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2009 Kawasaki Ninja 650R Review

Wednesday, January 20, 2010
2009 Kawasaki Ninja 650R
The revamped Ninja 650R remains a sure-footed mid-sized sportbike for the beginner/intermediate market
The Kawasaki Ninja 650R has been a popular mid-sized mount ever since its 2006 inception - so popular that Team Green has since added two 650cc siblings to its lineup, the Versys and ER-6N. Even with the new rides, Kawi hasn’t forgotten about the base Ninja, giving it a host of upgrades for the 2009 model year.

Previous test rides of the Ninja, including a comparison review against the Suzuki SV650 (2006 Ninja 650R vs Suzuki SV650), made us fans of the mid-displacement Twin. The model proved a worthy addition to the Ninja lineup thanks to user-friendly characteristics and versatility. On top of comfortable street rides, track sessions at Infineon aboard the 650R confirmed its confidence-building prowess for beginners and intermediates. And after getting unceremoniously lapped by Kawasaki road-racing phenom Elena Myers during the same outing, the true potential of the 650R’s sporting capabilities humbled us as well. The adaptable 650R has even served successful duty as flat track racer.
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2009 Kawasaki Ninja 650R Review
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Watch the revised Ninja in action in the MCUSA Kawasaki Ninja 650R Video.

So while the original was great, Kawasaki refined the Ninja with a claimed 40 alterations, including tweaks to the motor, chassis and style.

Revisions to the bodywork didn’t jump out to us at first, as the most visually striking features on the model, its low-slung stubby exhaust and offset rear shock, appear identical. Viewed closer, however, the external changes manifest in more angular bodywork, less bulbous and curvy than its predecessor. New headlight, turn signals and mirrors, along with a wider windscreen freshen up the front. Out back the new swingarm’s tubular structure melds better with the trellis frame than the square-shaped fabrication on the original Ninja. The subframe bodywork and taillights also sport subtle changes.

2010 Kawasaki Ninja 650R
The visual styling cues are easy to overlook, as the 650R's stubby low-slung exhaust and off-set rear return.
Under the hood, so to speak, engineers didn't change any parts in the 8-valve 649cc Parallel Twin. However, new EFI settings claim to enhance bottom-end torque and allow the engine to rev quicker with better response low to mid range. The updated mill also sports a smaller, lighter exhaust catalyzer. Our test unit topped out on the dyno at 61.7 horsepower and 41.4 lb-ft torque. (Those numbers fall from the dyno stats taken during our 2006 comparison, explained in part by the use of a different dyno, but eyeballing the torque curves seem to back modest low to mid-range performance claims.)

On the road the Twin produces pleasing power, exhilarating for beginners but playful enough to keep a grin on the face of more experienced riders. Brisk acceleration accompanies a respectable exhaust note as the Twin revs up to its 11,000 rpm redline. The bottom end does feel robust for its street application, with the real meat of the powerband kicking in between 6-8K on the digital tach.
2009 Kawasaki Ninja 650R dyno stats.
Kawi claims an increase in bottom-end torque, our test unit topping out at 61.7 hp and 41.4 lb-ft on the MCUSA dyno.

More than capable for spirited, yet sensible, street riding, the Ninja 650R delivers power in a user-friendly manner - no herky-jerky throttle to contend with or irritating fueling blips. The right wrist’s commands are abided with a response that is smooth without being sedate – the forgiving throttle a keen feature for a bike marketed to the beginner/intermediate crowd.

Another positive update is a new rubber engine mount. Located in the rear, the rubber mount subdues the vibes rattling up through the bars (also rubber mounted now), seat and fairing, a noticeable complaint on the predecessor. Yet the vibration from the Parallel Twin isn’t eliminated altogether, as it still shakes enough to blur the mirrors at idle.

2010 Kawasaki Ninja 650R
The 650R's frame and swingarm, while visually similar, have had rigidity retuned, along with suspension settings, for lighter handling in the corners.
2009 Kawasaki Ninja 650R
Lashing out power to the rear wheel, via chain drive, the six-speed transmission delivers trouble-free shifts. A repositioned shift lever shuffles up and down a well-sorted gearbox, with light clutch pull from the cable actuated lever. Our only note on the transmission came from innocent, but sloppy, downshifts at high rpm that generated rear-end squiggles.

Kawi revised the steel trellis frame’s flex for reduced rigidity, the swingarm tuned for more rigidity to complement. Suspension settings for the non-adjustable 41mm fork and pre-load adjustable offset rear shock promise lighter handling, with the 55.5-inch wheelbase, 25-degree rake and 4.2-inch trail identical steering geometry from the previous model.

We’d have to sample the old and new Ninjas back to back to notice any appreciable difference from the frame and suspension. The fork felt squishy at times porting around our 205 lbs, but overall the latest version continues our impression of the Ninja’s easy handling traits. The 447-lb Ninja (curb weight) tosses around bends and transitions side-to-side without trouble, with quick steering. The stock Bridgestone Battlax BT-021 tires hold up well enough on the street.

The 650R’s two-piston caliper dual 300mm disc brakes up front don’t deliver the great bite or stopping power found on its Inline-Four Ninja kin – though the wave rotors look good. The lack of grabby feel at the lever may be a positive trait for a beginner mount, and the front units are still effective enough for its street application, but not a highlight of the Ninja’s performance. The single-piston 220mm rotor out back does its job too, though the rear tire broke loose quicker than expected.
The Ninja 650R all-digital instrument cluster.
The Ninja's instrument panel is easier to read in the dark (left). The unique exhaust returns on the revamped 650R, with an smaller, more efficient catalyzer.
The updated mill also sports a smaller  lighter exhaust catalyzer  though the stubby exhuast muffler appears unchanged.

The Ninja’s controls and overall fit and finish met with our expectations for a $7100 bike. Adjustable levers, sensible switchgear and functional mirrors combined with the improved looks of the frame and swingarm complete the package. On the other hand, the LCD display provides plenty of info but isn’t the most intuitive or easy to read. All the information is digitized – no analog displays at all – with the stacked tach and fuel gauge a particular gripe.

Sitting behind the controls at 6’1”, the Ninja feels on the small side, but not tiny. Some test riders complained of cramped placement of the footpegs (now rubber coated to further reduce vibration), but we found them tolerable. More neutral than aggressive, the riding position allows for long stints without great fatigue, a rider’s knees tugging in snug under the taller 4.1-gallon fuel tank.

The new, slimmer frame allows for a slimmer seat, which makes for an easier reach to the ground from its 31.1-inch height (unchanged from the old model). From a comfort perspective we rate the new seat as average, feeling thin with the foam giving way a bit too much. The highlight of the rider comfort package comes from the new fairing and wider windscreen, which exceeded our expectations as we had no complaints of excessive buffeting.
The 2010 Kawasaki Ninja 650R comes in blue.
Compared to its predecessor, the Ninja 650R continues all the positive traits we recall, with some extra refinements.
2009 Kawasaki Ninja 650R

Observed fuel mileage for out test rides fluctuated. Relaxed commuting runs yielded near 50 mpg, while more spirited play-ride jaunts netted less than 40 mpg. Even running full steam should get near 120-mile range, with more judicious throttle hands rewarded with close to 200 miles per tank.

By our recollection, the new Ninja doesn’t feel a whole lot different than its predecessor – a good thing. What we do recall are changes for the better – less vibration and better wind protection. As far as the styling changes, we could take it or leave it. While partial to the older curvy bodywork, the new swingarm does look much better matched. One thing we don’t like is the $400 price increase, pushing it now above the 7K threshold for 2010 ($6799 for 2009, $6499 for 2008), but we can’t begrudge Kawasaki for trying to make a dime after the bottom fell out of the market last year.

All told, the Kawasaki Ninja 650R remains an approachable motorcycle, easy to ride and, most important, fun. It holds its status as one of the more attractive options in the mid-size market.
2009 Kawasaki Ninja 650R Photo Gallery
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2009 Kawasaki Ninja 650R Specs
The 2010 Kawasaki Ninja 650R is available in green.
Engine: Liquid-cooled, 8-valve, Parallel Twin
Displacement: 649cc
Bore x stroke: 83.0 x 60.0mm
Compression ratio: 11.3:1
Fuel injection: Digital fuel injection with two 38mm Keihin throttle bodies
Transmission: Six-speed
Frame: Semi-double cradle, high-tensile steel
Rake / trail: 25 degrees / 4.2 in.
Wheelbase: 55.5 in.
Front suspension: 41mm fork, non adjustable / 4.7-inch travel.
Rear suspension: Single offset shock, preload-adjustment / 4.9-inch travel
Front/Rear tires: 120/70x17, 160/60x17
Front brake: Dual 300mm discs, two-piston calipers
Rear brake: Single 220mm disc, single-piston caliper
Seat height: 31.1 in.
Curb weight: 447 lbs
Fuel capacity: 4.1 gal
MSRP: $6799 (2009), $7,099 (2010)
Warranty: 12 Months
Madson's Ninja 650R Gearbag
2010 Kawasaki Ninja 650R

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George -Owner  November 15, 2010 12:41 PM
I own 650R for about 2 months. It is my first byke and can't say anything bad about it. Ride is comfortable and acceleration is pretty good, too. I want to add to this article only that maximum speed is limited to 123 MPH (200 km/h).
Dean -Rev  May 6, 2010 08:37 AM
I was wondering why the 'ninja' tag on this bike, it's hardly performance orientated, strange decision by kwak US...it might well be half an old ZX12R motor but it quickly runs out of puff. I prefer the european ER6 tag...does look better with the ZX6 like fairing etc.
Colton -great bike  March 6, 2010 07:46 PM
i own this bike and i must say i love it, i was going back and forth between this and the 09 zx6 decided to get the 650r instead much more practical for the road and does well enough around the track. Also i just recently went riding with a friend of mine who owns an 07 cbr600 and from about 40 to 100 i just spanked his bike. overall this is an excellent bike.
josh -2009 650r commuter  January 26, 2010 06:46 AM
I have a 09 red 650r with Givi PLX side cases, top box and Laminar lip. Added headed grips, Alaska Leather skin seat cover, dropped two teeth in the rear, Moto Werks peg lowering kit and two brothers exhaust. She is a 480lb sport tourer good to go. Nice Bike...No Issues
G -orly?  January 25, 2010 03:35 PM
so is this supposed to be a 2009 or 2010 review? You guys review bikes just so you can ride free stuff don't you?
JTK -Who gave this guy a camera?  January 23, 2010 01:23 AM
Has the recession affected your photography budget? Seriously guys, some of your stuff is top notch, but it seems like more and more frequently you're hiring people who don't know the difference between an f stop and a stop sign. I especially enjoy the one you posted with the fake motion blur, seriously is it that hard? Please step it up on your photography and the post processing (VIGNETTES?)
smitzki -nice motor  January 21, 2010 07:35 PM
a nice design
Daniel -Again, Shenanigans  January 21, 2010 07:01 PM
Ok, so you fixed the title, but the Candy Plasma Blue bike in the second to last picture is a 2010 model. Kinda funny the managing editor would either pass the article off as legit in the first place and/or miss such obvious discrepancies. With how the article was advertised and how the initial article read, you would think that there were decent differences between the 2009 and 2010 model aside from the huge 08 to 09 jump. But, as any blogger would know, any article with mistakes will get exponentially more comments than perfectly worded content...
Sean -pix  January 21, 2010 09:24 AM
I agree lame shots. Why are they soo hazy/foggy? You need a new photographer. Good article, sweet bike. I like how it looks.
MCUSA -2009 Model  January 21, 2010 09:01 AM
Correction: Our test unit is a 2009 model. The difference between '09 and '10 model is graphics for black unit we tested includes silver underbelly. It also costs $400 more.
Daniel -Are you sure?  January 21, 2010 08:45 AM
I don't believe that those photos are of a 2010 model. If you look at Kawasaki's website you can clearly see that the 2010 Ebony Black paint scheme now has a distinct silver underbelly. That is a very definite change from the all black 2009 Ebony paint job. Shenanigans?
thesoapster -650R  January 20, 2010 07:16 PM
I've ridden this bike a couple times. The bike's look is better in person (of course), and I think it's a nice change to echo the ZX-10R. Of course the 250R looks like the previous design 650R now. The bike is really easy to ride and is a comfy ride as well. I especially like the instrument layout on the updated 09-10 model when compared to the previous generation.
BMW Bill -King of the K1200R  January 20, 2010 07:02 PM
It's "Awful"
Drew -650R Commuter  January 20, 2010 12:42 PM
Having a 2006, I am also partial to the older bodywork...but they had to make it mesh better with the 250R I suppose. Definiely jealous of that new swingarm though!

The brakes on my bike were dramatically improved by installing stainless lines to the front...now the initial bite is much stronger and quite a bit more controllable. I recommend that to anyone who buys a 650R. Funny you noticed the locking rear tire under braking, too...will try stainless lines there next.

15,000 miles with no issue...be ready to buy a PowerCommander though if you put new air filter + exhaust like mine.
cap'n -double-take  January 20, 2010 10:54 AM
I had to look really close at the thumbnails - they made it look a TON like an FZ6. I guess it makes sense, with the lovable fizzer not coming back the US this year.
Brian -Photos?  January 20, 2010 08:29 AM
What is up with your photographer? Those photos are aweful.
carl -mr  January 20, 2010 05:02 AM
Thanks for reviewing the ninja 650R I've been wanting to read about it but you keep referring to it as the 2009 model, wouldn't that be 2010?