Pros: Has an impressive design, refined and punchy performance, and a comfortable ride
Cons: Could do with better tyres, Is expensive
Nearly every major motorcycle manufacturer has jumped on the modern-retro bandwagon recently. And it's easy to see why. These motorcycles evoke sentiments of nostalgia for a simple past while using the advanced mechanical wizardry of today.
So, with a proven 650cc platform already in hand, and the iconic Z650 B1 from 1977 for visual reference, Kawasaki came up with the Z650 RS. And now that we’ve spent a good 500kms riding it, let us tell you everything about the Z650 RS. And does it makes sense over its streetfighter counterpart- the Z650?
Styling and Quality
As its name spells out, the Z650 RS borrows its underpinnings from the Z650. While the Z650 aims to be stealthy and sharp, the RS is quite the opposite with its rounded parts. A simplistic design embellished with chrome on the headlamp cowl and the bezels on the twin-pod cluster, the Z650 RS will send you right down memory lane.
The green shade looks proper old-school and the golden multi-spoke alloy wheels themselves look like wire-spokes units from yore. Kawasaki has also paid attention to adorning the fuel tank with colour-coded pinstripes. However, the only eyesore on an otherwise charming design is the large saree guard and grabrails. Since these can be easily unscrewed, we removed and weighed them. A whole 3.4kg of ugliness was saved there. Looks much cleaner now, doesn’t it?
That said, the build quality on the Z650 RS is solid throughout. Be it the plastic bits or the metal components, all of it fits together well and is easy on the eyes. The switchgear is tactile, easy to use, and reach as well. Although, the round mirrors, which add to the style, are small and offer a limited view of the vehicles behind.
Ergonomics and Comfort
Now, thanks to the chunky fuel tank, the Z650 RS does look big from afar. But as you get closer, you’d realize that the motorcycle is compact, much like its streetfighter sibling. With a kerb weight of 192kg, the RS is light as well so moving it around is no sweat. Getting on is easy too. Even though the seat height is higher than the Z650, having both feet on the ground isn’t a task thanks to the seat’s tapering profile.
Speaking of which, the seat on the Z650 RS is wide and cushioned well for long rides but would be a tight fit for the pillion. However, with a tall and wide handlebar that is easy to reach and low footpegs, the ergos are fairly relaxed- exactly what you’d want from a retro-styled street bike.
What I also liked about its ergos is the shape of the fuel tank. It might not have knee recesses but is wide enough and effortless to grab onto. Adding to the Z650’s effortless ergos is its plush ride quality. The suspension dampens the impact from broken roads, undulations and smaller bumps quite well. Even bridge joints and larger potholes are ironed out decently.
Performance and Handling
While its design and ergos might tell a tale of an easy-going and relaxed motorcycle, the performance that the Z650 offers is quite thrilling. Even as the 649cc comes to life, it sings the song of a true-blue Kawasaki parallel-twin sportbike rather than the typical bassy flutter retro motorcycles are known for.
Right from the start, the engine comes across as smooth and refined. But more importantly, it is extremely tractable for a high-capacity motor and can tread along in 6th gear as low as 2200rpm without any shudder. And when you wring the throttle, the Z650 RS reaches triple-digit speeds in no time and with no strain even as the needle hits 10,000rpm. There is a bit of a buzz at around 5000rpm on the handlebars, but that’s hardly noticeable.
What makes the ride even pleasant is the way the Z650 puts down its 68bhp. It isn’t exactly explosive but still manages to plaster a smile without threatening to soil your pants. Although as you shift through the six-speed gearbox and manage to cross 150kmph, the lack of wind protection makes it a task to hold on to the Z650 RS. Tone it down a bit and the motorcycle can manage a cruising speed of a good 120-130kmph all day. That said, the Nissin calipers come with slow things down at a drop of a hat. Offering incredible feel and sharp bite at both ends, the setup showed no sign of fade even after extensive use.
And its somewhat sports bike-like performance also complements its somewhat sportbike-like handling. It might not feel sharp to turn in, but the Z650 is fun around corners. Although the Dunlop Sportmax RoadSport tyres fail to provide enough grip and confidence, keeping the Z650 RS from its full potential. In the city, the Z650 RS feels right at home. It is easily maneuverable thanks to its compact size, low kerb weight, and punchy engine that allows for quick overtakes. Moreover, even after being stuck in Mumbai’s infamous traffic for an hour, the Z650 RS didn’t heat much.
Features and Tech
When it comes to features, Kawasaki has kept the Z650 RS up to date. It ships with full-LED lighting all around and ABS as standard. It also gets a petite negative-LCD between the retro-looking twin-pod clusters. This has the gear indicator, fuel gauge, engine temperature gauge and also displays average fuel consumption, fuel range along with the trip meters and odo.
But in a bid to keep a balance between new age and retro, it misses out on Bluetooth connectivity and the colour TFT screen that the lesser-priced Z650 comes with. Although, unlike the latter that only gets an adjustable brake lever, both of the RS’ levers can be adjusted for span. It's a tiny addition but makes things much easier.
The Z650 RS returned between 19-21kmpl riding in the city and on the highway. And since it gets a 12-litre tank, that is smaller than the Z650’s 15-litre unit, you could ride it for around 240kms on a full tank of fuel. That’s still decent for a near 70bhp motorcycle.
Should you buy it?
Priced at 6.72 lakh, the Z650 RS costs a premium of nearly Rs 48,000 over the Z650. And that is a significant amount if you consider its missing TFT and connectivity option. With that said, do you need to pay close to 7 lakh to get a sporty modern classic? Well, if you’d want a motorcycle only for its retro-ness, you could choose the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 that costs half the price of the Z650 RS.
But if you are looking for a motorcycle that offers old-school charm and the conveniences of a modern motorcycle in one? The Z650 RS fits the bill. It is also friendly enough for someone upgrading from a 250-300cc motorcycle, is comfortable to ride, and ships with a tractable engine that is great for everyday use. And if I haven’t said it already, the Z650 RS looks like a motorcycle to have on up on a wall, 20 years from now, telling your kids all about it…
Photos by Kaustubh Gandhi