KAWASAKI’s Z family of motorcycles starts with the teeny Z125 at its base. At the other end of the chart, the powerful Z1000 is the ultimate boss.
In between these two extremes, Kawasaki has managed to spin off a Z of every segment imaginable.
There are a pair of quarter-litre Zs, either in the form of the single-cylinder Z250SL, or the twin-cylinder Z250, which shares its engine with the Ninja 250r.
But perhaps the most versatile Zs are the two that sit smack in the middle of Kawasaki’s Z product line - the Z650 and the Z900.
These two middleweights were introduced to the Malaysian market not too long ago, and Kawasaki loaned the duo to us recently for a weekend test ride.
What better place to test these two middling monsters than the meandering corners of Sungai Koyan, with the backdrop of the Titiwangsa range in the background?
We gunned the pair to Pahang on a Saturday morning. After a quick breakfast at Rendang Tok Ki in Bentong, we began our ascent to Cameron Highlands via Raub.
Arman Ahmad : KAWASAKI z900
The launch of the Z800 was a watershed moment for the local bike scene a few years ago, which gave Malaysians an affordable big bore four-cylinder bike with 111hp, priced a whisker under RM50,000. However, weighing in at 231kg, the Z800 was a bit on the pudgy side. The new replacement Z900, however, has managed to shed a lot of weight. At 210kg, the new Zed is 21kg lighter than its predecessor. To put that in perspective, that’s about the weight of a large sack of rice. The corresponding dividends gained in handling and performance are, of course, massive.
Not only is the Z900 lighter, it also packs a more powerful engine. The 948cc sleeved-down, in-line four from the Z1000 gives a claimed 125hp at 9,500 rpm and 98.6nm of torque at 7,700 rpm. That makes it 10 per cent more powerful, and gives it almost 20 per cent more torque than the previous iteration.
The result is marked improvements in handling, braking and acceleration. The weight loss redefines the Z900 and brings it a few notches higher. Not only is the Z900 easier to track through corners, but it also accelerates better, with improved braking performance and ABS. No doubt this is also helped by the suspension setup, which is handled by a 41mm USD fork with rebound damping and preload adjustment, with a horizontal back link shock on the rear with similar adjustability.
The major improvement in weight was achieved by ditching the Z800’s tubular steel frame. A new trellis frame sheds 11kg from the Z900.
On the road, the Z900 feels light, responsive and powerful. Open the throttle from a standstill, and the engine spools up willingly, the horsepower ramping up around 7,000 to 10,000 RPM. This is a machine that can keep litre supersports bikes in view.
At full blast, there are not many B-roads in Malaysia which can contain the Z900’s wrath. Federal Route 102, though, which leads up to Cameron Highlands from Sg Koyan, is a worthy match for the beast.
The long sweeping corners and low traffic meant the Z900 could get its legs stretched for a bit.
Of course, Sg Koyan is quite a distance away from Kuala Lumpur, and gave us the opportunity to test out the Z900’s ergonomics on a long journey. The bars are wide and upright, giving the rider good leverage to usher it through tight corners, while giving a neutral, comfortable seating perch to munch away the miles. The distance between the seat and pegs for this rider, who stands at about 180cm, is spot on.
The seat on the Z900 is a bit harder than the Z650, but nonetheless the 500km total trip distance was achieved in comfort.
With a 17 litre tank, it also has more than adequate gas range for Malaysian interstate jaunts.
In a nutshell, the Z900 is a tight package from Kawasaki. The segment which it created is now hotting up with a closely-priced offering from Yamaha, but given the Kawasaki’s revived specifications, we’d say the Z900, priced at RM49,158, is one strong contender.
Riding a naked bike over long distances is often the equivalent of an epic workout in the gym.
The bike’s upright seating position, coupled with the absence of an effective front screen, means that the rider is vulnerable to the full blast of the wind and other elements, even at moderate speeds.
So when I collected the keys to the Z650, Kawasaki’s middleweight naked bike, for a test ride up to Cameron Highlands for the weekend, I let out a big, heavy sigh. “Boy, is my back going to complain big time,” I said.
However, the anticipated strained arms, twisted neck, banged head, and busted shoulders did not happen. Most pleasantly, my back wasn’t complaining at all, despite the total distance of the journey from Kuala Lumpur to Cameron Highlands and back exceeding 500km.
Only my legs felt a little cramped after the first 80km on the road, but that happens on most small- and mid-sized bikes I ride.
Perhaps the route that was chosen had something to do with why the Z650 was so fun to ride. The ride up from Bentong to Cameron Highlands was simply amazing. The long, sweeping corners and gradual ascends were made for a bike like the Z650, one that is faultlessly smooth but packs strong torque and strong mid-range acceleration.
The Kawasaki Z650 has a liquid-cooled, four-stroke in-line four, DOHC engine which comes with a relatively huge 15litre fuel tank. Because of that, and the claimed fuel efficiency, one can get away with fewer stops for petrol.
The bike’s bodywork can be described as minimalist, and is inspired by Sugomi. Most people would agree that the bike looks mean and aggressive, but elegant at the same time. A little fly screen at the front provides enough cover for the rider, even given my height. Part of it is because the bike’s flowing bodywork encourages the rider to adopt a more crouching, predator-like posture.
The Z family also comes with a sharp Z-pattern LED taillight and brake light which light up to deliver a bold statement. Other highlights include an all-new swing arm design and the new exposed trellis-style frame which, according to Kawasaki, adds to the technical and lightweight image.
Speaking of lightweight, the Z650 weighs in at 187kg. If I had no problem throwing the bike around during the ride up and down the meandering Cameron roads, I don’t expect the boys to have any difficulty whatsoever.
The design of the bike is deceptively clever: it looks like a tall bike, but you’ll find the 790mm seat low once you’re astride. In my case, a little too low. I guess this explains why my legs felt uncomfortable after some time. Shorter riders will undoubtedly be more at home on this bike.
The Z650 also comes with compact multi-function instrumentation. The stacked instrument cluster features an analog tachometer and a multi-function LCD screen with a gear position indicator. They are easy to read at a glance, especially when you want to check your top speed at high speed!
The Z650 has an assist and slipper clutch. Kawasaki says this allows a lighter clutch lever feel when operating the clutch, preventing the rear tyre from “hopping and skidding”.
The Z650 brakes are equipped with dual semi-floating petal discs at the front and a single petal disc at the rear. With the ABS provided, braking was more than adequate.
As for the suspension, the telescopic front fork and horizontal back-link with adjustable preload takes bumps and uneven road surfaces reasonably well.
I personally am partial to the bike’s Silver skin, but for those who prefer their bikes to make louder statements, the Z650 also comes dressed in the iconic Kawasaki green. The Z650 is priced at RM35,609.