FOR MANY RIDERS, 650cc is a sweet spot, enough power to be thrilling, yet not overkill. Lightweight and nimble, easily flicked and fits well into small spaces. In addition, they are economically sound in purchase price, maintenance costs and fuel economy. What’s not to love?
The folks at Kawasaki have crushed this displacement with the 649cc Vulcan S, KLR, Versys and Ninja, but felt they needed something with a different attitude. To hear them tell it, the new Z650 is not in competition with their other bikes. In fact, their research shows that 70 percent of buyers who are considering a sportbike will not cross-shop a naked bike, and vice versa. For 2017, the Z125 Pro takes up the entry-level, urban-mobility mantle, the performance standard Z1000 and Z800 are simultaneously being replaced by the new Z900, and Kawasaki has positioned the new Z650 smack in the middle of the lineup— perfect for both entry-level and experienced riders. Marketing speak enthusiastically expresses the bike’s design as elegant, flowing, dynamic, minimalist, condensed, nimble, muscular, and sculpted.
It is designed to be functional, stylish, comfortable, easy to ride and to entice new riders. Kawasaki’s day-long route from its new Southern California headquarters included several well-known local motorcycle roads. After a bout of rain and a few photo stops, we paused for human fuel at the Lookout Roadhouse, off Ortega Highway. Afterward, we headed up Pacific Coast Highway, returning through rush hour traffic in the late afternoon. The circuitous route painted a precise circle around my home and covered frequently traveled roads, making me long for infinitely less traffic.
The white 650 variant has a contrasting lime green trellis frame that uses the engine as a stressed member. On the blacked-out version, the frame is color matched to the bike. Kawasaki used digital stress mapping technology to optimize the frame for ideal lateral and torsional rigidity. In addition to stress dispersion, the frame design focused on weight reduction, as does the hollow-pressedsteel gull wing-style swingarm, leading to a claimed weight of 410 pounds with its 4-gallon tank full of fuel. Wedging the emissions equipment snugly up under the midsection also lowers the center of gravity and gives the bike a sleek and narrow appearance.
Like many new 2017 models, the Z650 has an updated powerplant, tuned for strong midrange power and Euro4 compliance. In practice, the motor had good response, revved quickly and was a joy in the variety of riding conditions we threw at it. Another welcome feature was the assist and slipper clutch, which made short work of clutch pull and eased engagement while shifting in both directions. The seat is a hair under 31 inches high, and puts the rider down inside the bike for nimble handling. Unfortunately, it doesn’t allow for much movement around the cockpit, which became uncomfortable for my 6-foot frame after a day in the saddle.
Below the belt, Dunlop Sportmax D214 tires, KYB suspension and Nissin brakes with a Bosch ABS feed all of the meat to the grinder—a sporty package offering only minimal adjustment via rear preload. The new instrument panel features a gear indicator as well as user-selectable tachometer display styles and upshift indicator points—fancy features for a moderately priced, medium displacement naked bike. The sticker price of only $7,399 with ABS should make the Z650 extremely competitive in this segment. We are looking forward to running a full performance review. MCN Kawasaki’s new Z650 targets performance and style-conscious, first-time buyers, but skilled riders will also appreciate it.
Kevin Wing photo