Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test (2017-on)

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2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650 specs

Specs

Kawasaki Ninja 650 (2017-on)

Engine

649cc Parallel twin

Claimed power

67bhp

Claimed torque

48.5ft-lb

Frame

Tubular steel

Weight

193kg

Fuel capacity

15 litres

Front suspension

Conventional forks, non-adjustable

Rear suspension

Single shock, adjustable spring preload

Front brake

2x300mm discs with two-piston calipers, ABS

Rear brake

220mm disc, single-piston caliper, ABS


Update 15 - Final reflection of our Ninja 650

First published 24 January 2017

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test image fifteen

Truth be told, I wasn’t entirely sure of what to expect from the Ninja 650 at the start of last year. Wannabe sportsbikecommutersports-tourer or a frugal and friendly bike for new riders? But the fact is, the Kawasaki is all of the above.

Jump to:

Now, the power delivery isn’t ever going to set your pants on fire and the 63bhp produced at the back wheel (with an aftermarket Arrow system) is only just enough to make those riders on litre sportsbikes scoff as they stand around "willy waving" at the local café. But, it’s not the size that matters, it’s how you use it.

The thing I love most about the humble 650 is that it really isn’t overkill in the engine and tech department. And, as daft as that may sound, there’s also a strong argument for the less-is-more approach. It’s rapid enough to have fun but you don’t feel the pressure to be the fastest guy out there.

What this translates to is a machine that I have been able to ride close to its limit while not making myself the subject of one of those headlines about bikers who get caught doing 140+mph and I get a lot more satisfaction from this.

It handles well enough and has sufficient poke to mean that I can thrash it and still keep my licence. The cheaper end of mid- capacity market has seen a boom in recent years with bikes like Yamaha’s brilliant MT-07 and the reintroduction of Suzuki’s popular SV650. And, with a price of £6349 (£6549 for the KRT paint) the Ninja 650 slots right into this group.

What you get for the money is unquestionably the best looking 650 twin in the class, and also an extremely capable and competent all-rounder that’s as much fun to ride on track as it is to commute to work.

It’s a bike that will appeal to both newer and more experienced riders alike, with riding qualities that can compliment and flatter both.

The way the Kawasaki eggs you on to get the very most from its engine definitely makes it deserving of the Ninja name. The willy waving brigade can stay in the café and arguing over who’s the fastest. Meanwhile, I’ll be out hooning about on the 650, squeezing everything I can out of the bike and laughing all the way home. It’s a properly enjoyable machine.

Update 14 - Ninja 650 proves a frugal friend

First published 6 December 2017

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test image fourteen

Geek alert coming up – since I’ve had possession of the 650, I’ve kept a meticulous diary of every tank of fuel. This way, I am able to check detailed mpg figures for different scenarios where I’m using the bike. It means I know what my economy figures were every time I’ve used the bike and paints a very good picture of what the Kawasaki returns without any guesswork.

I rarely take it easy on the Ninja when using it day-to-day. I live in the sticks and have a really fun ride to work – on a route that isn’t too busy with other traffic. That said, I’m returning a respectable return of 49.44mpg in the 9500 miles I’ve covered so far. This takes into account my daily commute, which has formed the bulk of the milesthree trackdays and a number of larger motorway trips. Considering that the most of these miles have been covered using as much of the engine as I can on my daily commute, I think it’s pretty impressive going. 

When I take it easy on the bike and cruise to my destination, the Kawasaki returns a very healthy 60mpg... or even slightly more. The highest figure recorded has been 69.54mpg, after some easy miles in the city and a chilled motorway ride. For those who commute in the city and who aren’t revving the bike too hard, I’d expect the 650 to return a healthy economy that begins in the late 50s at least.

Track riding has, at worst, returned 39.16mpg – from a sunny Donington trackday. It’s not exactly a slow circuit either, which means I would have been using the engine to the max.

The worst recorded figures have in fact been a result of very quick German motorway miles, at 2.30am when the roads were clear and the need to get home to my bed, with the 650 near to the very end of its 10,000rpm limit.

So, there’s more to the 49.44mpg than meets the eye. The Ninja 650 has been proving to be pretty good on fuel overall. The main fault for the mpg being so low is due to me, the rider who seeks to enhoy the bike to its full potential. 

Believe me when I say that you could well be sucked into this trap too: the bike naturally encourages you to use every rpm. The friendly motor rewards you with the kind of grin you’d imagine yourself wearing if you were ever to go on a successful date with a supermodel (I’m accepting applications).

Update 13 - Ninja by name, Ninja by nature?

First published 28 September 2017

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test image thirteen

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. 

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.

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.

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.

Update 12 - 5 Ninja 650 learnings in 5000 miles

First published 9 August 2017

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test image twelve

Watching the odometer tick over from 4,999 miles to the big 5,000 on the Kawasaki Ninja 650 was a really satisfying moment. What’s even better is knowing that all those hours and miles I’ve covered on the bike have been enjoyable, and that for me really speaks volumes about the cracking 650 twin.

So, with that in mind I thought i'd identify five things I’ve learned about the bike in on my journey to #ride5000miles

1. It goes the distance

I ride every day, do big stints and enjoy sporty machines. What this essentially means is that I want my bikes to be practical, comfortable and most of all fun. I can safely say that my time with the Ninja 650 has proved to tick all of these boxes and then some.

It can handle distances easily with the fairly upright position making it a cinch to ride all day without any aches or pains whatsoever. The adjustable screen is also a great feature and allows me to put it in the best position to suit the riding I’m doing. I’ve ridden it from the midlands to my Devonshire homeland on numerous occasions and ridden to Belgium and back, finding that the bike does the business of mile-munching perfectly.

2. It’s so much more rewarding on the road

One of the things I really enjoy with the Ninja is that I can use most of the bike much closer to its limit than an all-out sportsbike. While on paper this might sound a little disheartening – it’s not. What it means is that on every single ride I feel like I’m getting a lot out of the machine and I’m the one controlling the bike, not the other way around. Each ride it comes alive and makes me feel like I’m Jonny Rea as I charge along the backroads on my way home. I can honestly say that for me this is much more rewarding than going twice as fast on a bike where you’re only using 10% of its potential and relying on multi-stage traction control and all the latest electronic wizardry to keep the bike upright.

3. Change the tyres

The Dunlop Sportmax D214 tyres that came as standard on the Ninja weren’t the most inspiring and didn’t give me the confidence to push the bike as much as I wanted. I replaced them with a set of Metzeler Roadtec 01s and the transformation was incredible. It felt like the budget suspension had been upgraded and the difference in feel and wet grip was incredible. These are hands down the best all-round road tyre I’ve used and while they only lasted 3,800 miles, I had done 2 trackdays and plenty of motorway miles in that time. What they ultimately do to the Ninja is transcend it and flatter both my riding and the suspension. 

4. It’s a banging budget bike

The price has to be the most appealing thing about this machine. Starting at £6,349 for the standard machine or £6,549 for the iconic green KRT paint scheme, this bike is a wallet-friendly warrior. I honestly don’t think there’s a bike in this price bracket that looks quite as good or inspires this much fun and confidence.

5. It’s great for any rider

If I’m completely honest, before I got the Ninja I was a little worried that it might seem a little dull or that it wouldn’t offer enough excitement. I was happy to banish these worries from the second I started riding it and instead found that it’s a brilliant machine for any rider. 

It’s friendly enough for someone who might be newer to motorcycling and offers loads of potential as a brilliant tool to learn on. Yet at the same time, it offers plenty to those who have been riding for years with its flattering nature and fun motor that eggs you on in every instance. It’s plenty fast enough for the road and is a really fun bike to take on track too.

Overall, my time with the Ninja 650 so far has been a really enjoyable experience and I’m ready and looking forward to smashing the next 5,000 miles – if they’re anything as good as the first 5k then I’m in for a treat.

Update 11 - Time for more tyres on the Ninja 650

First published 28 Juily 2017

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test image eleven

Metzeler’s Roadtec 01 tyres were a complete revelation for the Ninja 650 when I fitted them a few months back but now it’s time to try something else. 

I’ve opted for a sportier tyre and have chosen to fit the Pirelli Diablo Rosso IIIs. I’m hoping that I can make the most of the summer while it’s briefly here and also because I’d like to take the 650 on track a bit more — where the said tyre will be better suited.

More of the MCN Fleet

In the time that I’ve had the Metzelers fitted, I’ve covered around 3800 miles before wearing the tyres to the legal limit across the middle of the tread. This might not seem a lot — especially with their high cost of £256.

But given that the tyres saw a lot of motorway miles, including a trip to Belgium, two track days and a hill climb, I don’t think the usage time is too bad. 

Thanks to the heavily treaded pattern, the Roadtecs excelled in the wet too, and  the 650 felt loads better from the moment I fitted them.

The thing that surprised me most was just how much Metzelers complemented the suspension of the 650. It made the bike feel almost like it had been upgraded, they were really that good!

I can honestly say that I think they’re the best tyres I’ve used and I’d have been more than happy to fit a fresh rear and spend the rest of the summer on them.

For the sake of variety, and to see how other tyres responded, I opted for the Pirellis though.

With less tread, they’re not going to be as good as the Metzelers in the rain, but it’s a small compromise given the time of year and while they don’t flatter the 650 in quite the same way, they offer a very neutral and balanced feel to what is happening with the bike. They also give excellent grip in the dry too.

While I’m sorry to see the Metzeler Roadtec 01s go, I’m also excited to spend the summer on the Rosso III’s.

Now I just need to get on some more trackdays.

Update 10 - Exhausting stuff for the Ninja 650

First published 10 July 2017

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test image ten

One of the things I’ve been interested in with my Kawasaki Ninja 650 long term bike this year has been its power output. Now I don’t think that it’s particularly bad as standard, and most of the time it’s usually enough to satisfy on the road.

However on track it does show its lack of grunt from the 649cc parallel twin engine – something that was particularly evident when I went to Spa-Francorchamps — as the litre bikes were blitzing past me on the long Kemmel Straight

I do understand that I’m not going to make any massive gains with the power without any major engine work. Maybe if someone was intending to take it the the Isle of Man TT Races it may be something to consider perhaps? But not for everyday and occasional track use.

So, I decided to fit a new exhaust system and wanted to take a measure of the gains (if any).

While speaking with MCNs Senior Road Tester Adam Child – who’s raced at the TT on the Ninja 650s predecessor, the ER-6 — he recommended an Arrow system.

In conjunction with this, I was having the bike serviced at Chris Walker’s Kawasaki Dealership the other week and chose to make use of his dyno.

Arrow system v Standard

We did a before and after run with the Ninja to accurately judge what happens with and without the Arrow system.

Dyno results

Kawasaki claim 67bhp at the crank for the 650 and when on the dyno, the bike was measured to put out 60.38bhp at the back wheel. With an average loss of about 10% between the crank and rear wheel, it was roughly about what I was expecting to see.

The Arrow system measured 63.48bhp at the back wheel, marking an increase of 3.1bhp which wasn’t quite as large as I was hoping for. Interestingly though, there were gains across the whole rev range that averaged between 2-3bhp.

Now, it doesn’t seem like a lot but the extra few horses are noticeable and the bike feels that little bit punchier. I never thought I’d be able to feel those kinds of differences, but I was proved wrong.

The new Arrow system is lacking a catalytic converter, the manifold pipes are stainless steeland the silencer finished in Carbon and Nicrom (an alloy with stainless steel).

Who needs Weight Watchers?

What this all means in figures is that the Arrow system is like being on a juicing diet for the Ninja, losing a hefty 4.447kg over the chunky stock system, which tipped the scales at 8.02kg to the Arrow’s paltry 3.573kg.

The Euro4 compliant silencer gives the twin a bit of extra bark and makes the engine sound that little bit nicer. The only downside is the baffle isn’t removable.

To ensure the can went through Euro4 regulations, Arrow had to make the baffle a permanent fixture, done by means of a small tab welded to the baffle which doesn’t allow the circlip to be removed and thus not allowing the baffle to be freed.

Removing the baffle

There is a way out! With a little bit of carful drift and hammer work, and with the silencer held in a vice, a simple knock to the tab saw it come out pretty easily.

The 63.48hp measure was taken without the baffle in and it actually made the bike run a little leaner. I’ll be looking at fitting a fuel module in the future to correct this but at the moment there isn’t one available for the 650.

I could get the ECU re-flashed to correct it, but this is not something I would recommend as it would invalidate the warranty should something go wrong with the bike later on.

With the baffle removed, the exhaust is LOUD! I’m a bit of a lairy rider, I like to hear the bike making fruity noises, and I'm addicted to the pops and bangs on the overrun.

A couple of downsides; Not only does the exhaust (without the baffle) make my whole body reverberate when I'm just standing next to it, it sometimes becomes the centre of attention, and not necessarily in a good way.

I’ve actually decided to keep the baffle in, for fear of getting evicted by my landlord for making excessive noise at home (it really is that loud). And I honestly can’t imagine it being able to get through any noise tests on a trackday.

The best feature of the new system is the price. Considering Yoshimura's Stainless Alpha system costs £752 and the Akrapovic system from Kawasaki costs a meaty £1029.95, I was pleasantly surprised to find out the Arrow system is just £655 – clearly a massive saving over the competition. Don't you think?

Next, I plan to take the Ninja back on track (haven't decided where yet) and then look at making some alterations to the suspension. Perhaps I'll also replace the brake pads and I'll get a fuel module fitted (if one becomes available). Then put it back on the dyno and measure it all over again.

Update 9 - Service time again for the Ninja 650

First published 27 June 2017

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test image nine

I’ve been using the Ninja 650 now for a few months now and am really pleased with how things are panning out with the bike. It’s practical, fun, comfortable and I think it looks absolutely fantastic – especially given the £6,549 price-tag.

In the time that I’ve had the green machine I’ve covered 4,500 miles and so, the time came for the Ninja to return to Kawasaki for its second service.

I opted to head to Chris Walker’s Kawasaki dealership as it wasn’t too far away from my base. The service itself was pretty straightforward – all that was required was a simple oil and filter change, with a general check over of the machine. It wasn’t a lengthy process and was completed quickly and efficiently by the staff at Chris’ dealership.

While I was there, I asked the mechanics about the suspension. I was curious to see if there was a trick I might have been missing regarding the rear shock and its seeming impossibility to adjust the preload. Turns out I wasn’t, it’s just a right bugger if you want to alter it.

I’m a little confused in the thinking behind the rear shock, given that it’s the only adjustment you can make to the suspension system, I’d have thought it would have been easier to get at – instead the shock needs to be removed.

It’s not something that I think the average rider would be doing with the bike and, in all honesty, it’s a massive faff I could do without. So, I’m going to keep the suspension settings as they are for now and investigate to see if I can find a new shock that I can adjust to fit to the bike a little later.

The cost of the service came to £92.47 and included the oil, oil filter and adjustments, which I didn’t think was too bad.

The next service now will be due at 7,500 miles, it’s more involved with a lot more to inspect on the Ninja. Larger services on the schedule are carried out at 15,000 and 22,500 miles, with the valve clearances not needing to be done until 26,250 miles.

Update 8 - Upgrade time for the Ninja 650

First published 20 June 2017

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test image eight

I stumbled into the office to laughter, hidden behind a load of boxes that had been delivered. I must have looked ridiculous but I didn’t care, I was excited.

The contents of said boxes were a load of accessories for my Ninja 650. With parts to make the bike perform and look better, solve problems I’ve encountered and make it more practical.

I wanted to tidy up the back end on the Ninja, so joining the R&G tail tidy (£79.99) I’d already fitted was a set of R&G pillion footrest blanking plates (£40.99) and a seat cowl from Kawasaki (£157.95). They’re simple additions but will really transform the profile of the bike. I’ve also got some replacement R&G cotton reels (£20.50) after the right-hand bobbin melted when I used the bike at Spa Francorchamps the other week.

Another problem I wanted to overcome was fitting luggage to the rear of the bike. In its standard trim, the only place you can properly attach anything is to the pillion footrest hangers, which have a couple of hooks. The thing is, they don’t allow me to securely tie luggage down and whenever I’ve tried previously, I would find that my luggage would be pulled down the seat and wobble pretty badly meaning I’ve avoided trying to attach anything on trips. Plus, the footrest blanking plates will mean that there will be nowhere at all to strap anything now. 

To solve this, I’ve got a Kawasaki luggage system (£360.90) to fit. The peanut-sized 14 litre saddlebags don’t look like they’ll hold too much and they’re not exactly secure either, with no way at all to lock them or even fit luggage padlocks. But at least with the luggage rack I’ll also be able to also attach my roll-bag that houses my tent and sleeping kit, just in time for some camping trips this summer. The saddlebags will at least also allow me to take a few extra essentials as well, though I’d have expected them to be a little larger and more secure considering the price. 

Improving the performance will be an Arrow exhaust system. It’s not going to be the cheapest modification to make to the bike, but I’m really interested in seeing just how much you can get from the 650 and if it’s worth replacing the standard system. I’d also like to see if the new exhaust will point the gasses away from the Paddock bobbins to avoid it melting when I take to the track again next month.

Next steps now will be to get it all fitted. The bike is also overdue its 4,000-mile service now as well so I’m heading over to Chris Walker’s Kawasaki dealership this week to get the work carried out. While I’m there I’ll also be putting the bike on his dyno to see just how much it’s making in standard trim and how much the gains will be with the Arrow system fitted.

Update 7 - Can you take the Ninja 650 on track?

First published 2 June 2017

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test image seven

Kawasaki’s Ninja 650 certainly has the looks, but I wanted to find out just what it would be like on track. And an offer to ride at Belgium’s iconic Spa Francorchamps wasn't exactly something I could turn down when it was presented to me… 

Spa is one of the fastest circuits in the world, add in the fact that I’ve not done too much riding on track and I was realistic in my expectations of what both myself and the Ninja would be able to do there. 

Going beyond its limits

It’s fair to say that I was taking the bike way beyond its intended everyday use. On arrival to Spa, I found that the Ninja was easily the lowest powered modern bike there by some margin. The closest comparable machines were a few 600cc sports bikes, with most having at least a good 40bhp more than the modest 67 horses that the 650 brought to the table. I was there simply to discover more about my riding, learn more about the Ninja and most importantly, enjoy myself. 

I already knew the suspension limitations were going to prove mostly inadequate, and that the low power was going to see me blitzed on the long Kemmel Straight, but that wasn’t going to stop me having fun.

The only adjustability in the suspension comes from the preload in the rear. I knew it was tricky to get at, believing that all that I needed to do was remove a panel to gain access to the adjuster, if only it were that simple…

Turns out that it’s next to impossible to get at without removing. Something I hadn’t quite anticipated as I sat outside the hotel the night before trying to set the bike up for the track. A new suspension unit was already on the list of modifications I wanted to make to the bike, but is now creeping up higher on my list of priorities.

How did the Ninja do?

The Metzeler Roadtec 01’s performed a lot better than I thought they would too. These aren’t a track tyre by any means and on a more powerful bike they probably wouldn’t have lasted long at all. On the Ninja they surprised me though, there’s still plenty of life in them yet and they offered a good amount of feel when I was wobbling around the circuit. 

The brakes didn’t inspire as much confidence as the tyres though and after two laps were starting to fade really badly. I’m going to try a new set of pads though to see what difference they make next time and I think it’s fair to point out that they weren’t intended for this kind of use at all.

The small and light weight of the Ninja makes it really easy to feed through the corners and despite the suspension, it still feels surprisingly agile and let me carry a fair bit of speed through the turns.

The pegs were an area I was surprised with. The rubber tops made for a vague feeling from the bike. I found them especially slippery when I was leaning off the Ninja, with my feet never feeling truly secure on them. I can imagine that Kawasaki have used this rubber to reduce vibrations from the twin, improving comfort on longer journeys. They weren’t ideal for Spa though.

The R&G paddock bobbins (£20.50) also threw up a surprise too, and coming in from my second session I looked down to find that the right one had melted! Turns out that the exhaust gasses flow directly over it and the heat caused the right cotton reel to melt, something to be mindful of in future.

Flattery gets you everywhere

Overall though and despite a couple of niggles, the Ninja performed admirably. It carries its corner speed well, was flattering to my inexperience with circuit riding and has inspired loads of confidence. Sure, I might have been in the Novice group, but catching guys riding on bikes such as BMWs ballistic S1000RR or Ducati’s 1299 Panigale through the corners on the fastest circuit in the world on the humble 650 leaves me with a happiness and satisfaction that’s hard to match.

I think that this feeling translates well across to how I use it on the road too, whenever I ride it I feel like I’m getting so much more from the bike and ride it well within my own capabilities. There’s something to be said for riding a machine such as the Ninja a lot closer to its limit than say a 190+bhp sportsbike. It makes me feel like I’m getting so much more from both my riding and the motorcycle most of the time I’m using it.

Going forward

My aim over the summer now will be to dress the bike with a few new parts; namely an aftermarket exhaust, new suspension and try some more tyres. A power commander and some new pegs or rearsets and some brake pads will also be on the cards. I’ll also get it put on a dyno so that I can measure what I’m doing with the exhaust and anything I do regarding the fuelling. Then hopefully at the end of summer I will have a good picture what I think works well regarding how I use the bike. 

Sure, the Ninja has a couple of improvement areas, but I don’t really view these as a determent to the bike overall. I see it as more of a blank canvas and think that the £6.5k price justifies factoring in a few additional parts and accessories that will complement the way I’m riding it and what I want to do on it.

Update 6 - Ninja accessories (not throwing stars or Nunchucks)

First published 17 May 2017

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test image six

With its sporty profile, the Ninja 650 quite understandably comes without a centre stand. This can be a bit of a problem when it comes to maintaining the chain.

A quick look on the R&G website revealed they had some bits specifically designed to fit the new 650 so alongside some cotton reels (£20.50) to let me use a paddock stand, I also ordered a set of crash bungs (£68.99) and a tail tidy (£79.99) to fit on the Kawasaki.

The cotton reels literally just bolt straight onto the swingarm and only took a couple of minutes to put on the bike. The crash bungs were also a straightforward fit and simply involved removing a couple of mounting bolts and replacing them with the longer ones supplied by R&G. Simples.

I personally think it’s good to have them fitted, they’ll hopefully limit the damage that otherwise might happen if the bike is accidentally put down. I know I’d much rather replace a set of crash bungs than potentially a set of engine casings, so in my view it’s money well spent. Fitting them is dead easy too, which is always a massive bonus. 

The tail tidy does away with the large item that comes as standard on the bike, it makes the back end of the bike look much neater and more compact. It leaves the bike without a gaping great bracket for the number plate sticking out the rear of the bike. Fitting it is a little trickier than the bungs or cotton reels, but only takes an hour or so when working at a leisurely pace. More importantly, it’s a simple bolt-on job, you don’t need to drill or cut anything to make it fit.

The R&G range for the Ninja 650 is the most extensive I’ve come across yet and there’s also casing covers available, radiator guards and blanking plates for the pillion footrests, something that I might need to look at getting when I replace the pillion seat with a cowl.

Contact www.rg-racing.com

Update 5 - Your Ninja 650 questions answered

First published 3 May 2017

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test image five

I’ve done just shy of 3000 miles on the Kawasaki Ninja 650 now so am building up quite a good idea of what the bike is like to live with every day.

In the time that I've had it a few people have been in touch with questions, so I thought I’d post some of the common ones asked.

Do you find the suspension a bit wallowy? I had a Ninja 300 and tightened the shock, can that be done on this bike? - Heidi Smith

As a budget orientated bike, the suspension is pretty basic on the 650. The forks have no adjustment at all and the rear only has preload adjustment – which is hideously awkward to change and involves taking a side panel off.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s not as bad as some units I’ve tried on bikes that cost more, which I think says quite a lot for the bike given that it only costs £6,500. When pushing on, it starts to struggle on good roads and I plan on replacing the rear shock and the fork internals later in the year to see what improvements can be made.

In everyday riding scenarios and for commuting though, it is perfectly adequate. Overall, I think Kawasaki have done OK with the suspension for the price you pay.

The bike is probably more hindered by the tyres than the suspension. The standard Dunlop D214s that come on the machine don’t give much feel or feedback. I feel this is possibly the area that shows the budget price tag the most. 

You don’t get a great amount of feel for what’s going on with the standard rubber and in the wet I didn’t have any confidence in the tyres at all. Since then, I’ve replaced them with a set of Metzeler Roadtec 01’s and they’ve completely transformed the bike. It feels more alive, more planted and gives a much better response to what’s happening on the road beneath me. 

I’m new to riding and can’t make my mind up on which to choose, the Kawasaki Ninja 650 or the Honda CBR650F, which would you have? - Baris Dal

Both are similarly aspirational motorcycles, I’d suggest going to view each, have a sit on them and also take them for a test ride if you can to find out which you prefer. The biggest difference between them is the motor – the Kawasaki is a parallel twin and the Honda is an inline four (and slightly more powerful). Ride them both and see which you get on with better and make your decision around that. 

Personally, I like the Ninja over the CBR. But that isn’t for any other particular reason other than I simply like the looks of the Kawasaki more. It is also considerably cheaper and would be the machine that I would realistically spend my own money on. However, they’re both great bikes.

How are you finding the Ninja overall? How is it on the motorway? - John Allen

It might not have the grunt of a proper ZX-6R but I’m finding that it’s enough for everyday scenarios and does the job of offering heaps of fun on twisty roads. Also, its semi-sporting profile is great for helping egg you on when you get on some belting B-roads.

Thankfully your weight doesn’t sit completely on your wrists as per a normal sportsbike, making it good for motorway miles too. I’ve done a few bigger trips on it now with a trip to Dartmouth being the longest so far. It was about 4 and a half hours and was comfortable for the whole ride.

It’ll sit comfortably at 70mph at about 6000 or so rpm, and will top out at about 120mph. And its torque gives enough grunt to get you there with relative ease. That said, I’ve been told that there’s more to unlock from the top end of the rev range of the 650 twin as Kawasaki had to dumb it down slightly to get it to meet the strict Euro4 regulations, so this is something I tend to try and explore.

I also want to get the ECU re-mapped and stick an aftermarket exhaust on to free up some of those extra horses.

How far will a full tank of petrol get you? - Nitish Nair

The range of the bike is something that I’m not entirely satisfied with. I will only regularly get between 100-120 miles from a full tank before the reserve light starts flashing at me. 

It isn’t that the bike has a bad range either, the 15-litre tank will get a theoretical 163 miles before it’s run completely dry, based on the 49.41mpg I’m currently returning.  

What I don’t really understand is how a reserve tank should last 50-60 miles, in my mind it should surely be used for maybe half of that range as I find it quite unnerving and sometimes unsettling to find that the reserve light is flashing at me, even if it is doing so unnecessarily, as I’ll only be filling it with between 10-13 litres, meaning that there’s still 2-5 litres in the tank.

How good is the bike at stop-go traffic speeds? Does the engine feel jerky and heavy? - Joshua Ryan

The Ninja 650 makes a brilliant commuter bike. The motor is frugal and very easy to live with. It’s very forgiving and friendly when using the bike in slow moving traffic, making it a doddle to get on with when negotiating four-wheeled obstacles in the city. 

The slip-assist clutch is light and makes it easy to feather without putting too much strain on the forearms - the relaxed seating position helps too. 

It’s also a nice bike to filter on. The profile of the Ninja is pretty narrow meaning that its simple to flick the bike between cars.

Update 4 - New tyres transform the Ninja 650

First published 18 April 2017

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test image four

The Metzeler Roadtec 01 tyres that replaced the OE spec Dunlop Sportmax D214s have completely transformed the Ninja 650.

I decided to change tyres after finding the standard D214s to be lacking in feel when I was able to start using the bike properly. It was especially bad when using the bike in the rain, leaving little confidence or faith in the Ninja.

I feel that the D214s are the area that highlight the Ninja’s budget price-tag more than anything else, and make the lack of adjustment in the suspension far more noticeable.

Covering a total of 1,800 miles on the standard tyres before upgrading, I’d wanted to be sure that they were used in varying conditions and on differing roads to make sure I had a good overall impression of what they were like for an everyday rider.

After talking about the problem to Senior Road Tester Michael Neeves he recommended changing the tyres before starting to try and upgrade the suspension.

With a set of Roadtec 01s fitted I found the bike to behave in a very different way. They flatter the budget suspension in a way that the D214s could only dream. And though it still struggles and is still wallowy when really pushing on, it’s far less noticeable.

Besides that, the bike feels more connected to the road, it’s more agile and responsive. It turns in easier and feels far better through the middle of the corner. They also warm up quicker too. 

I didn’t think it would be as noticeable as it has been but would now wholeheartedly recommend upgrading the stock tyres to something better. Especially if you might be commuting in the rain.

The Metzelers aren’t cheap at £261.75 for the set, but damn they’re good.

Photos: Dennis Wood/James Archibald

Update 3 - Frugal, fun and first service done for the Ninja 650

First published 29 March 2017

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test image three

My first week with Kawasaki’s Ninja 650 was purely about running the bike in and getting it to its first service as quickly as possible so I can start having some proper fun on it – resulting in me using the bike for a trip to the English Riviera of Dartmouth to help load some miles. 

The ride to Dartmouth and my subsequent commuting though took me to my first service with ease. Just a week after I received the Ninja, I found myself riding it to Kawasaki’s UK HQ in Bourne End on a glorious sunny morning, excited to finally have the bike ready to be used without restraint.

The first service is just the routine changing of oil and checking that everything is well with the machine, all of which were fine with the Ninja meaning that it’s all good to go now.

The return journey saw me click over my first thousand miles with the bike. I’m well on my way to hitting my MCN  #ride5000miles target and more importantly, I’m now all set to make the most of the Ninja through this summer. Bring it on.

Update 2 - Introducing the Ninja 650

First published 22 March 2017 

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test image two

The first thing that struck me about the new Kawasaki Ninja 650 was just how pretty it is. Kawasaki have really hit the nail on the head with the design, it looks absolutely fantastic. When has a budget bike ever looked so good? It may not be a ZX-10 by a long way, but it looks every bit as mean, and I really like that.

My first week and a half with Kawasaki’s new Ninja have been pleasant, if somewhat muted as I had to ride frugally while running it in. Short-shifting it to keep the revs low on some of my favourite road. Overall though the first impressions of the Ninja have been spot-on and I’m really excited to be using it this year. I definitely think I made the right decision in choosing the 650.

Update 1 -  There’s a new Ninja in town

First published 21 March 2017

Kawasaki Ninja 650 long-term test image one

The new Kawasaki Ninja 650 instantly grabbed my attention when it was revealed at the Intermot show last year with the completely new styling and frame making this machine much more than just a re-hashed ER-6f. My job this year will be to put it to the through its paces and see if the baby Ninja really is worthy of the prestigious name it boasts.

At the forefront of my mind when I think of this bike though is riding development, it’s supposed to be a cracking little number for newer riders, and though I’ve been riding for nearly 6 years now, I’d like to see how I can use it to get better. To do this I want to take it to the track and learn more about my technique without having ridiculous amounts of power egging me on. The frugal 67bhp motor will help me focus on my riding the right way, while also seeing if the bike can excite and evoke an emotional response in a similar way to a ZX-6R or the big daddy of the family, the ZX-10R.

But alongside that, I want to find out just how comfortable, practical and easy the Ninja will be to get along with. Full-fat sportsbikes are usually fairly uncompromising and sharp, focussed solely on getting around a track in the quickest time possible, the Ninja 650 isn’t that, but I’m interested to find out how much of a compromise it is, either as a sportsbike or an everyday machine.

There seems to be some sort of resurgence of slightly more practical sporty looking mid-capacity bikes at the moment though, bubbling away under the surface of the motorcycling mainstream. With the introduction of Ducati’s new Supersport S and the fact that Honda will be stopping production of the tack-sharp CBR600RR to instead focus on the easier to live with CBR650F, and let’s not forget the CBR500R in the midst of all this offing a sporty looking practical bike. Could it be that the Ninja 650 is part of a shift to where middleweight sportsbikes will be going in future?

We all have dream garages, full of all kinds of expensive exotica, the reality though is that a lot of these bikes are beyond the financial reach of many riders. More so, they often aren’t bikes that owners would want to use on a regular basis. This is where the Ninja 650 steps into view, its wallet-friendly price-tag starting at £6,349 means it’s well within reach of a lot of motorcyclists. And that’s near enough it too, you don’t get slammed with extra hidden costs for electronic add-ons and endless accessories catalogues, it’s just a bike, pure and simple and that’s a very good thing in my eyes. 

It looks to be a straightforward motorcycle for simply riding and enjoying and I really can’t wait for it to arrive.

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James Archibald

By James Archibald

Former MCN Junior Web Producer