2022 Kawasaki Z650RS | First Ride Review

Less displacement than the Z900RS, same amount of retro attitude

2022 Kawasaki Z650RS review
The all-new 2022 Kawasaki Z650RS brings retro style to Team Green’s middleweight Z lineup. Photos by Kevin Wing.

The last bike I rode before swinging a leg over the 2022 Kawasaki Z650RS was a 1975 Honda CB400F SuperSport. I’ve owned this Honda for more than 30 years and, having just come back from Moto41 motorcycle restorations in Santa Ana, California, it’s as new as a 47-year-old bike can be. While not a Kawasaki, there’s an interesting juxtaposition comparing a modern retro throwback to an OG member of the era.

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2022 Kawasaki Z650RS review
The 2022 Kawasaki Z650RS is available in Candy Emerald Green or Metallic Moondust Gray/Ebony for $8,999. The 50th anniversary edition in Candy Diamond Brown (not shown) is $9,249.

Joining the Z900RS in Kawasaki’s lineup, the Z650RS in Candy Emerald Green or Metallic Moondust Gray/Ebony retails for $8,999, while the 50th anniversary edition in Candy Diamond Brown is $9,249. When the CB400F was new in 1975, it retailed for $1,433, or $7,818 in 2022 dollars. The Z costs more but, considering its performance and technological advancements over the CB, it’s a bargain.

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The price of the Z650RS becomes a little harder to justify, perhaps, when compared to its half-brother stablemate, the non-RS Z650 ABS model, which retails for $8,049. Considering the Z650RS and Z650 share the same engine and chassis, the retro styling of the RS comes at a $950 premium.

2022 Kawasaki Z650RS review
The retro-styled Kawasaki Z650RS is built on the same solid, reliable platform as the Z650, Ninja 650, and Versys 650.

Producing an extra 21 hp while weighing just 5 lbs more than my (almost) AARP-eligible Honda, the Ninja-derived 649cc parallel-Twin scuttles the Z650RS through a tight set of twisties with fervor. The motorcycle’s chassis is solid and up to the task, but depending on rider weight and aggression level, the non-adjustable fork and preload-only adjustable shock can get overwhelmed. Nothing a skilled rider can’t compensate for, but it’s clear the RS is suspended to meet a price point as well as the needs of a variety of riders in a variety of situations, which has baked-in limitations.

2022 Kawasaki Z650RS review
The 659cc parallel-Twin in the Z650RS makes 67 hp at 8,000 rpm and 48.5 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 rpm.

The fuel system of the Z650RS features a dual throttle valve configuration, with the main valves directly attached to the cable extending back from the twistgrip and the secondary valves controlled by the bike’s ECU. The two-step process, according to Kawasaki, endeavors to “precisely regulate intake airflow to ensure a natural, linear response.” However, in lower gears at around-town speeds, throttle application felt abrupt. No matter how smoothly I attempted to modulate a steady throttle, the Z650RS responded by light-switching between acceleration and deceleration. At higher speeds in higher gears, however, there was a more rheostatic throttle response. Given such inconsistent behavior, I wouldn’t swap the Kawi’s EFI for the Honda’s carburetors. But ask me again when it comes time to clean those four carbs.

2022 Kawasaki Z650RS review
Classic round headlight is powered by a modern LED. Bullet-shaped gauges add to throwback style.

Sometimes you just don’t realize how good you have it until you’re physically reminded. Clutch pull on the Honda is hastening arthritis in my left hand. Working the clutch lever in stop-and-go city traffic has the muscles and tendons in my hand and forearm pleading for respite after an hour of riding. The Z, in contrast, features a slip/assist clutch that offers a feather-light pull. Not only does it lessen the amount of strength required to operate the clutch, it also reduces the amount of engine braking at the rear wheel during downshifts – a modern luxury that has spoiled us.

With no other motorcycling option, I drove a cage from my home in Long Beach, California, to attend the Z650RS press launch in downtown Hollywood. The notion of navigating the Honda through LA’s rush-hour traffic was outweighed by my desire to survive. The CB400F’s ancient brakes seem to be carved from balsa wood.

2022 Kawasaki Z650RS review
Cast wheels are designed to mimic spoked rims. They’re shod with Dunlop Sportmax Roadsport 2 tires.

The retro-styled Kawi, on the other hand, employs fully modern dual 300mm front discs with 2-piston Nissin calipers, which providing all the braking performance I needed. There was good feel at the lever, allowing me to increase or decrease pressure as warranted. The single rear disc was equally praiseworthy, and the whole package gets an added level of safety with standard ABS.

The seating position and rider-machine interface of the Z650RS is everything you’d expect of a sport standard – comfy and user-friendly. From the reach to the handlebars, bend in the knees, positioning of the footrests, and width of the seat, the RS just feels right. Whether around town, in the canyons, or on the freeway, I struggled to find something ergonomic to complain about.

2022 Kawasaki Z650RS review
The 2022 Kawasaki Z650RS has the agreeable ergonomics of a sport standard, with a modest seat height and a user-friendly riding position.

A moderate 31.5 inches separates the top of the seat from the pavement, keeping the Z650RS manageable for the inseams of most riders. Combined with the bike’s low curb weight of 412 lbs, the Z650RS is lightweight and feels even lighter once in motion. A rubber-mounted handlebar helps nullify the already minimal amount of engine buzz, while 5-way adjustable clutch and brake levers allow for customization of settings between hands big and small.

There’s no reason why I should fixate on the fact that the Z650RS has a helmet lock, other than it being one of those useful and inexpensive conveniences that many modern motorcycles now lack. Don’t get me started on what passes for toolkits these days.

2022 Kawasaki Z650RS review
The round analog gauges are handsome, and the LCD screen in the center is useful and discreet.

Instrumentation is a matter of old-school clocks meeting new-school multi-functionality. The analog speedo and tach are era-appropriate and nicely outfitted with chrome bezels, while the LCD screen features easy-to-read white letters on a black background and includes a gear-position indicator, clock, and fuel gauge. Eat your heart out, 1975!

Styling of the Z650RS is a mash-up of new meets old, which will most likely spark unresolved arguments of a subjective nature. While not an inherently smooth inline-Four like my CB, the Kawi’s parallel-Twin is a better engine choice for reducing cost, complexity, maintenance, and weight. It’s bulletproof, too, getting its neck wrung out on bikes ranging from the Versys 650 to flat-track racebikes. The cast wheels resemble the spoked wheels of distant-past KZ650 models, though later KZs were outfitted with cast wheels.

2022 Kawasaki Z650RS review
Reminiscent of the old-school UJMs, the Z650RS brings modern performance and technology to the table while delivering solid value.

Then there’s the exhaust. What first attracted me to the 400 Four was its unmistakably beautiful exhaust system. While the Z900RS holds true to its ’70s era roots with a long-swept pipe ending in a chrome muffler, Kawasaki chose to equip the Z650RS with the same stubby Versys-esque muffler found on the Z650. Another visual eyesore is the parts-bin radiator made obvious by its unused mounting tabs and too-wide width forcing the ugly routing of the return and overflow tubes. When you’re paying a premium for style, details matter.

Available color schemes are spot-on for the era, especially for the Candy Emerald Green version with its use of pinstripes and raised Kawasaki tank emblem. Blinkers on all the RS models are modern with transparent lenses encasing colored LED lights, not the saucer-shaped disco-age variety. A must-have upgrade is the chrome grab bar available as an accessory from the Kawasaki parts catalog.

2022 Kawasaki Z650RS review
Fuel capacity of the Z650RS is just 3.2 gallons.

For now, I’ll keep my Honda. I’ve owned it for so long, it’d be like an itchy phantom limb if it weren’t in my garage. But, given the choice between buying one today (clean examples will set you back anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000) and buying a brand-new Z650RS, the decision would hinge on riding intentions and wrenching ability.

The Honda holds the upper hand in the coolness factor by way of its authenticity, but it is seriously compromised in the harsh light of modern transportation and pales in comparison to the performance and ability of the Z650RS. A daily commuter in La La Land the Honda is not. There are also mechanical concerns such as adjusting points, syncing carburetors, and a host of other woes old bike ownership demands.

2022 Kawasaki Z650RS review
2022 Kawasaki Z650RS in Metallic Moondust Gray/Ebony

The Kawasaki has the ability to be whatever a rider wants it to be: commuter, sportbike, sport-tourer, or weekend runabout. The Z650RS, like many of the old standards, is built to conquer it all. Throw in its wonderful modern conveniences and reliability, and there’s little to worry about. Lube and adjust the chain, change the oil regularly, keep the battery charged, and just ride. If you’re attracted to old-school cool styling but want to avoid old-school bike ownership, you can have both wishes fulfilled with the Z650RS.

2022 Kawasaki Z650RS Specs

Base Price: $8,999
Website: kawasaki.com
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel-Twin, DOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl.
Displacement: 649cc
Bore x Stroke: 83.0 x 60.0mm
Horsepower: 67 hp @ 8,000 rpm
Torque: 48.5 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated slip/assist wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 55.3 in.
Rake/Trail: 24.0 degrees/3.9 in.
Seat Height: 31.5 in.
Wet Weight: 419 lbs
Fuel Capacity: 3.2 gals.

24 COMMENTS

  1. “Just over a yard (31.5 inches) separates the top of the seat from the pavement”…
    I seem to recall a yard is 36”. Whoever wrote this was confused.

  2. 31.5″ seat height just over a yard? A yard is 36 in… Even if it was meant to read just under a yard, that’s not close. Lol!

    I enjoy Rider That one made me chuckle. I teach middle school math and that’s the type of mistake students make when
    checking for prior knowledge because they don’t understand weights and measures in this electronic day and age. Hope it was a very unnoticed misprint!

  3. The non sloping seat on this is probably worth the extra money over the Z650 that I had. What is with all these ball buster bikes?

  4. For the record, a yard is 3 feet, aka 36 inches. So the 31.5” seat height is not “just over a yard” off the pavement.

    Otherwise, a nice review with the historical reference point of the Honda 400. Cheers!

  5. Enjoyable review. IMHO, it would be better with at least an extra half gallon in the fuel tank, and a lower MSRP, but I like the RS.
    I had a ’77 CB400F back in the day. It was a fun bike, and I still love the looks. Some/lots of the feel of the brakes can be recovered by going to a smaller (drop 1/16″ diameter) master cylinder, or even going to a radial master cylinder. Stainless steel lines if you haven’t done that already. Of course, keep all the original parts when you pull them. Fixing the clutch pull will take more work, but just making sure everything is properly lubed with no binding might help. I loved my CB400F, but it tried to kill me by throwing me over the handlebars, so I wouldn’t buy another one. 🙂

  6. Good bike comparison, and I know you don’t need to be reminded how many inches are in a yard 😁. Is the power plant changed in character from the Z650 like the Z900RS is v the Z900?

  7. If you owned another vintage Japanese mid-weight/displacement bike, it would also have provided a compelling comparison to the Z650. That said, A prospective buyer in the modern mid-side segment would likely look at the popular modern or retro Yamaha, Honda or Suzuki street bikes. Hopefully with smoother throttles.

  8. I READ YOU GUYS A LOT AND JUST WONDERING WHY DON’T YOU GUYS DO SCOOTER I’M A SCOOTER GUY TOO WOULD LOVE TO SEE SOME PLEASES!

  9. don’t be so judgemental………in today’s world 2 plus 2 =5 as long as it makes you feel good. who needs 747’s to fly anymore? if rider says 30.5 is a yard, who are you to complain, not very liberal of you. whats next? making fun of a senile President! ps I will keep my Kawi 2021 Ninja 1000 with bags. make a modern BSA Lighting or a Norton Commando and I might change my mind.

  10. I’ve got the hots for a green one, but I’ve had it on order since mid February. I did find one at a dealer further away but they wanted $1000 “administration fee” above the already high freight charge. Apparently supply chain issues are impacting deliveries.

  11. Other than that hideous exhaust system, and really nice looking machine (if you’re into generic twins…now prevail because they’re cheap to build).

  12. Very nice review on a very nice machine. Thank you for your honest take on the snatchy throttle. Also, a reviewer commented on the “flat seat”, which many of us riders appreciate. And in my opinion, this bike screams for an aftermarket F-15 or F-16 windshield. While the 3.2 gal fuel capacity raises some eyebrows, this engine has proven quite fuel efficient in Kawasakis other models. Should be a fun ride.

  13. Love the look. Hideous exhaust. Appears to have too many points of attachment within the clutch foot lever linkage.
    Dealers are gouging consumers with admin fees, setup fees, destination fees, delivery fees, and fees for telling you about all the fees..
    By the time you buy this bike new, it will be around $11,000.
    Dealers are contributing to the extinction of the sport of motorbiking, especially to the younger generations.
    I might pick one up in a few years with less than 10,000 miles for not much more than $6,750.

  14. I own a 2022 green Z650RS with gold wheels and a 2018 dark green Z900RS. The 900 is an angry, rude, no manners monster. The 650 is a pleasant, fun bike with manners. I highly recommend them both

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