There seems to be a growing acceptance, appreciation even, for mid-displacement motorcycles here in the United States market. In the land where “bigger is better”, engine displacement inflation seemed like a never ending process until just a few years ago.
Indeed, now buyers are interested in, and purchasing, small displacement models such as the Kawasaki Ninja 300, Yamaha R3, etc. Is there a perfect engine displacement … something in between? We hereby nominate the 650cc twin (although, include Yamaha’s FZ-07 in that category).
Can you have an approachable machine (entry-level friendly) with big-bike power and have it priced right in the middle? Can you get a 6-speed, liquid-cooled, fuel injected engine with a low curb weight and excellent fuel economy? Yes you can.
For the 2017 model year, Kawasaki has added two new models to its naked “Z” line-up. Along with the eagerly anticipated Z900 (calling to mind the original 903cc 1972 Z1), the Z650 is the newest member of the family. Although Kawasaki has had 650cc parallel-twins in its lineup for years, the 2017 Z650 is no mere “refresh”.
An entirely new steel trellis frame (and an attached, attractive gull swingarm) plays a big role in the headline feature: a claimed weight loss of roughly 40 pounds compared to the similar, prior model. Claimed curb weight is 406 pounds (with the 4 gallon fuel tank full) or 410 pounds for the ABS model. Losing 40 pounds from a relatively modern design is almost unheard of, but Kawasaki found a way to do it. It hints at a completely changed character for a model that largely carries over the engine.
Speaking of that 649cc parallel-twin engine, it did receive several changes. You can read more details in our Z650 preview article, but revisions to the cams, intake ports, airbox and headers were all focused on increasing low-to-mid-range power. With a 180° crank, Kawasaki added a balancer shaft to smooth things out. An “assist and slipper clutch” combines light lever pull with strong engagement under acceleration and slip under deceleration to prevent wheel lock-up.
Suspension is largely non-adjustable (only spring preload on the rear shock), but the shock now features a progressive linkage. Brakes include two 300 mm petal discs squeezed by two-piston calipers in front, and a single 220 mm disc out back.
Since I just stepped off a huge adventure motorcycle (BMW GS) finishing an 11,000 mile trip through South America, the Z650 was a shock to my system. What I mean is that it is quite small and light. Picking the bike up off the side stand in the parking lot it felt like a toy in comparison. The seat height is also quite low (30.9 inches), and the foot pegs a short reach (ideal for shorter riders). The tall bars create an upright rider triangle, and comfortably shaped and adjustable clutch and brake levers add a nice touch.
This bike feels narrow between your legs, and quite nimble as you toss it into corners. Despite some wet weather at the press launch, good feedback from the Dunlop tires made the little Z650 feel planted and stable, as well.
Feedback and power from the brakes is not at sportbike levels, but it is plenty strong for such a light machine (bikes like this made due with a single front disc not so long ago). Initial bite is pretty strong, so go easy on the first few pulls of the lever, as this little bike stops fast. The clutch and six-speed transmission did their job well enough to fade into the background and let me concentrate on the limited traction offered by the wet roads.
Real world engine performance is impressive with very good low rpm and mid-range response. The bike also pulls well above 6,000 rpm. Very flexible … feeling almost like a larger displacement bike at most street rpm levels. You can feel vibration through the pegs and bars, but it wasn’t bothersome (and the rear-view mirrors generally exhibited little vibration or distortion). Kawasaki knows how to tune this engine — it sits in the flat tracker under Flyin’ Bryan Smith that has earned plenty of wins and an AMA championship.
We couldn’t measure fuel economy (we will do so in a longer-term review — ed.), but previous iterations of this engine from Kawasaki easily earned mid-40 mpg’s.
The new instrument panel is legible and offers all the usual information, as well as a prominent gear-position indicator. The digital tach has three read-out styles from which you can choose. Choose between a single “arm”, a sweeping “arm” with a solid trail between zero and “X”, and a third option that includes a ghostly “trailing” affect which follows the needle up and down the rev range. A user-selectable shift-up indicator speaks to the riders ready to rip with the Z650.
Furthermore, the Kawasaki genuine accessory catalog helps to make your bike yours with frame sliders, a dark flyscreen, a radiator guard, saddle bags, a tank bag, scratch-preventing decals and a rear pillion seat cover to clean up the racing style. Reportedly, the aftermarket exhausts for the sister Ninja 650 will also fit the Z650 for even more horsepower and style.
With an U.S. MSRP of $6,999 ($7,399 for the ABS model), the new Z650 offers some unique features and will clearly be competitive in a class that includes Yamaha’s FZ-07 and Suzuki’s SV650. MD already has a Z650 in the garage for a longer-term review (see Dirck’s first thoughts below). Two color choices include Pearl Flat Stardust White / Metallic Spark Black and Metallic Flat Spark Black / Metallic Spark Black. Visit Kawasaki’s web site for additional details and specifications.
Dirck’s First Thoughts:
After Fonz attended the press launch, Kawasaki loaned us a Z650 for a longer-term evaluation. I have already put roughly 50 miles on the bike, and have some fairly distinct first impressions, myself. The new steel-trellis frame and gull-style swingarm, together with the huge weight loss, make the Z650 feel very different from the last Ninja 650 we tested.
This bike feels smaller and quicker. Low-end and mid-range power surprised me, although the bike may be missing a little on top compared to the prior engine’s performance. A good trade-off in my opinion. This bike is faster in the real world. The other thing that immediately struck me is much improved feedback through the new steel frame.
I don’t want to say too much until I have ridden the bike more. Stay tuned for a full MD Ride Review.
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