Review: 2017 Kawasaki Z650L
The all-new Z650L is a great option for the learner, offering a sporty nakedbike experience... Here is our Z650L review. Test: Jeff Ware Photography: Nick Wood, Kris Hodgson
Kawasaki have replaced the popular ER-6NL with an all-new model for 2017, the Z650L. Lighter, more stylish and learner friendly, the Z650L boasts a trellis frame, ABS brakes, Zed family styling and a torquey parallel twin-cylinder four-stroke tuned for maximum torque from low rpm and linear power delivery through to the 9500rpm redline.
Joining the Z650L is a heavily updated Ninja 650 that shares the same chassis, engine and electronics as the Z650L but comes with a full fairing and a little more weight.
I recently spent a full day testing both bikes at the Australian press launch held in the Wisemans Ferry, NSW region and had the opportunity to test the bikes in a range of conditions from suburbia to open country roads, wet and dry, plus some great twisties as well. I came away impressed and found that not only is the Z650L a great LAMS machine, but it would also rate as a good all-rounder for the more experienced among us.
Walking around the Z650L at Kawasaki HQ I could not help but admire the new bike. It fits in well with the Zed family and makes total sense as well, given the amount of bikes in the legendary Zed range.
The standout for me is the trellis frame, particularly on my bike, which is the green frame and pearl white bodywork. It just looks stunning from every angle and from some angles it looks like a small version of the mighty H1.
The seat is neat, curved up at the back streetfighter style, and the centrally located dash adds to that theme. Finish and fit are typically good quality from Kawasaki, and we would not expect anything less, from the paint and graphics, the welds and joins, casting and machining, it’s all neat.
I also notice that the tyres are decent Dunlop items, which in my opinion is a huge plus for any learner. Too many learner bikes are kept at a tight price by compromising on the one thing a learner needs – good rubber…
Climbing on the Z650L, I’m surprised at the slim feel. I know that the ripper parallel twin is a narrow engine but the Z650L has that big bike look around the tank, however, once you climb on you realise it is a narrow beast. The ‘bars are at a nice height and width, my feet easily sit flat on the ground and placing a foot on a ‘peg reveals the bike is not cramped at all, even at 187cm.
We all fire up our bikes (around a dozen press) and warm up for a few minutes before heading out through busy Western Sydney traffic, where the Z650L proves a winner already.
It is as easy as it gets through the traffic, with a light clutch action, good feel from the rear brake, reasonable mirrors and virtually no heat around my legs and body thanks to the fact that the thermo fan directs the hot air straight down, venting underneath the bike, offering maximum rider comfort particularly on those hot Aussie days. The only small negative in traffic is a very slight throttle snatch on and off a closed throttle at low rpm in the lower two gears.
Once we get out of town, the Z650L goes from urban commuter to weekend fun bike. I really am having a ball on this bike and at under ten grand, it is seriously good bang for buck in the rider enjoyment stakes. You don’t always need mega power and suspension to have a good time…
The engine is a gem. It pulls top gear from as low as 2500rpm and will pull lower revs in lower gears. Torque remains linear and on tap right through the upper bottom and the mid-range, while there is still a decent overrev and although it is not what I would call a thrilling top-end, it is purposeful and the engine is free revving all the way through to the rev limiter, which is around the 9500rpm mark.
I know I spent plenty of time up there! That low speed, low rpm suburban throttle snatch all but vanishes once the engine is on the boil, too, and overall the 650 twin is a smooth operator, including the gearbox which has well matched ratios and a slick, effortless action.
On backshifts the bike remains composed thanks to the slipper clutch and that was particularly confidence-inspiring in the wet conditions, particularly when running the bike into turns from higher rpm. In terms of engine noise and exhaust note, things are pretty sterile, but a decent open pipe would sound awesome on one of these babies…
Chassis-wise the Z650L has basic suspension, as is reflected in the price, however with good geometry and decent rubber, the bike handles really well in a range of situations. The forks are non-adjustable but to be honest I would not touch them as they have such a broad operating range and are good enough in all of those ranges.
The shock is adjustable only for preload and with my 90kg in gear, plus some hard charging thrown in, the shock was not quite there and suffered from a small amount of seat bounce, or fast rebound, but I am being picky and that was only when the bike was being ridden very close, to outside, of its intended operating area!
If I was an owner, I would upgrade the shock, but only if I intended on doing the odd track day or a lot of weekend scratching up in the hills.
The front-end on the Z650 is what really impressed me the most and as I always say, if a rider has confidence in the front-end, then the rest is a bonus. The Z650L is no exception.
It goes where you look, initial turn-in is fast yet predictable, which is the crucial point in the turn for a learner, and once committed to the corner the Z650L falls progressively to full lean, tracks through the turn with no bump steer, and there is also plenty there for line changing should you get it wrong or spot an obstacle that you need to avoid, such as oil or a pothole. This front-end surefooted-ness only gets better on the brakes, themselves exceptionally good for the price of the bike.
Initial bite is strong yet not too overbearing for a learner rider, which was fantastic in the damp conditions that we experienced in the first half of the test. Modulating brake power and pressure at the lever gives intimate feel and aside from purposely testing the ABS, it did not activate all day. This is also great for the learner rider who really needs that ability to find braking limits with confidence (having the ABS as a back up is nice insurance). Another big plus for the bike.
Ground clearance is good, I only just touched a toe slider down once or twice during the day and didn’t touch the footpegs at all. Track days would be a different story but the feelers can be removed for that.
I really liked the dash layout of the Z650L, although there were times I found it a little difficult to read my speed at a glance. Overall it is a neat unit that is out of the way, giving the rider a true nakedbike feel similar to the Z1000, that being that there is nothing in front of you but fun and freedom and the road ahead. Oh, and a sticky Dunlop!
I spent the other half of the day on the Ninja 650, which although virtually the same bike in spec, offers a different experience from the seat.
I highly recommend the Z650 as an option for the LAMS rider looking for a bike that can do it all and still be a viable option once you have your full licence. Go try one!
Kris’s Second Opinion – Kawasaki Z650L
Jumping on the Z650 everything falls to hand with the low seat height offering an extremely easy reach to the ground, and the large easy to read dash offering useful information, like a gear indicator. Mirrors offer good vision, levers are adjustable and the bike feels light, nimble and comfortable from a standstill.
Setting off the first thing I notice is that the Z650 offers really strong torque from right down low, with a short first gear offering an easy transition into second via the smooth gearbox and plenty of torque available through that low to mid-range in any gear. Hooning is certainly possible, with the majority of grunt available where you’ll be riding whether you’re a LAMS rider or beyond.
Fuelling is smooth, apart from occasionally offering rough deceleration when holding a steady throttle or slightly closing the throttle. It’s a characteristic that travels over from the ER-6NL but is much less noticeable now, with far more refined and punchy delivery. A throttle stop restrains the power available so snapping the throttle wide open and letting power build as quickly as possible offers good thrills.
The ride is comfortable on good roads, with the forks feeling soft but offering good support without dive on the front anchors, while the rear is in its element on smooth sections. Through the better pieces of road the nimble Z650 absolutely carved through with good confidence and easy changes of direction or line corrections, with great dry grip on standard tyres.
I wasn’t a fan of the same tyres in the wet (Dunlop Sportmax 214s) and over sections of poor road surface the rear shock would struggle at sportier road riding speeds, kicking up if you hit a big enough undulation or pothole. Not really unexpected with the bike built to a budget and still offering good overall performance, with most bikes with no or limited adjustability on the rear in a similar (or worse) position, especially in this segment.
The front dual brakes offer good stopping power, with limited initial bite, good modulation and are well suited to the forks. Perfect for the inexperienced, but still offering enough stopping power for the Z650s power. The rear brake offers good control without unnecessary bite and both are backed up by ABS.
The overall package is fun, confidence inspiring and easy to ride, with the Z650 a noticeably quicker steerer than the Ninja 650L and feeling like a very different machine. It certainly reaffirms Kawasaki’s commitment to the learner segment and will be taking the fight to its main competitor – Yamaha’s MT-07 with plenty to offer. The vast number of changes have created a vastly improved riding experience compared to the outgoing ER-6NL and this is one of my top picks in the premium LAMS category.
2017 Kawasaki Z650L Tech Talk
The 2017 Kawasaki Z650L features a liquid-cooled, DOHC, eight-valve 649cc parallel-twin that delivers smooth, responsive performance especially in the low and medium rpm ranges to inspire confidence in new riders.
A slim air cleaner box uses a single air intake hole and intake funnels designed for strong low-mid range performance and response. 36mm throttle-bodies contribute to strong low-mid range performance and response. Sub-throttles ensure smooth, sensitive throttle response.
Fine-atomising injectors delivering 75μm droplets, ensuring the ideal fuel-air mixture needed for the low-mid range focused engine. Intake and exhaust cams with short operating angles and overlap also move the torque curve toward the lower end of the rpm range.
The open-deck aluminium die-cast cylinder contributes to light weight and plated, liner-less cylinder bores enable a narrow cylinder pitch to enable a slim engine width. The triangular layout of the crankshaft and transmission shafts also makes the engine very short front-to-back. The 180° crankshaft drives a balancer shaft for silky smooth engine operation.
An auto-fast idle system simplifies starting and ensures the catalyser reaches optimum temperature quickly. A simplified cooling system routes coolant through the engine cases to the cylinder and head to reduce external plumbing, while hot air off the radiator is directed down under the bike.
A new assist and slipper clutch has also been added and uses two types of cams (an assist cam and a slipper cam), offering two new functions not available on a standard clutch. When the engine is operating at normal rpm the assist cam functions as a self-servo mechanism, pulling the clutch hub and operating plate together to compress the clutch plates. This allows the total clutch spring load to be reduced, resulting in a lighter clutch lever pull when operating the clutch.
When excessive engine braking occurs – as a result of quick downshifts (or an accidental downshift) – the slipper cam comes into play, forcing the clutch hub and operating plate apart. This relieves pressure on the clutch plates to reduce back-torque and help prevent the rear tyre from hopping and skidding.
The chassis has also been an area of intense focus with the development of the Z650L, with the combination of 790mm seat height and slim chassis making for an easy reach to the ground.
One of the key components is the all-new frame which weighs only 15kg and contributes significantly to the bike’s light, nimble handling. The lines of the frame were made as straight as possible, and when bends were necessary their angles were made as small as possible, resulting in a design that disperses stress extremely well
The rigid-mount engine is a stressed member, contributing to the frame’s idealised rigidity balance. Even the footpeg stays are used as stressed members, further contributing to the frame’s rigidity and light weight. With the swingarm, similar to the frame, the line from the pivot to rear axle was made as straight as possible. The lightweight design of swingarm at 4.8kg also contributes to the bike’s light, natural handling.
41mm telescopic non-adjustable forks handle suspension duties up front and a horizontal Back-link rear suspension offers a progressive character with preload adjustability. The rear suspension positions the shock unit and linkage above the swingarm for mass centralisationand to ensure operation is not affected by heat.
Dual 300mm front petal disc brakes and a 220mm rear deliver plenty of braking power while contributing to the bike’s sporty image. Dual-piston front calipers, master cylinder and brake pads offer controllable braking performance. A Bosch 9.1M ABS is also standard fitment on Australian models.
Both clutch and brake levers are five-way adjustable, able to accommodate a variety of hand sizes for increased comfort. Star-pattern five-spoke wheels contribute to light weight, while their high rigidity benefits handling
The stacked instrument cluster features a large analogue-style tachometer with a gear position indicator at its centre, sitting atop a multi-function LCD screen.
Other features include an LED taillight, which lights up in an “Z” pattern, luggage hooks built into the passenger footpeg stays, providing convenient tie-down points, and an inner fender that incorporates part of the chain guard to help keep the underside of the tail cowl clean and contributes to the aggressive Z styling.
2017 Kawasaki Z650L Specifications
Price: $9,699 + ORC
Warranty: Two-year, unlimited kilometre
Colours: Pearl Flat Stardust White; Metallic Flat Spark Black
Claimed power: 37.8kW[51hp]@8000rpm
Claimed torque: 59Nm@6500rpm
Wet weight: 186kg
Fuel capacity: 15L
Engine: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, DOHC, eight-valve, parallel-twin, 649cc, 83 x 60mm, 10.8:1 compression, dual 36mm Keihin throttle-bodies
Clutch: Wet, multi-disc, assist and slipper
Chassis: Trellis high-tensile steel, Rake: 24°, Trail: 100mm
Suspension: 41mm telescopic front forks, offset laydown single-shock, preload adjustable
Brakes: ABS, dual semi-floating 300mm front petal rotors, two-piston calipers, single 220mm rear petal rotor, single-piston caliper
Wheels & Tyres: 120/70 ZR17 (58W), 160/60 ZR17 (69W)
Seat height: 790mm
Overall height: 1080mm
Overall width: 775mm
Overall length: 2065mm
Instruments: Digital multi-function LCD display