Kawasaki continues to lead the Australian market in learner-approved motorcycles with the launch of the Z650L and the Ninja 650L.
We attended the launch of these two bikes last week and raved about the Z650L as a bike for novices, commuters, weekend warriors and returned riders. At $9699 (plus on-road costs) it’s an irresistible naked bike.
But if you like your bikes with a fairing, then the Ninja 650L may be more your preference.
It costs an extra $300 in Blizzard White or $10,299 in Kawasaki Racing Team colours of “Ebony and Lime Green”.
The Ninja 650L is basically the same bike as the Z650L, but with a fairing, slightly lower bars, a smooth seat covering (presumably so you can slide around in the seat, Rossi-style), a larger set of instruments and an extra 6kg of weight.
However, it’s 20kg less than the previous model, with half of those lard savings in the new frame. The other weight savings are in the wheels and swingarm.
Everything else is like the Z650L. In fact, you almost sit in the same position, even though it’s a faired “sportsbike” as the handlebars are only minimally lower.
Both come with a lot of standard stuff that are them great value as well as eminently suitable novice bikes: twin petal-shaped front discs, ABS, multi-function instruments with a host of information, a stubby underbelly muffler, adjustable levers, gear-position indicator, LED taillights and an assist and slipper clutch to avoid embarrassing and dangerous rear-wheel lock-ups.
While a full-powered Z650 is not yet confirmed, there is a full-powered Ninja 650 available now at the same price.
Instead of 37.8kW, it has 50kW and it has 7Nm more torque at a peak of 66Nm.
But don’t think you can buy the LAMS version and later grind off the throttle stop. There are ECU differences between the bikes and your grinding efforts could result in not only voiding your warranty, but also making your bike illegal and impossible to resell. It could also blow a whole in the piston!
Both the Z650L and Ninja 650L come with a host of genuine Kawasaki accessories such as a single seat cover, tank bag and frame sliders. Since the Ninja has a fairing there is also a blank plug to fit a DC socket to power your GPS or phone.
Riding both these bikes through Sydney traffic out to Wiseman’s Ferry and back on sometimes damp roads revealed substantial differences, even though suspension is the same and dimensions are similar.
The Ninja 650L is slightly shorter and taller with a more relaxed rake and trail just 10mm longer.
The Z feels lighter and snappier in the front end, changing direction faster for flicking it through the traffic and a series of tight S bends.
However, the Ninja is more stable at highway speeds and sits nicely in the traffic without much buffeting from heavy transport.
Despite a very upright riding stance, the windscreen provides a nice stream of clean air. No turbulence. It can be adjusted to three positions with tools, but I found it fine in the lowest position.
It takes some of the wind pressure off your body at highway speeds allowing you to ride for longer than the naked version without getting tired.
I’m 182cm (6’) tall and found I had reasonable fairing protection in the rain and although the seat-to-footpeg distance is a little short, my knees had plenty of room on the nicely sculpted tank.
The 790mm-high seat (same as the Z) is very narrow, so this should fit a wide range of riders.
Both bikes are beautifully presented, but a faired bike often shows up problems with cheap fit and finish.
I inspected the five Ninjas in the press fleet and every one had uniform gaps between the panels on both sides of the bike, a testament to the Japanese factory’s quality control.
The paintwork is also good quality and the KRT graphics are very appealing.
I’ve never been one for white bikes, but this one is attractive with a nice piece of black plastic across the middle and bottom to break up the mass of white fairing.
At the heart of the Z605L and Ninja 650L is a 649cc parallel twin with a counter-balance shaft so it feels quite smooth at most revs. However, it tingles through the bars and footrest at high revs and can be a little uncomfortable after a long day in the saddle.
The engine is quite torquey and flexible which is very forgiving for novice riders. You won’t have to tap-dance through the gears to encourage lively performance.
However, if you do love using your gears, you will be greatly rewarded with one of the smoothest gearboxes of any bike.
It’s almost faultless. You should never miss a gear and neutral is easy to find.
There is also an assist and slipper clutch so you don’t totally botch downshifts and dangerously lock up the rear wheel for more than just a split second.
Both bikes are geared low so you can easily find you’ve hit sixth gear by about 80km/h. From there you can still overtake safely without having to shift down.
However, if you suddenly need more speed, you can quickly bang down a gear without having to use the clutch.
Brakes are also very effective and will be welcomed by novice riders.
The ABS is smooth and worked well in the wet road conditions while the 300mm twin petal-disc frontbrakes are almost an overkill for a bike this size.
Thankfully there is plenty of feel and progression in both the front and back brake levers.
Suspension is only adjustable for rear preload so you can set up the bike for your weight, luggage and/or a pillion. I found the middle settings fine for my 75kg frame.
It’s a little plush, but it nicely soaks up the urban potholes without bouncing around. It also felt calm and composed on the bumpy corners around Wiseman’s Ferry.
This is no track bike, but a well-suspended machine for normal everyday riding.
While litre and 600cc sportsbikes are going out of fashion as fast as they can accelerate, faired novice bikes like the Ninja 650L and the Ninja 300 are still selling very well.
Kawasaki Ninja 650L and Ninja 650
Price: $9999 (Blizzard White), $10,299 (KRT Ebony and Lime Green) plus on-road costs.