A racebike typically requires more apt gearing and a higher-strength chain, which is why we turned to Driven Racing, a long-time parts supplier who offers high-quality sprockets in a large selection of sizes. Notice also Kawi’s clever setup for the axle nut retainer.
Kawasaki made a noticeable effort to transform the Ninja into a track weapon prior to handing the bike over to us. Unnecessary switches were removed and the important ones relocated. Additionally, the ignition was removed and the tumblers in the fuel tank cap removed so that there’s no need to fumble with a key.
Stock forks house an Öhlins NIX 30mm cartridge kit that's been tuned by Catalyst Reaction Suspension to provide better damping characteristics. Compared to the non-adjustable stock unit, the new front end provides a great deal of tuning for the track. Galfer stainless steel brake lines are green-what else?-and should provide better and more consistent brake performance during a race.
An Elka shock courtesy of Catalyst Reaction is fine-tuned with settings that have been garnered from years of Ninja 650 racebike development. Compared to the shock that the Ninja project bike was shipped with, the Elka unit is longer and equipped with a more sufficient valve stack.
A Yoyodyne slipper clutch was among our excessive additions, but should provide better stability at the entrance of the corner and ultimately cut lap times. The clutch bolted in easy enough and doesn’t require any added maintenance when compared to the stock unit.
Zero Gravity’s double-bubble windscreen has been mounted in the tallest of the Ninja’s three mounting positions to provide adequate wind protection for our six-foot-three-inch rider.
Anodized black Sato rearsets were a last minute addition and replaced a set of bulky prototype footrests that’d been installed in a hurry just before the Ninja 650 project bike’s original debut. The new Sato Racing pieces were worth the wait and provide an extensive level of adjustment for any height of rider.
The LeoVince Underbody EVO II exhaust is stainless steel with a carbon end cap that’s claimed to dissipate heat better and not affect tire temperature. The exhaust utilizes a larger sub muffler as well, which should quell the exhaust note.
Our race-prepped Ninja is just over four horsepower stronger than the last Ninja 650 we tested thanks in part to the LeoVince exhaust and some fine-tuning on the dyno.
Those who follow Sport Rider on Facebook, Twitter or any other social network will recognize the Ninja 650 that graces these pages. The bike is one of Kawasaki's race-prepped project bikes, a fully faired 650 twin that we blasted across the internet during the 2012 model's press launch. We knew very little about the bike at the time of the event, only that it looked overly capable in race trim and that our iPhone camera could hardly capture its appeal. We also knew that, in time, we'd have to throw a leg over its saddle and test the Ninja 650's track prowess. Twelve months later and our plans have just about come to fruition, although we'll admit that the road to the racetrack wasn't without its share of speed bumps.
The snag in our arrangement was this: Kawasaki never had big intentions of putting its Ninja 650 project bike on the track-at least not in its then-current state. "The bike was kind of put together as a display bike, and basically we just wanted to show that the 650 is track worthy," says Kawasaki's Brad Puetz, who goes on to reveal that "We were looking to develop the bike down the line and do some testing so that we could race it, but that plan kind of fell through." The result was a bike that looked the part, but one that admittedly needed some attention if it were to ever end up on the podium in any race.
Sport Rider was quick to pick up where Kawasaki left off and eager to put the project back on track. The excitement led initially to a compilation of parts that'd be needed to make the bike competitive and then to a phone call with Tige Danne of CycleMall Motorsports and Catalyst Reaction Suspension Tuning, a pair of Southern California-based companies who we knew had built a handful of race-winning Kawasaki 650s in the past. Danne excitedly agreed to lend a helping hand where need be, and Bradley not surprisingly volunteered to race the bike upon it being buttoned up, thus Sport Rider's Ninja 650 effort was born.
Article deadlines in mind, we were excited to find that Team Green and Carey Andrew of Hypercycle had already completed much of the time-consuming track prep. Pinch bolts and fluid-retaining hardware had already been safety wired for example, and the engine coolant had been replaced with a non-glycol-based coolant that would conform to any race organization's standards and not slick the track in the event of a crash or spill. Kawasaki's crew took things a step further and rewired the 650 so that we could forgo the key and unnecessary handlebar switches. While this is an unnecessary-and lengthy-job, we were excited to see that Kawasaki had gone the extra mile to transform the project bike into a true trackbike.
The Ninja 650's street pedigree was further discombobulated with the addition of Catalyst Racing Composites bodywork ($812 when shipped with Dzus fasteners), which was brought to life by MC Pro Design, an accomplished paint company who's put the finishing touches on a number of AMA Pro Racing bikes, including the Graves Yamaha R6s and R1s. The paint cost just a tick less than the bodywork itself and put Kawasaki back $650-a small expense when you consider how sweet the project bike looks when so equipped. A quick call to MC Pro Design confirmed that there are cheaper options; "Prices range from $350.00 and up depending on what you would like on your bike." Also worth mentioning, the company can make decals and install them before applying clear coat, an option that wasn't employed this time around.
Clip-on-style handlebars wouldn't work with the Ninja's stock body panels but were an obvious necessity with the race bodywork mounted, which is why the next phone call was to the crew at Woodcraft Technologies, who offer three-piece clip-ons ($154.99) that are touted as being easier to install and remove. The real benefit of going with Woodcraft, at least from a racer's point of view, is that the company offers a large assortment of replacement parts that are both cheap and readily available, something that's important to consider when putting together an apt spare-parts kit for the track.
There are more additions up front, including a set of highly adjustable CRG roll-a-click folding levers ($129.95 each); an Öhlins steering damper that should quell front-end movement at the track; a more aerodynamic Zero Gravity double-bubble windscreen ($94.95) that's mounted in the tallest of the Ninja's three positions for too-tall Bradley; and Galfer Superlight series brake lines that are a stainless steel construction for better and more consistent braking performance over the course of a race. A couple of things to note: CRG doesn't currently offer levers for the Ninja, but Kawasaki had apparently swapped the 650's clutch perch and master cylinder for a set of ZX-6R pieces, which ultimately opened the door for such accessories. A similar modification would appear to be extremely beneficial for all Ninja 650 owners.
The 650's footrest mounting system and rubber-mounted footpegs proved a disappointment in last year's full test ("Affordable Fun," June '12) and warranted a call to Sato Racing, who had released a set of adjustable, CNC-machined rearsets ($650) for the Kawasaki just weeks before the project bike was to be completed. The rearsets proved worth the wait and allowed for near perfect positioning thanks to multiple footpeg and shift linkage mounting positions. The Sato units are also nice in that they use well-knurled footpegs for a sufficient boot/peg connection and utilize ball bearings for the shift and brake levers as well, ultimately alleviating any sloppiness in shifts.
The Ninja's inline-twin engine doesn't exactly match the bike's aggressive outward appearance and is without any race-spec cams, high-compression pistons or head work. The lack of costly internal modifications means power is nearly on par with the last 650 we put on the dyno, although to the project bike's credit, there's a slight increase in power that comes courtesy of a LeoVince Underbody EVO II exhaust ($809). The system is one of two LeoVince options and has more advantages than just increased power, claims the exhaust manufacturer. "We found that the stock exhaust would heat the right side of the tire, but the carbon fiber tip on the [Underbody EVO II] exhaust dissipates heat better and keeps the tire temperature down," says LV's Tim Calhoun. LeoVince also notes that its Underbody exhaust is quieter than most race exhausts thanks in part to a sub muffler, something our paddock friends will likely appreciate during early morning engine warm-up sessions.
Power may not have been the primary concern when it came to the Ninja, but that's not to say we didn't want to show up to the racetrack with a strong performing bike. Point in mind, we turned to Driven Racing and Dynojet, both of whom have an extensive history at the track. From the former we garnered a set of sprockets ($65.97 for the rear, $31.46 for the fronts) and a green chain ($170.22), while from the latter Kawasaki purchased a Power Commander V ($399.95) and a quickshifter ($276.47), two components that would make tuning and riding the Ninja in anger much easier. We also put in a call to Yoyodyne based on a suggestion made by Danne, who claimed that a slipper clutch would pay big dividends in terms of corner-entry stability and lap times. An $850 credit card charge later and we were so equipped.
Danne and Catalyst Reaction's James Morse put the project bike's chassis under the knife-in spite of the fact that Kawasaki had already installed an aftermarket shock and a ZX-10R-culled Öhlins NIX 30mm front fork cartridge kit. "The bike was sitting way too high in the front and really low in the rear, so we really needed to work on the chassis and get the suspension dialed in," says Danne. The changes that ensued include new springs, updated valve stacks that'll ideally provide better damping characteristics through the stroke and a new ride height measurement. Out back, Tige made more drastic changes in the form of an all-new, prototype-style Elka shock that offers more ride height and is equipped with a valve stack that's identical to what he's run on prior Ninja 650 race bikes. Important to mention is that an identical shock to what we've used will be available in the near future; consider us willing guinea pigs.
The Cyclemall crew didn't end their efforts there, and willingly dyno-tuned the Ninja in a last-ditch effort to extract as much power as possible. The bike got a general going-through as well, something we recommend for every bike that's headed to the track.
So what's next for our Ninja 650? We're currently registered to race at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway with CVMA, a newly founded Southern California-based race organization that's shown to offer especially great competition in the lightweight twins classes. Check back next month to see how our little Ninja fares.
Bridgestone Battlax Dry Slick Race Tires
Although many race organizations and race classes mandate DOT-approved rubber, CVMA's Formula classes have no such regulations, thus our decision to run Bridgestone's JSB1000 dry slick race tires on our Ninja 650 project bike. The tires are available in multiple sizes and in three compounds, an ultra soft (YDC), soft (YCX) and medium (YCY), each of which we considered using based on Chuckwalla's track surface and expected track temperatures. In the end, we went with a YCX front and YCY rear, a combination that we feel will offer great longevity in addition to sufficient grip. We don't expect our 67-horsepower race bike to have an overwhelming tendency to test grip limits of course, but we're absolutely looking to garner as much traction as possible come race time.
The slick tires should offer multiple advantages when compared to a set of DOT race tires, including a more stable and consistent feel thanks to no treads. We're excited also to see how many tires it takes to get us through three full days at the track; one of the ideas behind small bike racing is that it's easier on your wallet, and if we can make our two sets of tires last for an ample amount of races, we should theoretically be able to keep our expenses within check.
For price and availability regarding Bridgestone's dry slick tires or any of its DOT race tires, be sure to refer to your local race tire distributor.