While recent studies suggest multi-tasking may not be good for the brain, Kawasaki’s Ninja 650R has been doing a flawless job of wearing several hats since its introduction in 2006.
As an easy-to-handle, non-threatening sport bike, it continues to serve novice motorcycle riders, as well as re-entry riders, admirably, even while it has enough spunk to satisfy experienced pilots in the canyons and on the track.
The mid-size Ninja 650R also works well as a commuter’s companion, its narrow physique and light weight allowing for easy maneuvering amongst unruly 4-wheeled vehicles.
The Ninja 650’s vital stats place the bike in the comfort zone of a wide range of motorcyclists; the 31-inch seat height actually feels lower than it is due to the narrowed seat near the tank, and 450-pound (claimed) curb weight is carried low, which boosts rider confidence when controlling the bike at slow speeds.
Similarly, the ergonomics favor a comfortable, almost upright riding position, and the controls are within easy reach. I don’t have small hands, but keeping the front brake lever covered on my 25-minute commute to work is a bit tiring–even with the front brake dialed all the way in, it was still a bit of a stretch for me.
The 649cc liquid-cooled parallel twin has a most agreeable personality. The 6-speed transmission works flawlessly and missed shifts are rare enough to be considered non-existent.
Tuned for low to mid-range power, it is easy to control off idle and docile on first impression–which isn’t a bad thing. On busy streets, keeping an eye on cross traffic, driveways, stoplights, and pedestrians takes enough of one’s attention; having a handful of bike to keep track of at the same time is distracting and fatiguing.
When quarters aren’t so tight or busy, the Ninja shows off its respectable legs. The DOHC four-valves-per-cylinder fuel-injected twin rolls on impressively well. You can run it up to triple digits without a quiver, courtesy of the steel trellis frame, 55.5-inch wheelbase and solid suspension.
At more sensible speeds, riders will appreciate the rubber-mounted elements (upper rear engine mounts and handlebar) and rubber-coated footpegs, which keep vibration to a minimum and make longer excursions less fatiguing. The small windshield is also welcome, as it deflects most wind over the rider.
The fairing-mounted six-sided mirrors, however, could use some vibration control. They don’t provide a sharp view of rearward activity, and their unusual shape took a lot of adjusting from me to find the optimum position for maximum visibility.
In the canyons I am less concerned about what’s going on behind me. Here, the docile 650’s warrior personality emerges, and the sweeping digital tach on the dash could just as well be monitoring my adrenaline as I squeeze the brakes, trail off and quickly roll on throttle.
The twin 300mm petal disc brakes up front (single 220mm in rear) provide the confidence to ride fast and brake late, and the tires stayed glued to the asphalt.
Riding hard into tight downhill turns, the limitations of the 41mm hydraulic forks make themselves known, as the front end Gs out. But this is not a race bike and the suspension is generally spot-on. Generally, the 650R turns nimbly in side-to-side transitions, making it a competent canyon bike.
Two thumbs up for the clean sleek lines, starting with the Ninja’s elongated squinty-eyed dual headlights and integrated turn signals, giving the stink-eye to anyone crossing its path.
The angular planes of the fairing draw your focus across the organic tank-which blends surprisingly well with the otherwise angular elements-and back toward the rear cowl. Tucked discreetly low on the right side of the bike, and aiding in its low center of gravity, is a train whistle-looking muffler.
The engine is shrouded in matte black panels with no distracting ornamentation.
The 2010 color options particularly complement the design. The neon royal blue and neon green (more formally known as Metallic Island Blue and Candy Lime Green) pop off the monochromatic panels in a very pleasing manner.
Even the all-black (Ebony) option looks sharp. Matching the side-mounted shock’s spring color to the plastic color–on the Metallic Island Blue version, only–is a great detail. (Now if they’d just painted the rims to match…)
The instrument panel is uncluttered and well positioned for reading at a glance. The large digital speedometer sits front and center, flanked by a clock on the upper right dash, and a selectable field on the upper left that toggles between trip A, B and the odometer. Fuel consumption is tracked by a bar graph running left to right under the speedo, and the digital tach sweeps across the bottom of the panel.
What is most striking about the Kawasaki Ninja 650R is its flexibility. It’s a fine commuting motorcycle that is also at home tearing it up in the canyons. It’s a simple twin-cylinder motor, yet the bike has an appearance that is reminiscent of the more serious four-cylinder Ninjas.
With its upright riding position and sensible ergonomics, soft bags can easily be added and you have a great backroads sport-touring bike. Pick the use that suits you, knowing that the Ninja 650R is something of a chameleon that can transform whenever your motorcycle riding interests change.
2010 Kawasaki Ninja 650R | Motorcycle Specifications
Engine: Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-valve per cylinder, parallel twin
Bore x stroke: 83.0 x 60.0mm
Compression ratio: 11.3:1
Fuel injection: Digital fuel injection with two 38mm Keihin throttle bodies
Ignition: Digital CDI
Final drive: O-ring chain
Frame: Semi-double cradle, high-tensile steel
Rake / trail: 25 degrees / 4.2 in.
Wheelbase: 55.5 in.
Front suspension / wheel travel: 41mm hydraulic telescopic fork / 4.7 in.
Rear suspension / wheel travel: Single offset shock with adjustable spring preload / 4.9 in.
Front tire: 120/70×17
Rear tire: 160/60×17
Front brake: Dual 300mm petal discs with two-piston calipers
Rear brake: Single 220mm petal disc with single piston caliper
Overall length: 82.7 in.
Overall width: 29.9 in.
Overall height: 47.2 in.
Seat height: 31.1 in.
Curb weight: 450 lbs.
Fuel capacity: 4.1 gal.
Colors: Candy Lime Green, Ebony, Metallic Island Blue
Warranty: 12 months
Motorcycle Riding Apparel
Helmet: Icon Airframe Street Angel
Eyewear: TAG Heuer Zenith
Jacket: Icon Hella Street Angel
Gloves: Icon Merc Long
Jeans: Shift Silhouette
Boots: Tour Master Solution WP Road
Action photography by Kinney Jones