MD Bikes of the Year: Kawasaki Z650 and Ninja 650 (Bike Reports) (News)


We rode a number of interesting bikes this year, but we have to give MD’s Bike of the Year award to a couple of twins. Mechanically identical, and even identical from a chassis perspective, the 2017 Kawasaki Z650 and Ninja 650 did more than impress us. In some ways, they shocked us. Kawasaki didn’t quite start from scratch (the engine is developed from the older model), but both bikes are largely all-new.

Using a steel frame to lose 40 pounds from its predecessor might sound counter-intuitive, but the steel trellis frame design from Kawasaki is carefully optimized to combine the correct rigidity with light weight. We also found the frame offered excellent vibration characteristics and feedback when compared to many competing aluminum-framed machines. Together with fuel injection tuning, and throttle response that is just about perfect, that frame, and the new chassis, give the rider great confidence for spirited adventures on twisty roads.

The sound coming from these bikes is also impressive. Not so much the exhaust note, but the howl coming up from the air box and intake as the tach sweeps above 7,000 rpm on its way to the 10,000 rpm redline. It adds an important element to the experience of flogging a well-designed middle-weight.

The lighter weight, narrow rear tire (Kawasaki fitted a 160 section) and optimized geometry have created a motorcycle that handles superbly, and is just plain fun to ride. Some of the best rides we had this year were aboard the Z650 or the Ninja 650. We know of one journalist who bought a 2017 Ninja 650 after testing it! We understand.

Concentrating the power of the 649cc parallel-twin in the low-end in mid-range (still with good over-rev) makes both of these bikes perfect for street riding. Down a few peak horsepower on some of the competition (including the larger displacement, 689cc MT-07), these bikes are nevertheless plenty quick in the real world, and flexible enough to make at least two gears a good choice when exiting corners.

Another place where these 650s hit a sweet spot is fuel economy, and we were able to achieve mpg figures in the high 40s and low 50s during our testing … despite pushing the bikes much harder than owners typically would. With a 4 gallon gas tank, these machines offer more than decent range.

After adding in the comfortable, semi-upright ergonomics, well spaced six-speed gear box, and strong brakes, you have to conclude Kawasaki nailed its redesign of these models. The performance from the two machines may be virtually identical, but there is a choice between the aggressive looks of the naked Z650, or the comfort provided by the wind protection on the Ninja 650.

So there you have it. Kawasaki’s newly-designed 650s, the Ninja and the Z, are MD’s Bikes of the Year. Read our reviews of each model for more details on the Z650 and the Ninja 650.

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