On paper, the differences between a naked bike and a sport bike are minimal: The former has less bodywork, delivering an ample view of the frame and motor itself — earning the term “naked” — and that’s it. And you’d be hard pressed to find a better example of these slight changes than Kawasaki’s well-known sport bike, the Ninja, and the new for 2017 Z650 ABS.
The new middleweight naked from Kawasaki fills a slot that’s been missing from its line-up since the departure of the ER-6N in 2010. It’s not surprising that Kawasaki reintroduced a naked middleweight, because the market is growing massively — 382 percent since 2011, according to Kawasaki.
We’ve been riding the high-tech performer for a few weeks, logging 474 miles that were mostly on the twisting roads of the Angeles Crest Highway. If you’re considering an FZ-07 and SV650, you should also consider the Z650. By way of comparison, they’re all around $7,000 and all available with ABS, which adds about $400–$500 to the price.
The Z650 is a great addition to the Z family. It’s a family of two these days. Replacing the Z1000 and Z800 of last year, the Z900 is now the largest displacement Z. Although at first glance the Z650 looks a lot like the Ninja 650 (also redesigned this year) sans fairing, dig a little deeper, and you’ll see the differences include a new engine, clutch, frame, swing arm, brakes, wheels, handlebar, seat, tank, and dash.
The nakedness also shows off the new trellis frame that’s anti-freeze green — just like the insanely fast H2R — a lean 33 pounds, and great at handling stress. The frame and front end look more aggressive than all the other midweight nakeds, taking a page from the Terminator 2/Oakley aesthetic.
With a low seat height of 30.9 inches, most riders will be able to stand flat-footed on the bike. The ergonomics also work for taller riders. We felt comfortable even on 100-mile rides. Compared to past iterations of the Ninja 650, the chassis is more aggressive, with a 24-degree rake and 3.9-inch trail. Tuned for low and mid-range punch, the 649cc parallel twin engine delivers plenty of get-up and go right off the line as well as coming out of turns. The motor delivers 48.5 lb-ft of torque, according to Kawasaki, and a slipper clutch helps when you downshift through the six-speed transmission, and the overall clutch feel was light.
The Z650 also has a new LCD dash that’s one of our favorites because it’s easy to get all the data you want at a quick glance and includes added data such as mpg, miles until empty, and trip distance. Over the course of two weeks, during spirited riding, we averaged about 44 mpg.
Suspension is handled by a non-adjustable KYB unit up front and an adjustable unit in the rear that performed well. The Z650 is a great bike for beginners and intermediate riders, especially for riders not chomping at the bit to hit triple-digit speeds, which it’s fully capable of, but it will just take an extra few seconds to get there than a bike with a bigger motor. [$7,399; kawasaki.com]