2017 Kawasaki Z650 First Ride Review | Rain and Shine Tested
The 2017 Kawasaki Z650 is the one of the latest addition to the growing Z family, which also includes the Z900 for 2017. The Z650 is a true to form, middleweight, naked sport bike, and one that is a fully capable machine. We tested it on roads through the Cleveland National Forest and beyond. Here are the essential Fast Facts.
1. The new Z gets a new chassis. It’d be difficult to miss the lime-candy-green, steel trellis frame of the Z650, but Kawasaki put quite a bit of effort into designing a new chassis for 2017. Using far more straight lines, and the 649cc parallel twin as a stressed member; the new chassis translates massive amount of positive feedback into the rider, meaning that this is one inspiring little number.2. The 2017 Kawasaki Z650 offers precise handling with little effort. One of the biggest successes of the Z650 is its inherently nimble nature. Thanks to a 55.5-inch wheelbase and an aggressive 24-degrees of rake, the Z650 is remarkably agile. Tipping into a corner isn’t met with hesitation; it does whatever you ask of it, while remaining on the proverbial rails.[Visit the 2017 Motorcycle Previews page]3. In mixed conditions, the Dunlop Sportmax tires performed well. With the roads recovering from a storm the night before this first ride review, the Dunlop Sportmax tires had a tough job. Fortunately, they were predictable in all conditions and I was able to keep the rubber side down, even without help from traction control.4. Weight, or the lack thereof, is a key factor. Kawasaki has kept the weight of the Z650 to a commendable 410 pounds (claimed wet). That’s quite an achievement, but that isn’t the whole story. A great deal of effort has been put into centrally locating its weight, aiding in great handling, and better yet, an excellent power-to-weight ratio.5. The Z650’s suspension has sport-comfort in mind. The Z650 uses non-adjustable 41mm KYB forks, and a horizontally mounted single rear shock with spring-preload adjustment. Tuned a few steps left of performance, I found the Z650’s suspension to have a comfortable ride. Potholes and smaller inconsistencies are soaked up without a second thought. Importantly, aggressive riding isn’t hindered, either. If I have one complaint, it’s that in hard braking, the front forks do dive considerably.6. The tried and true 649cc engine is updated this year. The liquid-cooled DOHC motor has been serving Kawasaki for some time. With a recent overhaul, mechanically and aesthetically, the Z650’s powerplant offers plenty of power for new riders, and is satisfying for veterans.7. The power delivery is ready for sport riding. Whether I was riding with what authorities would consider a “spirited pace,” or suffering the doldrums of California freeway life, the Z650 was up to the task. Grab some throttle, and you’ll be rewarded with a thrilling induction howl while the usable torque gets the front end light without much effort. Peaking at a claimed 48.5 ft/lbs of torque, the Z650 joyously pulls from the depths of the rpm band, and well into the upper ranges.8. Kawasaki’s Assist & Slipper clutch works as intended. Many aspects of the Z650 are dedicated to user-friendliness, and this is a welcome trickle-down feature from more expensive models. The assist function lightens the clutch pull nicely, while the slipper clutch, which I certainly relied on while dealing with wet pavement, will help keep less experience riders safe if they botch a downshift or two.9. There is plenty of braking power on the 2017 Kawasaki Z650. Braking is progressive, and confident. The twin 300mm discs have a great amount of tactile feel in the front lever. More experienced riders might want an aggressive attack out of the Nissan calipers, but remember that the Z650 needs to satisfy the needs of beginners as well as moderately experienced riders. A quick fix would be to upgrade the rubber lines, and stock brake pads. ABS is optional, and worth $400 and an additional four pounds.10. The mid-size Z650 has mid-size ergonomics. At 5’ 10”, the Z650’s low seat height, neutral handlebar height, and sculpted tank remain as standout aspects of the bike. The Z650’s tank allowed me to grip while cornering, and the handlebar height is comfortable. Taller riders might desire slightly wider handlebars, but for someone of my reach, I found them to be great.11. The 2017 Kawasaki Z650 is Sugomi re-envisioned. The Z line isn’t bashful, not in the least. The Sugomi-styled machines have been somewhat polarizing, but Kawasaki refocused the core principles of their brash styling; the Z650 focuses on a svelte, predatory look.12. The Z650 features a new dash. A digital/analog dash greets the rider once the key is turned. Featuring all of the standard bits of information required by federal law, and more, including a gear indicator, fuel gauge, and range. While all of that is appreciated, most importantly you can interpret the dash while in direct sunlight.13. Kawasaki did a great job with the Z650. When you boil the Z650 down, it’s difficult to see any critical flaws. Affordable ($7,399 with ABS; $6,999 standard), agile, and inspiring, this is a formidable contender for the growing inexpensive middleweight bike market. Engaging in style, the 2017 Kawasaki Z650 is able to grow with a rider’s skill level.Photography by Kevin WingRIDING STYLE
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This week, in the first segment Editor Don Williams talks to us about the new Kawasaki Versys 650 LT. It’s the middleweight ADV style machine that uses the same 650 parallel twin motor as the Ninja 650, so it’s an excellent performer in a user-friendly, good looking package.
In the second segment, I chat with one of my dearest industry friends—now retired Honda PR executive, Jon Seidel. Jon’s fascinating career spans some 30 years with Big Red, and gave him some great experiences with some incredible machines. I was fortunate enough to be invited on many of the press launches that he organized. His new project is documenting and saving many of the old archives from years gone by—and incidentally, if you have anything that may be of value to the project, please contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll pass it all on to Jon.
So on that note, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!