SL stands for ‘Super Lightweight’ and, at just 147kg ready to ride, it’s a title that’s well deserved. To put it into context, Kawasaki’s other A2-licence-friendly naked, the Z300 weighs 20kg more, and the SL’s lack of mass is immediately noticeable. Just pushing it out of the garage is as simple as handling a mountain bike.
Sharp yet super stable, around town the Z250SL’s nicely pitched wide bars give you the perfect leverage to dart in and out of traffic. Being so light you can just use your bodyweight to lean into corners and pull the bike tighter around turns, relying on the feeling of security you get from the high pegs and having your knees locked into the recesses either side of the tank. There’s no slack or wallow in the chassis, it’s a totally direct riding experience, not what you’d expect from a budget commuter. The 37mm conventional fork and preload-adjustable shock are set fairly firm and can patter over bumps when ridden hard, but that’s the surprising beauty of the little ZSL – you can actually ride it bloody hard.
Bringing things to a stop is a single disc up front teamed up with a single-piston caliper. The stopping power is ample and Kawasaki have managed to engineer a decent amount of feel in there too. Teamed with the firm suspension, braking is engaging enough to feel the front Dunlop TT900 digging in and even lets you get away with trail braking into bends without making the bike want to stand up. But amazingly, the stoppers are nowhere near sharp enough to fluster less experienced riders. There is an ABS version but Kawasaki doesn’t plan to offer it on the UK market.
With its lightweight piston and low-friction rings, the gusty little motor is eager to rev, the DOHC head providing both impressive low rpm punch with 16.6ftlb torque at 8200rpm before chiming in with its 26bhp of peak power at 9700rpm. In fact, the engine feels as if it’s utterly unburstable and is super smooth, too; the gear-driven balancer shaft doing a brilliant job at eliminating vibes. Granted, performance is limited; in sixth gear the 10,500rpm rev limiter taps in at an indicated 95mph (with a tailwind). But that’s OK, because the last time we checked, the National Speed Limit was 70mph – a speed the ZSL can easily and enthusiastically reach, helped along by its perfect fuel injection and faultlessly slick gearbox.
For a bike that costs £3649, the ZSL doesn’t look or feel like it’s built to a price. The switchgear is robust, the full LCD display appears well made, and the chassis has that pleasing firmness which comes from suspension that, although basic and lacking in adjustability, is ideal for the job it needs to do. And that job is scything through traffic like a 26bhp scalpel.
Highly affordable, great quality, superb back-up, and at 77mph it's effortlessly frugal, too. Travel doesn't get much more cost-effective.
It's got everything it needs,and nothing that it doesn't. The obvious omission is an ABS version, whcih does exist, but Kawasaki aren't bringing it to the UK just yet.