2017 Middleweight Twin Sport Motorcycle Shootout
Story from our latest issue, which is available for free at the Ultimate Motorcycling app.
We can tell you right up front in this comparison of the three newest 650-class upright twin sport bikes that we aren’t going to pick a winner for you. Riding the Kawasaki Z650, Suzuki SV650, and Yamaha FZ-07 reveals three motorcycles with three distinctly individual approaches to the class.
Like our test riders, who cover a large range of skills and sizes, customers will be from a variety of backgrounds. Buyers of these three bikes will include novices moving up from smaller machines, new street riders with off-road motorcycle experience, to sport riders looking for more comfort than their supersport bikes allow.
Further, the use of these bikes will be mixed. These are true dual-purpose machines, though not in the traditional dirt/street sense. With their displacement and size, they are equally adept in urban confines as they are at ripping through the canyons.
Selecting the right bike is about making the right match for you and your riding requirements, not picking the “best” bike.
Price isn’t a deciding factor—the $7399 Z650 undercuts the other two bikes by a mere $100 (all in ABS trim). Yamaha gives itself about a six percent displacement advantage while staying the lightest—smart move. Still, this comparison is about isolating the features you want in a motorcycle, and selecting the right machine to fit your needs.
The Kawasaki Z650 is the newest to the fold, and is based closely on the latest iteration of the venerable Kawasaki Ninja 650—a faired sport bike. The Z650 uses a parallel twin motor that is the most oversquare of the three. Predictably, it features good overrev, similar to the new Z900.
An early 2017 release, the Suzuki SV650 carries on the tradition of mid-size V-twin sport bikes from Suzuki, replacing the not-much-missed SFV650 and the inexplicably named Gladius. Suzuki definitely has gotten back on track in this class with the latest SV650 and its impressively torquey motor with the strongest top-end power.
Now in its third year, the Yamaha FZ-07 has done quite well in the marketplace. The Crossplane Concept parallel twin sounds and acts more like a V-twin. The FZ-07 has the smallest bore of the three, and gets its extra displacement from a considerably longer stroke, and that gives it an advantage at lower rpm.
When it comes to getting from one end of twisting canyon road to the other, the goal is accomplished in three distinctive ways—none especially better than any other.
The SV650 takes on the canyons with a smooth and controllable motor that is matched with a superbly settled chassis. With the longest wheelbase (by 1.4 inches) and most relaxed rake of the three, the SV650 is about providing a stable platform for sporting runs. You’ll feel secure as you drop into any turn.
The suspension favors stiffer springing, so the SV doesn’t wobble in turns. On the downside, bumpy roads are a bit more of a problem, as the rider feels more of the pavement’s impurities. Still, the chassis and motor prevent anything from happening too quickly, so the rider never feels out of control. Yes, you have to make sure you finish the corners, but that’s part of the price of outright stability, and the fact that the Suzuki is about 25 pounds heavier than the Z650.
Kawasaki took a completely different approach. The Z650 gets the steepest rake (by 0.8 degrees), and a short wheelbase. The suspension gets the softly sprung/firmly damped treatment, which allows the Z650 to settle nicely in virtually every corner.
With light weight and a compact chassis, plus an aggressive front end, the Z650 is strikingly agile. You can have your way with the Z in the corners—turn-in is effortless—and the slightly weaker motor isn’t going to present any surprises. It’s addictively fun to ride, especially as the road gets tighter. Free revving at the top, you can spin the Z650 a bit longer down the straights, and that can mean fewer shifts and faster riding, even with less power on tap.
The Yamaha FZ-07 splits the difference, and adds an additional dollop of low-end and midrange power and a 20mm wider rear tire. With a shorter Z650-like wheelbase and rake almost as relaxed as the SV650, plus the least weight of the trio, the FZ feels supremely intuitive throughout the turning experience. Every part of the corner happens as you expect, with no surprises or undue effort required.
The FZ suspension balances the spring and damping rates perfectly, so don’t worry too much about the road condition. Once out of the corner, outstanding low-end torque and a willingness to rev quickly sends you rapidly down the road. Like the other two bikes, the only suspension adjustment on the FZ-07 is spring-preload on the shock.
Yamaha runs Michelin Pilot Road 3 tires on the FZ-07, while the Z650 gets the Dunlop Sportmax D214, and the SV650 is shod with the Dunlop Qualifier. Suffice to say that we were fully satisfied with the rubber on all three motorcycles, although you can get sportier tires if you like, or something with more longevity.
Braking is as much a part of successful twisty excursions as any other aspect of the bike, and the FZ-07 offers the strongest brakes, yet easily modulated. The SV650 and Z650 brakes are similar, with a somewhat softer initial bite that results in a more progressive feel. Yamaha gives the FZ’s front braking a more linear response. With lighter springs, the Z650 is most susceptible to front-end dive during hard stops. ABS is optional on all three, and we fully recommend it.
Ergonomics are also an important part of canyon carving—you can’t go fast if you don’t feel comfortable. The Z650 is the most compact of the three, but is by no means cramped if you’re under six-feet tall, even though it has a sit-in feel. You have a great sense that you can boss the Z around, and its agile chassis enhances that.
Suzuki wants you to feel relaxed on the SV650, and has plenty of room—again, this matches the handling and power delivery. There are no mixed messages.
Yamaha went with a more upright feeling, so riders coming from the dirt will immediately be in their comfort zone. Plus, the FZ’s ergonomics provide a tall visual perspective, though you will feel more wind pressure against your head and body at speed.
In urban environments, where 650s are a perfect balance of around town convenience and the capability to confidently navigate a busy downtown freeway, all three bikes have plenty to offer.
Those looking for agility over everything will immediately gravitate to the Kawasaki Z650. It can dart through traffic with minimal input. A quickly engaging clutch with a light pull is either an asset or a liability, depending on your style.
On the expansion-joint littered freeways, the firmer damping means the Z will be upset more than the others, and the combination of a short wheelbase and steep rake can make the bike occasionally nervous. If you’re aggressive, the Z650 will reward you; sloppy riding, however, can make the bike feel like it’s over-reacting. It will do what you told it to do, rather than what you intended it to do.
In stark contrast, the SV650 feels like a luxury car on the freeway. The long, relaxed chassis means that Botts’ Dots won’t faze its inherent stability, which makes lane splitting less hair-raising. Smooth throttle response adds to the SV’s easy-riding performance on city streets, and the chassis is forgiving. Less certain riders will be constantly reassured by the SV650, and they’ll be less likely to stall the SV coming away from lights thanks to its clever Low RPM Assist function.
Hooligans will gravitate more towards the Yamaha FZ-07. With the strongest low rpm torque, and snappiest throttle response, you will have no problem pulling wheelies (wherever legal, of course) or sprinting away from traffic. The softer sprung suspension is the most comfortable, so therefore the handling is not as responsive as the Z nor as passive as the SV, so it fits right between them. The upright seating position and tallest seat height gives you a good view of the road and any nearby law enforcement officers. The bump-absorbing FZ is great fun in urban environments, be they streets or freeways.
Riding the Kawasaki Z650, Suzuki SV650, and Yamaha FZ-07 in all sorts of situations, we’re struck by how different each motorcycle approaches each challenge. Fortunately, each one finds success with its chosen path. That leaves you with three great choices, and one that’s likely right for you.
The Kawasaki Z650 has an exciting angular appearance along with a highly responsive chassis. Although the motor is slightly lacking compared to the competition, don’t underestimate the value of precision handling—if you’re up for it. The Z650 will appeal to aggressive riders who know what they want and how to get the most out of a ride.
Relaxed and self-assured, the Suzuki SV650 has an undeniably substantial feel. Yes, it’s heavier and larger, yet it inspires more confidence than its competitors. The motor is strong, though not the quickest revving—another reason it helps the rider feel secure. New sport riders will adapt to the SV650 quickly, and it leaves plenty of room for rider growth.
Sitting right between the Z650 and SV650 in almost every category, the Yamaha FZ-07 is a tremendous all-around bike with outstanding power. It never leaves the rider wanting, nor does it demand that you adapt your style to its intentions.
Evaluate our findings carefully when choosing between the trio. All three motorcycles are highly competent and endlessly fun—never in the testing process did a rider feel “demoted” by moving from one bike to another. It was more akin to getting another bite from the smorgasbord. We all have different tastes, and one of these three bikes will be just the right flavor for you.
Photography by Don Williams
Riding Style: Arthur Coldwells
- Helmet: HJC RPHA 11 Pro
- Communications: Sena 10C
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Meta-X
- Gloves: Joe Rocket GPX
- Jeans: Spidi J&K Pro Tex
- Boots: Joe Rocket Super Street RX-14
Riding Style: Kelly Callan
- Helmet: Arai Signet-X
- Communication: Sena 10C
- Jacket: Dainese Veloster
- Gloves: Racer Women’s Queens
- Jeans: Dainese Belleville Slim
- Boots: Dainese Tempest
Riding Style: Nic de Sena
- Helmet: Shoei RF-1200
- Jacket: Spidi Evorider
- Gloves: Racer High Speed
- Jeans: Pando Moto Karl
- Boots: XPD X-Two
|10 Essential Specs||Kawasaki Z650 ABS||Suzuki SV650 ABS||Yamaha FZ-07 ABS|
|Motor||Parallel twin; DOHC||V-twin; DOHC||Parallel twin; DOHC|
|Bore x stroke||83 x 60mm||81 x 62.6mm||80 x 68.6mm|
|Front tire||120/70 x 17||120/70 x 17||120/70 x 17|
|Rear tire||160/60 x 17||160/60 x 17||180/70 x 17|
|Wheelbase||55.5 inches||56.9 inches||55.1 inches|
|Rake||24.0 degrees||25.0 degrees||24.8 degrees|
|Seat height||30.9 inches||30.9 inches||31.7 inches|
|Curb weight||410 pounds||434 pounds||403 pounds|