Kawasaki’s new Ninja 650 is far from just a re­badged ER-6F

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Phil West MCN CON­TRIB­U­TOR

Lighter, faster and yours for £6.5k

New name, new start – that’s the think­ing with Kawasaki’s new Ninja 650. And on the strength of MCN’S first ride this week in Alme­ria, Spain, they’ve pretty much got it spot on.

If you’ve missed it, the new Z650 and Ninja 650 are the re­place­ments for Kawasaki’s ER-6N and ER-6F, stand­ing for naked and faired, re­spec­tively. Both get new names to unify Kawa’s global nam­ing pol­icy (the old ER-6F was al­ways called Ninja 650 in the US, for ex­am­ple) but there’s also a raft of up­dates in­tended to en­hance not just their styling but also their ver­sa­til­ity, per­for­mance and ap­peal.

Ac­cord­ingly, both have re­ceived a pretty hefty makeover. The perky, 649cc par­al­lel twin, so beloved of Minitwin rac­ers, has been light­ened by 2kg and re­tuned with new cams and in­lets to boost midrange at the slight ex­pense of top end. The tubu­lar steel frame is also new, pri­mar­ily to shed an im­pres­sive 15kg, and has a few shades of H2R about it as well. The gull-arm pressed steel swingarm is new, too, and saves a fur­ther 2.7kg; the rear sus­pen­sion’s more so­phis­ti­cated with the ad­di­tion of a ris­ing rate link­age; there are new and lighter five-spoke wheels; stylish new clocks (now with a gear in­di­ca­tor); new body­work and more.

All of that, of course, is also true of the Z650 we tested be­fore Christ­mas, our ver­dict be­ing that all the changes made it, “much live­lier than the old ER-6N, con­sid­er­ably lighter, eas­ier to man­age at slow speeds, but also more fun.” So, is the new Ninja 650 just a

Z650 with a fair­ing? Well no, it’s more than that, ac­tu­ally.

With the faired ver­sion al­ways more pop­u­lar, it was im­por­tant Kawasaki got it right. In the flesh, the new fair­ing from cer­tain an­gles is the spit of the ZX-10R. From the rider’s eye, though, it’s bet­ter still. Kawasaki were keen to main­tain a novice-friendly, upright rid­ing po­si­tion so al­though peg po­si­tion is un­changed from the Er-6f’s the Ninja has stylish, raised, new clip-on bars which give a nat­u­ral, upright, slightly canted gait.

In­side the fair­ing there are proper, neatly fin­ished in­ners; there’s the now fair­ing-mounted in­stru­ment pod while the cowl­ing also holds de­cent mir­rors, which give a re­flec­tion that also bet­ters the naked ver­sion.

But it’s how the new Ninja goes that’s best of all. Upright, slim, con­spic­u­ously lighter and with a more flex­i­ble en­gine that pulls will­ingly any­where be­tween 4000 and 8000rpm, the Ninja’s a dod­dle around town. Here, the ul­tra-low seat and masses of steer­ing lock make it com­pletely un­in­tim­i­dat­ing. Novices will love it.

But at speed there’s plenty to ad­mire, too: that light­ness and bal­ance add up to a bike that’s phe­nom­e­nally nim­ble yet secure at speed. The brakes are ad­e­quate and if the sus­pen­sion has a slightly ba­sic, un­der­damped feel (it is a bud­get bike, af­ter all), it’s not enough to con­cern most buy­ers and was im­proved mas­sively for the sec­ond half of my ride by a tweak to the rear preload.

It was also then that the Ninja’s over­all im­prove­ment over the ER-6F and ex­tra ver­sa­til­ity over the Z650 came to the fore. With the screen also ad­justed to its high­est set­ting (you need an Allen key) it did a de­cent job dur­ing high­speed cruis­ing. With the ac­ces­sory tall seat fit­ted – it adds 30mm – my 6ft 3in frame found it roomy enough, where be­fore it was a touch cramped. That added ver­sa­til­ity along with the ex­tra flex­i­bil­ity and man­age­abil­ity is the true im­prove­ment of the new Ninja 650. The added style is sim­ply the bonus.

‘Light­ness and bal­ance add up to a bike that’s very nim­ble yet secure at speed’

Semi-upright rid­ing po­si­tion and flex­i­ble en­gine make the Ninja 650 a win­ner

From cer­tain an­gles, it looks like a ZX-10R

New frame and swingarm help Ninja 650 lose 17.7kg over the old ER-6F it re­places

Dis­play is now mounted on the fair­ing

Raised clip-ons are er­gonomic de­light

Nice de­tail touches like LED rear light

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