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2006 Ninja 650R vs Suzuki SV650

Monday, May 1, 2006
Ninja 650 SV650 Comparo
A Nice Pair

Life must be tough for middleweight Twins. Despite all they have to offer, they still get tagged with the "beginner bike" label. While many of these bikes may be bought by first-time motorcyclists and buying one of these rather than, say, a GSX-R1000 or ZX-10 as your first ride displays uncommon common sense, the label is still somewhat insulting. Even though it does imply that you're doing something pretty cool - learning to ride a motorcycle - a certain stigma remains. After all, how many people would walk proudly into their local pharmacy and ask the cute cashier where to find the trainer condoms?

You would think that the beginner bike moniker would have been debunked after all the club racers that have filled the grids at their local track with SV650s. Before that it was Honda Hawks and EX500s. The unfortunate truth is that we Americans have this problem with size. We think bigger is always better. In motorcycles, horsepower is king. Never mind that you have to know how to use it.

The Ninja 650R has a sophisticated look that belies its budget  6299 price tag.
The Ninja 650R has a sophisticated look that belies its budget $6299 price tag.
So, on streets and racetracks around the country, a parade of riders insists on throwing a leg over more bike than they're ready to handle. And you know what the sad part is? They'd probably have more fun riding the smaller bikes that they disdain so. (An aside: When I started racing my EX500, the novice racer pitting next to me was riding a ZX-9. After he'd high-sided himself a couple of times, I suggested that maybe he'd want to try a smaller bike for racing. His expression told me he'd rather eat dog food. Before the end of his first season, he'd launched himself into a low orbit again. I don't know if it was the cost of repairing his bike or the concussion, but he soon stopped coming to the track.)

In recent years, Suzuki's SV650 has been the leader in a class of one (well, two, if you count the two SV models). Kawasaki's EX500 had received the Ninja 500 name and little else. Clearly, time was ripe for some kind of challenge to the SV hegemony. With the introduction of the Ninja 650R, Kawasaki has entered the middleweight Twin arena. 

Kawasaki Ninja 650R: A Fresh Face 

Ninja 650 SV650 Comparo
The coltish Ninja makes tackling corners easy for newbies and entertaining for vets.
Although V-Twins get most of the press, you can find a lot to love in parallel-Twins. They still have that deep exhaust note (well, as long as they're not overly muffled) and torque-rich power delivery. From a manufacturer's standpoint, parallel Twins can be built more compactly and with less complexity. You only have one head, one set of cams, and one timing chain. Costs of manufacturing and maintenance go down with just this set of differences alone. (Anyone who has ever performed valve adjustments on both V-Twins and parallel-Twins can vouch for the significance of this difference.) Then there is the long relationship Kawasaki has with the 650's smaller sibling. Beginning with the EX500's release in 1987, Kawasaki's 500cc parallel-Twin has been a consistent seller with only minor updates (like updated bodywork and 17-inch wheels) to entice new customers. What many people may not know is that the Vulcan 500 uses a retuned version of this same engine.

With this family relationship and some similar styling touches to what little of the 650's engine you can see from outside the swoopy bodywork, some have assumed that the engine is merely a larger version of the EX's. Well, that assumption is dead wrong. The 649cc engine is a thoroughly modern unit developed solely for this bike. The 83.0mm x 60.0mm cylinders breathe through four valves each. The timing chain sprockets are located on the side of the engine to reduce the rocking couple inherent in parallel-Twins, and the narrow cylinder pitch contributes to this as well as slimming the width of the engine. The cylinders are linerless, plated aluminum to save weight. Other nice touches to the engine include the cassette-style transmission for ease of maintenance and the routing of cooling lines through the cases for less clutter.
We imagine Mr. Buell is privately gloating at the current proliferation of under-engine mufflers  such as this tidy one on the Ninja that unfortunately does a little too much muffling for our tastes.
We imagine Mr. Buell is privately gloating at the current proliferation of under-engine mufflers, such as this tidy one on the Ninja that unfortunately does a little too much muffling for our tastes.

The engine is tuned, not surprisingly, for low- to mid-range power. Fuel metering comes courtesy of fuel injection and a pair of 38mm throttle bodies. The exhaust has a three-way catalyst for air-friendliness. Placing the muffler under the engine assists in mass centralization and lowers the center of gravity-a plus for novice riders.

Despite the larger displacement, the engine is significantly smaller than the EX500's. A triangular layout of the crankshaft and transmission shafts significantly shorten the engine. A semi-dry sump helps to reduce the height of the engine. This compact unit allows for a narrower profile and a simpler frame construction. A long swingarm, thanks to the short engine length, will improve handling while still keeping a relatively short wheelbase of 55.3 inches.

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James Bond -Ninja 650 R 08 4K. 6ft. 210 lbs. 56yrs.  January 16, 2011 05:44 PM
Best bike I've ever owned. admittedly I'm no expert , but this thing is tits. Light clutch , barely any vibes in pegs or grips, perfectly balanced, lots of freeway power, easy to find neutrual sp., with Givi Bags this thing hardly even moves on the freeway around semis - like they added wings , super sounding grunt, seat needed some love though - had it done and can cruise all day like 8hrs now, a little cramped for my ht. but the ride makes up for the scrunch of my legs, tranni. is smooth as can be, no hurky jerky at low throttling, instantaneous start when button pressed.
I could go on and on about this marvel. Gotta be one of the best engines ever made. Lovin my Ninja

Super Dave -650 r  January 16, 2011 05:26 PM
Super Bike
Jeff -650R  May 17, 2010 09:44 AM
Hey ive only been riding two seasons, I currently own a Susuki Gs500f that I love to ride, been casually looking at buying a little bigger bike and took out a SV650 and 650r and for my tastes both have enough power to put a smile on my face. I found them both great handling bikes and on the curvy road I got the chance to take them both down I was impressed how hard I could put them thru the turns. I honestly think they are both to powerful to be classified as beginner bikes but thats just my 2 cents. I think they both rock and Im going to end up with one of them!!!
Big d -wonderful bike  March 28, 2010 07:49 AM
if this bike was as fast as it looked it would outrun anything but its not however u can put an aftermarket muffler on it and make it jump up and down up to about 110 id race anything after that i goota wave goodbye all in all a good bike though
bike lover -650r  July 31, 2009 09:12 PM
i enjoy this bike,no its not a racer but sometimes i push it to its limit. it gets to 130 to 140 and thats enough speed unless u just want to take it to the track. for anyone that wants to talk bad about this bike really doesnt like to just enjoy ridin

joe rockets new cousin mike rocket -650r ninja  June 7, 2009 07:33 PM
ok i am easily impressed . i`m over 60 my last bike was 72 500 kawasakie . things have changed for the better wow this older guy loves his new 650 ninja for me its a rocket i got back on the saddle just in time maybe i will get a bigger bike in the future. so far i am very happy with 650r. i have no problems yet with the bike it does seem to use a bit more fuel when you run it hard not a big problem .
karun gandhi -fi9  May 12, 2009 04:35 AM
very gud bike... ninja..
a friend -this bike is a 6/10  February 18, 2009 05:06 PM
its a peppy little bike. you can easily loft the front end. thats about it for goods. bad: its a slapped together piece of crap. the fairing vibrated so bad I got rid of mine. (yes this was after it supposedly fixed after thousands of complaints) it drove me mad. stay the hell away from this thing. I have bought a few kawi's over the years but the crap build quality is what will never get my dollar again.