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Kawasaki Z650RS (2022) road test and review | Tested on the roads of Marseille

Z650RS review 2022

We swing a leg over the new Kawasaki Z650RS (2022) to find out just how much evolution of retro is to be found in the A2-compatible ‘retrovolution’ motorcycle.

Details
Manufacturer:
Category:
Modern Classics
Price:
£ 7549
Overall
Not rated

Is Marseille, France, the perfect place for a ‘retrovolution’? We were invited along to the press launch of the 2022 Kawasaki Z650RS, a middleweight naked machine birthed from the foundations of the popular Z650 model, but given the retro style to appeal to 'Zed-heads' new and old. 

I’ve been looking forward to this launch since the first teasers appeared online for an upcoming ‘retrovolution’ - with a brief appearance from a 1977 Z650 B1 giving the game away in the subsequent trailer.

Our day of riding started in the heart of Marseille, heading out east towards La Base Moto in Gémenos to start the day. Then after a quick lunch, down south and across to Cassis along the coast and back to Marseille

It was a top route, that despite only being a one-day introduction, really gave a sense of riding the machine in all riding situations - hectic Marseille city streets, sleepy town roads, twisties in the hills with stunning vistas… it had it all.

So what’s this retrovolution all about?

Kawasaki Z650RS price and availability, accessories

Z650RS cornering

Available in dealers from November 2021, the RS variant of the Z650 is priced starting at £7,549 in the Metallic Spark Black, going up to £7699 for the Metallic Moondust Grey/Ebony, and the Candy Emerald Green (as ridden, with the gold wheels). 

You get the whole bike for that price, too. No required addons to get the full ‘Zed’ experience, with optional accessories including tank pads, frame sliders, grab bars, under-seat USB socket, an Akrapovic exhaust, even a helmet lock kit and italicised Kawasaki emblem for proper retro vibes.

It’s a competitive price, cheaper than the £7,700 Yamaha XSR700, a touch more than the £7,399 neo-sports Honda CB650R, and far cheaper than the £8,400 Triumph Street Twin (to name but a few).

Kawasaki Z650RS 2022 colours

Engine 

The parallel-twin isn’t a 4-cylinder like the original B1, but times have changed - instead, you’ll find a supremely punchy and sharp 649cc 8-valve parallel twin, with peak 67 bhp @ 8000rpm and 64 Nm of torque at 6700 rpm. 

With power tuned to be available instantly at low to mid speeds, and deliver power near-instantly with a twist-of-the-wrist. It feels supremely sharp, snappy and direct, perfect for riding in towns and cities and carving up the twisty mountain passes. 

Top-end power is a tad lacking, but those after top speeds would be better off looking at the Z900RS - this model is shaped up for those who want middleweight accessibility, with A2 riders able to get their Kawasaki dealer to restrict power for around £50 with an ECU flash.

The engine note from the underslung Z650 exhaust is somewhat lacking, it doesn’t sound particularly bad, just sounds a bit ordinary - and even near the redline, it sounds a bit subdued. I suppose we have Euro 5 to thank for that.

Suspension and brakes

Retro appeal here with traditional telescopic 41mm forks and a preload-adjustable horizontal back-link rear - though making the adjustments means going under the seat, so it’s not easily done on the fly. 

Despite being retro flavoured, they do really well on the road. Cushion some of the worst potholes and speed bumps, keep you planted on the road with no huge dives under heavy braking. I was genuinely impressed with these. 

Braking power is provided by 300mm twin discs with Nissin dual-piston semi-floating calipers, and a rear 220mm disc. We were keenly told that these discs are round as opposed to petal, for added retro appeal. 

Kawasaki Z650RS colours

With two span-adjustable levers, the braking power is really sharp with a big initial bite, the rear is good but can engage the rear ABS under a heavy stomp and subsequent downshifts. On that, the clutch is incredibly light thanks to an assist/slipper function, with the 6-speed box well geared for spirited riding. 

You do have to be steady with the slipper function and brakes, though. Quick downshifts with fast clutch release can combine with the rear brake to induce a bit of rear-end wobble. That could unsettle you if you’re not prepared, but I think that’s character building.

It’s easily remedied by releasing the clutch slower when downshifting if you want to stay composed, though.

Kawasaki retro modern A2

Ride quality

On the topic of ‘staying composed’, we move to ride quality. Weighing in at 187kg with a trellis chassis weighing just 13.5kg, the Z650RS seats you just like a retro bike should. You’re sat upright on the 820mm saddle (taller than the Z650) with a wide, flat bar providing you neutral position and outreached arms, the rear pegs are well-positioned to keep you poised on the bike. 

A slightly shorter 800mm saddle is available, but I think most riders of any height will be happy with the comfy standard seat, the 12-litre tank is narrow and you can get your feet down easily. 

We spent most of the day in twisty mountain roads, and the composed character really shines through here. Turn-in is superb, and it’s where I think the ‘evolution’ of retro comes in. You’re given the style of the retro B1, but with the modern agility of the modern middleweight class.

Kawasaki Z650 B1 1977 and Z650RS

In short, the ride here is a great foundation for any rider - particularly those who aren’t too fussed about breaking lap records of their local circuit. You’re also granted the Euro 5 emissions and consumption, but we couldn’t test for that - 65 mpg is the supplied estimate.

There’s no electronic interference with riding modes or settings, it’s pure riding character

Style

Z650RS Marseille Graffiti

I always find it difficult to comment on the style of a bike as everyone has their own tastes, but from my point of view it’s spot on. It looks retro and sat next to the B1 you can clearly see the inspiration.

The way the single LED headlight (LEDs all round) flows into the dual ‘artillery shell’ analogue dials (with middle LCD screen for fuel gauge, gearing & other useful stats), then into the tank and side panels, to the rear duckbill tail, it’s all spot on. 

You can even get that italicised Kawasaki logo to hark back to the classic model, along with a bumper list of other accessories to complete the look. Switchgear is minimal also, I only tapped the horn once when cancelling the indicator!

We were riding the Candy Emerald Green with pin-striping and gold cast wheels (done for style over weight savings), and it’s a colour that again gives that retro appeal - but the cheaper Metallic Black seems to be the order of the day, Kawasaki anticipates it to continue being their most popular colour option. 

Simply put, I think the Z650RS looks bang on.

We like, we didn’t like…

Style has to be at the top here, it looks mint (literally). The sharp and snappy motor impressed at the low to midrange, and it handled superbly well on the twisty roads - and was able to take on the outrageously busy and pokey city streets of Marseille with ease.

If you were to twist my arm for negatives: there’s not much tech on offer here, and it certainly keeps things retro in that respect - but that’s part of the appeal for some. Taller riders may find the seat and dimensions a touch on the smaller side, but I didn’t come off the bike with any aches (I’m 6’3”). Some may find the ABS kicks in too much, and the exhaust note isn’t as raucous as I’d like.

Verdict

If this is the retrovolution, I think I’m all on board. The style is spot on, the motor is perfect for riding in towns, cities and twisties where you’ll find most of these - so if you’re after a machine to take to the Bike Shed in London, you’ll fit right in on this. 

It’s a balanced and characterful platform for new & current middleweight riders to find their footing, with a predictable riding character and flickable nature - plus it’s a solid addition to the bustling modern classic machines that are out there. 

Alex Kawasaki Z650 B1 and RS

I asked Kawasaki if we can expect more from this retro range, and it depends on how well this Z650RS does - and I think it’ll do well. It seems like there will be plenty on the way for UK dealers, and if you’re interested in a middleweight retro naked, it’s definitely worth a test.

Big thumbs up to Kawasaki, they’ve got this one bang on. 

A massive thanks for having us there at the launch. Find out more (specs, price, accessories) on their site.

Now watch the review: Kawasaki Z650RS (2022)

Kawasaki Z650RS 2022 Review | New Kawasaki Z650 RS Road Test in Marseille | Visordown.com