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QUICKSPIN – Kawasaki Z650L | Bike Tests | Latest Tests | Top Sellers in Australia

Kawasaki fires back with a new LAMS supernaked

Back in 1972 Kawasaki established the ‘Z’ range and brought production superbike race replicas to the masses. Nowadays, we expect an annual offering of race-ready models from the big Japanese brands, but it was this game-changing naked in the 70s that first gave consumers a taste for street-legal superbikes. The arms race between motorcycle manufacturers continues today, and the good news for LAMS riders is that these giants of automotive engineering have now turned their attention to the rapidly growing 650cc market.

With the release of the new Z650L, Kawasaki has transcended its ER6-NL platform using a combination of clever styling tweaks and chassis updates to create an aggressive middle-weight supernaked. Unlike the rest of the firm’s current in-line four cylinder Zeds, and the original 1976 Z650, this bike is driven by a parallel-twin engine with its peak power restricted to LAMS levels. Despite the detuning, there’s plenty of potential for this motorcycle to keep new riders engaged well beyond their LAMS days, and the sharp styling will hold its edge. But it’s not all about looks. Kawasaki has used a clever combination of mass centralisation and geometry to create a learner machine with neutral steering characteristics that delivers a confidence-inspiring ride.

The wide flat ’bar, short wheelbase of 1410mm, and steep rake (24º) make for easy manoeuvring in tight situations, and as soon as you set off it becomes clear that the smooth powerplant and compact dimensions have been designed to make life easy for the rider. The seat is low at 790mm but comfortably set ’pegs and an upright riding position ensure that it doesn’t feel cramped or uncomfortable.

The weight of the engine, exhaust and rider is positioned as low and centrally on the bike as possible, which helps give the rider a strong sense of control and also reinforces good habits such as body positioning. Like most road-oriented machines, the compliant ride is traded off against a sloppy rear suspension, but the Zed’s horizontally mounted monoshock is adjustable for preload, so reducing travel in the rear spring is an option.

The Zed’s mid-capacity motor delivers predictable and linear power that’s easy to handle, but it has still got enough get up and go to hit the open road for extended trips if you plan on doing more than just commuting. It produces a respectable 37.8kW at 8000rpm and 59Nm at 6500rpm, and while it’s hardly an arm wrencher, that’s not such a bad thing when you consider the target market.

The six-speed gearbox is one of the little Z’s biggest assets. It’s ultra-slick and very reassuring. Clutch action is also light and supple, but the new generation ‘assist and slipper clutch’ still allows the rear wheel to lock with little provocation and this could be improved.

I’m a huge fan of the anodised lime green skeleton of the Pearl Flat Stardust White colour option. It highlights the new lightweight steel trellis frame that gains added stiffness from the rigid-mount engine and footpeg stays which act as stressed members. Unfortunately, there are a few other elements of the finish that came off looking a little cheap (fake carbon fibre veneer on the dash, a patchy pattern on the seat, and the visible throttle body cable wheel under the tank), but some aftermarket attention could remedy that, and these minor shortfalls are offset by clean paintwork, ‘petal’ discs, and a discreet underslung exhaust.

To be fair, Kawasaki has managed to bring the Z650L to the market at under $10K, as well as producing a range of factory accessories for owners. And the focus has to be on the engine and chassis, both of which are superb.

This year the Z650L can expect tough competition from Yamaha (MT-07) and Honda (CB650FL), but there’s nothing quite like a Zed. And this new-age, LAMS supernaked is definitely worthy of that highly coveted badge. 

  • Looks tough
  • Nimble handling
  • Flat ’bars
  • Hard pillion perch
  • Slipper Clutch

by Paul McCann