Bike review: 2017 Kawasaki Z650 Ninja

Johannesburg - Kawasaki’s ER-6F was possibly one of Team Green’s most underrated models.

In terms of performance and looks it paled in comparison with the ZX-6R and even as a commuter, based on my observations, it didn’t seem to be the most popular choice.

That said, I found the ER-6F a fun bike to ride because it pro-duced decent low-end torque – the kind of real-world punch that isn’t obvious from the spec sheet. When Kawasaki announced a sexier, livelier replacement in the form of the new Z650 Ninja, obviously I sat up and paid attention.

To start off with, little Green men in a little Green laboratory put the bike on a diet. As a result it shed an impressive 19kg, with big contributions by the all-new trellis frame and asymmetrical aluminium swingarm.

Happy with the weight loss, they dressed it up in smart new clothes - garments they seemed to have borrowed from the Z1000SX closet, with a few ZX items thrown in for good measure.

Image: Brian Cheyne


The bike’s ergonomics are an almost perfect compromise between being sporty and comfortable. The seat and footpegs are lower; with the latter situated a little further forward for a reasonable leg bend. The handlebar is almost two inches lower and further forward.

The seat is not only lower, it’s also narrower, making it easy for even short riders to get their feet flat on the ground (there is a higher seat option avail-able for taller riders too). 

New screen, dials

The new screen is adjustable to three set positions offering a total range of 60mm between lowest and highest settings, but doing so requires tools. The instrument panel consists of a large analogue rev counter and a black LCD screen, plus the usual array of warning lights. There’s also a new programmable shift light, which during my test, was very visible even if you’re gazing off into the distance.

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An unusual touch is the normally white rev counter needle that goes pink when you’re approaching a shift, and red when it’s time to make the change, reminiscent of that on the mighty H2.

So now we have an ER-6F replacement that looks sexy and feels light and nimble. The big question is, how does it go?

Image: Brian Cheyne

On the road

Based on the spec sheet, the answer would seem to be a disappointing one. The 649cm³ parallel-twin engine has lost 2kW at peak because of the revisions needed to get it through Euro4. On the road, however, it feels very much like its predecessor. That welcome low-end punch is still there.

It does run out of breath above 9000rpm, but if you keep it in the generously wide powerband it rushes forward eagerly (as one BMW M-something driver found out to his great surprise when he tried to race me to the next traffic light).

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As with any bike in this category, the suspension hardware comes from the budget bin, with a conventional 41mm RWU fork that boasts no adjustment, and a pre-load adjustable rear shock. This notwith-standing, the bike’s handling is more than adequate for everyday riding, and I’ll venture to say that it won’t embarrass on a track day either.

The braking hardware, on the other hand, gains new Nissin callipers, mated to a Bosch ABS module to give the Z650 superb braking control, even if you grab the lever with all your might. 

What team green has achieved with the Z650 Ninja, in my opinion, is to create a more than worthy successor to the ER-6F - it combines the fun element of its predecessor with looks that could cause many a bystander to mistake it for a sports bike. I’m not sure that you need to ask much more of an everyday bike.


Type Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke Parallel Twin
Displacement 649 cm³
Bore and Stroke 83.0 x 60.0mm
Compression ratio 10.8:1
Valve system DOHC, 8 valves
Fuel system Fuel injection: ø36 mm x 2 with dual throttle valves
Ignition Digital
Starting Electric
Lubrication Forced lubrication, semi-dry sump

Transmission 6-speed, return
Final drive Chain
Clutch Wet multi-disc, manual

Type Trellis, high-tensile steel

Wheels24 and tyres
Tyre: front 120/70ZR17M/C (58W)
Tyre: rear 160/60ZR17M/C (69W)

Front ø41 mm telescopic fork
Rear Horizontal back-link with adjustable preload

Front: Type Dual semi-floating ø300 mm petal discs, dual piston calliper
Rear: Type Single ø220 mm petal disc, Single-piston calliper

Overall length 2055mm 
Overall width 740mm
Overall height 1135mm
Seat height 790mm
Curb mass 193kg
Fuel capacity: 15 litres

Maximum power 50.2kW @ 8000rpm
Maximum torque 65.7Nm @ 6500rpm

Image: Brian Cheyne

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