Although freeways may not be every novice riders comfort zone, the middleweight Ninja feels more than stable on the interstate, with plenty of power beyond 6000 rpm to accelerate past traffic when need be. Also adding to the Ninja’s superb feel on the freeway is its thicker seat cushion and plush suspension, and the redesigned body panels are not only more stylish but loads more functional. Playing a key role in comfort is the larger radiator side openings that direct hot engine heat away from the rider. The cutouts work so well in fact, we never once had a problem with our legs getting toasty during our multiple commutes home in 80-degree weather.
One piece that didn’t work as well as we’d hoped is the 650’s new three-way adjustable windscreen. Because while the Ninja 1000 featured a press button for adjustment, the 650 requires you keep a 4mm Allen wrench handy. Adjusting the unit is best done by removing the screen from the mount too, meaning no less than eight bolts need be removed before you can raise the screen to its tallest positions. Once there, the windscreen directs a noticeable amount of windblast away from the rider’s chest. Similar to the problem we had with the 1000’s unit however, the tallest setting increases wind noise and buffeting around the helmet. In the end, we reverted back to the lowest position, opting for windblasts to the chest over helmet buffeting.
Simple But Stable
Complementing the chassis changes is a new fork that’s 5mm longer in overall length (125mm vs. 120mm) and softer in terms of spring rates. Internally, the updated fork also features revised damping rates that better stabilize the Ninja during spirited passes through the canyons. The lay-down shock has undergone like changes, including a 2mm increase in overall length (127mm vs. 125mm), a softer spring rate and revised damping.
As Kent confirmed in his first ride report, the Ninja is much more agile than its predecessor despite weighing roughly 11 pounds more and featuring nearly identical geometry (the only change is an incremental 4mm of trail). Biggest difference is the wider handlebar that provides increased leverage, plus the new OE-spec Dunlop Roadsmart II tires that make side-to-side transitions almost effortless. That lighter handling isn’t just beneficial when pushing the bike hard, either; it also gives novice riders a better feeling of control when experimenting with tighter sections of road. The bike’s agile steering may be its strong point in the canyons, but the updated suspension is no slouch. The 650 doesn’t wallow about mid-corner like you’d expect a budget bike to behave, a sure result of its firmer damping rates front and rear. And our only concern is the bike’s tendency to bottom out over larger potholes. But again, this is no Öhlins-equipped supersport bike.
Entry-level riders and experts alike will enjoy the Ninja 650’s smooth power delivery in the canyons. There’s enough oomph between 7000 rpm and 10,000 rpm to keep things interesting, but not enough to put the inexperienced rider on his or her head. The howl from the reconfigured airbox gives the bike some character when blazing through canyons as well. The bike’s brakes are as user friendly, but when accustomed to typical four-piston calipers on a supersport bike, the Ninja 650’s brakes take some time to get used to. The primary differenece is that the two-piston calipers biting on dual 300mm rotors don’t offer an overly aggressive initial bite. There’s plenty of power through the pull and braking performance is very linear, which eventually made us big fans of this budget bike’s binders.
Kawasaki claims fuel mileage has been bumped by 10 percent for 2012, a point our test unit confirmed week after week. With an average of 51 mpg and a high of 54, the Ninja is more than capable of 200-plus-mile stints between gas stops. Various modes on the new LCD dash reveal how you’re doing on this front, and quickly gained our attention, displaying fuel range and economy information. Albeit a bit cheesy, we’re also fond of the economical riding (ECO) indicator, which takes throttle position and rpm into account to let you know how far you’re stretching your dollar. Noticeably absent from the display is a gear indicator, although we never found it a problem during our time with the bike.
Our one concern with the 650...
Our one concern with the 650 is the amount of vibrations through the flimsy footrests. They may be rubber mounted, but a closer look at the bracket leads you to believe there’s a better way to mount the pegs.
It’s not all smooth sailing for Kawasaki’s new Ninja, literally. Around 4500 rpm there’s a rush of vibrations through the bike’s saddle, footrests and handlebar — despite each of the aforementioned pieces being rubber mounted. Past 5500 rpm those bothersome vibes die back down, but be warned: most freeway stints in high gear are spent between said rpm range. The similarly mounted passenger footrests are equally as prone to vibrations, only they seem to be more prevalent throughout the entire rev range. Looking at the rider/passenger footrest mounts, it seems as though Kawasaki could easily improve on the Ninja to make it more suitable for a passenger.