The Kawasaki Z650 is one of our favorite mid-size upright sportbikes and returns for 2020 with a few changes. Smartly leaving the well-developed basic sporting motorcycle intact, Kawasaki replaced the tires, added a new dash with a ridding app, and gave the 2020 Kawasaki Z650 sharp contemporary styling to keep the bike fresh in its fourth year of production. Based on the popular Ninja 650 chassis, the Z650 has weekday commuting and weekend fun rides covered with its agreeable personality that welcomes novice riders. The Z650 is no bore to experienced riders, and we enjoyed revisiting this spunky middleweight.
- First impressions are important, so check out the 2020 Kawasaki Z650’s light makeover. Already a good-looking bike, the latest Z650 has a taut, athletic look that beckons you to slip a leg over the compact frame and snuggle up against the sculpted tank. It’s perfectly designed for hugging with your legs and galloping off to the hills. The redesigned front cowl, toned-up radiator shrouds, and sleek styling exude charisma and promises to put a smile on your face if you take it out for a run.
- Dunlop Sportmax Roadsport 2 tires are new to the Kawasaki Z650 for ’20. Claimed to contribute to lighter handling, I’m hard-pressed to notice the change without a back-to-back ride on last year’s model. The Z650 was already the quickest handling, most flickable bike in its class, and it remains so.
- The new 4.3-inch TFT dash gives the Z650 an upgraded, modern look from the seat. TFT screens are easier to read with sharper images, better contrast, and more available information, plus they’re just darned pretty. The 650’s main screen features the vital riding stats—speedo, tach, gear indicator—all well-sized and crisply displayed. A fuel bar inhabits the lower left side of the meter, along with an ECO light that indicates when you are riding in a fuel-efficient manner. The usual secondary info is included in smaller, totally readable fonts along the bottom of the dash, as well as a clock. There are various options in how the information is displayed that can be accessed in the Ride Menu (hold down both L and R meter buttons, then scroll and click), and this is where you would connect via Bluetooth to the riding app.
- Connect your smartphone to the new Kawasaki Rideology app to get the most out of the Z650. You track your steps and your sleep without effort via your smartphone or smartwatch, so there’s good reason to do the same on your rides and monitor maintenance schedules via Rideology. If you’re expecting a call or e-mail that you don’t want to miss, the app will display an alert on the Z650’s dash, enabling you to pull over, whip out your phone, and respond. Download the Rideology app from the Apple App Store or Google Play, and connect via Bluetooth to geek out over your riding data.
- The Z650 delivers everyday functional power via a 649cc parallel-twin engine. There’s plenty of usable torque in the low and mid-range, just where you need it when skirting through urban commuter traffic. Power delivery is smooth and predictable, shifting is flawless, and there’s a light feel at the adjustable clutch lever thanks to Kawasaki’s assist and slipper clutch. Equally appreciated is the broad powerband that allows you to stay on the throttle just a bit longer without having to shift as you’re chasing your riding buddy through the canyon.
- A quicker twist of the throttle taps the oversquare DOHC powerplant for lively sprints through the twisties. As easy as the Z650 can make your weekday commute, it really shines on the weekend when you’ve ditched your backpack. The compact chassis and 24-degree rake, along with the new Dunlops, allow the rider to change the motorcycle’s direction with little effort. There’s no wrestling the chassis around—just a slight adjustment of weight tips the Z650 into turns. Responsive without being nervous, it’s reassuring to know you can change your line quickly should a rock or spread of sand unexpectedly pop up in a corner. The suspension is firm enough for aggressive riding, but not so taut that it gets out of shape over uneven surfaces.
- While the suspension has fixed damping, it works well for the average rider. Riding around Los Angeles, I am well aware of the poor road conditions from the seat of the Z650. However, that is more a comment on the state of our infrastructure than it is on the non-adjustable suspension. With about five inches of travel front and rear, the Z650 absorbs the worst of the road indignities with a calm, neutral demeanor. Even at full freeway speeds over bumps large enough to bounce your rear from the saddle, the 650 remains poised.
- The dual 300mm petal disc brakes are perfectly dialed, with a gracefully engaging linear-pull at the lever. There’s just the right amount of play at the lever, and reassuring power when you squeeze with authority. While a very quick and hard grasp will make the front-end dive with convincing deceleration, it will not upset the bike. The rear brake is fully useful for finessing the last few mph, and has good feel. We tested the ABS version, and a very firm push on the pedal triggers the t-t-t clicking of the ABS—it’s reassuring, not intrusive. We are fans of safety features, and for $400, it is well worth having.
- From an ergonomic standpoint, the 2020 Kawasaki Z650 is unintimidating. The compact, lightweight bike tips the scales at 406 pounds (+4 for the ABS version), and with my 30.5-inch inseam, I can sit flat-footed on the 650’s sub-31-inch high saddle. Raised bars put the rider in a mostly upright riding position with clutch and brake levers (both adjustable) within easy reach. The riding triangle is comfortably sporty with an easy view of surrounding conditions. There’s room to push back against the stepped pillion and tuck down a bit if you’ve got an open road ahead.
- Despite the microkini fairing, the Z650 is a naked upright with the requisite wind-in-your-face aesthetic. The small plastic fairing may direct some air over the rider, but the windblast is noticeable at full freeway speeds. However, the Z650 remains composed at high freeway speeds. Sure, it doesn’t have the secure, weighty presence of heavier bikes, but the Z650 does nothing unexpected, and the new Dunlops have no issues with California freeway rain grooves.
- The 2020 Kawasaki Z650 remains on the shortlist of mid-size upright sport bikes for commuting and canyon duties. Everything we love about this bike remains—the smooth power delivery and generous over-rev, the easy handling, agreeable personality, the lightweight, compact chassis. For the $250 price boost in ’20, you get sharpened styling, a TFT dash, and new tires added to an already favored ride.
Location photography by Don Williams
- Helmet: Arai Signet-X
- Communications: Cardo Packtalk Bold
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Ladies Lira
- Gloves: Alpinestars SMX-1 Air
- Jeans: Alpinestars Daisy
- Socks: MP Magic Merino Wool Socks
- Shoes: Alpinestars Stella Faster 3
2020 Kawasaki Z650 Specs
- Type: Parallel twin
- Displacement: 649cc
- Bore x stroke: 83 x 60mm
- Maximum torque: 49 ft/lbs @ 6500 rpm
- Compression ratio: 10.8:1
- Valvetrain: DOHC; 4vpc
- Fueling: EFI w/ 36mm Keihin throttle bodies
- Ignition: TCBI w/ electronic advance
- Transmission: 6-speed w/ Positive Neutral Finder
- Final drive: Sealed chain
- Frame: Steel trellis
- Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable fork; 4.9 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Spring-preload adjustable shock; 5.1 inches
- Tires: Dunlop Sportmax RoadSport 2
- Front tire: 120/70 x 17
- Rear tire: 160/60 x 17
- Front brakes: 300mm petal-type rotors w/ 4-piston calipers
- Rear brake: 220mm petal-style disc
- ABS: Optional ($400)
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 55.5 inches
- Rake: 24 degrees
- Trail: 3.9 inches
- Seat height: 30.9 inches
- Fuel capacity: 4 gallons
- Curb weight: 406 pounds (ABS: 410 pounds)
2020 Kawasaki Z650 Prices and Colors
- Metallic Spark Black/Metallic Flat Spark Black: $7249 MSRP (ABS: $7649)
- Metallic Spark Black: $7349 MSRP (ABS: $7749)