Hybrid power is common in the car industry, but it’s not really something you see in motorcycles. There isn’t a motorcycle equivalent of the Toyota Prius, at least not until now. Kawasaki has been on a mission to electrify its future. First came Team Green’s electric motorcycles and now, the United States is getting a pair of bikes that are far more interesting. Available right now from Kawasaki dealers are the 2024 Kawasaki Ninja 7 HEV and Kawasaki Z7 HEVs. They cost $12,499 and they’re pretty neat, let’s take a look!
Like many automakers and motorcycle makers, Kawasaki has committed itself to a cleaner future. In 2021, Team Green announced that by 2035, all new Kawasaki motorcycles sold in Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, and the United States will be electric. The company has promised 10 electric and hybrid-electric vehicles as it blazes this new path. It’s an ambitious effort, too, as Kawasaki is not a brand known for electric technology. But, the company started filing patents in 2015 and it got prototypes on the road in 2019, so it’s quite serious.
Perhaps even more surprising than Kawasaki’s electric effort is its investment in hydrogen. Kawasaki expects to put a hydrogen-powered motorcycle on the road sometime in the 2030s and it also wants to put hydrogen engines behind the propellers of general aviation, too. The brand is leaning heavily on the ferocious H2 motorcycle platform for that hydrogen future.
But that future is still pretty far off. What’s happening right now is electrification. Last year, Kawasaki put its first two electric motorcycles on the road. The 2024 Kawasaki Ninja e-1 and 2024 Kawasaki Z e-1 electric motorcycles don’t have impressive spec sheets and can’t get too wet, but they’re a step in the right direction. Now, Kawasaki wants to sell you an even cooler electrified Ninja and Z.
Zapping A Kawasaki
Kawasaki calls these bikes the world’s first “strong hybrid” motorcycles. Now, there’s some clever marketing going on here, because Kawasaki is not the first to make a hybrid motorcycle.
In 2019, Honda claimed the title of “the world’s first hybrid system for a mass-production motorcycle” with its PCX Hybrid scooter. The PCX Hybrid is a parallel hybrid utilizing an assist motor fed by a lithium-ion battery. Yamaha also produces a hybrid scooter. Hold on, those aren’t motorcycles! Still, Kawasaki cannot really claim to have the world’s first hybrid motorcycle, either. Back in 2009, Indian manufacturer Eko Vehicles said its 70cc ET-120 was the world’s first hybrid motorcycle.
So, Kawasaki is hanging its hat on a different metric. Here’s how Kawasaki defines “strong hybrid”:
Strong hybrid systems combine an internal combustion engine (ICE) with an electric motor for powerful riding, and because of their large battery capacity they are able to run on electricity alone.
To put this another way, the 2024 Kawasaki Ninja 7 HEV and Kawasaki Z7 HEVs are like a Toyota Prius in that these bikes can use the gasoline engine and the electric traction motor at the same time to provide propulsion. In some situations, you can also power these bikes on batteries alone, again, just like the typical parallel hybrid car. Kawasaki is right that it is the first motorcycle manufacturer to introduce hybrids like these. More, Kawasaki envisions these motorcycles as being like having three bikes in one. The EV mode gives you a zero-emissions urban ride, but the hybrid system also nets you a thrifty commute, while you still have more than enough power on hand for some serious fun.
At the heart of these bikes is a 451cc parallel twin borrowed from the Kawasaki Eliminator. When saddled in the 2024 Kawasaki Ninja 7 HEV and Kawasaki Z7, this engine gets new velocity stacks, a new exhaust header, and a different tune. This was done to increase the top-end performance of the engine.
As a result, you get 58.3 HP at 10,500 RPM and 32 lb-ft torque at 7,500 RPM. Helping the engine along at the low end is a liquid-cooled electric motor capable of 7 kW (9.4 HP) constant power with a 9 kW (12.1 HP) boost. This motor is situated behind the engine’s cylinders and gets its juice from an air-cooled 48V lithium-ion battery. The motor weighs about 29 pounds, as does the small battery. Kawasaki says that the motor was developed with help from Delta Electronics, a Taiwanese tech company. Engineering help for the battery came from Wamtechnik, a battery manufacturer from Poland.
Also included in the hybrid system is a device that Kawasaki calls the Integrated Starter Generator (ISG). Like a hybrid car, this device starts the gasoline engine while also functioning as a generator. While we’re on the subject of comparing these bikes to hybrid cars, I should mention that these bikes are not of the plug-in variety. Instead, like a common hybrid car, the gas engine tops up the battery. If you’re interested in hearing more about the packaging, Kawasaki continues:
In terms of size, the compact power unit on the Z7 Hybrid ABS is comparable to that of the Z500 motorcycle. The battery pack finds its place beneath the front seat, with the ISG positioned on the left side of the ICE, the ISG inverter/converter located to the left of the cylinder bank, and the Engine Control Unit (ECU) situated in the tail.
There’s also a radiator for the motor, plus cooling ducts added to the bodywork to help keep the hybrid system cooler.
All of this bolts up to a six-speed automated-manual transmission, which has a hydraulic clutch fed by a dedicated oil pump. This is also car-like in function or like a Honda DCT or a Can-Am’s semi-auto. There’s no clutch lever to pull or a shift lever next to your left foot. Instead, you can allow the bikes to shift themselves or shift using buttons. If you haven’t ridden a motorcycle with an automated-manual before, think of this as the bike equivalent of paddle shifters.
Thanks to this hybrid system and transmission, riding both the 2024 Kawasaki Ninja 7 HEV and the Kawasaki Z7 HEV should be a unique experience.
There are three riding modes. EV mode is self-explanatory and runs the motorcycle entirely on battery. Interestingly, the electric motor is not direct drive, so the motorcycle will shift through gears during EV operation. Manual mode is also turned off during EV operation. Kawasaki notes that in EV mode, you can achieve up to fourth gear and your top speed will be 40 mph. EV-only range is claimed to be 7.5 miles, but testing from Cycle World has revealed that you can probably go further with the use of regenerative braking.
Don’t expect this to be a quick EV, either. That electric motor puts out just enough power to make sure you don’t get creamed by a city bus.
Next is the Sport-Hybrid mode. In this mode, you get full power from the engine plus an electric assist. In Sport-Hybrid mode, automatic mode is disabled, forcing you to shift with your fingers. In addition to full power and a more aggressive throttle mapping, you also get a five-second boost mode. Like a video game power-up, this uses the hybrid system to increase your power to 68.5 HP and 44.6 lb-ft. of torque. Kawasaki says that when you hit that boost button from a dead stop the bike will accelerate like it has a 1,000cc engine bolted to its frame. Otherwise, activations while already rolling give you more of a 650cc feel. Again, this is just for about five seconds, then you go back to the performance of a 451cc.
Sport-Hybrid mode is also the mode you’ll end up in if you deplete the battery in EV mode. Then, the bike will spend about 50 minutes or so charging itself back up.
In the middle is Eco-Hybrid mode, which is a balance between the modes. In Eco-Hybrid mode, the bike will start moving on electric power before bringing the engine online, like a hybrid car. Kawasaki says the engine will come on at about 2,000 RPM and it’ll shut off again the next time you come to a stop. Sadly, you do not get full engine power in Eco-Hybrid mode, but you do get to choose between automatic mode and manual mode.
There’s one more cool trick to Kawasaki’s hybrids, and it’s the fact that you get a Walk mode. When activated, the motorcycles can be propelled forward or reverse at 2 mph to help you get out of parking spots or to maneuver the motorcycles around tight spaces. Both bikes will also shift back to first gear by themselves when you come to a stop.
The 2024 Kawasaki Ninja 7 HEV And Kawasaki Z7 HEV
All of what you read above rides on steel trellis frame architecture borrowed from Kawasaki’s gas 400cc motorcycles. One modification to the frame here is a monocoque-style hollow, reinforced box swingarm pivot area. This was done for strength and to allow the battery to sit down low under the seat. To go along with the theme of this motorcycle briefly having the power of a 650, Kawasaki arranged the pipes of the trellis frame in a way to absorb shock while also optimizing the frame to help deliver a ride like a Kawasaki Z650.
Aiding in that handling is a 41mm telescopic fork up front and Kawasaki’s Bottom-Link Uni-Trak system with a monoshock in the rear. You get 4.7 inches and 4.5 inches of suspension travel, respectively. Braking is handled by dual 300mm rotors and dual two-piston calipers up front. In the rear, you get a single 220mm disc with a single-piston caliper. Dual-channel ABS is provided as well. While we’re on the subject of tech, you get the aforementioned riding modes and ABS to a smartphone app and a 4.3-inch TFT display. These bikes don’t claim to have AI or be robots, and I love that.
While Kawasaki says these bikes should feel like the Z650, they are still very different motorcycles. Both of the hybrid motorcycles have a 60.4-inch wheelbase, which is 4.9 inches longer than the Ninja 650 and Z650 wheelbases. The Z7 HEV weighs 498 pounds while the Ninja 7 HEV weighs 502 pounds, making them 75 to 79 pounds heavier than the 650s Kawasaki wants you to compare them to.
The hybrids are also far different from the 400s in which they borrow frames. The Kawasaki Z7 HEV and Kawasaki Ninja 7 HEV wheelbase is 6.5 inches longer than what you’ll find with the Ninja 400 and the hybrids weigh 132 pounds and 136 pounds heavier than a Ninja 400, respectively. Geometry is also ever so slightly different. Both hybrids have a rake of 25 degrees and a trail of 4.1 inches, making for an ever so slightly more relaxed riding position over the Ninja 650’s 24 degrees and 3.9 inches of trail. For comparison’s sake, the Ninja 400 has 24.7 degrees of rake and 3.6 inches of trail.
That doesn’t mean these bikes can’t feel like 650cc machines but don’t expect them to be fuel-sipping Z650 clones. The longer wheelbases will also mean you get a bike that wants to stay upright, so there will be more effort to turn, and reviews thus far seem to reflect that.
Pick Your Flavor
Much like with Kawasaki’s electric motorcycles the 2024 Kawasaki Ninja 7 HEV and Kawasaki Z7 HEV give you the same experience but in different flavors. Want the sportbike with clip-on bars and full fairings? Get the Ninja 7 HEV. Want that more naked streetfighter look? Go for the Z7 HEV. Otherwise, the bones underneath are the same. Even the pricing is the same at $12,499 for either machine.
For those of you counting, yes, the hybrids are quite a bit more expensive than the gas bikes Kawasaki wants you to compare them to. A Kawasaki Z650 costs $8,149 right now while the Ninja 650 is $8,299. The Ninja 400 that gave its frame to this project is $5,299.
However, for the extra money, you do get a novel motorcycle. No motorcycle owner of a competing brand can say they have a hybrid motorcycle. You could joke with your buddies that you own the motorcycle equivalent of a Prius, and you wouldn’t be lying. These bikes are even estimated to get about 64 MPG in Eco-Hybrid mode.
The 2024 Kawasaki Ninja 7 HEV and Kawasaki Z7 HEV are high on my list of motorcycles to ride this year. As I said before, hybrid power is very uncommon in motorcycles, so piloting these would be a different ride. Stay tuned, I will find a way to ride one. Until then, if you want one, you can find these hybrids piling into dealerships right now.
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