Kawasaki Ninja 650: new-age ninja
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When Kawasaki’s Ninja 650 was launched it went by the moniker of ER-6F — F for fairing.
Together with its naked sibling, the ER-6N (now the Z650), the two bikes proved fantastic middleweight options known for smooth engines and sweet gearboxes, but they always seemed to be missing a little mumbo in the styling department.
For 2017, Kawasaki gave both bikes a hit with the styling stick to bring them up to par with models from which they’ve pinched their new naming conventions .
Although the Z650 now looks absolutely tops, it’s this bike, the Ninja 650 that we grabbed first from Kawasaki New Zealand to take on test – and why wouldn’t we?
With a new aggressive fairing reminiscent of the new Z1000SX, adjustable screen, decent clocks and a new seat, the Ninja 650 has the styling chops to grab attention, but what about the actual go factor?
Well, this bike isn’t the usual LAMs version, but the full-power version. With an updated engine, including a new “open deck cylinder”, that Kawasaki says contributes to the bike’s dramatic loss in kerb mass, now tipping the scales at 192kg wet and ready to ride.
It feels incredibly light when you’re aboard, and that is because Kawasaki also binned last year’s frame and started from scratch. As a result, the Ninja 650 is an insane 18kg lighter than the 2016 variant.
There are plenty of other tweaks to the Ninja 650 that distance it from the outgoing model. Kawasaki has played around with the intake and exhaust cams for more low-end torque, the 36mm throttle bodies are new, and the overall tune has been altered to achieve a smoother throttle response.
Then there is my favourite update to the engine, the new, slimmer air box which funnels air through a single air intake.
This means not only does the 2017 Ninja 650 have the full beans of 67hp and 66Nm, but it sounds fantastic as you rev it towards its peak power. It sounds particularly brilliant between 5000 and 7000rpm.
Swinging into the cockpit and the 650 is reminiscent of the Ninja 300 we tested earlier this year. Just, well, bigger.
You’re still nestled behind a tall sculpted tank and backed by a rise in the two-piece seat. It’s a comfortable place to be and it looks nice, too, thanks to classy additions such as the new dash unit — comprising of an LED interface and analogue tachometer.
You’re protected from some of the elements thanks to a sporty screen, which has a look in line with the sportier ZX range, and it does a good job to reduce the amount of pressure on your chest at highway speeds.
It’s adjustable, too, though in order to move it between the three factory positions you have to remove it entirely and relocate the mounts on the bracket.
Out on the road, you can definitely feel this ninja isn’t of the LAMS variety, with the liquid-cooled parallel twin producing its peak power at 8000rpm, and the dash featuring an adjustable shift light set to engage once the bike had reached its peak power at 8k so I could click up a gear to ride the smooth power delivery all over again.
Peak torque is achieved at 6500rpm, and below that the bike surges forward with some decent purpose before reaching the legal limit in surprisingly quick fashion.
It does start to run out of that same urge if you hang on to the gears beyond said limits, but keeping everything above board this engine is a peach.
Kawasaki didn’t tune the Ninja 650 to be a top-end screamer anyway, it wanted it to be a true real-world bike whether you are in first gear or sixth.
Thinking like that makes the Ninja 650 such a joy to live with.
Ride quality is comfortable, if not exhilarating, thanks to the budget-minded suspenders — particularly the forks — being a bit soggy.
If I owned it, I’d definitely up the preload on the rear and look at slightly higher weight fork oil for the non-adjustable 41mm forks just to sharpen things up a bit for my 99ish kg.
That said, when having a bit of fun in the twisty parts of my daily ride, the Dunlop Sportmax tyres did a good job of keeping the bike stuck to the cold (and occasionally icy) roads.
As OEM-supplied tyres go, they’re not bad and certainly more confidence inspiring than other OE tyres out there.
All up, the Ninja 650 has come a long way since its initial entry into the market — and, although it’s not a ZX6 with a touring face, it is plenty of bike for the up and coming rider.
Kawasaki Ninja 650
Price: $12,990 + on road costs
Engine: 649cc Parallel Twin
Pros: Great new look, LAMS version available, easy to ride
Cons: Soft suspension.