Showroom Showdown: Getting Naked

All the Japanese manufacturers produce 650-class naked bikes, and they’re a cornerstone of the lineups. Although lacking the aspirational qualities of higher-spec Euro machinery, these bikes are more affordable for many Canadian riders, and mostly pretty good-looking to boot.

So, if you had to choose between a Suzuki SV650, a Kawasaki Z650, a Honda CB650R and a Yamaha MT-07, how would you choose between them? Lucky for you, we’ve done all the hard work for you, below.

The Honda CB650R makes the most horsepower out of these four bikes, and it’s a significant difference.

Engine

There’s a variety here; the Suzuki SV650 uses a  V-twin, the Kawasaki Z650 and Yamaha MT-07 use parallel twins, and the CB650R uses an inline four. Of course, since we’re in the 21st century, all these engines are liquid-cooled. All are just under 650 cc capacity, except the MT-07, which is 689 cc despite cheekily implying it’s a 700.

Going by the numbers, the CB650R is by far the winner on horsepower. It’s the old CBR650 motor that’s been around a few years, but tuned hotter for 2019, making 94 hp at 12,000 rpm. That’s about 20 hp up on the MT-07 (74 hp at 9,000 rpm) and SV650 (75 hp at 8,500 rpm), and almost 30 hp up on the Z650 (67 hp at 8,000 rpm).

The torque figures are much more even across the bikes, with the CB650R making 47 lb-ft at 8,500 rpm, the SV650 making 47 lb-ft at 8,100 rpm, the Z650 making 49 lb-ft. at 6,500 rpm and the MT-07 making 50 lb-ft at 6,500 rpm. Most riders wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in max torque, although they’d certainly notice the CB650R’s higher-revving sweet spot.

The Honda’s highest horsepower output would make it the winner for many, especially as it’s the most recently updated design here, but the lower-rpm torque of the Kawasaki and the Yamaha could possibly be a benefit to riders in urban environment. Also note the Kawasaki and the Honda are the only machines here with a slipper/assist clutch.

The Yamaha MT-07 is the lightest machine here. Light weight has long been a defining mark of the MT lineup.

Weight

A reasonable curb weight is a big part of the naked bike formula, and all of these machines are more than reasonable in that regard, although there is quite a spread. The SV650 is 197 kg at the curb, the CB650R is just under 203 kg at the curb, the Z650 is 184 kg at the curb and the MT-07 is 180 kg at the curb.

So, there’s a big difference between the Honda at one end, and the Yamaha at the other; 23 kg is a lot of weight, although as noted above, the Honda makes up for it with a lot of extra horsepower (but no extra torque). Yamaha’s MT line, formerly known as the FZ line, has made plenty of fans since its introduction due to its low weight, and the MT-07 is the perfect example of this.

All these bikes feature a standard upright riding position. Note the height of the Z650’s handlebars: you won’t have to hunch over to ride this bike.

Ergonomics

All these machines have a more-or-less upright seating position, although the CB650R did have its riding position altered to be a little more sporty (footpegs back, handlebars forward) this year. None of them put you into a complete Ricky Racer crouch.

Seat height is 795 mm for the Suzuki, 810 mm for the Honda, 790 mm for the Kawasaki and 805 mm for the Yamaha. Few riders will struggle with these numbers, especially experienced motorcyclists.

With non-adjustable telescopic front forks and a rear shock only adjustable for preload, the SV650 (seen here in last year’s colours) is pretty much what you’d expect for a naked bike designed in the ’90s.

Suspension

For the most part, you’re getting budget suspenders here—the Z650 and SV650 have non-adjustable 41 mm front forks, and the MT-07 has non-adjustable 43 mm front forks.

The Honda, however, has Showa’s Separate Function Forks up front, adjustable for preload and rebound damping, making it the most desirable suspension here.

All bikes have a preload-adjustable rear monoshock.

ABS is standard on all these machines except for the Kawasaki, where it’s optional.

Brakes

Part of the MT-07’s weight savings came in the braking department, with dual 282 mm front discs. The SV650 has 290 mm brake discs up front, the Z650 has 300 mm discs, and the CB650R has 310 mm discs. ABS is standard on the Suzuki, the Honda and the Yamaha, but optional on the Kawasaki ($400 more for the ABS version, which also gives you different paint options).

Rear brakes on all these machines are in the 220-245 mm range, which is more than sufficient for most users.

The CB650R also retains that lovely 4-1 exhaust header that looks very similar to the old CB400 setup.

Aesthetics

While these bikes all share a common Japanese heritage, they do have very different styles, mostly due to the timeframes they were designed in. The SV650 looks very similar to the original 1999 model, with its exposed trellis frame and round headlight with a small bikini fairing. As for the MT-07 and Z650, their late-2000s origins show through their angular Transformer-style lines, although they’ve both received fairly recent makeovers (the Z650 is derived from the ER-6N naked bike, with the changeover announced in the 2016 show season). Meanwhile, the CB650R carries the neo-retro look that’s sweeping the scene these days.

The Suzuki is only available in silver, the Honda is available in red or black, the Kawasaki is available in black, white or blue (as long as you also spring for ABS) and the Yamaha is available in blue, grey or black.

Despite its space age looks, the Yamaha MT-07 is actually a pretty basic motorcycle, with no trick ride modes or leaning ABS or similar electronic safety package. For now, the 650-class Japanese naked bikes are still simple, which keeps price down.

Electronics

In today’s world, even stripped-down naked bikes are expected to have an electronic safety package, with ABS as the bare minimum. However, with these bikes positioned towards the bottom of the pricing spectrum, some concessions must be made.

As noted above, the Z650 only includes ABS as an option. It’s standard on the Suzuki SV650, but there’s no traction control, riding modes or other safety system like leaning ABS. Same for the Yamaha MT-07.

The Honda CB650R does pack ABS, but also Selectable Torque Control, a traction control system already found on the Africa Twin. According to Honda’s website, “When the rear tire loses traction on a slippery surface, HSTC instantly kicks in and suppresses torque by controlling fuel injection to inhibit rear tire slip.” The system can be turned off, if you want to hoon about.

On a pure technology and performance basis, the Honda CB650R is far and away the best machine here, despite a little extra weight.

Pricing/Conclusion

Ah, here’s a problem: Honda hasn’t released a Canadian MSRP for the CB650 R yet, although we’d expect pricing higher than last year’s CB650F, which carries a $8,999 MSRP currently. We’d guess at a price over the $10k mark in 2019.

Otherwise, the Suzuki SV650 is $7,899, the Kawasaki Z650 is $7,599 and the Yamaha MT-07 is $8,499.

The Honda is the bike to buy if you sophistication and modern technology, things like adjustable suspension and traction control; up-to-date styling sure doesn’t hurt it either. But, depending on the price tag, buyers might be driven elsewhere, and that’s where it gets a bit tricky, as all these bikes have their fans for various reasons.

The MT-07 has got lots of love for its excellent weight management, but it’s a full $900 more than the Z650, which is only 4 kg heavier. If you want to lose 4 kg that badly, it’s cheaper to hit the gym and buy the Kawi.

And then, we’re left with the SV650. While Suzuki gets some criticism these days for not doing much to update its lineup, remember that this has been a pretty well-liked naked bike for 20 years now. While it may not be the most powerful, the lightest, or have the most trick parts, it’s still an excellent all-round machine and a testament to the solid design that went into the bike decades ago.

So what we’d advise is this: With summer coming, most manufacturers will be running demo rides at a dealership in your area, and you’d probably be able to come to a decision much easier with some seat time. These bikes are all likely to be on the demo fleet, so by early summer, if you haven’t been able to make up your mind after seeing stories about them or ogling them at the bike show, you should be able to get a ride to make your final decision (and maybe save a few hundred extra bucks).

14 thoughts on “Showroom Showdown: Getting Naked”

  1. for looks I like the Suzuki, but it dose not look like they have center stands , would not buy another bike with a chain and not a center stand. I have noticed that a lot of bikes with out center stands the chain is lacking maintenance. Is this a way for the bike companies to get you in for more repairs and get more money out of your pocket. When going on a 2 day or a 1 week tour you need to be able to lube your chain, with out having to chase your bike around while some one pushes it around for you.

    1. Buy a PackJack? http://www.packjack.ca/

      I’ve never had a problem with this anyway. You can’t do this on a bigger bike, but on smaller machines, including sport tourers, I simply tip the bike over on its sidestand, with the front wheel, sidestand and me behind it forming a tripod. Bend down, spin the wheel, lube it up. Easy peasy.

  2. I tried the Yamaha this summer and wow! I was suprise by that bike. Smooth, light, front wheel will rise if you go hard on gas and I weight over 200… I traded my Super Tenere for a brand new MT-07 last fall so my girlfriend and I can share the bike. Waiting for the T7!!
    The other thing that keeps me with Yamaha, and I know it’s hard to evaluate, it’s the reliability and my dealer 😉

  3. I don’t understand these bikes (all but the Kawi are offenders in this regard) with 2-3 inch long footpeg feelers. Why not just put the pegs an inch or two lower, since they are obviously not the limit for clearance when cornering? I guess it’s for all the people who said “these pegs are just too low, I just have too much leg room on this bike” – i.e. almost nobody?

      1. But why so long? The Kawi doesn’t have feelers that long, just little short ones.
        I noticed the same thing on the Yamaha Tracer GT – it has very long feelers (presumably to allow for the centerstand), which aren’t shown in the pictures on Yamaha’s site. Again, if the feelers are that long, the pegs could just as easily be lower.

  4. Gonna buy me a brand-new 2019 CB650R (red) this spring!
    I deserve it, heheh…
    Small machine. Little four-cylinder engine. Smooth.
    And after decades of piloting ~600 pound superbikes, 450 pounds (wet) doesn’t seem too heavy to me.

    1. Have you checked the Ninja 650? It’s even lighter, less power but just as much more usable power and more torque, and much cheaper.

      1. Yeah, like I’m gonna go from a ZX-14 to a Ninja 650 twin, LoL
        (Don’t like “cheap” bikes. Do you?)
        MAYBE the Yamaha though…
        But IMO this naked Honda is superior to all three.

    2. The reviews I’ve seen of the previous generation CB650R was that it was not, in fact, smooth at all, but buzzy and harsh at higher RPMs.

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