Kawasakiõs Z650 tested
Lighter, better-looking and more fun – is this the best budget middleweight you can buy?
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