2017 Kawasaki Z650 First Ride Review

Troy Siahaan
by Troy Siahaan

Renewing an old favorite

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.

2017 Kawasaki Z650

Editor Score: 85.0%
Engine 18.0/20
Suspension/Handling 12.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.0/10
Brakes 7.5/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.0/10
Desirability 8.5/10
Value 10.0/10
Overall Score85/100

2017 Kawasaki Z650 Preview

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.

2017 Kawasaki Z900, Z650, and Versys-X 300 Video

In the market for an inexpensive naked bike that’s also comfortable and stylish? Kawasaki’s Z650 ticks all those boxes.

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.

If you live in the U.S., then say goodbye to the Z1000 (and Z800) starting next year.

Another Middleweight Naked

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.

Trellis frames are all the rage, and despite how minimal the one seen on the Z650 is, its green finish attracts attention.

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 those who don’t prefer the flashy Pearl Flat Stardust White/Metallic Spark Black colorway, there’s this Metallic Flat Spark Black/Metallic Spark Black option instead.

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.

The Z650 may be inexpensive, but it’s not cheap. Take the seat, for example. The textured cover helps the bike look far classier than its price would indicate. As for the seat itself, it’s narrow junction at the front makes reaching the ground a breeze. There’s also plenty of room to move about, especially in the broad rear section.

Sum Of Its Parts

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.

Light makes right, and at 406 lbs (claimed, 410 with ABS), the Z650 is tons of fun to toss around.

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.

Paradise, wouldn’t you say?

Too Close To Call

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.

Kawasaki’s Z650 is good. Real good. And now it has the looks to go along with it.

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

  • Attractive styling…
  • And attractive performance…
  • At an attractive price.

– Sighs

  • Suspension is a little basic…
  • So are the brakes…
  • And that’s about it.

2017 Kawasaki Z650 Specifications

Engine TypeLiquid-cooled, 4-stroke Parallel Twin
Bore and Stroke83.0 x 60.0 mm
Compression ratio10.8:1
Valve systemDOHC
Fuel systemDFI with 36mm Keihin throttle bodies
TCBI with electronic advance
LubricationForced lubrication, semi-dry sump
Maximum power67.3 hp at 8,000 rpm (claimed)
Maximum torque48.5 lb-ft at 6,500 rpm (claimed)
Transmission6-speed, return shift
Final driveChain
ClutchWet multi-disc, manual
FrameTrellis, high-tensile steel
Front suspensionφ41 mm telescopic fork
Front wheel travel4.9 in.
Rear suspensionHorizontal Back-link with adjustable preload
Rear wheel travel5.1 in.
Front tire120/70 ZR17 Dunlop
Rear tire160/60 AR17 Dunlop Sportmax D214
Front brakesDual semi-floating φ300mm petal discs with dual-piston caliper
Rear brakesSingle φ220 mm petal disc with single-piston caliper
Caster (rake)24.0º
Trail3.9 in.
Steering angle (left/right)35º / 35º
Overall length81.3 inches
Overall width30.5 inches
Overall height42.5 inches
Wheelbase55.5 inches
Ground clearance5.1 inches
Seat height30.9 inches
Curb mass412 pounds (claimed)
Fuel capacity4.0 gallon
Troy Siahaan
Troy Siahaan

Troy's been riding motorcycles and writing about them since 2006, getting his start at Rider Magazine. From there, he moved to Sport Rider Magazine before finally landing at Motorcycle.com in 2011. A lifelong gearhead who didn't fully immerse himself in motorcycles until his teenage years, Troy's interests have always been in technology, performance, and going fast. Naturally, racing was the perfect avenue to combine all three. Troy has been racing nearly as long as he's been riding and has competed at the AMA national level. He's also won multiple club races throughout the country, culminating in a Utah Sport Bike Association championship in 2011. He has been invited as a guest instructor for the Yamaha Champions Riding School, and when he's not out riding, he's either wrenching on bikes or watching MotoGP.

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4 of 28 comments
  • Busha Busha Busha Busha on Nov 24, 2016

    Gah. Mixed feelings. I love the looks and weight loss. But I have an 06 6f turned 6n via crash. After 4 years, if there's one thing I could change, it would be the engine. The engine note is just no good, and it falls on its face a bit above 8K.

    I'm bummed about the death of the Z1000 here too. Kawi should try something different. Make a Z1200 4 banger, make the Z900 a 3, and keep the Z650 as is. Then make faired versions of each too. The world needs less I4 motorcycles and more triples!

  • Sam Giovanetti Sam Giovanetti on Nov 29, 2016

    $2000 more than it should cost.

    • See 1 previous
    • Sam Giovanetti Sam Giovanetti on Dec 04, 2016

      They are selling new 2016 Ninja 650 for $4999 at Big St. Charles Motorsports right now.