Since its introduction in 2006, the Kawasaki Ninja 650 has garnered the attention of riders across the spectrum. Whether you were someone who had just proudly received an M endorsement or participate in club racing, it has been a practical way into the sport world as an affordable, middleweight bike. This year, the seriously updated 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650 has taken all of that, and seemingly improved upon all aspects.I’m going to go ahead and ignore form, and instead display my unfettered support for the peppy powerplant we have here. The 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650 has power to satisfy its primary market—new and intermediate riders—and still has something for an experienced wrist.
When first firing up the new Ninja 650, you’ll be met with an almost subdued exhaust note, humming along at idle without upsetting the neighbors. With a light clutch pull, thanks to the assist-and-slip clutch, riders will be off and on their way. You can happily take on traffic with your newfound commuting pal, zipping around town with a hearty helping of low and mid-range performance.Power delivery is incredibly tractable—meaning that it builds power predictably—in a direct relationship with how much throttle is applied. There are no sudden jumps or surges from the engine, nor are there any hiccups in the power delivery. Compounding that already positive aspect is the truly impeccable fueling, wherein I found zero faults. It’s crisp and sporty, even as you push it.Still, the parallel twin offers a whole lot more than that—this is a Ninja after all and the name isn’t honorary. Once out into the backcountry, I was able to explore all that the DOHC 649cc engine had to offer.The 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650 makes the vast majority of its torque smack in the middle of the powerband, which will allow inexperienced riders to acclimate themselves with riding. Tactile feedback is great, giving a little extra bump in excitement when out on the road. Unless you’re excessively wringing the neck of the Ninja 650, vibration is kept to a minimum.Shedding its mundane personality above 4500 rpm or so, you’re met with a thrilling induction howl. It truly is an engine where all of its power can be used up to redline, as it doesn’t cease pulling. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or someone who is timid on the throttle, the short-stroke motor gels to the rider in the saddle, accommodating to the pilot’s needs. It doesn’t matter if you are freeway commuting, in the canyons, working through urban street traffic, or on a tight, technical track, the Ninja 650 has the potential to be quite a competitor.Additionally, hard riding is made safer due to the assist-and-slipper clutch. In this case, the slipper clutch function alleviates the problem of locking the rear wheel when you downshift improperly, or rev-match improperly—something that riders at any of the spectrum can appreciate. It can save you from filing insurance claims or ordering Chinese replacement fairings. That said, shifting on the Ninja 650 is precise, and smooth.The style of predictable power delivery is nothing new for the Ninja 650, but the 2017 edition does have some motor changes and improvements are crucial—new Keihin 36mm throttle bodies (down 2mm from last year), a revised camshaft design with reduced operating angle and overlap, a new airbox, narrowed intake ports, and a new exhaust.All of this was done in an effort to increase reliability, and its low to mid-range performance, which Kawasaki has done in spades. Over last year’s model, Kawasaki has improved the mid-range fueling vastly, making it far more consistent. However, they did have to sacrifice a couple horses, though you’d be hard pressed to notice.For 2017, one of the most impressive points is the weight difference that Kawasaki has achieved—it is 42 pounds lighter than last year’s model. Featuring an all-new steel trellis chassis, engineers were able to shed an eyebrow raising 18 pounds from that component alone.Weight was also shaved from the swingarm (almost six pounds), wheel assemblies, and virtually all other components to get to that 42-pound savings figure. It reminds us of the lengths race teams go through to save weight, which sheds some light on how important this is—it essentially changes every aspect of this bike.Massive weight reduction undoubtedly has a huge impact on handling and, in that regard, the Ninja 650 is a remarkably nimble machine. Tipping the Ninja into corners requires little input from the rider at any speed.The chassis’ relatively short 55.5-inch wheelbase and moderate 24 degrees of rake deliver an exciting experience, without edging into nervous territories that will jar new riders. It seems almost fluid in many ways. Thought-out movements pay off, and mid-corner corrections aren’t met with resistance either.Dunlop provides Sportmax D214 tires that are not strictly performance-oriented, as many Ninja 650 riders will be mindful of mileage. Anyone wanting to upgrade to Q3s can easily do so.The four-gallon fuel tank has an aggressive profile, which makes for a great anchor when tipping in or braking hard. Beyond that, it allows for massive amounts of movement, making it a highlight of the new Ninja. I was able to lean over the tank, and get weight into the front end with no issues. Sport inclined, without a doubt, the new Ninja 650 won’t be as demanding to riders that want to try their hand at speed.Despite its nimble characteristics, the Ninja 650 is quite stable, which could have been aided by the centrally located mass of the new Ninja 650. At no point did I experience headshake while accelerating or feel abnormal chassis flex at speed. All information is translated through the front, and rear end, which was pretty important on a particularly frosty morning where black ice lurked in the shadows.Affordable middleweight bikes usually become affordable by saving in a few areas. In this case, we’re seeing that in the form of 41mm conventional forks and linkage-assisted horizontally mounted shock, with spring-preload adjustment only available for the shock.Dealing with harsh surfaces doesn’t upset the chassis, and it remains stable when cornering at pace. Advanced riders do have the potential to override the suspension through brute force, of course. The suspension is adequate, with good damping settings from the factory; smooth riding alleviates much of the shortcomings for hard riders.The suspension is sprung on the lighter side, which allows for a great deal of comfort without sacrificing too much performance. New riders will appreciate that, as it won’t be such a system shock when dealing with poor road surfaces. However, it does mean that one can dive the forks with very aggressive braking.When it comes to stopping power, owners will find dual 300mm petal discs up front, clamped onto by conventionally mounted dual-piston Nissin calipers. Braking is confident and doesn’t require excessive effort to get the job done.New riders will enjoy the lack of vicious initial bite, while advanced riders would probably desire something more performance oriented. For an additional $400, you can get the Ninja 650 equipped with the lighter, Bosch 9.1M ABS unit, which we strongly recommend.In terms of ergonomics, the 2107 Kawasaki Ninja 650 has a whole new set of geometry—the rear sets, handlebars and seating positions have been pushed forward, as well as lowered slightly. The slightly lower seat height of 31.3 inches allows me to flat-foot easily with my 32-inch inseam.At a height of 5’ 10”, I found the riding position to comfortable but it still did introduce some serious knee bend. Should that be an issue, Kawasaki is offering a riser seat that will help reduce that issue.Wind buffeting isn’t a problem, as the fairing and adjustable windscreen directs air away from you, providing safe haven when gobbling up freeway miles. If you ride in warmer climates, you’ll appreciate the Kawasaki directs heated air from the motor away from you.A completely new dash has been introduced to the 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650, and my favorite inclusion is the gear indicator. Also included is the adjustable shift indicator lighting—as you approach of your chosen upshift point, the tachometer needle changes colors. Of course, you also have the standard shift light indicator flashing away.Impossible to ignore is the completely redesigned look, drawing from the Ninja ZX-6R and ZX-10R. The bold, aggressive styling, and tightly fitting bodywork is impressive. On the same note, the revised swingarm is a fine aesthetic addition, as well as being functional.Middleweight bikes play an important role in motorcycling. These machines help maintain the sport, and may very be the way riders enter the fold. In this case, the Ninja 650 does the difficult task of offering something for a huge swath of riders.New riders will find its ease of use inviting, and experienced will ride the 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650 to its full potential with a grin. Kawasaki has improved upon one of the staple models in terms of performance, and especially in looks, without forgetting the core demographic that this bike supports—the next generation.Photography by Brian J. NelsonRiding Style
Hello everyone and welcome once again to Ultimate Motorcycling’s weekly Podcast—Motos and Friends.
My name is Arthur Coldwells.
This week’s Podcast is brought to you by Yamaha motorcycles. Discover how the YZF-R7 provides the perfect balance of rider comfort and true supersport performance by checking it out at YamahaMotorsports.com, or see it for yourself at your local dealer.
This week’s episode features Senior Editor Nic de Sena’s impressions of the beautiful new Harley-Davidson Low Rider ST that is loosely based around the original FXRT Sport Glide from the 1980s. Hailing from The Golden State, these cult-status performance machines became known as West Coast style, with sportier suspension, increased horsepower, and niceties including creature comforts such as a tidy fairing and sporty luggage.
In past episodes you might have heard us mention my best friend, Daniel Schoenewald, and in the second segment I chat with him about some of the really special machines in his 170 or so—and growing—motorcycle collection. He’s always said to me that he doesn’t consider himself the owner, merely the curator of the motorcycles for the next generation.
Yet Daniel is not just a collector, but I can attest a really skilled rider. His bikes are not trailer queens, they’re ridden, and they’re ridden pretty hard. Actually, we have had many, many memorable rides on pretty much all of the machines in the collection at one time or another.
From all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!