New-rider-friendly roadster Continued over
There’s no question Kawasaki have made a huge step forward with the new Z650 over the old ER-6N, which desperately needed updating. The new bike uses a similar water-cooled parallel twin but now it meets tight Euro4 regulations. Peak power is down 4bhp compared to the old bike, the lowest output in the test, but Kawasaki have vastly reduced the weight compared to the old ER with an all-new chassis.
The trellis frame is 10kg lighter, the swingarm saves a further 2.7kg and the old side-mounted rear shock has been discarded in favour of a conventional centrally-mounted shock with linkage. Kawasaki have transformed the old and slightly staid ER-6N into a good-times sportster. The new and lighter Zed has the eagerness of a dog wagging its tail waiting for a stick to be thrown. The steering is light and the chassis flickable; despite narrow bars you can throw the Zed around with ease once you’ve built up some heat in the Dunlop Sportmax tyres, which aren’t a match for the Pirellis on the Ducati. Ridden in isolation, the softly-sprung Zed is fun, if a little vibe-prone at high speed, but unfortunately it can’t match the excitement of the Yamaha.
The low seat and narrow chassis, combined with its paucity of kilos, make the Kawasaki this test’s ‘learnerfriendly’ gold medalist. If, like me, you’re vertically challenged, the Zed is the easiest to live with, too. The little Kawasaki was also a favourite around
town and, along with the MT, ran rings around the wider Ducati and Suzuki.
Despite costing the same as the Yamaha, the Kawasaki has a higher feel of quality about it. Its clocks, especially, are more attractive while the new trellis frame is not too dissimilar from Kawasaki’s flagship H2, and there’s even a slipper clutch as standard.
Finally, and very strangely indeed, the Z650’s standard suspension settings are too soft for sporty use and more suited to deal with city commutes. In fact, the Z was the only bike on test that cried out for a suspension tweak. But to add more spring preload on the rear you have to remove the shock. Not something anyone wanted to try on the side of the road...