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