Kawasaki does the new Z650L a disservice by referring to it as a learner motorcycle.
This is a bike that will not only suit learners, but also novices, returned riders, commuters, weekend warriors and people who are honestly not all that fussed with tech specs, but just want to ride a fun bike!
For just $9699 (plus on-road costs), these mature and discerning riders will receive a stylish naked bike that handles, rides and performs well for the money.
In fact, you get a lot of standard stuff for your cash: twin petal-shaped front discs, ABS, multi-function instruments with a host of information, a stubby underbelly muffler, adjustable levers, gear-position indicator, X-shaped LED taillights and an assist and slipper clutch to avoid embarrassing and dangerous rear-wheel lock-ups.
To qualify as a Learner-Approved Motorcycle Scheme (LAMS) machine, it has to be under 659cc and less than 150kW per tonne.
The Z650L weighs just 186kg fully fuelled and has 37.8kW of power at 8000 revs and meaty 59Nm of torque at 6500 revs.
Kawasaki marketing guru Milo Dokmanovic refers to it as an “arm-tearing 649cc parallel twin” that is quick revving with “exceptional” corner pick-up and “so torquey it will slap you in the face”.
At the launch from Sydney to Wiseman’s Ferry and back, we were slapped in the face several times by the torque. It doesn’t have high-revving power, but it feels almost too grunty for a learner-approved bike.
It sprints off the line smartly at traffic lights and revs out quickly and smoothly with a muted baritone exhaust and farting induction roar.
The Z6540L is low geared which helps acceleration and you will be quickly flicking through the gears and into sixth by 80km/h.
At that speed, novices can perform safe overtaking duties without even having to drop it down a cog or two.
Not that you would mind playing with the gearbox. This is one of the sweetest and most satisfying transmissions of any motorcycle.
The clutch is light for traffic duties, while the gearbox is quiet, slick and faultless with no “angel gears” and neutral easy to find.
The assist and slipper clutch works well, but if novices really muck it up and drop the clutch in too-low a gear, they will experience a short lock-up.
But most novices will be hard-pressed to get their gearshifts wrong.
The engine is flexible and torquey enough to accommodate bad gear selections but there is a handy gear-position indicator and an upshift reminder light on the instruments, anyway.
I even tried up and down shifts without using the clutch and it worked faultlessly every time.
Novices simply can’t get it wrong!
Feel the vibe
While it feels strong at low and mid revs, the Z650L starts to feel breathless and tingly at high revs.
After about half an hour on the highway it becomes a bit tiring and you may have numb fingertips by the end of a day’s touring.
The parallel twin engine features a 180-degree crankshaft and counter-balance shaft to take out most of the low to mid vibration, but it does still have a high-rev tingling.
That vibration makes the mirrors blurry at high revs. Otherwise, rearward vision is great as the mirrors aren’t just stylish, but practical since they sit out wider than your elbows.
The multi-pointed mirrors and body shape are similar to other Kawasaki Z models which feature Japanese “Sugomi” styling.
The Z650L comes in “pearl stardust white” and “metallic spark black” with a beautiful anodised lime-green trellis frame or in all-black with a dark-grey frame.
Both look very attractive, but we’d love to see a black version with the gorgeous green frame.
The Z650L is a totally new motorcycle that stylishly replaces the obscenely named and equally ugly ER-6nL.
It looks aggressive from any angle. We even love it from behind with the tidy trail and that “X”-shaped LED taillight.
The only angle that is a little ugly is underneath where there is a large catalytic convertor.
The rider’s seat is 790mm high, but very narrow, so it should suit a range of rider sizes.
While the seat-to-footpeg distance is a bit cramped, the rest of the ergonomics are very comfortable with only a slight lean toward the high and wide flat bars.
The seat, itself, is flat and firm with a grippy surface. It feels comfortable for a while, but by the end of the day I was quite sore in the saddle.
Pillions also have a small perch with only a seat sash to hang on, although there is a decent length to the foot pegs.
Controls are all standard and good quality.
The single instrument dial features an analogue tacho and a big digital screen with a host of information (speed, fuel gauge, range, average consumption, two trips, odo, clock, etc).
However, you have to lean forward and press the buttons on the instrument panel to scroll through some of the options.
Our launch ride included a transport stage through Sydney traffic and some highway riding.
It was easy to lane-filtering through the traffic with the Z650L’s slim frame and high riding position providing good vision.
Queensland riders will like the fact that the water-cooled engine has a radiator fan that forces hot air straight down on to the ground, rather than on to your legs. This makes it a really cool bike to ride in slow-moving traffic.
Acceleration at commuter traffic speeds is very nippy and will get you out of any troubling situation.