The new Kawasaki Z650 is basically an updated ER-6N. If you compare the ER-6N with the new for 2017 Kawasaki Z650, you can’t help notice the similarities, with both the outgoing and incoming motorcycle 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 Kawasaki Z650 is , too – the transformation is total.
The attractive Kawasaki Ninja H2-like green trellis frame is new, and is considerable lighter than its predecessor’s saving a massive 10 kilograms. The swingarm is also new, and contributes a further weight saving of 2.7 kilograms. The shock now has a linkage, and is conventionally-mounted centrally in the swingarm behind the engine, unlike the ER-6N side-positioned, direct-mount unit.
The clocks and instruments are all new; the brakes have been uprated with ABS also being standard, and the engine is now able to pass the latest exhaust emission standards. It may have lost a few horsepower at the top end, but Kawasaki have focused on low to mid-range power – where you want it on a naked-bike – and the new Kawasaki Z650 has a greater spread of torque than the outgoing Kawasaki ER-6N.
So what does all this mean? Firstly, the design has been brought in-line with the competition, if not better (personal taste probably applies). The all-new trellis frame gives a quality feel, the clocks are neater, featuring digital rev counter and rev limit indicator, and the new shock has dramatically cleaned up the design of the rear end.
The new styling isn’t just about aesthetics, the seat is a whole 15mm lower, at 790mm, and is also considerably thinner neat the fuel tank – further helping standover. The fuel tank is also small by one liter. All this makes the new Kawasaki Z650 even more accessible for a broad range of riders – especially in Asian countries like Thailand. Our test rider was 167cm and can comfortably be flat-footed on both sides at the same time. The foot pegs are in the same position as before, which does mean the distance between the seat and pegs is slightly shorter, but I’m 195cm and didn’t have any complaints about the comfort levels.
The huge weight reduction transforms the handling and character of the motorcycle. The new Kawasaki Z650 feels much livelier than the old ER-6N and is considerably easier to handle 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 tires, they okay in town and will last forever, but they certainly don’t flatter either the motorcycle or the rider.
There’s a little less peak power, while the gearing is identical, but the improved mid-range power and massive weight reduction make the Kawasaki Z650 feel much more sporty than before.
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 old ER-6N and absorbs bumps more easily, and it’s noticeable at both low and high speeds. The only downside is that is’t 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-6N.
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, and a span adjustable lever. For road use they’re perfect, while you will probably find their limitation on a racetrack.
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 vibration, but the new trellis chassis houses the engine in a new position without rubber mounts. The vibration are noticeable above 6,000rpm, but they’re not intrusive – and the foot pegs have huge weight added to the bottom to damp the vibration, which appears to work. In most gears, at almost any rpm, the Kawasaki Z650 feels pretty smooth considering the characteristics of a parallel-twin. At 130km/h in top gear it’ll be showing 6,000rpm, 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 exercise, and the smooth gearbox works effortlessly when you’re pushing on more, the slipper function taking care of any aggressive down-shifts. Combine its manners and delivery with an excellent turning circle and mirrors, and the new Kawasaki Z650 should be the perfect tool for town riders who want something that will also deliver plenty of fun when they break free of the big city limits…