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Kawasaki Ninja 650L and Z650L review

Kawasaki’s LAMS-approved Ninja 650L and Z650L may be two sides of the same coin, but it’s a pretty handy coin to have.

Kawasaki is ringing in the changes this year. The Ninja 1000 and Z1000 have been updated for 2017, and the all-new Versys X-300 mini-tourer has just arrived. On top of this, there have been changes in the middleweight lineup, with a revised Ninja 650 launched, while the long-serving ER-6n has been shown the door, replaced with the new Z650L.

Both models are now available here in LAMS learner-approved form, with a derestricted Ninja 650 coming. On the eve of the local launch, JUST BIKES had the chance to put both to the test in wet (very wet!) and dry conditions.

Climbing Frames

First thing to note with both new arrivals is that they’re significantly lighter than the models they replace.

While the outgoing Ninja 650 and ER-6n hardly needed a trip to Jenny Craig, what Kawasaki has been able to achieve with their replacements is remarkable: the new Ninja650L is 19kg lighter, while the Z650L weighs 20kg less. How did Kawasaki achieve such a serious weight saving?

Much of the change is attributable to the switch from a twin-spar frame to a trellis type (think Ducati Monster), combined with some complementary changes to the swingarm, axles and wheels.

Obviously, the reduced weight makes handling more nimble, but more generally, the increased manoeuvrability at low speeds and when parking is another tick for the reduced weight: it’s a change that’s sure to be appreciated by new riders.

While the new, lighter frame delivers a number of benefits, the only minor negative in the 2016 to 2017 switch is that both new models are slightly down on power compared to their predecessors.

Power Switch

Power may be down, but it’s only marginal – from 39kW to 37.8kW in both the Ninja650L and Z650L.

Peak power still arrives at 8,000rpm, but torque is up from 56Nm to 59Nm, and is available up to 6,500rpm, compared to the 4,000rpm max on the old Ninja 650 and ER-6n.

To achieve the output changes, the parallel twin gets a new airbox, intake and exhaust cams, plus new throttle bodes and injectors.

These changes are part of a focus on low-to-midrange power and torque, which will suit those doing regular commuting riding, and also welcomed by riders when flicking through flowing road sections.

The slight drop in power is unlikely to cause many gripes, as it’s offset by the significantly lighter weight for both bikes. For the record, the derestricted Ninja 650 puts out 53kW and 66Nm. A derestricted Z650 would have similar output, but Kawasaki Australia has no plans to add such a model to the local range.

Hooked up to the revised powerplant is a 6-speed transmission with a new assist and slipper clutch, which is common to both the Ninja 650L and Z650L. As with most other bikes that have such a clutch fitted, gear changes are smoother and easier, while the package is more forgiving when you fluff a gear change. Overall, gearing is short, but the increased torque spread means you’re not banging through the gears all the time.

Sharper Style

With both new models sharing an engine, frame, wheels, brakes and other major componentry, the approaches to style are the only real differences between the two.

While the Z650L is “revolution” compared to the ER-6n, the Ninja 650L is more “evolution”. On the latter, much is taken from the ZX models and larger Ninjas in the styling stakes and it pays off in making the new middleweight Ninja look sportier than it actually is.

The fairing is sharper and more aggressive than the old Ninja 650’s plastics, while the tail unit and side plastics are better incorporated, too, thanks in part to the change in rear suspension. A reshaped tank, slimmer-looking seat and even reshaped front mudguard are part of the comprehensive styling changes.

The ER-6n and Z650L are chalk and cheese in the appearance stakes. While the ER-6n had a lot of fans, it always seemed a little dull and dowdy to me, so a switch to the Z650L’s more aggressive look is welcome. The headlight and gauge fairing are in line with the rest of the bigger Z models, while the tank and tail treatments are as per the changes made to the Ninja 650L.

A cool addition here is the LED tail light, which lights up with a “Z” pattern. It’s a minor touch, sure, but little things like this show that Kawasaki is putting a lot of thought into the design – and most buyers will appreciate that.

Like some contemporary models, both these middleweights feature exhaust systems that tuck most of the plumbing under the engine. The compact exhaust box certainly caught my eye and was a feature on the last Ninja 650/ER-6n, too. While a nice pair of pipes stretching to the back wheel can look good, their absence wasn’t missed here – at least not by me.

Both the new arrivals come in a choice of two colours: black and white for the Z650L; and white and KRT green/black for the Ninja. White seems to be the new black at the moment, at least with Kawasaki.

On the Z650L, I preferred the matt black as the white looked very “bitsy” and disjointed, especially with the green frame. I was pretty much on my own, though, as most of the other riders on the launch liked the white variant.

Of all four choices, the Ninja 650L in KRT colours was the pick of the bunch, though, with the graphics making the fairing more striking in appearance and adding to that model’s sporty look.

On the Bike, On the Road

The similarities between both these new models extend to the riding position. Seat height is 790mm on both, with peg placement virtually the same, too. Only minor changes in the handlebar profile and mirror placement deliver any real difference in riding position. Both are closer to “upright” than “sports” when you’re in the saddle, but the Ninja 650L is the sportier of the two. Both saddles are relatively comfortable, with the adjustable levers a welcome feature.

Being an entry-level model, rider-assistance tech is limited to ABS braking, but instrumentation is comprehensive and easy to read.

From start-up, idle is low and very quiet, with the slipper clutch and abundance of low down power making for easy getaways from standstill on both models; something that came in handy during the amount of stop-start traffic we encountered clearing Sydney on our way from Kawasaki HQ to Wisemans Ferry.

The revised engine’s character means you don’t have to wring its neck to get the most out of it. Speeds up to around 80km/h arrive easily and without much stress, while 100km/h+ highway speeds only appear to tax the engine a little more, albeit coming with some vibration through the seat and pegs.

As mentioned, the slipper clutch is forgiving, making gear changes almost impossible to stuff up and take offs from second – and even third – gear possible. That factor alone should make these bikes a winner with first time riders.

The close gearing means getting up to speed can be done smoothly; the bikes don’t need to be running hard, as at low rev ranges they perform well. That said, licence-losing speeds are easily achievable, too.

A neat feature of the revised engine and ergonomics on both models – that’ll be welcome in summer – is the angle of the radiator fan that blows hot air away from your legs

Springing and Stopping

With changeable weather and a range of roads used on the launch, it provided a great opportunity to compare each bike’s performance in wet and dry conditions, at varying speeds and on various surfaces. Even up to the 80-100km/h range, both the Ninja 650L and Z650L felt comfortable and stable, both on the straights and cornering. The stock tyres provided excellent grip and feel of the road, too, even in the wet.

Being entry-level bikes, the suspension was soft on both, but for the riding we were doing, I found it to be very forgiving and necessary for Sydney roads characterised by ruts, ridges and potholes that seem to be everywhere.

Steering was light, too, with easy input and smooth response, while braking was the same, thanks to the ABS.

When the rain came down, the amount of water on the road meant I could really try out the ABS under varying controlled conditions. Of course the ABS works, but it comes on nice and smooth, then backs off when it has done its job. New and returning riders will welcome the ABS, while more experienced riders will gain some reassurance from the smoother braking it delivers, especially in wet conditions like those we encountered on the launch.

In Conclusion

In what was an admittedly brief time with each model, I came away impressed with the new Ninja 650L and Z650L.

Aesthetically and ergonomically, they’re both winners, while the handling from the lighter chassis and performance from the torque-rich engine was a pleasant surprise. Personally, I favoured the Z650L over the Ninja, but with the bikes sharing so many components, choosing between the two really comes down to what body style you prefer and what sort of riding you’ll be doing.  By that I mean if a lot of major arterial or highway riding is on your agenda, go for the Ninja, as it offers much better protection from wind buffeting. If suburban and city riding is a regular on your itinerary, the Z650L may be a better choice.

I’ll be particularly interested to see how the Z650L goes against Yamaha’s MT-07L, given the success of that model. Both appeal to a similar market, but each bike’s power distribution is different: it comes on stronger lower in the rev range on the Z650L; higher in the MT-07L. Despite the Yamaha’s “Sports Torque” tag, to me the Kawasaki seems to offer a torquier motor.

Either way, both the Ninja 650L and Z650L should appeal to newcomers, but more specifically to returning riders. Both bikes are great all-rounders and will fulfil a number of riding needs, from commuting to fun longer rides and weekend blasts with your mates.

As a daily ride, no matter what sort of riding your day may entail, these models are pretty hard to beat.

Kawasaki Ninja650L specs

ENGINE

Type: DOHC 8V parallel twin

Displacement: 649cc

Bore x Stroke: 83mm x 60mm

Compression Ratio: 10.8:1

Induction: EFI, 2 x 36mm throttle bodies

Cooling: Liquid

Power: 37.8kW @ 8000rpm

Torque: 59Nm @ 6500rpm

Exhaust: 2-into-1

TRANSMISSION

Gearbox: 6-speed

Final Drive: Chain

Clutch: Wet

CHASSIS

Frame: Tubular steel trellis-type

Front Suspension: 41mm telscopic fork, 125mm travel

Rear Suspension: Horizontal link-type monoshock w/adjustable preload, 130mm travel

Front/Rear Wheel: 5-spoke cast alloy 17-inch

Front/Rear Tyre: 120/70ZR17 / 160/80ZR17

Front Brake: Twin 300mm semi-floating discs w/two-piston caliper and ABS

Rear Brake: Single 220mm disc w/single-piston caliper and ABS

DIMENSIONS

L x W x H: 2055mm x 740mm x 1135mm

Wheelbase: 1410mm

Rake: 24.5 degrees

Trail: 110mm

Seat Height: 790mm

Weight: 192kg wet
Fuel Capacity: 15 litres

COLOURS
Blizzard White, Ebony and Lime Green

PRICE
$9,999 ($10,299 KRT replica) + ORC

2-year, unlimited km warranty

2017 Kawasaki Z650L Specs

ENGINE

Type: DOHC 8V parallel twin

Displacement: 649cc

Bore x Stroke: 83mm x 60mm

Compression Ratio: 10.8:1

Induction: EFI, 2 x 36mm Keihin throttle bodies

Cooling: Liquid

Power: 37.8kW @ 8000rpm

Torque: 59Nm @ 6500rpm

Exhaust: 2-into-1

TRANSMISSION

Gearbox: 6-speed

Final Drive: Chain

Clutch: Wet

CHASSIS

Frame: Tubular steel trellis-type

Front Suspension: 41mm telscopic fork, 125mm travel

Rear Suspension: Offset monoshock w/adjustable preload, 130mm travel

Front/Rear Wheel: 5-spoke cast alloy 17-inch

Front/Rear Tyre: 120/70ZR17 / 160/60ZR17

Front Brake: Twin 300mm semi-floating discs w/two-piston caliper and ABS

Rear Brake: Single 220mm disc w/single-piston caliper and ABS

DIMENSIONS

L x W x H: 2055mm x 775mm x 1080mm

Wheelbase: 1410mm

Rake: 24 degrees

Trail: 100mm

Seat Height: 790mm

Weight: 186kg wet
Fuel Capacity: 15 litres

COLOURS
Metallic Flat Spark Black and Metallic Spark Black, Pearl Flat Stardust White and Metallic Spark Black

PRICE
$9,699 + ORC

2-year, unlimited km warranty

Editor's Rating

Overall

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Phil Suriano

Phil Suriano