Here’s a number to consider: 382. Kawasaki says that’s the percentage the naked motorcycle market has increased since 2011. For comparison, the sportbike market has stayed relatively stagnant during the same time period. With that kind of popularity in a particular segment, it’s no wonder motorcycle manufacturers like Kawasaki are trying to grab a piece of that pie.
Market research would seem to back up this claim, too; in Kawasaki customer surveys, 70% of owners who purchased a Z naked bike said they only cross-shopped other naked bikes, paying no attention to sportbikes. The inverse is true for Ninja sportbike owners surveyed as well; 70% said they didn’t pay any attention to naked bikes in their search.
So what do you do if you’re Kawasaki and you have a perfectly good Ninja 650 in your lineup but hardly anyone shopping in the hotly growing naked bike segment is looking at it? Simple: you ditch the fairings, restyle the headlight, give it some handlebars and give it a new name. Say hello to the Z650.
If you’re getting feelings of déjà vu, you’re not alone. Kawasaki sold a naked version of the Ninja 650 before, called the ER-6n, which was discontinued in America after model year 2010. Kawi was ahead of the curve then, but it appears as though trends have shifted back towards Team Green’s way nearly a decade later. The Z650 adopts the middle brother space above the Z125 Pro and below the newly announced Z900 in Kawasaki’s revamped 2017 Z line (at least in the U.S.), meaning the Z800 will cease production globally for 2017. Meanwhile, the Z1000 was deemed too expensive and it’s Sugomi styling too Sugomi for U.S. tastes, meaning it won’t be brought to America for 2017 but will still be offered in other markets.
If you’re looking closely, you’ll notice a sizeable gap between the Z125 Pro and the Z650. A gap perfectly suited for a stripped down Ninja 300, called, maybe, a Z300? Kawasaki reps don’t typically discuss future models, only to say it is monitoring both global and domestic motorcycle trends and will respond accordingly.
As for the Z650, it plays in an arena we consider one of our favorites at MO: the middleweight naked class, with players like the returning Suzuki SV650 and Yamaha FZ-07 (and even the KTM 690 Duke, the trio of which we compared here). At $6,999 and $7,199, respectively (the latter seeing a $200 price bump from last year) the Suzuki and Yamaha deliver simple, inexpensive fun on two wheels, and it’s no coincidence the new Z650 shares a similar formula with the exact same $6,999 price tag as the Suzuki. ABS adds another $400.
The Z’s 649cc parallel-Twin engine it shares with the Ninja 650 is the same unit we’ve seen from Kawasaki in the past, with some notable exceptions. The bottom end remains the same, but there are changes to the intake port shape, revised camshafts and airbox, and smaller throttle bodies (from 38mm on the previous Ninja 650 to 36mm) to help give more low- and mid-range power. Specifically between 3000-6000 rpm. Cosmetically, the Z650’s Twin gets different casings and covers for added style points considering it’s exposed on the naked Z.
It made 65 horses and 43 lb-ft. the last time we had one on the dyno. That’s plenty of real-world power, though about 5 hp short of the SV and Yamaha. We expect the new Z to be competitive, with a healthy torque curve once placed on the dyno. The Z redeems itself by virtue of a claimed curb weight of 406 lbs (410 lbs with ABS) – 20 lbs less than its fully-faired (ABS-equipped) Ninja sibling, 24 lbs less than the SV650, and a whopping 36 lbs lighter than the ER-6n! It’s not quite as svelte as the Yamaha FZ-07, however, at 397 lbs.
Instead of focusing too much on the engine, which is already a tried and true powerplant for Team Green, Kawasaki paid close attention to the styling of the Z650 to help make sure it’s distinct enough from its fully-faired sibling. Kawi’s Sugomi design language was toned down a bit compared to the polarizing Z1000, but still results in a figure that’s lean, muscular, and very much exposed. Kawasaki prefer to call it “Refined Raw,” and you can see it in the bulges in the gas tank shape and the angular styling of the headlight.
The centerpiece of the design, however, is undoubtedly the all-new steel trellis frame which replaces the twin-spar frame of yore and helps contribute to the bike’s light weight. If you squint just right, the steel trellis might even resemble the one seen on Kawi’s supercharged monster, the Ninja H2 flagship. Its minimalist design uses the engine as a stressed member, and when finished in this green colorway (only found on the white Z650) it looks pretty striking, at least to my eye. Kawasaki’s hoping it looks good to you, too. If not, there’s also a black version, but its frame is silver.
For a $6,999 motorcycle, you’d expect certain areas like the swingarm to be a bland, box-section unit in order to save money. Not so with the Z650. While it’s true the Z doesn’t cost much, Kawi reps made sure to stress upon us that attention to detail wasn’t lost. An example of this is seen in the stylized, swingarm. While still made from inexpensive steel, it looks more than just an afterthought. The instrument panel is another example, with its informative mix of analog and digital displays conveying all the info you need to know, including what gear you’re in and how much fuel you have. Other nice touches include adjustable brake and clutch levers, a textured seat, bungee hooks integrated into the passenger footrest bracket, and even a brake light in the shape of the letter “Z.”
Then again, a low price-point motorcycle has to cheap out somewhere, and typically it’s through the use of basic suspension and brake components. The Z650 is no different. Simple, non-adjustable 41mm KYB forks are borrowed from the Ninja 650, and the preload-adjustable shock is, too – but now it’s mated to a linkage and not directly bolted to the swingarm. Stopping the Z are 300mm petal-type discs and two-pot calipers up front, a single 220mm disc in the rear, also carryovers from the Ninja 650, but now monitored through a Bosch 9.1M ABS unit.
To put the Z650 through its paces, Kawasaki invited media to the hillsides of Malibu, California. A favorite with magazine testers in the SoCal-based motojournalism industry, the locale also highlights the Z650’s features with its broad mix of twists, turns and straights. To get the most well-rounded impression of the bike, our route included jaunts through the city, a blast up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, as well as a trip through some of the area’s twistiest roads.
A few Initial impressions stood out the moment we started riding: First, the Z650 feels light and tiny, similar to the impression I get on the FZ-07. Second, it’s 30.9-inch seat height and narrow seat/tank junction makes it simple to flat-foot, even for shorter riders. Once feet are off the ground and onto the pegs, the rider triangle errs towards the sporty, but not overly so.
As for the 649cc Twin, I’ll admit it sounds uninspiring at idle or when you’re just cruising along like we were on the Coast Highway. After 5,000 rpm, however, the Z comes alive with an intake growl that’s loud, fierce, and sounds downright mean. It’s not all bark, either; the Z’s midrange bite pulls strong (no doubt helped by the weight reduction and engine updates), allowing you to be a little lazy with gear changes if you want to. It’s tough to say if it could win in a drag race with the SV650 and FZ-07, but it would more than hold its own.
Charge into corners and the brakes are surprisingly well sorted for such budget items. Braking power is impressive, with decent feel at the lever. They could be more communicative, but it’s forgiven considering the price. Add on the $400 ABS option that our bikes were fitted with and the mind is put at ease a little knowing you can liberally apply the brakes without fear of lockup. From there, the combination of the Z’s light weight and the leverage provided by the bars mean the 650 is more than eager to change direction. For my 150-lb frame, the suspenders at both ends give a comfortable ride for normal cruising while still providing more than enough composure to negotiate the sinuous Latigo Canyon Road.
As far as middleweight twin-cylinder naked bikes are concerned, we’ve already picked the Yamaha FZ-07 over the Suzuki SV650 in a prior comparison, but it’s hard to say if the Kawasaki could best the Yamaha without riding them back-to-back. However, what I can say is how much more admiration I have for the Z650 compared to the ER-6n or even the previous generation Ninja 650. The engine updates are subtle, but noticeably better, and thanks to its massive diet plan the Z650 feels more nimble, agile, and responsive.
And for once, the motorcycle carrying that 649cc Twin is actually attractive. Beyond the riding impressions, whenever I’ve ridden the Ninja 650 or ER-6n in the past I’ve glossed over the styling and instead focused on performance. With the Z650, the bike finally has the styling to match that performance. And at $6,999 to start, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong.
|2017 Kawasaki Z650|
|+ Highs ||– Sighs |
|2017 Kawasaki Z650 Specifications|
|Engine Type||Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke Parallel Twin|
|Bore and Stroke||83.0 x 60.0 mm|
|Fuel system||DFI with 36mm Keihin throttle bodies|
TCBI with electronic advance
|Lubrication||Forced lubrication, semi-dry sump|
|Maximum power||67.3 hp at 8,000 rpm (claimed)|
|Maximum torque||48.5 lb-ft at 6,500 rpm (claimed)|
|Transmission||6-speed, return shift|
|Clutch||Wet multi-disc, manual|
|Frame||Trellis, high-tensile steel|
|Front suspension||φ41 mm telescopic fork|
|Front wheel travel||4.9 in.|
|Rear suspension||Horizontal Back-link with adjustable preload|
|Rear wheel travel||5.1 in.|
|Front tire||120/70 ZR17 Dunlop|
|Rear tire||160/60 AR17 Dunlop Sportmax D214|
|Front brakes||Dual semi-floating φ300mm petal discs with dual-piston caliper|
|Rear brakes||Single φ220 mm petal disc with single-piston caliper|
|Steering angle (left/right)||35º / 35º|
|Overall length||81.3 inches|
|Overall width||30.5 inches|
|Overall height||42.5 inches|
|Ground clearance||5.1 inches|
|Seat height||30.9 inches|
|Curb mass||412 pounds (claimed)|
|Fuel capacity||4.0 gallon|