Ninja by name… Gareth’s back on a sportsbike, but does this 650 middleweight live up to its name?

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In the past few years we’ve witnessed a welcome resurgence of the mainstream middleweight sportsbike market, with many of the big players and some new protagonists launching popular new models. 

However, there’s one bike that’s been out since 2020 and has flown a little under the radar as the likes of the Aprilia RS660, Yamaha’s R7 and Honda’s CBR650R have stolen the lion’s share of the headlines. And that bike is Kawasaki’s Ninja 650

Yet that’s the machine I’m choosing to run during the first part of 2024. Why? Primarily because I spent 2023 on an adventure bike and really missed the engagement and entertainment of a lower-set, sportier package. 

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test bike right-hand bend on the road

But I didn’t want to go full-on supersports either. Sure, I adore the idea of a four-cylinder 600 screamer, but not for my commute, and not for the longer road rides I like to enjoy. I’m not even sure I fancy a trackday this year, although the temptation to don leathers and head to Cadwell Park will never be far away. 

So, the Ninja 650 fits the bill perfectly. Its fairings offer sporty looks and decent wind protection, but the riding position really isn’t that cramped at all. The first time I swung my leg over it, my immediate thought was ‘I could do serious miles on this’. 

The engine is similarly approachable. With 67 parallel-twin ponies, the Kawasaki’s not going to win a MotoGP, but you know what? It sounds fantastic at mid-range revs (they’ve done quite a bit of work on the exhaust to improve the bike’s aural offering) and boasts plenty of torque. I’ve not wrung its neck yet, because I’ve only done 600 miles on it so far and now it needs the first service. 

Kawasaki Ninja 650 tested long-term by Gareth Evans

That said, once I’d scrubbed the Dunlop Sportmax Roadsport 2 tyres in a little, I found a brilliant chassis hidden beneath that aggressive Ninja bodywork. It feels quite long but turns in eagerly enough, belying its rather portly 193kg mass. I’m really looking forward to leaning on it a bit more once I liberate full revs from the motor. 

In the meantime, I’ve also been sampling some of the technology on the bike. From a riding perspective, there isn’t a lot to play with, but it does have a two-stage traction control system. It’s also got an eco-riding indicator in the dash, so I’ll do my best to keep that off for as long as possible. 

One feature I’m looking forward to getting familiar with is the Rideology app. This connects to the bike and does some pretty funky stuff, showing parameters including the odo reading, remaining range to an empty fuel tank, time and distance to next service, battery voltage and so on. 

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test bike ridden on the road

It can also track your riding using GPS, which means you can save your best routes, and even tweak settings on the bike so you don’t need to use the slightly clumsy two-button controls on the screen to change things such as the point in the revs where the shift light comes on, and whether you want notifications for incoming calls or mail (I absolutely do not). 

Anyway, plenty to get under the skin of here, but not a lot of time to do it, because I’m expecting the Ninja 7 Hybrid to arrive and replace it in a few months.