THREE WAYS TO TWIN
A TRIO OF TWINS GO HEAD TO HEAD FOR MIDDLEWEIGHTTWIN CLASS SUPREMACY
Yamaha’s FZ-07 battles Kawasaki’s new Z650 and Suzuki’s SV650 for middleweight-twin class supremacy. To the most versatile machine go the spoils.
SUZUKI SV650 YAMAHA FZ-07
Have a little mercy on the design teams responsible for the Kawasaki Z650, Suzuki SV650, and Yamaha FZ-07. To leave a mark on the middleweight-twins category, a bike has to be everything from new-rider friendly to sporty enough for riders with a few years under the belt. The bike has to be stylish but cost-effective (which is not to be confused with cheap), comfortable but not too relaxed. Oh, by the way, if it under-delivers in any one category, then there’s a similarly styled option right behind it that’ll gladly take over the top spot—and probably for a few less dollars. Consider failing to hit the right marks the equivalent of ushering potential customers onto the competition’s showroom floor. No pressure, team.
Since its 2015 model-year unveil, Yamaha’s FZ-07 has missed the fewest marks. It’s toppled Suzuki’s Gladiusturned-sfv650 and even outshined Kawasaki’s otherwise successful Ninja 650. In a class where you have to be a wide range of things to an even wider range of enthusiasts, the FZ-07 has been the most affordable, flexible, and fun option. With their new SV650 and Z650, have the Suzuki and Kawasaki design teams done enough to close the gap? We rendezvoused at the Cycle World office and then chased blue skies toward Borrego Springs—via a mix of highway and flowing back roads—to find out.
The 2017 Z650 is Kawasaki’s attempt at satisfying the throng of naked-bike fans left hanging when it pulled the ER-6N from the US lineup in 2011. Introduced alongside the fully faired Ninja 650, this bike jettisons Kawasaki’s traditional double-pipe perimeter frame for a lighter-weight trellis-style frame. The engine is updated with smaller, 36mm throttle bodies. There’s a new assist and slipper clutch, a glitzy gauge cluster with gear-position indicator, and ABS is
optional (our testbike came so equipped).
Fit and finish is admirable, though the Z650’s look never really caught the eye of our testers, who were drawn to the less-aggressive lines of the SV650 or more modern-looking FZ-07. Personal opinion, yes, but as a whole, that kind of sums up the Z650. It attempts to strike a middle ground between the straightforward and classic SV650 and sportier FZ-07. Only, in doing so, it fails to be better than either bike. The engine has more midrange grunt than Kawasaki twins of yesteryear thanks to the new throttle bodies, but past 4,500 rpm, it also generates enough vibration in the seat, handlebar, and footpegs that any amount of commuting seems laborious. Overall gearing feels short, and the bike produces the least power of the trio (59.9 hp at 7,960 rpm).
Our test riders covered the height gamut, but none could come to grips with the Z’s ergonomics. This is spoiled by a seat that feels even lower than it is (seat height is an admirable 30.6 inches), an overly narrow handlebar that feels high by comparison, and a tank that widens where your knees rest. A 41mm KYB fork and preload-adjustable shock have a smoother action than the suspension on the SV650 or FZ-07, though overall handling is heavier than the FZ and front-end feel is limited at corner entry. At 414 pounds (wet, with ABS), Kawasaki has done a good job of keeping the bike light, but it’s still no less than 10 pounds more than an FZ-07.
In a category where bikes are so
closely matched, you can’t afford to give anything up. With its awkward ergos and extra vibration, the Z650 quickly fell behind the SV650 and FZ-07 and by midday was the bike we were least excited to climb back on.
Suzuki’s middleweight-twins platform has borne some rather uninspiring models since the move from SV650 to Gladius to SFV650. With its 2017 SV650, Suzuki promises a return to the platform’s roots. An updated V-twin engine has no fewer than 60 new parts for more power, while a reworked steel frame contributes to a claimed 15-pound (!) weight savings over the outgoing SFV. Add in a fuel tank that’s 2.5 inches narrower than the SFV’S tank, optional ABS (omitted on our test model), Suzuki’s one-push easy-start system, and lowrpm assist feature, and you have a bike that, from a spec-sheet perspective, finally does the SV name proud.
Parked alongside the Z650 and FZ-07 at breakfast on a crisp Southern California morning, the Suzuki appears simple and modest in design. Clean. I ask the group what they think about the muted lines and the simple stripe running the length of the fuel tank, to which they reply—almost surprisingly—with kudos. Sometimes it’s okay to not overengineer a motorcycle, which is what Suzuki has done, from the outside in.
The SV650’S mellowed yet relatable charm is more apparent on the road. It’s not the lightest-handling bike in the group, but it’s the most stable, predictable, and planted on a twisting canyon road and feels totally refined. It’s the only bike that won’t tickle your extremities with vibrations at 5,000 rpm and beyond, and its ergos are the most comfortable, the wider handlebar and narrow tank/seat junction offering up a good feeling of control. Like every other Suzuki middleweight-twin, it does everything without fuss—in the end providing the confidence needed to make newer riders feel comfortable. To ride better. Safer. Confidently.
The SV makes more peak power than the FZ-07 but less torque (44.2 poundfeet at 8,000 rpm versus 46.3 poundfeet at 6,290 rpm). As we work our way into and out of the quiet oasis that is Santa Ysabel, I notice how the SV650 is less willing to jump off the line at a stop. It’s a trait that would’ve earned it extra criticisms back in the mess that is LA traffic but goes mostly unnoticed here. The bike makes lots of great exhaust/intake noises and fueling is the smoothest, by comparison.
That polished feel, mixed with comfortable ergos, good peak power, and reduced vibration, leads to better feel on the highway, and of the group, the SV feels like the best commuter bike. It’s not quite as exciting as the FZ-07, but it is an overall great package nonetheless.
I could leave our thoughts on the FZ07 at that, though it would hardly do the FZ-07 platform justice. Because while the FZ-07 is more entertaining than any affordable, mid-level bike to come before it (and does indeed do third-gear wheelies with relative ease), it’s also a very well-rounded motorcycle that doesn’t overlook newer riders. For 2017, that’s even more true, Yamaha finally updating the platform with ABS.
Our bike is a non-abs 2016 model and tipped the Cycle World scales at just 401 pounds, ultimately putting Suzuki’s 429-pound non-abs SV650 to shame (Yamaha and Suzuki claim 403 pounds and 434 pounds for their ABS models, respectively). Steering is as quick as those figures suggest, the FZ-07 tipping in to a corner with less effort and
transitioning from side to side with an adeptness the SV or Z650 could only hope to have. Throttle out of the corner and it shines again, with enough lowend power to easily gap the competition by one or two bike lengths.
The engine’s broader range of power makes it more flexible and, in turn, makes shifting more of an option than a requirement. There are more vibes than the Suzuki at the handlebar but significantly less than the Z650.
Despite the FZ-07 steering so quickly it never feels twitchy. Suspension is balanced front to rear, though overall rates feel soft and allow the bike to move around when you’re not smooth with your inputs. Brakes carry the performance-minded torch, the FZ-07’S stoppers offering up more power and feel as we worked our way down a beautifully twisty section of road, toward Southern California’s barren desert floor.
Back on the super slab, the FZ-07 surprises with a rider triangle that’s comfortable enough for bigger riders. The saddle is as thin as the Suzuki’s (both start to feel hard after about 60 miles) but much flatter, which keeps you from sliding up in to the tank—all good so long as you can deal with the taller, 31.8-inch seat height. Speaking of tanks, the FZ has the smallest of the group, at 3.7 gallons, but with superb fuel mileage numbers, that was a non-issue. Even if it was, the question remains: Is riding a motorcycle about smiles per gallon or miles per gallon?
To us, riding motorcycles is supposed to be fun. The best ones—the ones that make a lasting impact on the industry— manage to be that while still tailoring the experience toward the intended consumer, which in this case means everyone from new riders to returning riders to commuters to the guy attending the occasional trackday.
The SV outshines the Z650 through a more refined feel that makes it a great option for the everyday rider. And yet the FZ-07 outdoes both, ultimately turning each ride into a new and exciting experience. It’s as capable as it is user-friendly. Fun as it is pretty. Put simply, Yamaha's design team knocked this one out of the park. Pressure: off, at least for now.