The Kawasaki Ninja
650R is the least expensive bike in our test, but never once hesitated in the mid-range of the powerband and was quite comfortable at speed. This bike is over 30% less expensive than the priciest bike in the group, yet it is super smooth and has great overall power. But how does the budget bike hold up in the performance evaluations?
The Kawasaki’s 650cc Parallel Twin may not have scored the top numbers on paper, but this bike feels like it has plenty of well-mannered pep for a beginner or intermediate rider. The engine characteristics are what one might expect from an entry-level sportbike. It is not loud or overly exciting, but at the same time, you are able to ride along at highway speeds without any major vibration or disturbances.
The Ninja’s drivetrain is totally compliant. It’s easy to find neutral and the clutch is light, and a cinch to pull repeatedly even during stop and go traffic. Having trouble getting that green neutral light to pop up can quickly erode one’s confidence. I like knowing that when I want the bike in neutral, it doesn’t take me five tries to coax it in there. I tell the Ninja 650 what to do and it obeys.
While the 2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650's engine was not aurally astounding, it allowed riders to manage on the highway without and major vibration or disturbance.
“I like the feel of the clutch on the Kawi. It is light and really easy to pull. Arm pump is not an issue in California traffic on the Ninja,” says Tania.
When it came to suspension, the Kawasaki was on the soft side as expected. It handled well on the highway and held its own through the curves.
I’ve rolled a ton of miles on this bike and even owned one for a bit. For my less aggressive style of riding, I find the suspension on the Ninja 650 jut like how Goldilocks discovered the third bed, not too soft and not too hard…Just right.
“The front end on the Kawasaki did not feel quite as stable as the Yamaha
did in the corners,” says Vicki. An opinion seconded by Tania, who notes: “The soft suspension made it a little more challenging to get the bike to stick to the road in the tight turns.”
Okay, okay, so this is not your sister’s Ninja ZX-6R
. We get it.
For every test rider, the brakes on the Kawasaki felt softer than the others, needing a firmer tug to get the stopping power to show up. And yet when the objective numbers were revealed, the Ninja’s stopping power is right there with the best of them in this comparison.
It’s not the first time test rider impressions haven’t totally jived with objective performance data, which is why we measure both. So while the Kawasaki’s brakes were unanimously described as soft, the actual effectiveness of the braking system from 60-0 mph was just five more feet (and $2100 less expensive) than the category leading Triumph
With straight 10’s from all but one hold out, the Kawasaki clearly takes the cake when it comes to instrumentation.
“The digital speedo and analog tachometer make the panel on the Kawasaki very easy to read,” explains Vicki. “Fuel gauge details and time of day are right there, too. All the information you need is visible and at your fingertips. It even has an ECO mode.”
The 2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 comes equipped with an ECO mode which helped improved gas mileage during testing.
The gas-saving ECO system contributed to the Ninja tallying around 46 mpg during out test, and will likely be even better if your right wrist isn’t as twitchy as our test riders’. With a 4.2 gallon fuel tank, you’re looking at 200 miles between filling stations. Just typing that makes me smile.
This is a modern-day Japanese sportbike that was designed to fit the riders most natural, relaxed or neutral body position. When I ride this bike, I can feel the time the engineers put into designing and plotting all of the points where I come in contact with the machine.
“The slightly upright handlebar position is really nice on the highway,” says Vicki. “I also like that Kawasaki has updated the look of the 2012 by changing the seat to a sportier, two-piece. The Ninja looks like a sportier package than years prior, but next to the Yamaha, it still wasn’t quite as sleek.”
We liked how the turn signals are integrated into the fairing. “The bike looks like it lost a few pounds simply by breaking up the colors on the fuel tank. It looks sportier and more narrow,” explains Tania.
For me, this bike is by far one of the most comfortable and enjoyable bikes I have ever ridden. It’s super user-friendly and a great option for new and experienced riders alike.
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Engine: Four-stroke, DOHC, four-valve, parallel twin
Bore and Stroke: 83.0 mm x 60.0 mm
Fuel Delivery: Digital fuel injection with two 38mm Keihin throttle bodies
Final Drive: O-Ring Chain
Front Suspension: 41 mm hydraulic telescopic fork / 4.9 in. travel
Rear Suspension: Single offset laydown shock with adjustable spring preload / 5.1 in. travel
Front Brakes: Dual 300 mm petal discs with two-piston calipers
Rear Brake: Single 220 mm petal disc with single piston caliper
Front Tire: 120/70-17
Rear Tire: 160/60-17
Curb Weight: 463 lbs
Wheelbase: 55.5 in.
Rake: 25 deg.
Trail: 4.3 in.
Seat Height: 31.7 in.
Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gal.