Each year, manufacturers try to introduce something new to their model lineup to set it apart from the previous year’s models. Usually a new sticker-kit does the job, but Kawasaki have been quietly busy on a brand new lineup for 2017.
For the last decade or so Kawasaki’s 650 lineup shared the same underpinnings. Aimed at commuting rather than track-days, the bikes were fitted with a punchy two cylinder engine, and the sportier models were the naked ER-6n and the faired ER-6f. The changes for 2017 are so big, that carrying the model names over would not do the bikes justice. So Kawasaki brought two of its most formidable names to the mix. The naked version now bears the ‘Z’ badge, and the faired version is now called Ninja.
This was a bold decision, and to add credibility to the designations, Kawasaki engineers set about shedding weight. The previous perimeter frame makes way for a trellis frame that I last saw on the mighty H2. The rear swing arm is lighter and even the engine covers have been lightened. The bike sports a more traditional centrally mounted rear shock, and the front forks are the right way up. The total weight saving is around 18kg. The Ninja was penned along the same lines as the championship winning ZX-10, and that is never a bad thing. Both bikes are gorgeous and choosing one over the other might have to involve flipping a coin.
Throwing a leg over is an easy task as the bike is not only lighter but also lower than the bike it replaces. If you are vertically challenged, you will be able to put your feet flat on the ground which will just add to the confidence. Kawasaki had to fiddle with the engine to comply with EU regulations, so it lost a bit of power, but none of the character of the bike. It pulls with vigour and because the front rake has been sharpened up, the Ninja is delightfully nimble.
As a commuter it passes with flying colours and at the same time does not look like you deliver pizzas on weekends. The Kawasaki Z650 Ninja ticks all the right boxes for me and should make an ideal beginner bike. I would still choose the naked one though, but that is just my personal opinion. The performance should be identical, but the sticker price is the clincher. The Z650 comes in at R115 995 and the Ninja at R125 995. Add another R5000 if you want the Kawasaki Racing team colours.