Many riders lust after the four-cylinder superbikes, or the massive adventure-tourers. No denying that riding such a machine does give the rider a measure of street credibility and certainly does bolster the image of being a biker.

However, reality is a harsh mistress, and while some of us are lucky enough to be able to ride, and more importantly afford, what we have, in most cases the majority has to make choices that reflect circumstances. But, what if I told you, there is a way to have your cake and eat it too?

In the case of Kawasaki’s middleweights, the new Kawasaki Ninja 650, priced at RM37,189 – the Special Edition comes priced at at RM38,189 – and the Z650 at RM35,609, these replacements for the previous-generation ER-6n and ER-6f bring a slew of improvements and upgrades.

It cannot be denied that while the superbikes attract a lot of glamour, the middleweight market is the bread and butter for most manufacturers, especially the Japanese. But, sometimes, lots of corners get cut in building bikes to a budget, and with the price point of the Z650 and the Ninja 650, we did not expect anything different.

The proof of the pudding, though, is in the eating, and Kawasaki dropped both the Z650 and Ninja 650 – the Ninja being the SE with solo seat – into our laps for a romp. Here’s what we thought of this pair of Kawasakis, cut from the same cloth, but different as chalk and cheese.

As a pair, the Kawasaki Z650 and Ninja 650 share more than a few common items. This is in keeping with what car makers call platform sharing, and for the Z650 and Ninja 650, they have a common engine and frame, along with running gear.

The big difference is in the bodywork, or lack of it. The Z650 replaces the ER-6n, and comes as a naked sports, while the Ninja 650 carries on the illustrious Ninja name that began with the 1984 Ninja GPz900R and is a full-fairing sports bike, taking the place of the ER-6f.

So, with a naked and a sports bike, what exactly is Kawasaki trying to achieve, besides catering to two different market tastes? Let us begin with the numbers, which will give an idea of where these pair of middleweights are positioned in the market.

Power comes from a liquid-cooled parallel-twin, displacing 649 cc, with eight-valves. There’s 68 hp on tap at 8,000 rpm, with torque rated at 66 Nm at 6,500 rpm.

With power going through a six-speed gearbox, the engine is fed by twin Keihin throttle bodies with dual injector valves. There are different injector circuits for low and high engine speeds, which makes fuelling a little easier to map, and more precise.

This makes the pair of 650s fairly perky in acceleration, and there is enough mid-range torque to make highway overtaking easy. There were times we would have to drop a gear or two to get things going a little quickly, but overall, the gearing is a fairly good match for city riding and cruising at reasonable highway speeds.

Obviously, getting into the saddle for the Z650 and Ninja 650 is necessarily different. The Z650 with its wide handlebars places the rider more upright, while the Ninja 650 with its clip-on handlebars mounted above the top triple clamp put the rider more in a crouch, but not racer-like.

There is enough space for the Ninja 650 rider to sit comfortably, with head upright. Seating on either bike is identical, with a two-piece pad that we found to be adequate, though we wished for slightly more padding and width.

If you’re a 21-year old young rider with hot blood in the veins, this will not matter much. However, we did note that seat height, at 790 mm for both bikes, is good for riders slightly shorter in stature, while the Ninja 650 could do with the rear end being jacked up a little to place it in more of a “sports” stance.

Starting up the 650 engines was with no drama, the two cylinders settling into an easy idle. Revving the engine up revealed vibration in the seat, which settled down somewhat in the first two gears.

Once on the highway, and giving the twin lots of throttle between the gears, made the vibration worse, especially at full throttle. However, in top gear, and the throttle wound back for an easy cruising pace of 130 km/h, there was little vibration to speak of, save a light buzzing in the seat and bars.

This applied to either bike, with the Z650 being a touch buzzier when worked hard. This can be put down to the weight of the bikes, the Ninja 650 coming in at 192 kg, while the Z650, sans bodywork, weighs in at 186 kg.

The weight difference was also apparent in the steering, the Ninja 650 taking that touch more effort to turn in than the Z650. It should be noted that when attacking corners at full chat, the Z650 was a little more flighty than the Ninja 650, again, something we put down to the weight difference.

Since both bikes carry the same suspension, 41 mm diameter telescopic forks in front and monoshock at the back only adjustable for pre-load, we had no way of determining if there were any internal differences. What we can say is that in a straight line, both the Ninja 650 and Z650 were stable, and ate up the highway miles in a perfectly adequate fashion.

Throwing either bike into a corner at normal speeds – about 90 km/h – did not phase either machine, despite having two riders with vastly different weights on board. At the edge, the suspension did betray a hint of nervousness, the Z650 a little more than the Ninja 650, with the back suspension on both needing to be wound up a little.

Controlling either bike was easy, and needed little effort at the bars, making them suitable for riders of any sort of skill level. There was a marked preference on the part of the Ninja 650 to feel a little more “eager” into the corner, which is due to its head-down riding position and clip-on bars.

Suffice it to say, both Kawasaki 650s handled cruising and cornering well, performing in an adequate fashion considering the budget suspension. Ride either bike below about 130 km/h and the good times will roll, but if you like pushing things to the edge, Kawasaki has you covered elsewhere in its catalogue, for a suitable amount of money.

On the braking front, Nissin provides the calipers, dual-piston units clamping 300 mm diameter discs, with dual-channel ABS as standard. At the back a single piston caliper grabs a 220 mm disc.

Braking performance on the Z650 was quite good, nicely progressive with enough feedback at the lever. Bringing the Z650 to an emergency stop needed a big handful of brake, but it came to a stop in a timely fashion.

Repeating the exercise did have the Z650’s brakes showing signs of fade, but most riders will not encounter this in the normal course of riding. If you’re at a racetrack, modifications and upgrades will have to be made, but, for road use, all is fit for purpose.

On the Ninja 650 though, we found brake feel to be a little wooden, and feedback through the lever was a little numb. Everything worked, just that there was little in the way of feel or bite.

We do not blame the Ninja 650 for this, as it does have a tough life as part of Kawasaki’s motorcycle test fleet. Repeated braking drills by merciless moto-journalists has probably glazed the brake pads, and we know for a fact that a pad change will probably bring back braking performance.

In any case, we had little to complain about the braking performance of either bike, and riding solo with a 82 kg rider did not make us feel at any point that the Ninja 650 or Z650 was under-braked. We did not get a chance to load the bikes up with a pillion for braking tests, so judgement is reserved on that score, just plan ahead a little and brake early.

As for seating arrangements, both the Ninja and Zed were found to have enough space for the author to fit his rather wide butt in, but the fore-and-aft distance was a little short. Moving backwards quickly brought butt against seat hump, making it somewhat hard to get the chin flat on the tank for speed runs, especially for the Ninja 650.

Riding the Z650 and Ninja 650 around, we found both bikes liked it best in town and on medium-length jaunts on the highway, with the Z650 preferring the tight twisty bits of the Fraser’s Hill run, while the Ninja 650 was more at home on wide open sweepers, with curving highway on- and off-ramps being particularly fun.

Being two-cylinder 650s, we expected fuel consumption to be reasonable on either bike, and it was. While there is no fuel computer inside the bag of tricks, we did a rough calculation and came up with about 4.3 litres per 100 km, which is pretty good for an engine being wrung by the ear to get every one of those 68 horses out.

Inside the cockpit, a combined LCD/analogue cluster is found, along with the digital tachometer functioning as a shift indicator when reaching the redline. The white-on-black readout was a little hard to read in direct sunlight, but was legible at night.

So, who needs the RM38,189 Kawasaki Ninja 650, or the RM35,609 Z650? Competition for the Z650 comes from the Yamaha MT-07, priced at RM36,795, and to some extent, the KTM 690 Duke, going for RM43,396. In the sports bike category for the Ninja 650, the Honda CBR650F with four-cylinders can be had for RM47,115, and there’s also the parallel-twin CBR500R with ABS for RM35,179.

For the young rider making the step up to “real” sports bikes, with bodywork or otherwise, the Kawasaki Ninja 650 and Z650 present a very attractive option, and at an affordable price. That the previous-generation ER-6 was a best seller in its class means many workshops are familiar with the Kawasaki twin.

If you need a lightweight, nimble handling bike for daily commute duties, then the Kawasaki Z650 is a logical choice. If you prefer carving corners but don’t feel the need to pay superbike levels of maintenance and repair bills, then the Ninja 650 is the one to have.

Either Kawasaki is capable of medium to long distance journeys as well, provided you don’t rush things too much and don’t expect cruise missile levels of performance. For the Ninja 650 and the Z650, all the rider has to do is flip a coin and make a choice.


GALLERY: 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650 Special Edition
GALLERY: 2017 Kawasaki Z650