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New Sportbike Ride Comfort: Kawasaki Ninja 650

By Arv Voss, July 14th, 2012

My first experience aboard a Kawasaki Ninja occurred several years ago at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. I tried the bike on for size and my elbows and knees interfered with one another in disturbing fashion. I told the bike instructor I didn't feel I would be in control. He insisted that I give it a try. I complied, and he agreed that it didn't make for a pretty sight.

So when I learned the new Kawasaki Ninja 650 was on the way for me to review, I was apprehensive, but figured I'd give it a shot, since I now had considerably more sportbike experience under my belt. The 2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 has a bold sportbike persona, but with fresh styling that provides a much more civilized and friendly riding position -- especially for older, oversized riders such as myself.

My 2012 Ninja 650 sported a Candy Lime Green finish and came with the base price set at $7,499. Its 55.5-inch wheelbase and 83.1-inch overall length, along with its 460.8-pound dry weight, make for a highly manageable and maneuverable riding machine. The seat height of 31.7 inches might tend to pose a bit of a problem in touching down when stationary for those with shorter inseams, but I found it just right.

I'm not a "knee-dragger" by any means, but riding the Ninja 650 felt like an orchestrated ballet, turning rhythmically one way, then the other with graceful ease. It was exceptionally maneuverable and easy to manage. The bars are now positioned higher and allow for a more upright position -- no more tank hugging either.

Acceleration was smooth and plentiful. The ride quality was compliant without being too soft or too firm, soaking up road surfaces nicely. Handling characteristics were sporty and responsive with good feedback. Trail braking allowed for cooking into tight backcountry curves and the bike exhibited great balance.

Essentially, the bike has undergone pretty much a complete redesign. The redesigned twin-pipe perimeter frame provides enhanced rigidity, stable handling, a low seat height and improved aesthetics, while the twin-pipe swingarm assembly also offers improved rigidity and pleasing styling.

The exhaust system has been redesigned too, and features a new connector pipe, a higher-volume three-chamber muffler assembly for improved mid-range torque while maintaining peak top-end power, along with a higher quality finish.

Redesigned bodywork benefits aerodynamics, improves engine-heat dissipation and the clutch serves up an easier-pull cable design for reduced fatigue and enhanced control.

The instrument cluster assembly is new featuring an analog tachometer and a digital readout module that delivers at-a-glance information for the rider.

Power is provided by a 649 cc four-stroke, liquid-cooled, 8-valve parallel twin with digital fuel injection from two 38 mm Keihin throttle bodies with motive force geared through a six-speed sequential manual gearbox to the rear wheel via an O-ring final drive.

Suspension componentry consists of 41 mm hydraulic telescopic forks with 4.9 inches of wheel travel up front, and the new twin-pipe swingarm with single offset laydown shock, adjustable spring preload and 5.1 inches of wheel travel in the rear. Bringing the new Ninja 650 to a halt are front dual 300 mm petal discs with two-piston calipers, and a single 220 mm petal disc with single piston caliper in the rear.

Standard rolling stock is provided by Dunlop Sport Maxx Roadsmart II rubber (120/70-17 front/160/60-17 rear) mounted on Black six-spoke supersport-style alloy wheels.

In terms of its eye appeal, the Ninja 650's new fairing's angular nose houses a dual headlight design featuring multi-reflector bulb hoods and twin position lights similar its Ninja supersport siblings. A three-way manually adjustable windscreen aids in deflecting air away from the rider and reducing wind buffeting at higher speeds, and the redesigned, larger capacity fuel tank (4.2 gallons) blends harmoniously with the radically shaped new fairing, while the sleek tail cowl featuring a thin LED taillight accentuates the new bodywork's athletic appearance.

An inner rear fender helps keep the tail cowl's underside clean, and the redesigned front fender minimizes water splash, while its shape matches the Ninja 650's new bodywork styling.

The new 2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 is an affordable, great-looking sportbike -- without the riding discomfort of many traditional all-out sportbikes. It's not a heavy tourer either, but seems to fit nicely somewhere in between. Add self-canceling directional signals and a gear indicator, and the 650 Ninja would be even more special. It could serve as an ideal entry-level sportbike.

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