Test ride: 2019 Kawasaki Z650

Kawasaki’s updated the trusty and popular Z650 for 2020. You can read about it here, but the short strokes are that its emissions have been cleaned up a little, the gauges are now displayed on a more up-to-date TFT screen, and it’s Bluetooth-enabled. As well, the headlights are now LED, the seat is more comfortable, the tires are improved, and the bodywork is tweaked to make it look a bit different. There – you don’t have to click that link after all.

Read all the specs for the 2019 Kawasaki Z650 here.

Changes like this usually mean a discount on 2019 models left in the showroom. If you can find a 2019 – and there should still be plenty – it will definitely be less costly. The new bike lists for $8,499 and it comes standard with ABS brakes; the equivalent 2019 model has an MSRP of $7,999, and if you don’t want ABS, that version is another $400 less.

The 2020 has a slightly different look with new bodywork, but the 2019 is none too shabby, if you like this sort of thing.

However, trust me, you do want ABS. Don’t fool yourself that your reactions are faster than modern anti-lock brakes. When you skid the front tire on a slippery road, or in a panic situation, that $400 will seem cheap.

Anyway, the power and delivery of the Z650 is pretty much unchanged, as is the chassis and suspension. There’s really no need to change them if you’re not trying to win races.

The engine is shared with Kawasaki’s 650 Ninja and Vulcan. It’s very forgiving and fun to ride, and whenever I find myself on a tightly twisting road, I think of tackling it with Kawasaki’s mid-sized naked bike. It’s small enough that you feel you can throw it around, but big enough that you won’t be embarrassed when out for a ride.

The Z650 returned around 5 L/100 km, which provided a generous range of about 300 km.

What is it?

The Z650 is a versatile bike that’s an ideal size for the city, while still being powerful enough to ride in the country on a Sunday afternoon. I live an hour outside of Toronto, so every press bike I ride gets to spend some time at highway speed on the 401. There’s always the option of taking the pretty route beside the lake for the second half of that hour, after battling with commuters, but the Z650 is happy to buzz along all day at 120 km/h. If you want to ride at the top end of probably-acceptable-in-Canada, at 130 km/h, the parallel-twin liquid-cooled engine will whir away at about 6,000 rpm, which is comfortably shy of its 10,000-rpm redline.

Such riding had me leaning into the wind a little more than usual, with the balls of my feet on the pegs rather than the arches. This is a naked bike, after all, and it’s pretty light at 184 kg wet. It’s pretty low, too, with a 790 mm seat height. I’m just a shade under 6 feet tall (Damn you, genetics! Almost made it!) and the bike felt small without being too small; it would comfortably fit a rider considerably shorter than myself.

Don’t dismiss this as a chick bike, however. Kawasaki’s press photography makes it look mean and aggressive, with those sharp edges and that reptilian headlight. But when you see it in person? Consider it at a distance and the urban weapon design is apparent; check it out up close and it’s just another motorcycle with pointy plastic bits, but that stubby exhaust does redeem it in my books.

How is it to ride?

I did not, of course, ride the Z650 home all the way on the highway, but was lured onto the two-lane scenic bypass that skirts Lake Ontario’s shoreline. The bike was in its element here, humming along at speed and flicking through shady corners without having to worry about setting up for them long beforehand.

The engine makes 67 hp and 49 lbs.-ft. of torque, which means there’s plenty of get up and go without crossing over the line into true sport riding. It’s kind of like going to the gym for overall fitness and well-being, rather than body-building or weight-lifting. It’s not an exciting bike to ride, but it is fun.

This also means that it’s not scary, or intimidating. I’d recommend it to a novice as readily as I’ll recommend it to an experienced rider who’s looking for an all-rounder machine. It’s got more gusto than the milquetoast Honda Rebel, but doesn’t parry the cut-and-thrust of the Ninja or any of those track-day hopefuls.

You do need to keep the engine on the boil if you’re wanting strong exits out of the curves, because peak torque hits at a relatively high 6,500 rpm, but this twin-cylinder is happy to do that. Even then though, it’ll pull steadily without kicking you up the backside or snapping your neck. If you want that, you’ll need to step up to the larger 900 cc sibling, or any number of other, sportier bikes.

You can set the tachometer so the little lights flash on above the analogue numbers, but it still looks dated compared to a TFT screen.

Is it worth it?

To be honest, the Z650’s looks don’t really do it for me. The funky tachometer and digital speedometer aren’t too clear, either, but if you like them over the new TFT screen, it’ll put at least $500 back in your pocket.

The Kawasaki’s real competition comes from the other three Japanese makers: the tried-and-tested Suzuki SV650, the similarly-styled Yamaha MT-07, and the more powerful and expensive Honda CB650R. The European makers produce similar bikes that are sportier and more exotic (read, expensive), though the Indian-made Royal Enfield 650s are worth considering if there’s a dealer near you.

Ideally, if the all-round abilities of the mid-sized naked Kawasaki appeal to you (and they appeal to me!), you should head to your local dealers, or next weekend’s Toronto motorcycle show if you live near the Centre Of The Universe. Sit on all those bikes to see how they fit, and consider how they look up close. If the 2019 Z650 works for you, don’t waste time thinking about it. They’re not making any more and the new model will be at least $500 more costly.

Read all the specs for the 2019 Kawasaki Z650 here.

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