Kawasaki continues to diversify its brawny Z-series naked bike lineup with the Z650 ($6999). Positioned between the entertaining, but play bike sized Z125 Pro and all-new Z900, which replaces the Z800 and Z1000 in North America, this 650-powered Twin is an affordable and flexible mount for full-size everyday riding.
With the arrival of the Z650 at dealerships next month, Kawasaki is effectively filling the void from the old ER-6N — a beginner friendly steed that was easy to ride, but not very fun (available in the US in 2009 and 2010 model years). Thankfully, the Z650 follows in the lines of its peppy siblings.
Aesthetically, there’s no mistaking this bike for anything but a Kawasaki Z-bike. Since the inception of the 2014 Z1000 in the US, Kawasaki designers have employed its now signature “Sugomi” design imperative. This Japanese ideology is defined by the subject matter exuding great power.
Once again, the artists did an excellent job. This is a bike that certainly stands out—even amongst the stiff competition within its class. We appreciate its racy gull-arm shaped metal swingarm, green-painted trellis frame, and symmetrical accents on the engine and case covers making it appear like a serious piece of two-wheeled hardware.
True, the mid-sized Z isn’t going to blow anyone away in terms of flat out performance from its 649cc Parallel Twin engine (it did net an AMA Flat Track GNC1 championship this season against its larger displacement [but air-cooled] Twin foe from Harley-Davidson). Yet, after a quick ride, it’s clear that the Z heart beats strongly inside.
Seated at the controls, the Kawasaki has more aptly portioned controls compared to its dated predecessor. It’s still narrow between the rider’s legs, however the handlebar has a more forward bend giving it a real, full-sized bike feel. Still, the cockpit is more small rider-oriented and is pretty compact for an average or above sized man. Ladies, on the other hand will likely adore the way this bike fits especially considering its friendly 30.9-inch seat height.
But that’s not to say this Z is a girl’s bike. Twist the throttle and the engine delivers peppy yet precisely-metered response. There’s no adjustable engine power modes, nor throttle maps, but this Kawasaki isn’t lacking without these electronic add-ons. The engine’s powerband is wide and though there is some natural vibration, it wasn’t enough to annoy us during our 94-mile ride through varied conditions including surface streets and fun canyon roads in both the wet and dry.
Instrumentation is both functional and pleasing to the eye with a digitally swept tachometer above a digital speed readout. A handy gear-position indicator is also included as are fuel metrics including MPG, level, and remaining range functions. Furthermore, an adjustable upshift indicator (in 500 rpm increments) is also standard. Since we didn’t fill up the four-gallon tank ourselves we didn’t measure exact fuel mileage. Based on our experience with this engine, you can expect to get 40-45 MPG.
Renowned for performance as well as visceral exhilaration, you can feel Kawi’s sporting heritage coursing through the Z650’s controls. The intake has an amusing roar, yet the exhaust note isn’t so daring as to attract unwanted attention. Gear shifts are both smooth and positive, but there’s a slight gap between first and second gears. The manual cable-actuated clutch uses a contemporary cam-style clutch pack that eases lever pull and mitigates rear tire skids if downshifts are made too early, or at too high of an rpm. We also like that both the clutch and front brake lever position can be easily moved forward or aft, based on the rider’s hand size.
Speaking of brakes, in typical Kawasaki fashion this Z bike wears triple petal-style disc brakes pinched by Nissin calipers. Engineers saved a bit of expense by not employing opposed piston calipers but the set-up performs well. Bosch’s terrific ABS module can be added for $400 and if you routinely ride on wet and/or slippery surfaces, it’s a worthwhile upgrade.
Leaning through turns again highlights Kawasaki’s sport pedigree. The chassis’ sharper steering geometry (one degree less steering angle compared to the ER-6n) gives a light, sporty and stable feel. The twin-cylinder Z entertains on curvy stretches of road. The suspension is aptly sprung for most and didn’t get too out of shape when the pace elevates. Plus, it does a fine job of absorbing chop on city streets and generally offers a pleasurable ride.
The OE-fitted Dunlop Sportmax D214 tires performed well even in chilly, damp road conditions, however more serious canyon carvers will likely yearn for something more grippy in the form of Dunlop’s Sportmax Q3 or Bridgestone’s terrific Battlax S21.
With the addition of the Z650, the mid-sized sport-oriented street bike class gets more interesting. Considering its versatile and fun-loving character it will be another worthy option for those seeking a new do-it-all motorcycle that won’t force you to eat Top Ramen every night.