“The air was full of all the night noises that, taken together, make one big silence,” wrote Rudyard Kipling in The Jungle Book. Except tonight, it didn’t. As I thundered down a long road in Mumbai on a balmy summer night, atop the new Kawasaki Z650, that big silence was mercilessly ripped apart.
The Z650 is Kawasaki’s newest middleweight naked that replaces the now-defunct ER6n. But is it just a naked Ninja 650? Simply put, yes. Save the fairing and instruments, the Z650 and Ninja 650 are one and the same. As such, the Z650 comes with a 649cc parallel-twin cradled in a tubular-steel trellis frame. Power and torque – 68hp and 65.7Nm respectively – are channelled to the rear wheel via a six-speed gearbox that comes with a slip-and-assist clutch. The trellis frame, newly developed for the Ninja 650 and Z650, is very light, tipping the scales at a claimed 15kg. Losing the Ninja’s fairing helps the Z drop another 5kg, leading to an overall kerb weight of 186kg – nearly 20kg less than the ER6n.
Suspension duties are handled by 41mm telescopic forks up front and a horizontal back-link monoshock at the rear. Stopping power comes from twin 300mm petal-type discs at the front and a single 220mm petal-type disc at the back. The only electronic aid on the bike is Bosch’s 9.1M ABS.
The Z650 is positively compact, with a wheelbase of 1,410mm and seat height of 790mm. The foot pegs are mid-positioned and handlebars flat and wide, leading to a riding position that’s both sporty and upright. The compactness of the bike renders it slightly cramped, even for my 5ft 8in frame, and it will take its toll on leg joints over a long ride. For short joyrides, however, it won’t be much of a bother. The instrument cluster is simple and easy to read, providing you with the speed, revs and gear at a quick glance.
Thumb the starter button and the engine grumbles to life, settling into a coarse note at idle. Move through the short first and second gears and you are already heading down the road at triple-digit speeds. Throttle response is good, and there is a chunky, meaty bout of power in the mid-range, kicking in somewhere around 4,000rpm, where the Z650 accelerates with a real punch. It pulls cleanly until the 10,000rpm redline, but power tapers slightly towards the top. The soundtrack isn’t too appealing at low revs but turns into a pleasant, muffled roar when you go hard on the gas. At part-throttle inputs, vibrations pop up in the handlebar, which smoothen out as you twist your wrist and build speed. Notable, though, is the engine heat management. Not once (in my week or so with the Z650) did I feel the engine heat up too much, be it in traffic or out on the highway. The radiator fan would rarely whir up, and was remarkably quiet when it did.
The gearbox too, is wonderfully crisp, though the short gearing necessitates you to be fairly precise and timely with your on-off throttle transitions. The slipper clutch works fairly well, and the assist function does help lighten the clutch lever.
The strong mid-range is particularly handy at corner exits. Talking about corners, the Z650 does a great job of going around them. The steering is well-weighted, which ensures the bike is stable as you shift weight while entering and exiting a corner. It will obstinately hold your chosen line around the corner, so much so that you might have to wrestle it a bit to correct your line mid-corner. However, what holds the Z650 back around bends is the Dunlop Sportmax D214 tyres; grip levels are not the best here. It would be interesting to see how better rubber would change the Z650’s handling.
The suspension is set up on the softer side; the ride is pliant but not plush. As such, it will handle bumps, lumps and crests fairly well, with ‘fairly’ being the operative word here. However, the softness, especially at the rear leads to some mid-corner bumpiness that was unnerving on more than one occasion. There was plenty of lolloping on undulating surfaces as well. Suspension damping felt quite taut, occasionally delivering a sharp jar to my back as I rode over a speed bump a smidge too fast.
The brakes do a fantastic job of shedding speed and/or stopping the bike, unlike those on the ER6n or the previous-generation Ninja 650. Initial bite isn’t much, but past that, stopping power is aplenty. A full four-finger pull will bring you to a quick halt, with ABS working hard to keep both wheels on the ground, while two-finger jabs will effectively slow you down. And the brake lever is adjustable – a thoughtful touch.
Commute and cruise
After my midnight run, I held onto the Z650 for a few days to test it in traffic and out on the highway, and, I must say, it scored rather well. My short home-to-office commute takes me through narrow streets, a winding flyover appropriately called the ‘S-bridge’, potholes and pockets of dreary traffic, and the Z650 felt comfortable through it all. The low-end, while not punchy, is adequate to move about in traffic, and the bike’s compact dimensions make it easy to squeeze between traffic and sundry. The low seat height is of great help when you constantly have to put your feet on the ground, the suspension manages most ruts and potholes well and the engine, remarkably, does not heat up even in crawling traffic. I would have liked a slightly lighter steering and clutch action (constant feathering of the lever in traffic becomes cumbersome after a while), but those are small compromises to make. Fuel efficiency in the city was about 21kpl.
On the highway, the Z650 is stable and planted with the engine roaring away happily as you push past speed limits. Being a naked, windblast is an expected annoyance and the cramped riding position did make my knees buckle after a few hours of riding, but that aside, the Z650 makes for an acceptable tourer. Fuel efficiency on the highway was a little more than 26kpl.
So, does the Kawasaki Z650 deserve a spot in your garage? Simply put, yes. It is not a perfect bike, but it is versatile, usable for daily commutes, coffee runs, midnight rides and the occasional mile-munching
or mountain twisties riding. And with a price tag of Rs 5.19 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), it is very well priced too. The Z650’s build quality feels very good too. Sure, Kawasaki doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to aftersales service and spare parts pricing, but if you are prepared to cross that bridge if and when it comes, then this is one motorcycle that merits a high spot in your list.