Kawasaki’s fifth motorcycle on its uber-popular 650cc platform is a retro naked and it impresses too!
Retro is the flavour of the season and the ‘in thing’ right now in the ever-changing motorcycle cultural landscape. Any segment you look at, you are bound to notice at least one or two retro motorcycles. Most manufacturers have found a relatively easy way to get onto the retro bandwagon, using an existing platform and dressing it up the classic way. Not a bad thing at all. You get the old-school vibe along with underpinnings that are properly modern and hence very reliable. Kawasaki did exactly that with the Z900RS, based on the Z900 naked. And looks like someone in the product team also realised they could repeat the formula with the 650 platform, that had spawned four different bodystyles already!
I’m sure you would had a chance to ride at least one of those, perhaps the Ninja 650, if not the Z650, Versys 650 or Vulcan 650 and appreciated the performance and dynamics at the very least. The 650 platform has been hugely popular in our country and several other emerging markets, adding serious volumes.
So no surprises then that we now have a retro naked based on the same platform! That said, the Z650RS sits closest to the affable Z650, but Kawasaki has done more than just slapping on a round headlamp. You get a nice-looking teardrop-shaped fuel tank (down by three litres at 12 litres), swooping body panels and a flat, one-piece seat. I like the elongated tail section that wraps around the tiny tail lamp especially, an ode to the 1970’s Kawasaki Z1. In fact, the styling of the Z650RS mimics that of the iconic machine.
The cool-looking alloys are styled to look like spokes and their gold finish complements the delicious-looking candy green paintjob. I feel a set of twin old-school end cans would have completed the look as the current underslung unit looks out of place. For the matter the pillion grab rails, saree guard and front number plate holder look awful and overshadow the minimalistic design. These parts are mandatory, yes, but could have been designed better!
The retro naked ditches the Z650’s colour TFT display and uses a retro-looking, twin-pod instrument console integrating a tiny but comprehensive digital display. Modern bits come in the form of all-LED lighting including a bright LED headlamp.
It however misses out on the Bluetooth connectivity its naked cousin gets. The bike also offers a old-school vibe with its laidback riding position and I quite like the wide and comfortable seat. Having spent a full day in the saddle, I can also attest to its comfort. And at 800mm, seat height should also be accessible to most riders.
Kawasaki’s 649cc liquid-cooled, parallel-twin motor has proved to be a versatile unit, performing duty across bodystyles and impresses on the Z650RS yet again. Outputs are the same as the Z650 at 68PS and 64Nm and strong bottom end and mid-range grunt are its distinct highlights. In city, it is tractable enough to let you ride at slow speeds in a higher gear and even when you need to downshift it does not feel like a chore thanks to the light clutch and slick gearshifts. You can sustain triple digit speeds effortlessly on open roads, as the engine feels refined, with just a mild buzz through the footpegs at about 6,000rpm. I even like the parallel-twin motor’s rorty exhaust note more than some V-twins!
The RS retains the Z650’s trellis frame but gets a flatter subframe to accommodate the one-piece seat. Ground clearance is 5mm lower than the Z650 at 125mm, but isn’t an issue unless you are riding two up and encounter a nasty speed breaker. The right side up forks and linked monoshock soak undulations well, while also offering impressive dynamics.
In fact, we’ve always liked the 650 platform for its handling and the Z650RS takes the tradition forward well. It felt composed and friendly in the twisties, offering a predictable feel around corners, also thanks to the Dunlop Sportmax RoadSport 2 tyres. Nissin-sourced brakes offer strong but progressive bite and the front remains composed even under panic braking.
And that sums up the Z650RS. It is an easy-going motorcycle that is novice-friendly, but also offers enough performance to keep you enthused over time. It should also look more alluring once you part with the front number plate holder, saree guard and grab rails. At Rs 6.72 lakh ex-showroom the Kawasaki Z650RS is one of the most affordable middleweight retro motorcycles. The better equipped Z650 undercuts it by Rs 48,000 and is better value. But does it have the same charm as the RS? I think not.