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MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: Kawasaki Ninja 650R: Blurring the Lines

Part sportbike, part sport touring

By Genevieve Schmitt, Photography by Alfonse Palaima
3/31/2008


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I kept hearing how amazing Kawasaki's new-for-2007 Ninja 650R is, so I just had to ride it. Well, I finally had my chance in the saddle of this newest addition to the Kawasaki Ninja family, and now I know what all the excitement is about.

One reason the Ninja 650R is so easy to handle is because it weighs only 400 pounds, very light for a motorcycle.
One reason the Ninja 650R is so easy to handle is because it weighs only 400 pounds, very light for a motorcycle.

The bike is dialed in so right; it's effortless to ride. What I mean by effortless is that it’s light, low, and precise giving the rider added confidence to lean it over in the twisties or turn up the throttle in the straight-aways. A true-blue sportbike can be intimidating to novice riders. The 650R blurs the lines between delivering sporty performance but in a sport-touring package.

The 650 is right at home on the corners. Its ease of handling inspires confidence in beginner to intermediate riders.
The 650 is right at home on the corners. Its ease of handling inspires confidence in beginner to intermediate riders.

Before this middleweight Ninja was introduced, the entry-level Ninja sportbikes consisted of the 250R and the 500R. The 650R builds on those two models giving novice riders an added option without feeing like they're making a jump to a much bigger bike. The seating position on the 650R is more upright than leaned over like on the smaller Ninjas. The handlebars come up to the rider as opposed to the rider having to lean down to reach them. This riding position is all part of a new approach Kawasaki took when designing the 650R.

The Ninja 250, the only 250cc sportbike available.
The Ninja 250, the only 250cc sportbike available.

The Ninja 500 sportbike.
The Ninja 500 sportbike.

Engineers started designing the 650 with the rider in mind, not the motorcycle. After studying every kind of rider and all types of riding, engineers focused on the human-machine interface. Different riding positions were examined to discover which instilled the most confidence. The feel of a lower seat achieved by making the bike narrow, low effort hand controls, and easy to reach footpegs all played into the design effort.

The extremely light weight of the Ninja 650R at 393 pounds make it a breeze to handle the 31-inch seat height—a standard height for sportbikes, but on the tall side for average height female riders. The seat is narrow, as is the distance laterally between  the footpegs allowing riders more leg length with which to reach the ground. A textured seat as opposed to smooth, keeps the rider planted in the saddle so no sliding forward when you don't want to. Footpegs are angled behind the knees just slightly, but not too far back to force a sportbike riding position. For those who still want the look and power of a sporty bike, the 650R displays all the sporty characteristics of a Ninja with its upswept rear cowl and powerful parallel-twin 649cc twin cylinder engine.

The narrow profile and light weight enable shorter riders to handle the bike.
The narrow profile and light weight enable shorter riders to handle the bike.

At the flick of wrist, you can feel the 650's power take hold. This responsive is due in part to the fuel-injected engine and the way the bike is tuned. A microprocessor works in conjunction with the ECU (engine control unit) to control the timing. The result is an engine that delivers precise performance. Flicking through the six gears is smooth. The transmission is very forgiving if you find yourself in the wrong gear for the speed of the bike. No choking or sputtering.

Most of the torque is found at the lower to mid-range of the powerband, which comes in handy when negotiating traffic. Kawasaki specs indicate maximum torque of 48.5 foot-pounds at 7,000 rpm. At high speeds the engine starts to thin out a bit; downshifting from sixth to fifth to pass on a highway I discovered less torque available to me, but this is a 650cc motorcycle. It performed as a middleweight sportbike should, with most of its guts felt at roll-on in lower gears. Nonetheless, novice riders will find plenty of power for their taste. It’s worth noting that experienced riders wanting a solid, steady ride for daytripping or commuting will love the Ninja 650. It has enough get-up-and-go to satisfy those who desiring an easy to handle, reliable bike.

The 650R show in Candy Plasma Blue.
The 650R show in Candy Plasma Blue.

The brakes do a good job of stopping you. Dual petal design rotors offer improved cooling and warp resistance; petal design means the edges are shaped like a flower petal as opposed to a perfect circle. This is the same rotor design found on the Ninja ZX-6R and ZX-10R supersports machines. Twin-piston calipers squeeze the 300mm dual discs up front while a hydraulic caliper in the rear applies force to the 220mm disc.    

The petal disc brakes are supposed to improve wear and tear.
The petal disc brakes are supposed to improve wear and tear.

The 4.1-gallon fuel tank is large enough to allow you to do some serious touring without having to stop for fuel often. The windshield is a little higher and fuller than what's available on the other two Ninjas, again, a feature lending itself more to spending long lengths of time in the saddle.

Considering this is a newer model, I was surprised Kawasaki used "old-fashioned" analog controls when so many bikes today feature digital speedometers and tachometers. With that said, I actually prefer the look of analog controls because I like to see the whole spectrum of speed. The odometer and trip meters on the 650R are digital though.

The 650R has an aerodymanic design to improve wind resistance.
The 650R has an aerodymanic design to improve wind resistance.

I like that the Ninja 650 blurs the lines a bit in the middleweight sportbike category. Nothing was sacrificed in terms of engine performance. The 650R's precise handling inspires confidence in riders to lean it over just a little farther in the corners like one would a sportbike; but the upright ergonomics and rider comfort are what sets this bike apart from others in its category.

The Specs at a Glance: 2007 Kawasaki Ninja 650R
Displacement: 649cc
Seat Height: 31.1 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4.1 gallons
Dry Weight: 393 pounds
Price: $6,499

WRN Recommendation
I know a couple of moto-journalists who liked the Ninja 650R so much after they tested it, they actually bought one. This bike is downright fun to ride. It's versatility allows it to satify the tastes of those desiring a lot from their motorcycles. It's also ideal for those who cannot decide between a sportbike or a sport touring bike. This bike straddles the line delivering qualities of both very well.   

Related Articles
MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: Kawasaki Ninja 250R


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Reader Comments


I just bought a 2012 Ninja 650. Would love to see a review on the new version of this bike. It weighs about 70-90 pounds heavier than the 2007 Ninja 650R, but has a meaner sportier look to it.

Rehbecca Lowder
High Point, NC
Sunday, April 08, 2012
I just bought a 2007 Ninja 650R and I am in love! It is comfortable like a tourer but has the get up and go of your normal street bike. It is so easy to ride and fits the rider perfectly. If you have never owned a bike I would surely consider the 650R. You will not be dissatisfied!

Levi Sheffield
Leary, GA
Saturday, October 29, 2011
I'm 31, and I've been riding for 16 years. I am short; I think I have less than a 29-inch inseam. One of my current bikes is a Suzuki M50 (used to be known as the Marauder), a respectable 800cc middleweight cruiser with a tad of muscle bike looks. Through the years I've had it, I've liked it less and less. Although cruisers have a low seat clearance compared to sport bikes, they are often very wide. Almost all my friends ride sport bikes, and while I don't succumb to the peer pressure of the group, I wanted to have a taste of what they were getting out of the curves, while I'm still young enough to give it my all.

I've been looking for more than two years for a sportier bike that would suit my needs without being too tall for simple daily riding, as I ride the gamut: twisty day rides, weekend trips, annual trips to Tail of the Dragon, commuting, you name it. I had been told by numerous people that the Ninja 650R is the bike for me: light, fun, good riding position, affordable, and all the aftermarket accessories I could ever want if I decided to outfit it as a smaller sport-tourer. What I dreamed of was a VFR or a Concours but small enough for my proportions, and small enough to be a daily rider. I recently had the occasion to buy a 2009 650R from a friend who pretty much just broke it in.

I am just now back from a 561-mile round trip on my 650R. This trip included several hours of interstate, many miles of highway, driving though two states, two major cities (Cincinnati, and Columbus, Ohio, at rush hour on a Friday in 100-degree heat), neighborhoods, grocery stops, gravel roads and grass in a camping area, and two laps around the Mid-Ohio race course. This weekend I have ridden packed to the nines for the camping, then without any luggage at all, and back home through the gusty front end of a storm for almost an hour.

I never thought after all my years riding that I would feel like this after such a demanding weekend trip. I am not exhausted. I am not sore. I am invigorated - even riding through the rain was a pleasure. I feel like I rode through a Sprite commercial. This is without a doubt the bike I dreamed of but refused to believe existed. I fully believe that with a few simple modifications to control vibration, like foot pegs and grips, I could perform an Iron Butt on this bike.

I still owe money on my M50 (bought it new). If I didn't, I'd put it on craigslist right now.

Jennifer
Lexington, KY
Monday, July 25, 2011
Editor Response
Thanks for the feedback regarding the Ninja 650R. You truly put the bike through some real-world riding. We appreciate your sharing your thoughts with the WRN readers, and so glad you found your dream motorcycle.
Genevieve Schmitt
I've had my Ninja EX250 for the last 3.5 years and just sold it this week. I've been trying to decide between the 500 and 650, but you've got me sold on the 650 now. Can't wait to try it out myself!

Jessica
Colchester, VT
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
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