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MCN Fleet: Ninja by name, Ninja by nature?

Published: 28 September 2017

Updated: 28 September 2017

I’ve been asking myself - is Kawasaki's 650 really worthy of the Ninja name?

On looks alone, maybe. The ZX-10R-inspired styling and KRT paint scheme make it look like a proper pocket-rocket.

The 63bhp parallel twin motor, basic suspension and moderately average brakes scream otherwise, though.

The Ninja name is associated with some of the quickest machines going in their respective capacity classes – Jonathan Rea is pretty much untouchable aboard his ZX-10RR Ninja in World Superbike, and let’s not forget the supercharged Ninja H2 is in a league of its own when it comes to pushing the technological boundaries of a production bike. 

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I thought the Ninja 650 was going to be somewhat of an imposter, and I was ready to argue that its basic specification makes it unworthy of the Ninja name.

But it’s been winning me over.

On paper, it has the makings of a classic commuter motorcycle and is gloriously close to being labelled as such, but as a machine to develop and learn on it’s hard to beat.

More days like this please. Why can't summer be longer? #kawasaki #ninja #ninja650 #donington #trackday #mcnfleet17

A post shared by James Archibald (@jamesarchibald) on Sep 28, 2017 at 6:53am PDT

It isn’t just a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Sure, it doesn’t have the gleaming spec of a superbike; USD forks, trick suspension or brakes that will stop the world spinning on its axis, but the 650’s easy-going and friendly nature inspires confidence on the road and track that is hard to match. 

And while I may not have anywhere near the same amount of power at my disposal as a superbike, it really doesn’t matter.

Massive power figures mean nothing to me. It’s just a willy-waving contest by most to claim the power they have on tap – a very large number of these riders will never be able to use even a fraction of a larger, quicker bike to its full potential – and I’m one of them. Give me the 650 any day and I’ll ride it to its limit, grinning like a Cheshire cat all the way home.

It’s got so much more potential than I first thought and although the spec might not be worthy of the name alone, the fun ride that comes with it inspires me in a way that few other machines have.

Donington, you ain't bad 👍 #kawasaki #ninja650

A post shared by James Archibald (@jamesarchibald) on Sep 19, 2017 at 4:41am PDT

Sure, there will be those who shout that it's not a proper sportsbike, and in that assumption they'd be right, but there's so much more to this machine. It didn’t take me too long to understand that the 650 is the perfect introduction to the Ninja family – especially for newer riders or those who want to get the very most of the bike on the road.

We all know crude size-related jokes about how it’s not the size that matters, it’s how you use it. The Ninja 650 holds true to this ethos - it's the perfect demonstration of just how much fun you can have on a moderately-powered motorcycle.

And does this make me think that it’s worthy of holding the Ninja name? Definitely.

Drop James an email at james.archibald@motorcyclenews.com if there's anything you'd specifically like to know about this bike.

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