Kawasak­iõs Z650 tested

Lighter, bet­ter-look­ing and more fun – is this the best bud­get mid­dleweight you can buy?

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - ADAM CHILD SE­NIOR ROAD TESTER adam.child@mo­tor­cy­cle­news.com

If you call the new Z650 an up­dated ER-6N in the com­pany of Kawasaki fac­tory staff, a Ninja will ap­pear from nowhere and cor­rect the er­ror of your ways: This is the all-new Z650.

How­ever, you can’t help but no­tice the sim­i­lar­i­ties, with both the out­go­ing and in­com­ing bikes us­ing what is fun­da­men­tally the same 649cc par­al­lel-twin en­gine, and ob­vi­ously fill­ing the same spot in Kawasaki’s model line-up. But you can’t ar­gue with how dif­fer­ent the new Zed is, too – the trans­for­ma­tion is to­tal.

The at­trac­tive Ninja H2-like green trel­lis frame is new, and is con­sider- ably lighter than its pre­de­ces­sor’s, sav­ing a mas­sive 10kg. The swingarm is also new, and con­trib­utes a fur­ther weight sav­ing of 2.7kg. The shock now has a link­age, and is con­ven­tion­al­ly­mounted cen­trally in the swingarm be­hind the en­gine, un­like the ER’S side-po­si­tioned, di­rect-mount unit. The clocks and in­stru­ments are all new; the brakes have been up­rated with ABS as stan­dard, and the en­gine is Euro4 com­pli­ant. It may have lost a few bhp at the top end, but Kawasaki have fo­cused on low to mid-range power – where you want it on a naked road­ster – and the new Z650 has a greater spread of torque than the out­go­ing ER-6N.

So what does all this mean? Firstly, the de­sign has been brought in-line with the com­pe­ti­tion, if not bet­ter. The all-new trel­lis frame gives a qual­ity feel, the clocks are neater, fea­tur­ing a dig­i­tal rev counter and rev limit in­di­ca­tor, and the new shock has dra­mat­i­cally cleaned up the de­sign of the rear end. And all for just £6099.

Style and sub­stance

The new styling isn’t just about aes­thet­ics, the seat is a whole 15mm lower, at 790mm, and is also con­sid­er­ably thin­ner near the tank – fur­ther help­ing stan­dover. The fuel tank is also smaller by one litre. All this makes the new Z650 even more ac­ces­si­ble for a broad range of rid­ers. I’m 5ft 6in and can com­fort­ably be flat-footed on both sides at the same time. The pegs are in the same po­si­tion as be­fore, which does mean the dis­tance be­tween the seat and pegs is slightly shorter, but the 6ft tall rid­ers on test didn’t have any com­plaints about the com­fort lev­els.

The huge weight re­duc­tion trans­forms the han­dling and char­ac­ter of the bike. The new Z650 feels much live­lier than the old ER-6N and is con­sid­er­ably eas­ier to man­han­dle at slow speeds, mak­ing it far more nimble in town. It’s also more ea­ger to flick into corners, which de­liv­ers a more en­gag­ing ride on the open road. I’d ques­tion the fit­ment of Dun­lop Sport­max tyres, they’re OK in town and will last for­ever, but they cer­tainly don’t flat­ter ei­ther the bike or the rider.

There’s a lit­tle less peak power, while the gear­ing is iden­ti­cal, but the im­proved mid-range power and mas­sive

‘The H2-like trel­lis frame is all new, sav­ing a mas­sive 10kg in weight’

weight re­duc­tion make the Zed feel much more sporty than be­fore.

Now with less harsh­ness

The use of a con­ven­tional rear shock, cen­trally-mounted with link­age, not only im­proves the han­dling but also the ride qual­ity. The ride isn’t as harsh as the spring rate has been re­duced now that it’s no longer di­rectly mounted. You re­ally no­tice the dif­fer­ence. It’s far more plush than the ER and ab­sorbs bumps more eas­ily, and it’s no­tice­able at both low and high speeds. The only down­side is that it’s much harder to ac­cess the preload, in fact you have to re­move the shock to ad­just the preload – some­thing that was only a two-minute job on the old ER.

No com­plaints at the front

The con­ven­tional fork has no ad­just­ment, but they are sup­port­ive and pli­ant through­out the stroke, so more than suf­fi­cient as stan­dard. They give ex­cel­lent feel and are per­fect for new or in­ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers who will feel se­cure with the amount of travel. More ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers may want a lit­tle more sup­port, but the vast ma­jor­ity of rid­ers will never want for more. The same can be said for the brakes. They de­liver ex­cel­lent feel, come with ABS as stan­dard (an­other Euro4 re­quire­ment), and a span ad­justable lever. For road use they’re per­fect, while you will prob­a­bly find their lim­i­ta­tions on track.

Vi­bra­tion was al­ways go­ing to be an is­sue with a rel­a­tively high-revving par­al­lel-twin. In the past Kawasaki have rub­ber-mounted the en­gine and pegs to com­bat the vibes, but the new trel­lis chas­sis houses the mo­tor in a new po­si­tion with­out rub­ber mounts. The vi­bra­tions are no­tice­able above 6000rpm, but they’re not in­tru­sive – and the pegs have huge weights added to the bot­tom to damp the vi­bra­tion, which ap­pears to work. In most gears, at al­most any rpm, the Z650 feels pretty smooth con­sid­er­ing the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a par­al­lel-twin. At 80mph in top gear it’ll be show­ing 6000rpm, and the lit­tle twin still had plenty in re­serve at this point.

When you do need to dance on the gear lever, the one-fin­ger-light As­sist & Slip­per clutch makes town work a cramp-free dod­dle, and the smooth gear­box works ef­fort­lessly when you’re push­ing on more, the slip­per func­tion tak­ing care of any ag­gres­sive down­shifts. Com­bine its man­ners and de­liv­ery with an ex­cel­lent turn­ing cir­cle and mir­rors, and the new Zed should be the per­fect tool for town rid­ers who want some­thing that will also de­liver plenty of fun when they break free of the city’s lim­its, too.

The Z650’s weight loss pro­gramme vastly im­proves its han­dling The new frame is painted an H2-style bright green The new dash fea­tures a dig­i­tal rev counter and fuel gauge The par­al­lel twin en­gine gets a wel­come boost of midrange Meet the Zeds, like the Kar­dashi­ans but with smaller ar­ses and less an­noy­ing The rider’s seat is 15mm lower at a subter­ranean 790mm An­other 2.7kg in bulk was lost through the new swingarm

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