According to the Kawasaki marketing material, they’re starting a ‘retrovolution’ with the new Z650RS. Or a retro evolution, in English. Although on paper the specs aren’t really anything to get too worked up about, it’s a model that’s based heavily on the Z650 (a bike I actually really like), so I was looking forward to the opportunity to take one for a spin. And that opportunity came at the press launch in Marseilles yesterday. Bonus.
First of all, let me tell you exactly what we’re dealing with. Really, this bike is a Z650, with some bits and bobs to make it look more ‘old school’. Like the standard ‘Zed’, it has a 649cc parallel twin motor, with a slipper clutch, 67bhp and 64Nm of torque.
The main differences between this and the Z650 are the front brake disk, the wheels, the clocks, the tank, the seat and the rear subframe, which have all been designed to hark back to the old Z650 B1, released back in 1977.
Eye of the beerholder
All the bikes on the launch were green, which if I’m being honest, I didn’t particularly like; but everyone else there seemed to get hard over them, so it was probably me that was wrong. I can see why they did it, because it’s a bit of a retro Kawasaki-green, but I think I just prefer the more modern Kawasaki-green. Anyway, that’s irrelevant, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and all that. There’s a black one and a grey one that you can have, if you prefer (the black’s actually the cheapest).
The first leg of or test ride was through the hustle and bustle of the Marseilles city centre. And for slow speed riding, it was a difficult bike to fault. There was plenty of filtering opportunities that the RS lapped up, and there was always enough poke to drive yourself out of trouble.
Speaking of poke, the RS had a familiarly pokey bottom end, very reminiscent of the standard Zed. The Zed’s bottom end grunt was, I remembered, definitely my favourite thing about it. And I wasn’t left wanting with the RS, whose torque felt fairly instantaneous as long as you were above about 4,000rpm.
I will admit, the Kawasaki Z650RS doesn’t have the revvy-est of engines. Don’t get me wrong, it will rev, but you don’t feel as though you get the most out of the engine by making it rev. It’s often better to short-shift and let the midrange do the work.
As well as the city riding, we spent quite a lot of time up in the twisty, switch-backy mountain roads. They felt like the perfect road for the bike. And not only that, they showed off what the bike was capable of doing. It was mega agile and a piece of piss to turn, no matter how tight the mountain hairpins. A consequence of the bikes 187kg kerb weight. And the tighter they got, the more helpful the grunt in those low revs became.
It’s hard to fault the way the bike performed partly because it performed very well, but partly because it’s not a bike that has been designed with performance, and performance only, in mind. This isn’t a sportsbike. It’s a bike that’s been designed to look good, be comfortable, and be easy to ride. The fact that it responds so well when you start giving it the bigguns, is just a really nice bonus.
I can’t really tell you whether it looks good because that’s up to you, although, I think it looks alright, for a modern classic. But I can tell you whether or it’s comfortable or easy to ride. And it’s a yes on both counts.
Comfort-wise, let’s start with the seat, which is 820mm high (20mm higher than the Zed) and lovely and thick. There was no complaints from my tender derriere, so it’s a thumbs up from me. The riding position, as you’d expect is fairly upright, and without any form of wind protection, you can get buffeted around a bit at speed, but that’s par for the course on this type of bike.
And it’s certainly easy to ride. There’s nothing fancy or complicated about it, all the controls are light and easy to use, and the power delivery is fairly forgiving. I can definitely see why Kawasaki are marketing the Z650RS to newer, less experienced riders.
Because if I’m being absolutely honest, whilst I had a right blast, and enjoyed riding it, I know it won’t be for everyone. If you want the latest and greatest electronics, and space age technology dripping from every extremity of your bike, you’re going to be left wanting with a Kawasaki Z650RS. There’s no power or riding modes to choose from, the ABS is adequate but non-switchable, you don’t get a shifter or blipper and you certainly can’t connect your phone to the dashboard. Personally, the lack of that tech on a bike doesn’t upset me too much, but there will be people out there that want it.
But if that’s what you want, this isn’t the bike for you. Because realistically, all that tech wouldn’t suit a bike like this in the slightest. It’s not what it’s about. I don’t think they intended the Z650RS to only look like the old classic Kawasaki models of the past, I think they intended to make you feel similar to the way you would, riding an old one. I’m not talking about the bikes engine and chassis etc. feeling the same, obviously they won’t. I’m talking about the feeling you get from riding a bike that’s unmolested by electronic aids. Untainted by today’s technology. Because that’s the feeling you get when you ride an old bike, and that’s sort of how the electronically deficient Z650RS makes you feel.
And the lack of tech is reflected in the price (or so the Kawasaki man kept telling us). That said, it’s not the cheapest middle-weight modern-classic in the market. But at £7,549 it’s not the most expensive either. Even when you pay the extra £150) for the green or grey one.
In summation, I’d have to say the Kawasaki Z650RS is a very nice little bike. The problem is, it’s in a category that’s bursting at the seams with good bikes. There’s so much competition in the retro middleweight scene, never mind the middle weight scene as a whole. And in all fairness, it’s a category that’s so tight at the top that really, the best bike for you depends on which flavour you prefer. But have no doubt, the Kawasaki Z650RS should definitely be a contender.
Keep your mince pies on the YouTube channel for the vid. It’s imminent… Oh wait, here it is…