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2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650: MD Ride Review

We have already heaped plenty of praise on the new Kawasaki Z650 in our recent review. The Z650 is a sibling to the new Ninja 650 we have also now tested.

The Ninja 650 is in many respects identical to its naked Z650 brother, i.e., it features the same 649cc parallel twin engine and the same steel trellis frame, suspension, wheels and brakes. Even the steering geometry is identical. The primary difference between the two models is fairly obvious as the Ninja 650 features a full fairing and three-way adjustable windscreen, for significant wind protection.

Also common between the two models are the wheels and tires. Both bikes carry Dunlop Sportmax D214 tires sized 120/70 x 17 front and 160/60 x 17 rear. Both bikes are massively lighter than their predecessors (roughly 40 pounds).

Handling and suspension action remind us of the Z650 with good damping in the forks and shock, and extremely nimble direction changes coupled with good stability. Kawasaki really nailed it with the new steel frame and steering geometry. As we noted with the Z650, the smaller rear tire (160 mm wide vs. the now standard 180 mm) really contributes, in our opinion, to the flickable nature of the new Ninja 650. Also helpful are the new, lighter forged aluminum wheels.

Despite the sporty looks, like the prior Ninja 650, the new Ninja 650 is upright and comfortable, with the hand grips well above the triple clamps. Wind protection was adequate for this 5’11” test rider, and improved significantly with adjustment of the windscreen to the highest of the three positions available.  Buffeting at helmet level was not a problem, but could be for shorter riders (another reason that adjustable screen height is welcome). The screen, however, requires a wrench, and is certainly not adjustable on the road (unless you want to pull over and use your wrench).

Instrumentation is all new with all of the traditional read-outs. Highlights include MPG monitoring, gear position indicator and even a shift light that will blink at you at the rpm level you set. Thankfully, the tachometer is a legible analog-type.

Engine tune appears to be identical to that of the Z650, which we found to have excellent low-end and mid-range for the class, but perhaps lacking a little bit of peak horsepower high up in the rev range. We think it is a worthwhile trade-off for the vast majority of riders who would choose this model, and actually makes the bike quicker and more flexible on the street.

The six-speed transmission shifts easily and positively, aided by the “Assist and Slipper” clutch that reduces lever pull effort noticeably, and keeps the rear wheel planted on corner entry.

So the new Ninja 650 is a highly successful redesign of an already excellent motorcycle … lighter, more nimble and better handling overall. It offers the wind protection missing from the naked Z650 in exchange for approximately 15 pounds more weight (claimed curb weight is 426 pounds). The motor is a gem, and the bike will appeal to riders of all skill levels. It also has one of the strongest front brakes in the class, with excellent feel.

Although the 2017 Ninja 650 is sporty, and fun, it is also practical … delivering fuel economy in the high 40s/low 50s mpg.

The 2017 Ninja 650 ranges in price from an U.S. MSRP of $7,399 for the non-ABS model to $7,999 for the “KRT Edition” we tested with a special graphics package. Take a look at Kawasaki’s web site for additional details and specifications.


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45 Comments

  1. McRider says:

    I bought an early 06 Ninja 650 and put 115,000 miles on it. It’s a great engine and basically still the same on the ’17 model. The fit and finish on my 06 model was terrible, but I think that has been improved. One thing I really missed was a center stand, and you still can’t put one on the bike, but that’s pretty typical nowadays.

  2. DaveA says:

    Nice piece, but one nit…a quote from the article:

    “As we noted with the Z650, the smaller rear tire (160 mm wide vs. the now standard 180 mm) really contributes, in our opinion, to the flickable nature of the new Ninja 650.”

    The rear tire isn’t smaller on these bikes, and the 180mm rear tire hasn’t ever been standard on any of the Japanese 650 twins starting with the 1999 SV and through all of the various iterations of the Kawasaki EN bikes, Ninja 650s etc. All of those are and have been fitted with the same 160mm rear tire. The 180mm (or 190mm) tire has been standard fare on 600 4’s and bigger, and other larger, higher performance sport bikes for many years, but never on any of these.

    So, while I agree that it is a great choice for these bikes, Kawasaki isn’t breaking any new ground here.

    The only one that I can think of that would fit into this category with an OEM 5.5″ wheel/180mm tire would be the last gen Ducati 800ss. It is an 800, but it is air cooled and 2 valve, and has similar performance to the other bikes mentioned.

    • Dave says:

      That’s a pretty tiny nit. I think he meant that 160 was narrower than the nearly standard 180 size that’s used so heavily in sporting motorcycles. FWIW, the Yamaha FZ07 has a 180 rear tire.

      • DaveA says:

        Possible, but that wouldn’t be any different than saying “what really stands out here is Kawasaki’s use of disc brakes” as if that were somehow unique. Since I know Dr.D to be way better at this job than to say such a thing, I figure he might have been mistaken in thinking that sme previous 650 twins were running 180’s.

  3. todd says:

    Very nice. Well built bike with just about all anyone could ever need.

  4. Bubba Blue says:

    I love the look and the under-body exhaust. But it’s still just around 68 hp at the crank. Whenever I go into a dealer to dream & drool he tells me it’s under powered. Why can’t this one have an older zx-6R motor or something with 100 horses?

    So I just bought a 2005 6R.

    • Curly says:

      Because it’s an inline twin and not an inline four and if it was an inline four then it would cost $10,000+ with ABS and the old motor wouldn’t meet emission regs. BTW, 68 hp is more than enough to have fun with and wipe that drool off your chin. Geeze!

      • azi says:

        Bubba needs that extra horsepower to push the air aside.

        • Dave says:

          Chasing peak hp has become fruitless. I’d bet that this 68hp twin is far more enjoyable to ride in the rev ranges that most people actually ride most of the time.

          How often do you think you’ll reach the 100hp that ZX-6 puts out per month? How often do you think you’ll wish it didn’t need to downshift 2+ gears every time you want it to get moving per month?

          • todd says:

            Dave, if you’re trying to use the 100 hp of a 600, chances are you have not shifted UP much. No need to downshift when you’re already on it.

            That said, most people run around using about 10-50 hp, regardless what they’re riding.

      • DaveA says:

        While I agree with others that 100hp isn’t what’s needed here, the man does have a point in a roundabout way. the Nijna 650 is a pretty cool bike, but it is only just now, in this newest generation, that the motor manages to equal the 1999 SV650 in hp output. I mean…really? 18 years later, and it’s still not better?

        Weak sauce IMO.

        • todd says:

          35 years and neither still hasn’t matched the 74 crank hp of the ’82 Yamaha Seca 650. The brakes are so much better though.

          • DaveA says:

            The Seca 650 was a great bike, and a really great motor, but the only place it made 74hp in stock form was at the brochure 🙂

          • todd says:

            Not this again. The Seca 650 is one one of the bike I own and I have ridden a few SVs and a Ninja 650. The Seca accelerates harder than those two. Whatever power it has or claims to have, it’s more than whatever power the SV and Ninja claim to have. Duh, it’s an inline-four. Perhaps you think the FZR and R6 aren’t any faster either. Get over it.

          • DaveA says:

            There is no ‘thinking’ or opinions involved with what bike is faster than another. We have the ability to, you know…measure things. I just checked the data. And no, an FZR 600 isn’t faster than an R6. I owned and raced both (and SVs) and it isn’t even close.

            ANYway, even the 1st gen SV650 is considerably faster in the 1/4 than the Seca 650, and the 2nd gen SV650 is faster than that. Part of this is pwr/wt for sure, but trap speeds are all about HP, and the SV kills there.

            I spent a while trying to find a Seca 650 1/4 time that was under 12.5 seconds, and the best I could find was 13.09 @ 104 (pretty stout for an air cooled 2v 650 4) and the worst SV650 time I could find was 11.91 @ 110.3, again, for the slower 1st gen SV. I did find one faster set of specs for the Seca, but some cross-referencing revealed that the numbers listed were actually for the Seca 650 Turbo (but they still weren’t as good as the SV).

            In case you still don’t believe, think about the fact that an SV650 is faster than both an original stock Seca 650 Turbo, and a Seca 750, never mind a standard 650.

            Sorry, but it isn’t even really close.

            Also, I owned a Seca 550 (on my Top 5 Ever list) a Seca 650, (2) 1st gen SVs, and a 2nd gen SV, so I too have seat-o-pants experience. What I don’t have is rose-colored rear view mirrors 🙂

            On a side note I wanted a Seca 900. I’ve never even ridden one, but I have the believe that was a really great S/T bike.

          • todd says:

            Ok, well I only have first hand experience. Drag racing my friends on their 650s, I was consistently faster on the Seca. Swapping bikes, I was beat by the Seca – which leaves out driver’s error. But the bike doesn’t have stock jetting. Shrug.

  5. Sportourpa says:

    Glad to see another offering from Kawasaki of a sport bike with comfortable ergonomics.Kudos
    I’ve been wanting this for years
    I wish other manufacturers would follow suit.

    • Dave says:

      There are a couple of others worth checking out. Yamaha FZ6R, Honda CB650R/F are both good options that don’t get as much attention. The Honda is supposed to be especially nice.

  6. Mick says:

    You know, I’ve been noticing that Motorcycle Daily is becoming less daily all the time. I can understand that. If I’m not mistaken however, the Dailarians are California residents.

    So wassup? You can’t get over to Alta Motors and fill a day?

  7. McClain says:

    How many years till we can get this in a solid color? I don’t like the graphics adding all those extra lines to the already busy bodywork; it’s hard to even see what’s going on under the decals.

    • Dirck Edge says:

      There are 3 solid colors available. Look at the standard model – not the KRT version.

  8. Fred says:

    Looks like another one in the continuing evolution of fine Kawa mid level sportsbikes than you can tour for a few hours on. Well done Kawasaki.

  9. Don says:

    Hi All;
    Nice bike and thing I like best is the analog tach…
    Hoo Ray for Kawasaki.. They listen to their riders.
    They want analog tachs….

    • Tim C says:

      Yes. Of course, when I am King, all bikes will have analog tachs and the needle shall also be of contrasting color to the numbers.

      • Dave says:

        I’m kind of surprised we don’t have LCD screens with optional configurations already (faux analog, digital, Robo-mecha, Hello Kitty, etc.). That’s becoming more common in cars.

        • Tim C says:

          Ha, well, considering that many m/c dashes are stuck in the land of 80s digital car dashes (hence the rejoicing at analog tach here in the first place), it may be awhile!

  10. Chris says:

    I’ve had the Z650 for about a month now. It’s a great little bike; and I do mean, little. For the price and class of bike, I have no real complaint.s

  11. steveinsandiego says:

    “The primary difference between the two models is fairly obvious…” should be “fairing-ly obvious”…LOLOL.

    i very much enjoyed an 09 non-abs model for about six years and 56k miles. kawi put the 2017s on a nice little diet. now i’m somewhat enamoured of the z650, due to its fairinglessness. i’m trying to replace a 2015 v-strom 650, whose high center of gravity and wet weight are becoming precarious in the hands of this 68-yr-old. and of course i’m ogling the new suzuki sv650. alack and alas, choices, choices.

  12. Ryan says:

    Getting mine in a few days!! Idk whether to go with the white or black one though…

  13. Jon says:

    Oh for an adv bike based on this motor and chassis.

  14. DCE says:

    Still waiting for the 650 Versys with the updated rear suspension and frame.

  15. Curly says:

    This should be a good seller. I don’t care much for the color choices but it still seems like a good value.

    • CrazyJoe says:

      Like the orange one. Orange is the new black. Or maybe it’s blue. If they painted the gas tank green on the k r t it might be more acceptable to those who believe Kawasaki should be green but it looks sharp at least to me.

  16. James Kaplan says:

    Chicken Dinner! Now lets hear from all the folks who say “at 6′ 5” 300 lbs, I’m too big for this bike..because that will the the extent of the criticism

    • mickey says:

      And the name stigma that will still get you raped by your insurance company.

      • Brian says:

        It’d be interesting to know how much of that is real vs. rumor. Tempting to say, oh, just compare Ninja 1000 with Z1000, this with Z650…but there’s a lot less plastic in both cases, maybe different rider demographics.

      • Tim C says:

        I’d expect hp rating is looked at. Besides that, it’s probably not “Ninja 650” officially (my old Ninja 250 was EX250 on official docs). The plastic may add a few bucks, but nowhere near what another 30-40 hp would.

        • James Kaplan says:

          I’ve owned a ‘Ninja’ ZZR 1200 which had low insurance as it was classified as a sport-tourer…

          • mickey says:

            I dont ever remember the moniker Ninja attached to the ZZR. I had a buddy that used one with Givi bags as a sport tourer. Put over 100K troublefree miles on it in as such.

          • mickey says:

            I don’t recall the ZZR bearing the Ninja moniker