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2010 Kawasaki Ninja 650R: MD Ride Review

When Kawasaki introduced the Ninja 650R in late 2005 (as a 2006 model), we had a chance to sample the all-new machine at a press introduction here in Southern California. The engine was designed from scratch . . . lighter and more compact than the smaller displacement parallel twin found in the Ninja 500R, for instance, and it boasted modern engineering features, including double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, a semi-dry sump and plated, liner-less cylinders. A cassette-style six-speed transmission delivered power through a chain final drive. A narrow bike with good mass centralization (contributed to, in part, by a linkage-less shock offset to the right side of the steel frame), we really enjoyed riding the 650R. You can see our review of the original model here.

Last year, we noted that the Ninja 650R had been redesigned by Kawasaki. More than 40 “updates and refinements” are summarized in that article. Most noticeable is the new look of the bike, but the performance and comfort were a main focus of the revisions.

Fuel injection changes were designed to improve engine performance, but also work with new emissions controls. Kawasaki aimed at improving handling and engine vibration with an all-new frame and swingarm, as well as suspension changes. Rubber mounts are now used at the rear of the engine, as well as the handlebar to reduce the amount of vibration reaching the rider. This was the same goal addressed by new rubber coated footpegs for both the rider and passenger.

The seat is now slimmer and lower than the one found on the original model. The rider can now reach the ground easier, and wind protection is enhanced by the wider windscreen. Instrumentation is also revised on the new model.

Riding the 650R brought back good memories. The motor is smooth and unintimidating, but powerful enough for even an experienced rider to have some fun. Decent mid-range is followed by a strong pull in the upper regions of the tachometer, and the six-speed transmission provides a ratio for every occasion. Although a parallel twin is not going to be as smooth as a 90 degree v-twin (such as the one found on Suzuki’s SV650, for instance), the efforts Kawasaki made to further isolate engine vibration from the rider have been successful.

The new, rubber-mounted footpegs and bars, together with the new rubber engine mounts, leave the new 650R hardly more buzzy than a 90 degree v-twin, while exploiting the advantages associated with the compact engine design, including better mass centralization and a more compact chassis, overall.

We really liked the redesigned plastic, as well. Our test model was a new green color (not like the lime green on so many, older Kawasaki models) that was quite striking and, in our opinion, attractive. It drew plenty of comments when we parked the bike at gas stations or retail shopping centers.

Another thing we like about the Ninja 650R is its upright ergonomics. Not quite as upright as a supermoto, but much more comfortable to ride than a typical, hardcore sportbike, the Ninja 650R gives you the styling of a sportier machine with the everyday comfort of a sport tourer. Wind protection is also improved over the prior model, with an intake port below the windshield (and above the headlights) significantly reduces buffeting for the rider.

Seat comfort on longer rides was adequate, although not quite up to sport tourer standards. Your legs are allowed to stretch out more than on a pure sportbike, however, and the easy reach to the bars leaves your hands relaxed and your wrists comfortable no matter how long you stay in the saddle.

Some of our old complaints haven’t gone away. The levers are still a bit narrow, and the front brake, although adequate, lacks the outright power and feel of the brakes on modern sportbikes.

We had some complaints about the non-adjustable suspension settings on the old model, but the new bike really seems to have improved in this area. Kawasaki has struck a good balance between performance and plushness, and the bike seemed to work well for our 200 pound tester, as well as a test rider weighing 150 pounds.

Handling is the strong suit of the Ninja 650R. The bike feels extremely light and nimble. It changes directions very easily, but does not feel twitchy. It is stable, and holds its line well mid-corner, unless you tell it to do otherwise. That non-adjustable suspension does a pretty good job of soaking up bumps mid-corner, as well.

On the highway, the bike tracks straight with little effort from the rider, and feels stable enough to remove your left hand from the bars on occasion without concern.

We rode the bike hard, but it returned fuel economy in the mid-40s nonetheless.

All-in-all, the 2010 Ninja 650R is a lot of motorcycle for the money . . . at a U.S. MSRP of $7,099. It is good looking, fast, comfortable, returns good gas mileage, and provides loads of fun with its light and nimble handling. It is easy enough to ride for an inexperienced pilot, but could still be an experienced rider’s choice for a budget all around motorcycle. A useful and fun motorcycle to tour on, commute with or scratch through the canyons. This year the bike is available in Candy Lime Green, Ebony or Metallic Island Blue. Take a look at Kawasaki’s web site for additional details and specifications.

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MD Readers Respond:

  • I sat on one. It’s a horrid seat. Basically, if your hands are high, your pegs have to go lower or your feet push your Planters into the tank. I also sat on the new Versys and the same thing. The new Moto Guzzi V7 Classic AND Café both have superb stock seats. I was also quite comfy on a Triumph Bonneville seat and even the new VFR seat. The Suzuki Gladius seat is the same. Good for girls maybe but good luck even getting Sargent to fix that horrid curved pan. BMW does the same thing and the Triumph sport tourers are the same. Do they try sitting on these bikes for ten minutes? Never mind riding them. Tell them all to sit on the Guzzi’s I mentioned. Perfection. The Guzz Café is sweet!  Neil