2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650: MD Ride Review

We have already heaped plenty of praise on the new Kawasaki Z650 in our recent review. The Z650 is a sibling to the new Ninja 650 we have also now tested.

The Ninja 650 is in many respects identical to its naked Z650 brother, i.e., it features the same 649cc parallel twin engine and the same steel trellis frame, suspension, wheels and brakes. Even the steering geometry is identical. The primary difference between the two models is fairly obvious as the Ninja 650 features a full fairing and three-way adjustable windscreen, for significant wind protection.

Also common between the two models are the wheels and tires. Both bikes carry Dunlop Sportmax D214 tires sized 120/70 x 17 front and 160/60 x 17 rear. Both bikes are massively lighter than their predecessors (roughly 40 pounds).

Handling and suspension action remind us of the Z650 with good damping in the forks and shock, and extremely nimble direction changes coupled with good stability. Kawasaki really nailed it with the new steel frame and steering geometry. As we noted with the Z650, the smaller rear tire (160 mm wide vs. the now standard 180 mm) really contributes, in our opinion, to the flickable nature of the new Ninja 650. Also helpful are the new, lighter forged aluminum wheels.

Despite the sporty looks, like the prior Ninja 650, the new Ninja 650 is upright and comfortable, with the hand grips well above the triple clamps. Wind protection was adequate for this 5’11” test rider, and improved significantly with adjustment of the windscreen to the highest of the three positions available.  Buffeting at helmet level was not a problem, but could be for shorter riders (another reason that adjustable screen height is welcome). The screen, however, requires a wrench, and is certainly not adjustable on the road (unless you want to pull over and use your wrench).

Instrumentation is all new with all of the traditional read-outs. Highlights include MPG monitoring, gear position indicator and even a shift light that will blink at you at the rpm level you set. Thankfully, the tachometer is a legible analog-type.

Engine tune appears to be identical to that of the Z650, which we found to have excellent low-end and mid-range for the class, but perhaps lacking a little bit of peak horsepower high up in the rev range. We think it is a worthwhile trade-off for the vast majority of riders who would choose this model, and actually makes the bike quicker and more flexible on the street.

The six-speed transmission shifts easily and positively, aided by the “Assist and Slipper” clutch that reduces lever pull effort noticeably, and keeps the rear wheel planted on corner entry.

So the new Ninja 650 is a highly successful redesign of an already excellent motorcycle … lighter, more nimble and better handling overall. It offers the wind protection missing from the naked Z650 in exchange for approximately 15 pounds more weight (claimed curb weight is 426 pounds). The motor is a gem, and the bike will appeal to riders of all skill levels. It also has one of the strongest front brakes in the class, with excellent feel.

Although the 2017 Ninja 650 is sporty, and fun, it is also practical … delivering fuel economy in the high 40s/low 50s mpg.

The 2017 Ninja 650 ranges in price from an U.S. MSRP of $7,399 for the non-ABS model to $7,999 for the “KRT Edition” we tested with a special graphics package. Take a look at Kawasaki’s web site for additional details and specifications.

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