The light­weight 650 that wants to be a sports­bike: Kawasaki re­vamp the ER-6f with a dose of Ninja spirit

Performance Bikes (UK) - - Contents -

An ER- 6 with Ninja spirit. Meet the light­weight that wants to be a sports­bike


THE RE­CENT DEMISE of the ZX-6R po­ten­tially leaves a hole in Kawasaki’s midrange. Un­filled, it would be the first time in 40 years the big K didn’t have a sporty middleweight in their line-up – as far back as the launch of the orig­i­nal Z650 in 1976. And, ar­guably, ev­ery one since was a clas­sic: GPz550, GPZ600R, ZZ-R600 and ZX-6R.

Clearly this is as un­think­able to Kawasaki as it is to the rest of us, which partly ex­plains why they’ve taken the faith­ful ER-6f – the par­al­lel twin all-rounder for any­one from com­muters to ladies, novices and TT Su­per­twin rac­ers – and re-engi­neered, re-styled and re-sexed it with a large dol­lop of Ninja sauce.

So the ER-6f is now sleek and sports-faired with ZX-ish body­work, from the sharp nose back across the sculpted 15-litre tank (one litre less than the ER, and in­clud­ing a wel­come ‘gut’ re­cess to al­low nor­mal-sized hu­mans room to breathe) to a stumpy tail unit. The tiny screen has three po­si­tions, ad­justable with a T-bar Allen key (so don’t do it on the move), and the Ninja’s riding po­si­tion is sportier – the ER’s sin­gle han­dle­bar is re­placed with clip-ons, set lower and raked back in a sports-tour­ing lay­out. The pegs are shifted for­ward and down, and the new seat is much lower, at 790mm in­stead of 805mm. It’s a comfy, VFR800-ish riding po­si­tion; nowhere near as shop­ping-trol­ley as the ER-6f but not a wristy race rep.

Un­der the skin, the Ninja is es­sen­tially the same 649cc par­al­lel twin as the ER, which most sports­bike riders will find un­der­whelm­ing. But the mo­tor is 2.5kg lighter thanks to care­ful com­po­nent de­sign; it’s also 4bhp less po­tent, makes a frac­tion more torque and loses 500rpm – 67bhp at 8000rpm and 48.5lb.ft at 6500rpm. So it’s as much tuned to be use­ful as thrilling. The changes are not, say Kawasaki, be­cause of Euro 4; the en­gine was de­signed re­cently enough to have the new reg­u­la­tions fac­tored in. They say it could hap­pily make more top end, but that wasn’t what they wanted from it, and in­stead tuned it for low-down per­for­mance.

They’ve done this with a few in­take

‘Point-to-point on a coun­try road, an ER-6 won’t see which way the new 650 went’

and ex­haust tweaks. A mod­i­fied air­box with a sin­gle in­take port and longer in­take fun­nels, 2mm nar­rower throt­tle bod­ies, less du­ra­tion and valve over­lap, re­shaped in­take ports, fine-atom­is­ing fuel in­jec­tors and long header pipes all im­prove ef­fi­ciency at low and mid rpm, which means more torque lower down, less at the top end, and bet­ter fuel con­sump­tion.

No-one would pre­tend the Ninja’s 67bhp is even close to the ZX-6R’s 130bhp. But it’s a will­ing, smooth, en­gag­ing lit­tle 180° twin-pot – fast enough for back-road frol­ick­ing, but never fear­some. Power comes in steadily and evenly, and there’s plenty of over­tak­ing shunt in any gear from 5000-9000rpm. In top, thrum­ming at 85mph, the mo­tor pulls 6500rpm. At that rate it guz­zles gas at 55mpg, giv­ing a re­al­is­tic range of 175 miles.

The other thing that helps its fuel econ­omy is hav­ing less weight to lug around. Kawasaki man­aged to grind 2.5kg off the ER’s en­gine and trans­mis­sion. They’ve also chopped an as­ton­ish­ing 10kg out of the ER’s steel tube frame, thanks to steel tube stress mod­el­ing ex­per­tise gained from the H2. The Ninja’s tube walls are thin­ner and there are fewer of them. There are also fewer frame lugs and brack­ets. A new swingarm takes an­other 2.5kg out. In all, the Ninja is now just 193kg wet com­pared to the ER’s 211kg.

And it feels it. In fact it’s al­most too light; the ER-6f is a sub­stan­tial thing – it’s not a toy and has a sense of so­lid­ity. Yet the lighter Ninja 650 will ab­so­lutely run rings around the older bike on agility and brak­ing, and point-to-point on a coun­try road the ER won’t see which way the new 650 went. It’s also, ma­te­ri­ally, less. The Ninja isn’t espe­cially cheap and pla­s­ticky, but it’s so nar­row, light and flick­able, it feels more like a Ninja 300 than a middleweight.

Springs are a prob­lem. The Ninja has bud­get sus­pen­sion – un­ad­justable forks and preload-only rear are softly sprung and revalved ver­sions of the ER’s kit. But they’re not re­fined enough to carry off truly sporty riding. If you turn up the wick, it’ll start to lose con­trol and grip over bumps.

Which, if the Ninja 650 is judged with sport­ing in­tent, is a prob­lem. With sorted sus­pen­sion and proper tyres it’d be bril­liant fun – right up to the mo­ment you started want­ing more en­gine (like, an in­line four...). But for im­age-con­scious ER cus­tomers, the Ninja 650 is per­fect. Sex­ier than the ER, with a di­rect vis­ual tie-in to big­ger, faster, scarier Nin­jas, it’s also plenty rapid and ag­ile enough to please al­most any­one.

EN­GINE The up­dated ER- 6f par­al­lel twin sheds 2.5kg in weight, and gets tuned for more midrange at the ex­pense of a bit of top end. Su­per­twin rac­ers will get it back, and more, with ease. CHASSIS All new steel tube frame saves 10kg over the ER- 6 item...

STYLING Lower seat and clip-ons are sport­s­tourer-tas­tic, but race rep fair­ing has Ninja writ­ten all over it – lit­er­ally. Sculpted tank is nice, pil­lion seat is higher than ER’s. 1 Ninja 650 gets X-shaped rear LED light (naked Z650 has a Z-shaped unit....

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