Kawasaki Z650: PH2

It is all too easy to take a bike on face value. If you did this in the case of Kawasaki's new Z650 you would assume it is just a rehashed ER-6n that has been given a bit of a facelift, a new lick of paint on its frame and a quick name change. In reality, this is very far from the case. Although it is true the Z650 does share more than a few components with the bike it replaces, it easily holds its own as a new model and packs far more of an individual punch than you would image. This new Zed even manages to run the current top middleweight, Yamaha's MT-07, pretty close when it comes to performance, spirit and, above all, price. And in such a competitive class as the middleweight one, that's quite an impressive achievement. So what has been the key to reviving Kawasaki's parallel twin?

H2-like frame is all new
H2-like frame is all new
The Ninja's new clothes
Although the heart of the Z650 - its parallel twin engine - is relatively unchanged, it does gain an assist and slipper clutch and a bit of a retune that sees its power very slightly decreased to 68hp but its mid-range boosted and Euro4 regulations satisfied. However the real key in the ER's transformation to Z comes from its new chassis. As well as a totally new (H2-mimicking green) frame, the swing-arm is also new and now has a more conventionally located damper rather than the horizontally-mounted item on the ER. Impressively, Kawasaki claims that these changes alone have trimmed nearly 13kg off the bike, which alongside other small mods such as new clocks, styling, dash and tank sees the Z650 tip the scales at a claimed 187kg, which is 17kg lighter than the ER-6n. And it shows up markedly in the ride.

Smaller, lighter and better handing
Against the new breed of middleweights, the old ER was starting to show its age. This was a bike first launched in 2006 and while it had been revised, most noticeably in 2012 when it got a new chassis, that was a long time ago and the MT-07 has moved the game on. Against the Yamaha the Kawasaki felt soft on its suspension and a bit cheap while the engine failed to match the MT's storming parallel twin. While the new Z still can't match the Yamaha's motor in terms of outright performance, the chassis revision now mean it is very much in the same ballpark.

Narrow body keeps it feeling agile
Narrow body keeps it feeling agile
As well as reducing the frame's weight, Kawasaki have also made the Z650 narrower and reduced its seat height compared to the ER and on a bike generally aimed at new riders this is clever thinking. At just 790mm seat height, it is very easy to get both feet firmly planted on the ground and that is reassuring. However, experienced riders shouldn't dismiss the Z as a newbie bike because just like the MT, it punches well above its middleweight weight limit suggests.

The revisions to the chassis have taken the slop out of the ER's handling and the Z is a really surprising package in the bends. It feels incredibly narrow (a feeling accentuated by its typically ER narrow bars) and the weight loss makes it far more nimble at both fast and slow speeds. The revisions to the suspension, including the damper's new position, transform the ride quality and on a twisty road the Z is more than a match for the slightly overly soft and squishy MT. But its engine still can't quite compete.

Big bang over speed
Despite both the ER and MT using the same parallel twin format, the MT's is still the better and more engaging motor. Power-wise there is only 7hp and a few pound foot of torque in it, but the Yamaha feels newer, fresher and faster to rev compared to the Kawasaki. When you rev the Z650 it feels like an old-school engine with big pistons that are working hard as they thump up and down. It's almost V-twin like in its character where the MT is far quicker to respond. Is this a bad thing? Not at all; it's just a different type of feeling and when it comes to throttle response, the lightness of the clutch's action and torque, there is little to fault on the Zed - it's just the Yamaha tends to do things quicker. I also found the new digital rev counter a bit unpleasant, but that's a personal thing.

A worthy contender at a very good price!
A worthy contender at a very good price!
A serious contender
The middleweight class is a serious battle ground and very important to manufacturers. How important? The MT-07 is Yamaha's best selling bike in Europe, that's how important it is! While for my money the Z650 doesn't quite match the MT in terms of engine performance, it can certainly match it in every other aspect and probably out handle it to boot. And that means it is now very much in the hunt where the ER-6n was left at home by the fire nursing a cup of milky tea. The MT doesn't suit everyone and, if you like the overall Zed-family styling, the Z650 is a genuine middleweight option that won't disappoint. And at £6,099 it is exactly the same price as the Yamaha, which is certainly no coincidence...

: 649cc DOHC parallel twin, water-cooled, 8v
Power (hp): 68@8,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 48@6,500rpm
Top speed: 110mph (est.)
Weight: 187kg (wet)
MPG: 55 (est.)
Price: £6,099





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Comments (10) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Spannerski 21 Feb 2017

    Bikes that look like this make me feel old...

  • Riverside Red 22 Feb 2017

    Totally agree, I still miss my green Z650B1 from 1978. I still think the 70's zeds were great looking bikes.......


  • hammo19 22 Feb 2017

    I am old but it looks fab to me.....

  • Higgs boson 22 Feb 2017

    Riverside Red said:
    Totally agree, I still miss my green Z650B1 from 1978. I still think the 70's zeds were great looking bikes.......

    I was riding a 400-4 then, and always wanted a 650 Kwack. 👌

  • ZX10R NIN 22 Feb 2017

    Looks like a half decent commuter tool.

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