A newbie rider will be more confident and quicker on a friendly bike like the Ninja 650 as opposed to a pure-bred sportbike.
Now for some head-to-head comparisons: The Kawasaki’s tranny feels snickity-smooth with a slightly long shifter throw. The SV, on the other hand, has a shorter throw but doesn’t feel as precise in the shifts: Call it a tie. While both bikes turn in quickly, the SV feels a bit twitchy at times. Perhaps this lies in the fact that the Kawasaki has a tad more trail at 4.2 inches (versus 4.0 in.) and a higher percentage of its weight on the front wheel (49.4% versus 47.4%). Both bikes have 25-degree rakes: Advantage Ninja.
When pushed hard, the softly suspended Ninja gets jittery while the SV finally feels at home: Advantage Suzuki. The SV has that lovely V-Twin thrum while the Kawasaki’s exhaust note is so muffled that it’s painful. Too bad a little intake honk wasn’t tuned in to give the rider a little more music: Advantage SV. The Suzuki had a cheap-looking tach. The Kawasaki has cheap-looking plastic on the inside of the fairing: Tie.
(After this test was written, some Ninja 650 owners complained of various buzzes emanating from plastic panels. Kawasaki has since developed a kit comprised of foam/neoprene damping strips for the fairing and headlight that will be implemented in future production of the bike and is available at dealers for retro-fitting. -Ed)
What riding these Twins side-by-side reveals is less of a commonality under the label “beginner bike” than a tale of two different characters. Both bikes would be quite suitable for both novice riders and more experienced ones.
Suzuki topped the charts in both categories, but this horsepower graph demonstrates how the SV goes above and beyond the Ninja in performance capabilities. This is just one of many reasons the SV650 has become a cult favorite among roadracers and veteran riders, in addition to being an ideal mount for newbies with rising skill potential.
While the Kawasaki is easier to ride, it has lower limits. A person who wants an easy-going mount that can perform a variety of duties couldn’t go wrong here.
The SV650 may be a little more difficult to ride, at first, but it rewards those who want to push it a little. A novice rider who knows their personality type to be a little more on the aggressive side or an expert looking for an inexpensive fun bike would both find a lot to love with the Suzuki.
I’ll belabor the beginner bike point once more by pointing out that many a seasoned rider has tried this class of motorcycle and had a gas doing it. Rather than thinking of these bikes as novice mounts or budget bikes, I prefer to consider the Ninja 650R and the SV650 to be bikes that deliver a tremendous bang for the buck.
As Duke said, with a devilish grin, at the bottom of a particularly circuitous section of road, “Who needs 150 horsepower?”
For My Money
Evans Brasfield, freelance photojournalist, author
Age 44, 5’11”, 185 lbs, 17 years riding streetbikes
Evans might have picked the Ninja 10 years ago, but as his skills have developed the SV has more to offer the expert rider.
Since my first bike was an EX500 that I rode for 70,000 miles before a stoplight-running SUV separated me from it, since I raced a variety of EX500s for five years and since I still own four (or is it five?) EX500 engines, three frames, and too many other parts to list, I was stoked to have an opportunity to ride the Ninja 650R. I have to admit that tooling around town and down the highway was a sentimental journey. The engine character stirred memories of my 11,000 mile cross-country journey on my old EX. I wanted to throw on some soft luggage and travel for a few weeks. So, if I had to plunk down my own money on one of these bikes, I’d probably choose the Ninja, right? Uh, no. I’ve changed since 1989, and what I want from a motorcycle has changed, too. If I were the same person I was back then, I’d probably choose the Kawasaki, but the SV650 suits my needs more now. I would choose the Suzuki because it has the higher performance envelope and would be more at home on the occasional track day. Still, I’d like to thank my old EX500 for being the perfect bike to introduce me to the joys of motorcycling.
Kevin Duke, MotorcycleUSA Editor
Age 40, 5’7″, 145 lbs, 23 years riding streetbikes
These bikes are about juggling the competing factors of price, performance, style and versatility, and both do an admirable job.
I’d take the frisky and quick SV650 because it offers more performance out of the box. Its 90-degree V-Twin emits music not too dissimilar from a Ducati’s mellifluous exhaust note, plus it makes more power so that it can keep even a vet hooligan like me entertained. And if I owned an SV, I’d be grateful for the large amount of aftermarket support for this class standard-bearer. A visit to Race Tech would sort its suspension, and a freer-flowing exhaust system with a healthier bark would better stimulate my senses and uncork a few extra horsies. I also dig the stripped-down nature of the SV, looking especially hot this year with its black-anodized aluminum frame and mini-cowl fairing.
That said, I’ve been riding on the street for more than 20 years, so I fall outside the intended demographic for this market segment. The Ninja 650R is actually newbie-friendlier and proved to be more entertaining than I expected, so I’d heartily recommend this baby Ninja to those who don’t intend on shredding canyon roads and who live in a climate in which having a full fairing is a definite bonus. Welcome to the class, Kawi, you’ve scored another hit.
Checkout the raw data about these bikes in the Spec Sheet.
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