Better looks and improved handling make these the ideal starter middleweights
When they debuted on our soil earlier this year, both the Kawasaki Z650 and Ninja 650 twins held quite the appeal. Stylish looks, the promise of decent performance and abilities, as well as their highly versatile applications, all added up to make a package that would easily lure any fresh B-full licence holder.
Don’t let their new Z and Ninja nameplates fool you, these are in fact direct replacements of Kawasaki’s venerable ER-6n and ER-6f twins of yore. Though reliable and equally as functional, what the ER-6 twins lacked was style. Compare both generations and it’s easy to see that Kawasaki has promptly responded to those cries for better looks with the Z650 and the Ninja 650.
As their names aptly suggest, they now closely mirror Kawasaki’s Z series streetbikes and Ninja series sports bikes in design and looks, which is a great move indeed. For once, you won’t feel too ashamed to ride an entry-level Kawasaki bike, not when they look this good.
At the heart of both is an improved iteration of the familiar liquid-cooled DOHC 649cc parallel-twin powerplant as found in their predecessors. The added presence of dual throttle valves on top of electronic fuel injection grants healthy headlining figures of 67hp and 65.7Nm of torque, which are managed by a 6-speed manual gearbox to power the rear wheel.
Though those figures aren’t earth-shattering, they’re adequate enough to getting these two lightweights up to speed both rapidly and smoothly. Speaking of which, that’s another big improvement these two boast over their predecessors. This was made possible through Kawasaki’s clever fettling of the chassis and the replacement of materials in a few areas, a clear example of the latter being the rear swingarm assembly, now made of cast alloy instead of welded steel.
The revised metalwork means the Z650’s 187kg kerb weight marks a 9kg reduction from the ER-6n it replaces, while the Ninja 650 sibling sheds twice that figure as opposed to its ER-6f predecessor – it weighs in at 193kg. What this translates into is two bikes that boast impressive handling abilities despite being having entry-level suspension all around.
After being in the hot seat of both bikes for about a week recently, we can tell you they are a breeze to ride and master. Seasoned riders will note the Z650 and Ninja 650 have shrunken in size from their respective predecessors, albeit slightly. We reckon this is actually a good trait as it makes either bike much more compact and easier to manage in traffic.
Crucially, the lighter weight and subsequently improved balance – the latter thanks to the revised suspension geometry too – make them both fun when carving corners, like those at Ulu Yam, on weekends. Another praiseworthy bit here is the engine’s sweetened response and torque delivery, especially in the most critical area of the rev-band, between 4,000rpm to 8,000rpm. Trust us, there’s enough power and torque around to make your day.
Equally good too was the braking hardware. More importantly, here, is ABS is a standard feature, something most similarly sized entry-level middleweights seem to lack these days. The only niggle here is the powertrain’s typical twin-cylinder soundtrack, though that’s easily remedied if you’re willing to spend a little more cash for an aftermarket slip-on exhaust kit.
Both the Z650 and Ninja 650 are civilised enough for the weekday work commute too. Sweetening things further in that area is the neat new hybrid analogue-digital meter panel that boasts an ‘Eco’ indicator plus gear position on top of the speedo and rev counter. There’s also the adequately thick padding in the seat, so you won’t have a sore behind after a full day with either bike.
So, how do you choose between the two? It depends on what you have in mind. Both are equally fine urban commuters, but the avid weekend road warrior will be more inclined to have the lighter Z650. For those seeking a touring machine, then the Ninja 650 will come in handy because it only needs a set of aftermarket panniers and, perhaps, a windscreen to look the part.
The money part? Both offer good value for money at RM35,605 (Z650) and RM37,189 (Ninja 650), insurance and registration costs not included. With either, you’re definitely getting plenty of bang for your Ringgit and, unlike the bikes they succeed, there’s that style to make you look the part.
||649cc liquid-cooled DOHC
||15-litre fuel tank
||6-speed return, manual
||Z650 – 187kg
Ninja 650 – 193kg
||Z650 – RM35,605
Ninja 650 – RM37,189
Good looks and great handling, plus decent power levels, make them great starters for any fresh B- full licence holder
OR TRY THESE
Honda CB500F &CB5R500R
Cheaper and equally good looking, but down on power and performance in comparison