The Kawasaki Z650 is every bit a scaled down version of the successful Kawasaki Z1 design and, as such, it shares much of the looks and a good deal of the performance too. Often played down in the Kawasaki family tree, nestling in the shade of the larger machines, the Kawasaki Z650 is arguably a pivotal moment in Kawasaki's success. The design was a great achievement in its own right, stealing sales off the Kawasaki Z1, as well as spawning the Kawasaki Z500, 550, and 750 and then the Kawasaki GPz series of the 80s, a real legacy indeed.
Back in 1976 there was a vast selection of middleweight machines vying for the customers cash, from the Yamaha RD400 all the way through Honda CBD400's, GT380/550's and Suzuki GS550's sat in showrooms luring the buyer in. This would indicate one out the main reasons behind the 650cc choice that Kawasaki made, as the Kawasaki Z650 would stand out from the norm. Hopefully ensuring that a buyer would stretch just that little bit further to buy the biggest machine they could.
Reduction in manufacturing costs meant the Kawasaki Z650 was at the time very competitive priced. The initial batch Z650's sold incredibly well, outstripping other machines of the time by a good margin.
Despite sharing its design and overall looks with the Kawasaki Z1, the Z650 engine is a very different beast once the covers and casings are removed. Unlike the Z1, with engine components that ran in roller bearings, the crankshaft of the smaller 650cc engine spins in plain metal bearings and requires high oil feed pressure to maintain their operation. This was far cheaper way of assembling an engine, saving much weight in the process, and has since become the industry norm. The large, one-piece crank transmits its power via a hefty Hy-Vo chain, on to a jackshaft and vibration dampers, before entering the five-speed gearbox, the result being a quieter and smoother engine than larger capacity Kawasaki Z1.
The valve shims, securely held in place by buckets, were placed in pockets underneath the twin camshaft, preventing any movement at high engine revs. Damping out any other vibes is a large alternator sat on the left hand end of the crankshaft, even so, the Kawasaki Z650 is a free revving beast and, as seen in subsequent developments, capable of power outputs far in excess of the original 60 plus horsepower.
The Kawasaki Z650 is much larger in the flesh than one would imagine. No matter what you have read elsewehere about it being a small machine with the heart of a superbike, make no mistake this is a big bike. It does display a cheeky stance though, with a low seat, sweeping silencers and those streamliner clock housings raked back, quite steeply towards the rider. These pointers suggest a relatively sporty and exciting ride well before you actually get on it, and little disappoints once on the move.