The race for horsepower supremacy has shown no signs of dying down; a point Kawasaki’s ZX-14R confirmed earlier in this issue. But 180-horsepower, tire-burning motorcycles aren’t for everyone, which is why we’re happy to see Kawasaki continue the development of less intimidating bikes like the Ninja 650. This 2012 model feels more geared toward the entry-level rider than ever before too, with manageable power, a solid chassis and stylish design that will actually appeal to the average customer. After numerous weeks on the bike, we’ll be sad to see it go as our daily commuter. You can’t argue with an MSRP of just $7499 either. Besides, speeding tickets cost too much. sr
2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650
+ Stable chassis with light handling
+ Improved fuel mileage
+ Easy-to-manage power and brakes
+ Stylish new design
– Adjustable windscreen requires tool
– Gets buzzy between 4500 and 5500 rpm
x Clearly designed with new riders in mind
Suggested Suspension Settings
Rear: Spring preload — position 4 of 7
Specifications2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650
Type: Liquid-cooled, parallel twin
Valve arrangement: DOHC, four valves/cyl. Shim-under-bucket adjustment
Bore x stroke: 83.0 x 60.0mm
Compression ratio: 10.8:1
Induction: Keihin digital fuel injection, 38mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.
Front suspension: 41mm hydraulic telescopic fork, non-adjustable, 4.9 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single horizontally mounted shock with adjustable spring preload, 5.1 in. travel
Front brake: Dual 300mm rotors with two-piston calipers
Rear brake: Single 220mm rotor with single-piston caliper
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear wheel: 4.50 x 17 in.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Roadsmart II J
Rear tire: 160/60ZR-17 Dunlop Roadsmart II J
Rake/trail: 25 deg./4.3 in. (109mm)
Wheelbase: 55.5 in. (1410mm)
Seat height: 31.7 in. (805mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.2 gal. (16L)
Weight: 452 lb. (205kg) wet 427 lb. (194kg)
Instruments: Analog tachometer, multi-function LCD screen with digital speedometer, fuel consumption, remaining fuel range, odometer, dual tripmeter, clock, economical riding (ECO) indicator; warning lights for coolant temperature/oil pressure indicator, neutral, high beam, low/high battery, turn signals.
Quarter mile: 12.26 sec. @ 108 mph
Top speed: NA mph
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph/4.11 sec., 80-100 mph/4.54 sec.
Fuel consumption: 47 to 54 mpg, 51 mpg average
Having gotten my two-wheeled start on a Ninja 500 I admittedly had a soft sport for Team Green’s latest middleweight. As with all Kawi parallel twins, power is tractable and unintimidating but for 2012 there’s noticeably more shove from 7500 rpm onward. The slick-shifting transmission is also a gem and drivetrain slop is virtually nonexistent.
Life in the captain’s chair is also improved, as the Ninja is much thinner in the middle — it no longer feels like straddling a chopper. Did I mention it finally has an analog tach? Rest easy, the quirky digital unit has given way to a functional and legible standard needle.
Handling characteristics are Golden Retriever friendly and invite newbies to explore the art of cornering while also offering enough in reserve for experienced riders. As an economical all-arounder, the new Ninja is hard to beat.
Prior to my two months spent commuting on the Ninja 650, my go-to bike was a Yamaha R1. It was a culture shock to jump on the wee Ninja to say the least, although that’s not to say I came away bored; what the Kawasaki lacks in terms of power, it more than makes up for in comfy ergos and stellar fuel economy.
The 650 proved equally as strong a performer on the weekends as it did during the week. I was taken back even by the bike’s capabilities when speeds picked up in the canyons; the redesigned chassis and reworked suspension provide a ton of confidence and stability, plus the bike feels extremely manageable for an inexperienced rider. All these positives had me overlooking the buzz-happy footrests, and even had me missing the little Kawi when I jumped back onto the R1. Perhaps there is a replacement for displacement?
It’s too bad that great bikes like the Ninja 650 get written off by many riders — newbie and experienced alike — just because their ego can’t handle being seen on an admittedly novice-oriented bike. The Kawasaki is one of those bikes that is increasingly making more sense for many riders out there, especially with gasoline prices going through the roof. 50-plus miles per gallon even when you’re beating on the engine, comfy ergos for anyone under six feet, performance that you can have fun with without always putting you in danger of finding yourself in jail…the list goes on.
The only gripes I have with the Kawasaki are the windshield (requires tools to adjust, and it needs to be taller) and the exhaust note. I’m afraid that parallel twins — even with a slightly different firing order such as the Ninja 650 — just don’t do it for me, even with an accessory exhaust system. Instead of a motorcycle engine, they sound more like an angry trombone to my ears.