Seeking to fill every
Kawasaki unveils the
next Generation Z.
Z650 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-pressed-steel 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
buyers, but skilled riders
will also appreciate it.
> By David Hilgendorf