall, the suspension was incredibly forgiving, soaking up inconsistencies with ease, and allowing for a more than sporting riding experience to take place.

Meeting the pavement are Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires—110/70 front and 140/70 rear—on 17-inch wheels. Learning to trust the Pirellis did take a bit of time and heat, but my faith in them as a viable option is certainly there.

Off-road, the Pirelli street tires didn’t do as poorly as I expected, once the air pressure was dropped for a track setting. Although there was little grip in the rear in the dirt, the front didn’t have a tendency to tuck unexpectedly, even when moving through soft soil.

The Showa suspension performed admirably in the dirt. It only failed to deliver when faced with fast, hard hits, which caused the forks to bottom out. In every other situation, even a bit of light jumping, the FXS did great.

For spirited riding, braking is an all-important factor. When you’re dealing with straightaways, in some cases no longer than a moderately sized driveway, you’ll be using them frequently, particularly with the lack of engine braking from the electric motor.

Up front is a single 320mm rotor and a 240mm disc out back, both grasped by a J-Juan caliper. For the Zero FXS’s class, no more is needed. The front brake offers a great amount of feel as well as power, perfect for both slowing down and trailing into corners. The rear brake is effective but has more of a binary feel to it.

With the Bosch Gen 9 ABS disabled, I found it easy to lock up the rear wheel and, while that is great for hooliganism, that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for less skilled riders.

Once home and reviewing the spec sheet, I was surprised to learn that the seat height is just below 30 inches. The Zero FXS feels much smaller than that. At my incredibly average height, I was happily flat-footed.

2016-Zero-FXS-Supermoto-Track-Day-test-review- 12If we were to truly nit-pick, I’d prefer a quick-turn throttle. To dig in, I had to twist my wrist a bit more than I would like. Additionally, the kickstand seems to enjoy grinding the tarmac and while I am a fan of returning things to the earth, this method seems prohibitive somehow.

Beyond those issues, I see no flaws in the Zero FXS when it comes to riding; the bike delivers a true supermoto experience, full stop. If you doubt it, go try one for yourself and don’t hold back, it can certainly take it.

We’re all aware of the issues surrounding current (2016) battery technology. Riding with a spirited pace on the Zero FXS, will see you get about 50 miles or so. For the average rider, that’s more than enough mileage to get to and from work, without having to recharge.

Recharge times can be taxing, as they range from nearly nine hours using a standard charger to under two hours with max accessory chargers, for a full charge from a flat battery. If you work a typical day, you’ll still be able to nearly charge your Zero FXS to about 95 percent before ducking out of the office.

I happened to have the privilege of Zero staff swapping out batteries after each session, and after 15 minutes out on track, I would eat up about 15- to 20-percent of the battery, give or take. In a track setting, that means a single rider, without the glorious luxury of factory representatives, would be able to run a Supermoto track day and still get four or five sessions in before having to do a complete recharge.

If the high-power accessory chargers are available, then a rider will be able to do a full day of riding, non-stop, based on my table-napkin calculations. There are logistics that need to be addressed with every motorcycle on the market, finding power just happens to be one of them.

It isn’t often that a bike can make a rider feel at home immediately, especially when dealing with the potential of hard riding, in hot conditions, at a track I had never been to. But, that is where the 2016 Zero FXS excels, and where so many other two-wheeled machines struggle.

There were few challenges beyond those power/recharge logistics, and once those are solved, the only thing left is the ride. The 2016 Zero FXS does its job of delivering an authentic Supermoto experience. It takes what we know and improves upon it—not by expanding on the already established wheel, but by switching to the other foot and running in a direction that many manufacturers have been afraid to go.

If I sound enamored with the 2016 Zero FXS, that’s fine. We’re going somewhere new and seeing some familiar places along the way, most of which is positive.

Photography by Kevin Wing

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2016 Zero FXS Track Day Gallery

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