A Saucy Middleweight Contender

The Kawasaki Ninja is one of the most recognized models in the world, right up there with the likes of Honda’s CBR and Suzuki’s GSX-R families. The 2018 650 models can trace their roots back to the original 650R that rolled out 12 years ago. In order to stay competitive in this market; there necessarily have been a number of changes through the years, and the ’17 models benefited from a number of updates and revisions. The ’17 MY lineup saw the new-and-improved Ninja 650 in both the ABS and non-ABS versions as well as the black and green, Kawasaki Racing Team livery. A very capable sportbike, the Ninja is powered by a 649 cc, water-cooled engine and all the wizardry needed to earn it a place in the iconic Ninja lineup.

Continue reading for my review of the Kawasaki Ninja 650.

  • 2017 - 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 650
  • Year:
    2017- 2018
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    Parallel-Twin
  • Displacement:
    659 cc
  • Price:
    7799
  • Price:

Design

2017 - 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 650
- image 741071
Flylines are classic Ninja, and the nose-down/tail-up stance makes it look like it's going fast even when sitting still.

Many of the changes last year are in the looks department. Kawi shifted the vibe from streetwise to race-tastic with a front fairing and chin spoiler that introduces a bit of 10R DNA into the mix. The fairing houses the backswept, angry-alien headlights, and an adjustable windshield crowns the bike’s cowl with molded-in ducts that funnel air to remove heat and vent it away from the rider.

Flylines are classic Ninja, and the nose-down/tail-up stance makes it look like it’s going fast even when sitting still. A deep-scoop saddle comes over half-an-inch lower than last year at 31.1-inches tall, and the reshaped seat makes for a straighter shot from hip to ground making the 650s relatively short-rider friendly for a sportbike. The rider triangle saw adjustment all the way around last year with short, clip-on bars that pull the rider forward and footpegs that are around two-inches forward and half-an-inch lower than the previous gen, so it’s not quite what you would call a full-jockey foot position by any means.

To lower the center of gravity, the factory moved the four-gallon fuel tank down a bit in the frame, and the tank comes narrow at the ass end where it meets the seat for increased legroom. The bike even comes adjustable for hand size with a five-position range on both the brake and the clutch levers.

Last year’s all-new instrument cluster comes with LCD screens set around an analog tach with the usual assortment of idiot lights and a trio of shift indicators. All in all, a racier panache for this mid-range streetbike line.

Chassis

2017 - 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 650
- image 698190
Kawi blessed this bike with brakes-o'-plenty, but suspension is a bit of a letdown.

Kawi even rebuilt the bones last year with tubular-steel members making up the Trellis frame and a “hollow press,” gull-wing swingarm to articulate the rear wheel. A stressed-engine layout eliminates the cradle section of the frame and part of the downtubes, and the factory balanced weight and strength for the wall thickness. Steering geometry is typical at 24 degrees of rake with 3.9 inches of trail, and this, with the low center of gravity and light frame, make for a nimble ride.

Cast, 17-inch rims mount the hoops with a Dunlop D214 120/70 leading the way and a 160/60 bringing up the rear, and the new-from-’17 rims come in a very sparse, five-spoke design that keeps weight and windage to a minimum. Kawi blessed this bike with brakes-o’-plenty. A pair of twin-pot calipers bite the dual, 300 mm front discs, and a single-piston caliper binds the rear. The ABS and KRT models come with the new Bosch 9.1M ABS control unit, but if you can live without that safety net, there is a non-ABS version available, but not in the KRT livery.

Suspension is a bit of a letdown, to be honest. Not only are the front forks non-adjustable, they come in the rwu configuration and thus are vanilla in every way. A central-mount monoshock springs the swingarm from out of sight, but only comes with the obligatory preload adjustment, so it’s nearly as boring as the forks. Front- and rear-wheel travel measures out at 4.9- and 5.1-inches long, respectively, so at least you can count on a modicum of bump forgiveness.

Frame Type: Trellis, high-tensile steel
Rake/Trail: 24.0/3.9 in
Front Suspension / Wheel Travel: 41mm hydraulic telescopic fork/4.9 in
Rear Suspension / Wheel Travel: Horizontal back-link with adjustable spring preload/5.1 in
Front Tire: 120/70x17
Rear Tire: 160/60x17
Front Brakes: Dual 300mm petal-type discs and 2-piston calipers and ABS
Rear Brakes: Single 220mm petal-type disc and single-piston caliper and ABS

Drivetrain

2017 - 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 650
- image 741069
The factory claims to wring a total of 68 horsepower out of this plant, pretty exciting given its weight of only 425 pounds.

Like the relaxed rider triangle, the engine comes tuned to be both accessible for the newer riders and fun for the experienced ones. This parallel-twin mill runs an 83 mm bore and 60 mm stroke for a total displacement of 649 cc with a compression ratio of 10.8-to-1. Dual, 36 mm Keihin throttle bodies meter the air-fuel mixture through the use of Kawi’s dual throttle-valve feature that balances engine RPM and throttle demand against what the engine can smoothly deliver.

The water-cooled plant uses a radiator to vent waste heat and the Kawasaki Air Management System to shunt the hot air away from the rider. A central-mount exhaust system keeps the weight in the right place and the heated pipes and muffler well away from both passenger and rider, so there should be a minimum of heat transfer from bike to rider.

Vibration is always a concern with a parallel twin, and the factory addressed that with a pair of balance shafts to take the edge off the worst of it. Power transfer between the mill and the six-speed transmission falls to the slipper clutch that allows some slip when off the power so you can safely scrub off speed ahead of a turn with a reduced chance of the dreaded wheel hop, plus it eases the amount of pressure needed to actuate the clutch which gives your left hand a break. The factory claims to wring a total of 68 horsepower out of this plant, pretty exciting given its non-ABS weight of only 419 pounds.

Engine: 4-stroke, 2-cylinder, DOHC, water-cooled
Displacement: 649cc
Bore x Stroke: 83.0 x 60.0mm
Compression ratio: 10.8:1
Fuel System: DFI® with dual 36mm Keihin throttle bodies
Ignition: TCBI with digital advance
Transmission: 6-speed
Final Drive: Sealed chain

Price

2017 - 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 650
- image 741060
MSRP comes in at last year's prices, but with a choice of snazzy new two-tone palettes.

The ABS model rolls for $7,799 MSRP, but the non-ABS model will save you $400 off that price. Both are available in Pearl Storm Gray and Ebony or Candy Plasma Blue and Ebony. If you want that fabulous Lime Green/Ebony race-team finish, you will have to cough up another couple of bills for the KRT Edition for a total of $7,999 MSRP.

Warranty: 12 Month Limited Warranty (optional Kawasaki Protection Plus™ 12, 24, 36 or 48 months
Colors:
2017: Metallic Spark Black, Pearl Blizzard White, Candy Burnt Orange
2018: Pearl Storm Gray/Ebony, Candy Plasma Blue/Ebony, KRT Edition: Lime Green/Ebony
Price: $7,399; ABS: $7,799; KRT Edition $7,999

Competitor

2017 - 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 650
- image 741074
2015 - 2018 Honda CBR650F
- image 716693
The 68-pony output from the Ninja is good enough to be sure, but the Red Rider bike claims a whopping 85 horsepower which leaves Kawi sucking hind tit.

Competition abounds for the Ninja 650, but I decided to stick to one of Kawi’s domestic foes with a look at the CBR650F from Honda. I don’t get to say this very often, but I prefer the looks of the Honda in this case. The pointed front fairing and cyclops headlight makes for a cleaner entry, and though both rides carry plenty of angular features, Honda softens some of them just enough to give it a bit of a Euro vibe, and though the windscreen is fixed, it also comes vented to reduce head buffeting. From there the two share similar upper lines and the same nose-down stance.

Suspension components are a bit of a snore on both rides with only the obligatory spring-preload adjuster on the rear shocks, but Kawi does provide 4.9/5.1 inches of travel at the axle where Honda only gives up 4.3/5.0 inches of travel. Not a big difference, but there it is. Honda gets a gold star in the brakes, though. The massive 320 mm front discs are even bigger than the 300 mm discs on the Kawi, and ABS is available as an option, too, so Honda comes off looking pretty good here.

Honda opted for the inline-four engine configuration, and the 67 mm bore and 46 mm stroke adds up to a total of 649 cc, same as the Ninja. Electronic fuel injection and liquid cooling is consistent across the board, but Kawi takes a beating at the dyno. The 68-pony output from the Ninja is good enough to be sure, but the Red Rider bike claims a whopping 85 horsepower which leaves Kawi sucking hind tit. You will pay for that power though. The CBR650F rolls for $8,499 for the non-ABS, and $8,999 for the ABS model, a significant margin over the Ninja.

He Said

“Looks like a good midsize ride, and it does appear that Kawi is making an attempt to keep the Ninja name alive, kicking and continuing the fight for the streetbike market. Gotta say I ain’t feeling the front end. The slanty lights and ant-mandible protrusions are a little off-putting, but meh, aesthetics are a vanity, and very subjective, right?”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, "It’s a Ninja in this popular middleweight range. What else is there to say? I know in the past, performance on the 650 in its other versions has been less than impressive, but c’mon, it’s a 650. The 60-to-80 roll-on was less than four seconds, which to me, is a spec more pertinent to its intended use. I can live with that. I haven’t seen performance numbers on the new 650, but I do know the lighter weight and better handling makes for a more fun ride than its predecessors. This is a nice upgrade from an entry-level bike, and with improved fuel economy, it could be your fun commuter."

Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: 4-stroke, 2-cylinder, DOHC, water-cooled
Displacement: 649cc
Bore x Stroke: 83.0 x 60.0mm
Compression ratio: 10.8:1
Fuel System: DFI® with dual 36mm Keihin throttle bodies
Ignition: TCBI with digital advance
Transmission: 6-speed
Final Drive: Sealed chain
Electronic Rider Aids: ABS (on ABS models)
Chassis:
Frame Type: Trellis, high-tensile steel
Rake/Trail: 24.0/3.9 in
Front Suspension / Wheel Travel: 41mm hydraulic telescopic fork/4.9 in
Rear Suspension / Wheel Travel: Horizontal back-link with adjustable spring preload/5.1 in
Front Tire: 120/70x17
Rear Tire: 160/60x17
Front Brakes: Dual 300mm petal-type discs and 2-piston calipers and ABS
Rear Brakes: Single 220mm petal-type disc and single-piston caliper and ABS
Dimensions & Capacities:
Overall Length: 80.9 in
Overall Width: 29.1 in
Overall Height: 44.7 in
Wheelbase: 55.5 in
Ground Clearance: 5.1 in
Seat Height: 31.1 in
Curb Weight: 419 lb (ABS: 425.6 lb)
Fuel Capacity: 4.0 gal
Details:
Model ID:
Ninja 650: EX650JJF
Ninja 650 ABS: EX650KJF
Ninja 650 KRT Edition: EX650KJFA
Warranty: 12 Month Limited Warranty (optional Kawasaki Protection Plus™ 12, 24, 36 or 48 months
Colors:
2017: Metallic Spark Black, Pearl Blizzard White, Candy Burnt Orange
2018: Pearl Storm Gray/Ebony, Candy Plasma Blue/Ebony, KRT Edition: Lime Green/Ebony
Price: $7,399; ABS: $7,799; KRT Edition $7,999

References

2015 - 2018 Honda CBR650F
- image 716690

See our review of the Honda CBR650F.

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: kawasaki.com, powersports.honda.com

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