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Review: 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650

Driven May 2017

Review: 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650

I really don’t understand this sport-tourer segment. I like my bikes to be fully-faired track monsters, naked street fighters or bare-basic dirt bikes. I can tolerate the big ADVs to some extent, but these sport-tourers, I just don’t get. Needless to say, I’ve never really been a fan of the Ninja 650. I didn’t like the way it looked and I definitely didn’t feel the numb way in which it ran.

All that is a thing of the past now. Because this new Ninja 650 is nothing like its predecessor. Firstly, it looks a lot like its more track-bent brothers. So if it weren’t for the lack of clip-ons, you’d find it very difficult to know that this was the sport-tourer.

Both the new 650s feel exactly the same when you start riding them. Like the Z650, the Ninja too is built on a completely new trellis frame that gives it huge weight savings and added rigidity. It also gets a new swingarm with a mid-mounted shocker that is adjustable for preload. The front suspension is a 41mm, non-adjustable KYB fork. The suspension is tuned a bit stiff compared to the older 650s. And when combined with a sharper rake and shorter trail, the Ninja gets some very enthusiastic handling. It is a neutral handler. It never seems over eager. But it doesn’t feel lazy either. Turn in is quick and it holds its line well unless you’re pushing it to its absolute limits, when it weaves a bit. But that is more down to the tyres than anything else.

What is great though are the brakes. They offer superb bite and feedback and give you a lot of confidence. The ABS unit too is pretty unobtrusive and kicks in only when absolutely necessary.

What remains largely unchanged in the new motorcycle is the engine. It is the same 649cc, parallel-twin as before, but now making slightly lesser power – 67bhp and 66Nm to be exact. But with the amount of weight that has been saved with the frame and swingarm, it doesn’t make a lot of difference performance wise. The only difference you will find is between the Ninja 650 and the Z650, where the Z feels a little quicker thanks to roughly 6kg that the lack of the fairing saves.

Now back to the engine. When compared to the older engine, the new motor gets new throttle bodies, a new camshaft, a new assist and slipper clutch and some minor changes to the intake port. As far as feel goes, it feels as sprightly as ever. There is a ton of torque waiting for you upwards of 4000rpm and this lets you bring around three digit speeds in no time. That said, there is some of that parallel-twin buzz that refuses to go away. But it’s only a minor issue when you consider how good the rest of the bike is.

Between the Z650 and the Ninja, the only difference is the fairing, the instrumentation and the slightly different riding position. The Ninja gets an analogue tacho and digital speedo while the Z650 gets a fully digital unit. The Z650 also has a slightly more committed riding position than the Ninja.

At Rs 6.66 lakh (on-road, Mumbai) the Ninja 650 is good value. It is accessible, easy to ride and very capable. The only big question that remains is whether to get the Ninja or the Z650. And that boils down to personal taste more than anything else.

Spec: 649cc, 2-cyl, liquid-cooled, 67bhp, 66Nm, 6M, 193kg, fuel tank: 15 litres

Price: Rs 6.66 lakh (on-road, Mumbai)

Verdict: The Ninja 650 brings together great performance and handling together in a beginner-friendly package.

Ashok George

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