2015 Kawasaki Ninja 650 ABS Test
The Kawasaki Ninja 650 ABS is predictable from start to finish, and I mean that in the very best sense of the word. Predictable acceleration, braking, and handling–predictable in that you know the motorcycle has your back. If traffic suddenly changes and you have to make a quick adjustment, or if bumps and ripples appear on the road, the bike takes it all in stride. This is the kind of motorcycle you can depend on day in and day out, and it will still treat you well on the weekends.
It has been 10 years since Kawasaki first introduced the parallel twin Ninja 650 and, other than a few changes in 2009, including a retuned engine, there hasn’t been a lot of tinkering with the successful Ninja 650 recipe—and that’s exactly as it should be.
The middleweight Kawasaki Ninja 650 is a versatile size. While some riders are always going to opt for a larger engine with more power, the mid-size Ninja has a great balance between power, weight, and handling. Sure, more power in your right hand gives you a rush, but it takes more attention and finesse to keep that power under control. The Ninja 650 has enough torque and acceleration to keep you ahead of the four-wheeled traffic, and there’s little effort dishing it out or reining it in. You’re always in the saddle, moving with the bike—not hanging on or fighting it.
A successful motorcycle starts with well-thought out ergonomics. While seat height is invariably a personal dimension that those on either extreme have to deal with, the Ninja 650’s 31.7-inch saddle accommodates a hefty chunk of the population. My inseam is 30.5 inches, and I am flat-footed at stops. Nothing ensures confidence like being able to comfortably touch down when you need to, so right away I’m a happy camper on this Kawasaki 650.
Throw into this comfort mix a reasonable curb weight of 465 pounds, upright seating thanks to traditional handlebars, and easy clutch engagement, and it’s smiles all around. Moving off idle is effortless, as there’s no fussy timing needed, and clicking through the gears shows off a perfectly dialed-in transmission. There are no missed shifts, or hunting for neutral at stops—the Ninja 650 transmission works exactly as it should.
The cogs in the six-speed gearbox are well-spaced for around town riding, and there’s plenty low and mid-range torque right where you need it. Casual riding along suburban boulevards is a carefree affair—fun and uncomplicated.
If you need to pick up the pace, or dive onto a freeway onramp, twist the throttle. There’s plenty of acceleration available from the oversquare engine that revs at a satisfying rate. The power is never uncontrollable though, so the Ninja 650 is not a handful of bike waiting to trip you up.
The suspension works well for the bike’s intended audience. It’s a comfortable ride in real-world road conditions, so the forks and shock handle bumps and ripples without losing their composure, yet are firm enough for a good romp in the canyon. Dual 330mm discs up front engage faithfully, without a nervous overbite, so you can ride with enthusiasm instead of reservation. The rear 220mm rotor does a fine job at lower speeds and is quite useful.
In dry conditions the Dunlop tires have plenty of grip and are well-matched to the brakes, so the ABS rarely is activated. If you ride in wet conditions, or on dirty roads, the ABS will certainly be a must-have option and well worth a $400 premium.
While the Kawasaki Ninja 650 isn’t a supersport bike—despite its supersport good looks— it is certainly capable of going triple digit speeds. Not that I am endorsing such numbers, but it’s good to know that it’s more than stable well-above posted freeway speeds.
Everyday freeway commuting duties are a breeze on the Ninja 650—rain grooves don’t bother the Dunlop Sportmax Roadsmart II tires, the mirrors reflect a sharp image, and the windscreen sends most of the blast over your helmet. When traffic is congested on my way to work, the 650 calmly moves through the mess, allowing me to keep 100-percent of my attention on the unpredictable four-wheeled vehicles. The torque in the low to mid-range perfectly covers this kind of riding.
It’s the simple stuff that makes it work. Keeping their eyes on the basics, the details that most affect the average rider, is what makes the 2015 Kawasaki Ninja 650 such a pleasure to ride. No, it’s not the sexiest, flashiest, largest, shiniest, toughest bike on the showroom floor. But the Kawasaki Ninja 650 is the one that many will head to when we’re looking for a reliable, fun bike that won’t break the budget.
Helmet: Arai Corsair-V Nakagami
Headwear: Style Saver Scarves
Jacket: Dainese Cage Pelle Lady
Gloves: Dainese Redgate Lady
Pants: Dainese Pony C2 Pelle Lady
Boots: Dainese Avant Race Lady
2015 Kawasaki Ninja 650 Specs:
- Engine: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, parallel twin
- Displacement: 649cc
- Bore x stroke: 83 x 60mm
- Compression ratio: 10.8:1
- Fuel system: DFI w/ dual 38mm throttle bodies
- Ignition: TCBI w/ digital advance
- Transmission: 6-speed
- Final drive: Chain
- Front suspension: 41mm forks; 4.9 inches of travel
- Rear suspension: Single shock w/ 5-position spring preload adjustment; 5.1 inches of travel
- Front tire: 120/70 x 17; Dunlop Sportmax Roadsmart II
- Rear tire: 160/60 x 17; Dunlop Sportmax Roadsmart II
- Front brake: Dual 300m petal-style discs w/ 4-piston calipers
- Rear brake: 220mm petal-style rotor w/ 2-piston caliper
- ABS: Optional
- Frame: Perimeter-design high-tensile steel
- Rake: 25 degrees
- Trail: 4.3 inches
- Wheelbase: 55.5 inches
- Overall length: 83.1 inches
- Overall width: 30.3 inches
- Overall height: 46.5 inches
- Ground clearance: 5.1 inches
- Seat height: 31.7 inches
- Curb weight: 465 pounds
- Fuel capacity: 4.2 gallons
- Warranty: 12 month limited
2015 Kawasaki Ninja 650 Colors:
- Candy Lime Green/Metallic Flat Spark Black
- Metallic Spark Black/Metallic Flat Spark Black
- Pearl Flat Stardust White/Metallic Flat Spark Black
2015 Kawasaki Ninja 650 Prices:
- MSRP: $7599 (ABS, tested); $7199 (standard)
Kawasaki Ninja 650 Gallery
Photography by Don Williams