I’ve had an interesting time with Kawasaki's Ninja 650 so far. It’s a really useful and fun bike that makes me grin regardless of what I do or where I take it. So far it’s been used for commuting, trips to Devon, trackdays and a foray into Europe. It’s done all of them well, too.
The bike brilliantly combines comfort, sweet handling and a perky engine. It’s a simple, honest machine, and with the exception of Euro4-compliant ABS, has no rider aids or electronic wizardry, and I prefer that. There are no riding modes, endless traction-control settings or a complicated on-board computer – it’s just rider and machine. Exactly the way it should be.
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All of the bike, all of the time
The Ninja 650 will be very attractive to new riders, and I was concerned that it might be a bit of a let-down for more experienced bikers. Its 63bhp gave it the potential to be a dull bike that would bring excitement only to the kind of person who enjoys watching paint dry.
Thankfully, it’s not – it’s engaging, and encourages me to use as much of its capability as possible. It makes my morning commute something to look forward to, as I open it up on the B-roads near my house with a big grin. In my opinion, it’s more rewarding than a 1000cc sportsbike, where I’d only ever use a fraction of its potential on the roads. I’ve gained satisfaction from using all 63bhp properly.
The suspension needs improvement
A £6,459 tag means a couple of areas could do with improvement. Firstly, the suspension. It isn’t too bad, but show the Ninja a track or decent road on a dry, sunny Sunday, and its limits are clear. It is here that you most feel the budget price. I’m probably a more experienced rider than many Ninja owners, but even viewed in that context it could be better.
There just isn’t enough inherent control. It wallows and weaves, and needs more rebound damping. Ride fast and brake hard, and it also dives on the stoppers and feels like it uses
up too much of its suspension travel.
It can be sorted, though. The 41mm forks aren’t adjustable and use a damper-rod system. This can be easily improved or by fitting a £600+ cartridge kit such as the ones used on ER6 racers. A basic upgrade would cost £200.
The rear shock adjusts for preload, but this is stupidly hard to get at and mounted in such a way that to reach the adjustment collar means removing the tank – which is a royal pain. The best option would be a basic Nitron shock from about £400, which would allow remote preload adjustment and rebound adjustment, too. Despite the brakes performing well on the road they suffer from fade on the track, with worse stopping power and more lever travel. New pads should help here.
It’s a blank canvas
Those niggles are fixable, though, and I think the price makes it acceptable to consider a few upgrades that’ll suit the way I ride. I’ve fitted an Arrow exhaust system (£655) that’s boosted power by nearly 5%.
I’ve also added a £355 Rapid Bike EVO, fuelling module which has helped make the throttle response butter smooth and will sort out the fuelling with the Arrow system. Upgrading the tyres to Metzeler Roadtec 01s and then to Pirelli’s Rosso IIIs has transformed the bike, and a few cosmetic upgrades have prettied it up too.
Next up is to sort the suspension. I’m going to replace the rear shock and the fork internals, before getting it set up by SSR Suspension. Hopefully this will make the bike a shaper tool and bring more to the party when I take it on track.
Makes you smile for miles
The Ninja is a practical everyday bike. The fairly upright riding position makes it very comfortable over big distances. Its wind protection is good and the screen is three-way adjustable; I like it best on the mid-setting. The bike is a bit vibey at low revs, but this smooths out at 4400rpm – at backroad speeds, which is where I do most of my riding, this isn’t a problem at all. It might be more of a consideration to those who will want to use the bike from day-to-day in city traffic though. At 80mph it’s doing 6000rpm.
Thanks to the comfortable position and ample legroom, I’ve had no problems covering pretty moderate distances, even on a 500-mile day. It’s also returning 49mpg, even when ridden hard. Mid-60mpg is do-able over easy-going miles.
I’ve really fallen for this simple 650. It’s versatility and friendly, do-it-all nature mean it’s as good for commuting and daily use as for a Sunday blast. With a few upgrades, it should also be a really fun track bike, and with more trackdays on the horizon, I’ll be testing that theory.
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