Kawasaki Brute Force 650 quad
When I was given the chance to head up north to test three Kawasaki bikes, a 650cc and 300cc from its Brute Force range of quads, and a 250 stockman two-wheeler, it was an offer that was too good to turn down.
With an early start from home and four hours of driving ahead of me, I headed for Tapora, described to me as somewhere out west of Wellsford. After a battle with traffic in Auckland and a few gravel roads, I found that Tapora was a magnificent little farming settlement set on the edge of the Kaipara Harbour.
Mike Wilkins from Kawasaki managed to get the three bikes up there, where he had not only found a farm that did not mind us tearing up a bit of grass for the day but he had also rounded up a few local farmers, who turned out to be a great group of guys, all with a lot of experience about bikes on their properties. They were as keen as me to see how these Kawasakis shaped up.
So, this month and over the next couple, I'll be bringing you the reports of my three tests, as well as the opinions of three guys who spend hundreds of hours each year riding them on their farms.
First up this month is the Kawasaki Brute Force 650 Quad bike with everything that you would expect to find on a larger sized bike and a few extras, but Kawasaki has priced and aimed it at the 500cc market, so you get impressive power, handling and performance for a very sharp price.
The test took place on a dairy farm that is being run by Robert Brookes, who was also there and pretty keen to test the Kawasaki 650 to its full limits. With a decent race, a paddock with some steeper sidelings, a good patch of mud and plenty of time, all of us got a chance to see what it could do.
The impressive power of this quad comes from a liquid-cooled 633cc SOHC, V-twin engine - what does that mean, I hear you ask? A single overhead cam (SOHC) and the V-twin means the two cylinders in the engine are in a V configuration, with 90 degrees of split between them. This gives the impressive torque, excellent balance, low engine vibration and as the guys noted on the day that grunty V-twin sound.
Kawasaki has chosen to stay away from fuel injection, sticking with their tried-and-tested carburettors claiming that they cause very few problems and that sometimes the fuel stored on farms isn't as clean as fuel injectors require. The carburettors draw in clean air though a filter box and a snorkel head up under the handle bars of the bike out of the way of mud, dust and water.
The power developed by the engine is run through the Kawasaki Automatic Powerdrive System which is a continuously variable transmission with a Hi, Lo, neutral and reverse that are selected with a lever on the right hand side of the bike under the handle bars.
This transmission set up from Kawasaki gives you zero to 'bloody hell that's quick' in hi, and the power required for pulling heavy loads, like palm kernel trailers, through mud and up hills in low. Engine braking for the quad is electronically controlled. This monitors the speed of the bike in relation to acceleration: when the speed is increasing and the acceleration decreasing, the tension on the drive belt increases, using the compression of the engine to slow the bike down. This works exceptionally well on steep hills in low gear and also on the flat and on moderate slopes in hi, but not as well on the steeper ground - but then that's what low gear is for.
The bike sits on a sturdy double-cradle frame, built out high-tensile tube steel. At the front the of the chassis dual A arms mount the front wheels and use adjustable independent MacPherson struts to give a smooth ride and good control of the bike. Piston disc brakes are fitted out near the wheels on each side with the drive coming from a differential in the centre out to the wheels through a booted drive shaft.
At the rear of the bike there is a solid axel that is mounted to the frame by a rigid light weight aluminium swing arm that uses a single adjustable shock for the rear suspension. Housed in the swing arm is the drive shaft for the rear axle and also the internal rear brakes which are multi disc brakes sealed in an oil bath. Having the brakes and drive shaft sealed in the swing arm is a great idea from Kawasaki to keep as much of the mechanics out of the mud and crap that bikes need to deal with daily on New Zealand farms.
Controls and layout
The 18-litre fuel tank with an inbuilt pump is located towards the rear of the bike under the seat, which gives a much lower centre of gravity and more weight over the rear wheels. With the tank at the rear this leaves more room up front for the air-filter box and the large radiator. Cleverly the filler and level bottle for the radiator is located down below the seat on the left hand side of the bike, this is much more sensible than other bikes where once anything is mounted on the front carrier the filler cap for the radiator becomes very hard to access.
Up on the handle bars, the controls follow a layout much the same as most quad bikes these days, a throttle, a brake and the push button four wheel drive on the right hand side with the gear selector and the ignition key bellow the handle bars. In the centre there is a digital display that includes a speedometer, odometer, trip metre, clock, fuel gauge and hour meter. Along with lights for neutral, reverse, 2WD/4WD and an oil level warning, over on the left handle bar is the light, start, engine kill, choke, reverse over ride and a brake lever with a park lock. A handy 12-volt power socket is located under the handle bars on the left-hand side.
In front of the brake lever is a variable front differential lock. This, I believe, is a unique feature to Kawasaki. It is basically a lever similar to a brake lever that you squeeze. This lever engages the front diff-lock as much or as little as the lever is squeezed, allowing you to engage the front as much or as little as required while still allowing the bike to be steered easily. This would be very helpful when towing loads though muddy areas where diff-lock is required, as well as being able to steer the bike.
Kawasaki thinks of this machine as supersized 500cc quad bike with many more features. The powerful V-twin gives it plenty of low-down torque for towing; the multi-disc wet brakes and electronically-controlled engine brake provide plenty of stopping control on hills and when towing. The quad has been built tough after years of experience providing bikes for New Zealand's harsh farm conditions.
Mike Wilkins from Kawasaki New Zealand believes that the Brute Force 650 is well suited to farms that require a larger quad for carrying and towing heavy loads. The brand have priced the bike to target the 500cc market.
Everyone at the test day certainly didn't hold back on the quad and the thing that they all commented on after riding the bike was how much power it had. The bike has no problems on the hills, with good traction and stability due to the low-slung fuel tank. It is a well laid-out bike and is very comfortable to ride. The only thing I would like to see changed is a park lock on the transmission, a feature that is common on a lot of other bikes.
Overall, this bike has a lot going for it, especially the exceptional price. For those looking at something in the 500cc market, the Kawasaki Brute Force 650 is definitely worth a good look.
- Exceptional price, due to the Bike being marketed at the 500cc bike market
- The V-twin 633cc engine is very responsive and full of power
- The Variable front differential lock control
- The radiator level and filler bottle that is easily accessible on the side of the bike
- I would like to see a park lock on the transmission, which is common on a lot of other bikes
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