Kawasaki’s 2017 Ninja 650 gets all the same engine and chassis updates as the new Z650, resulting in a far better middleweight-twin Ninja
Kawasaki’s 2017 Ninja 650 gets all the same engine and chassis updates as the new Z650, resulting in a far better middleweight- twin Ninja
After getting a taste of Kawasaki’s new Z650 in the last issue (“First Ride: Kawasaki Z650,” Feb./mar.), we came away very impressed with the updates that Team Green instilled into its venerable 649cc vertical twin. An all- new steel tubular- trellis chassis similar to the unit employed on the company’s heralded H2/H2R supercharged sportbikes, in addition to numerous detail changes, resulted in a near60- pound weight reduction. Combined with some detail changes to the engine aimed at boosting low- end and midrange power, the Z650 boasts a spry character that’s a significant step up from the previous- generation 650.
Those same changes that make the Z650 so appealing have also been infused into the new 2017 Ninja 650, the sportier fairing- equipped cousin to the Z. The weight- loss program shows some pretty major numbers: The trellis frame drops 18.9 pounds off the old double steeltube perimeter unit, with the new hollow- press- construction swingarm cutting another 6.2 pounds. The new five- spoke (replacing the old six- spoke design) front wheel assembly is 1.5 pounds lighter, with the rear wheel assembly 2.4 pounds lighter. Miscellaneous pieces like
the chain guard, silencer, header piping, footpeg stays, bodywork, fuel tank, ABS unit, etc. drop another 8.4 pounds, while changes to the engine itself net a 4.4- pound reduction. All told, the 2017 Ninja 650 is claimed to weigh 41.8 pounds less than its predecessor— that’s a major chunk of heft no matter how you slice it.
In the engine bay, some more changes to the 649cc parallel twin have come to light since we rode the Z650. Besides the smaller 36mm (from 38mm) throttle bodies, narrower intake ports, less radical cams, different airbox, and slipper/assist clutch that we noted with the Z650, a lot more has been changed internally (and externally). For example, the cylinder assembly is now an opendeck design that utilizes plated/liner- less bores for less weight and a narrower cylinder pitch (width between cylinders). New fine- atomizing injectors provide a better fuel- air mixture at the lower rpm the new engine is designed for, while the exhaust header pipes have been shortened and the crossover pipe removed to improve midrange power.
The most obvious difference between the Z650 and its Ninja 650 brother is the Ninja’s new fairing that more closely resembles the ZX- 6R/ ZX-10R supersport models compared to the previous Ninja 650. Besides the more aggressive front cowl design, new low- profile headlights in the dual- headlamp design and compact turn signals built into the fairing lowers contribute to the sportier look. The windscreen is adjustable to three positions, though each position is fixed, requiring removal of four screws. The new Ninja 650 also boasts KAMS (Kawasaki Air Management System), a patented radiator fan duct that redirects the fan airflow downward away from rider when in slow- moving traffic.
Ergonomically, the new Ninja 650 has a sportier riding position as well, with bars set 42mm lower and 25mm forward from the previous model, and the footpegs 60mm forward and 15mm lower. Even the seat height is 15mm lower than before. Compared to the Z650, the seat is a smidgen higher (10mm), likely the result of slightly more rear ride height; the bolt- on bars appear to be the same height as the Z650’s tubular handlebar but with a lower and more swept- back angle.
Unlike the Z650’s all- LCD dashboard, the Ninja 650’s all- new instrument panel thankfully retains a large, well- lit analog tach, with twin “negative lit” (white on black background) digital LCD info panels to the right. A unique feature with the tach is that in addition to a shift- rpm indicator light, the tach needle can be set to glow pink at 500 rpm before the designated rpm and then turn red once it reaches that rpm and beyond.
The Ninja 650 definitely has a sportier feel and appearance than the Z650 once you settle into the saddle, greeting you with the same comfy seat (and slightly sparse legroom for taller riders), but the rest of the cockpit is more business- like. The instrument panel is much easier to discern the necessary information from at a glance than the Z’s comparatively tiny dashboard, and the fairing- mounted mirrors provide a better rearward view. The slightly more aggressive angle of the bars cants your torso forward just a smidgen more than the Z’s layout does.
That claimed 42- pound weight loss over the previous- generation Ninja 650, coupled with the subtle engine mods aimed at increased low- end and midrange steam, provides the same spunky performance we encountered with the new Z650. Unfortunately, severe cold- weather conditions during the press launch prevented us from really having some fun in the twisty sections to check out the suspension and chassis. But based upon our brief opportunities to cut loose during the press ride (and combined with our experience with the Z650, which is basically identical), we can confidently state that the new Ninja 650’s overall handling and braking capabilities are light- years ahead of the old version. And it shouldn’t have any trouble providing more than enough performance for the intended market…and then some.
Add to all those attributes a very appealing price for the new Ninja 650: The standard model will retail for $7,399 while the ABS version stickers at $7,799. If you want the special KRT edition paint job like the bike we rode, that will run you $7,999 (available in ABS only). SR