First Ride – 2017 Kawasaki Z650

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At this year’s Long Beach Motorcycle Show, Kawasaki kindly gave me an hour or so with their new Z650. It’s all new and it’s aimed squarely at Suzuki’s SV650 and Yamaha’s FZ-07. But is it any good?

The predecessor to this bike was the oddly-named and weird-looking ER-6N, which did not sell well. This time around, the name makes sense and the bike looks good – so Kawasaki has already made some important improvements. The basics are easy enough: a trellis frame made out of steel that weighs 33 pounds (from the Ninja 650) surrounds a 68 horsepower, 648cc engine (also from the Ninja 650). It’s available in two colors – Pearl Flat Stardust White and Metallic Flat Spark Black. I think the white looks much better thanks to the green frame. The black bike gets a black frame and it all just blends together. Me no likey.

Kawasaki calls this bike a “middleweight supernaked”, which makes no sense to me…mainly because I don’t understand where the “super” comes from. Don’t get me wrong – if you whack the throttle hard enough, the front wheel comes up off the ground so it passes my arbitrary “does it have enough power” test. But super? Kawasaki also calls the styling “Refined Raw”, but I understand that. It’s revealing and aggressive (thankfully not as much as the awkward-looking Z1000, which will be removed from Kawi’s US lineup next year) yet the bike feels and looks much nicer than the $6,999 MSRP would suggest. If you want ABS, add another $400 to the price.

Photo from Kawasaki

Photo from Kawasaki

I’m teasing the marketing copy, but that doesn’t mean this is a bad bike. In fact, on paper it seems excellent as a mid-sized naked. The seat is low (30.9 inches), the riding position is comfortable, it weighs 406 pounds (add 7 for ABS), and it comes with a slipper clutch. Some people may look at this and just think it’s a naked version of the Ninja 650, but the seat, wheels, swingarm, frame, clutch, and even engine are new. My first impressions with the bike were positive thanks to the unexpected levels of fit and finish and the comfortable ergonomics. A weird plus was described to me by Kevin Allen, PR + Experiential Brand Manager for Kawasaki – the tank is designed for you to lay your chest on, and my 6’2″ frame appreciated that on short freeway blasts. Obviously you can lean on nearly any tank with no problem, but Team Green put some thought into this and I appreciate that. There’s other well-thought out aspects – the bike features adjustable levers, bungee hooks in the passenger footrests, and optional soft luggage, including a tank bag and panniers:

Photo from Kawasaki

Photo from Kawasaki

Hopping on the bike, I was pleasantly surprised with how narrow the bike is. Californians will appreciate this as they legally lane-split, and the rest of you will appreciate it if you illegally lane split. Turning the key powers up a well-designed gauge cluster with a gear indicator. If I’m allowed to nitpick, the LCD tach needle is a little slow and awkward.

Photo from Kawasaki

Photo from Kawasaki

Unfortunately, I can’t compare this to a FZ-07 or a SV650 as I don’t have experience with either of them yet. But I can tell you that the phrase I kept repeating to myself while I was riding this bike was “good enough.” At this price point, you can’t expect any particular feature to be a real standout. With that said, this bike has an absolutely fantastic intake sound. Kawasaki says they’ve done research to make the intake noise stand out, and you can tell. It yielded the same joy from me that the Z1000 did, and I’m sure it’ll be the cause of a few tickets because riders just want to hear the engine suck in air as they wind it out.

The front forks are 41mm KYB non-adjustable units and the rear shock is pre-load adjustable. The brakes are 300mm discs up front and a 220mm disc in the rear. The suspension and braking components are pilfered from the Ninja 650. Other reviewers who have had more time with the Z650 have had some complaints with the brake feel, but I was very impressed with this Z for the price. It feels compact and nimble, and it’s a hell of an improvement over the ER-6n.

A little touch that you’ll either find tacky or slick is the taillight, which is shaped in a “Z”:

Photo from Kawasaki

Photo from Kawasaki

Recent Kawi motorcycles have usually left me cold in terms of styling, but I think they nailed it this time around. The 650 is an excellent addition to Kawasaki’s naked Z lineup. For 2017, they’re replacing the Z1000 and Z800 with the Z900, so now they’ve got a 125, 650, and 900. Will we see a Z300 in the future?

If you’re interested in learning more, head on over to Kawasaki’s site.

Photos by Jesse Kiser.

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