Reborn Twins

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

Sport Rider - - Front Page - BY KENT KUNITSUGU PHO­TOS BY BRIAN J. NEL­SON/COUR­TESY OF KAWASAKI

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

The Ninja 650 cock­pit is markedly dif­fer­ent than the Z650’s, with the full fair­ing pro­vid­ing de­cent wind pro­tec­tion, the mir­rors of­fer­ing a good rear­ward view, and the bars set at a slightly more ag­gres­sive pos­ture.

Un­like the Z650’s smaller and flashier in­stru­ment panel, the Ninja 650’s dash fea­tures a very read­able large ana­log tachome­ter with unique light­ing fea­tures and twin LCD info pan­els.

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