Updated! Kawasaki Ninja 650R first ride review

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Added in: Reviews

Ninja-650R-4

Words: Amit Chhangani Images: Shashank Ramugade Kawasaki India, along with Bajaj has launched the ninja 650R, or the er-6f in India. Priced at an incredible 4.57lakh rupees ex-showroom Delhi, the new bike will surely set the pulse of thousands of bike enthusiasts across the country racing. Now, the phenomenon of a motorcycle company launching an exciting, big-capacity bike in India is now new. From the CBR1000RR to the V-Rod we have them all, so what’s the big deal about this one? Why so much hoopla? Well, apart from the lip smacking price of under 5 lakh rupees, this green machine has a lot of other things going for it. We rode this highly anticipated machine across a good mix of traffic and road conditions and realised that it’s quite unlike anything else that you have in the market right now, and in a very good way.

Here’s an account of what I experienced.

Ninja 650R Ninja 650R

Kawasaki India, along with Bajaj has launched the ninja 650R, or the er-6f in India. Priced at an incredible 4.57lakh rupees ex-showroom Delhi, the new bike will surely set the pulse of thousands of bike enthusiasts across the country racing. Now, the phenomenon of a motorcycle company launching an exciting, big-capacity bike in India is now new. From the CBR1000RR to the V-Rod we have them all, so what’s the big deal about this one? Why so much hoopla? Well, apart from the lip smacking price of under 5 lakh rupees, this green machine has a lot of other things going for it. We rode this highly anticipated machine across a good mix of traffic and road conditions and realised that it’s quite unlike anything else that you have in the market right now, and in a very good way. Here’s an account of what I experienced.

Let’s start off with the visuals and initial impressions. On the first look, the Ninja 650R comes across as a sizeable, well-styled and exclusive enough machine by Indian standards. True, it won’t make the onlookers drop whatever they have in their hands and ogle at it with drooling mouths and dropped jaws. That’s more of the R1’s, or S1000RR’s business; but attention it sure would grab, and in a measure which doesn’t become a peril for its own safety and well being. Yes, the Ninja 650 is well styled, yes, it’s big, and yes it looks great, but there is a certain degree of subtlety about it, and every bit of it is appreciable, especially in the Indian day-to-day use context. If the 1098 is a college chick dressed in mini skirt and stilettos, looking suggestively at you as she walks away blowing a bubble with the chewing gum in her mouth, the Ninja is the college topper in some really cool casuals. It’s not that it isn’t hot, just that it doesn’t drip lust and desire.

Talking technically, the relatively high position of the 650’s tank negates the commuter-ish height of the handlebars to make for a sporty looking stance in the profile. Everything from the front forward fairing to the rear panel is a restrained exercise in design. Kawasaki designers knew exactly what this bike was meant to do in the real world when they were designing it, and the machine represents its capabilities without an ounce of exaggeration. It’s sporty alright, but not over-the-top.

There are some nice details to the 650’s design which elevate it from the boring and the monotonous. The exposed one-sided rear monoshock, the fairing integrated front blinkers, the cute little exhaust tucked neatly under the sub-frame – are things which lend the Ninja its unique character. One may like or dislike them, but this Ninja has a personality of its own, it has its own identity – it knows what it’s out there to do and it doesn’t try to ape anything else to express what it’s about.

Hop onto the bike and it greets the quintessential Indian sports bike (P220, ZMA, ZMR, R15) rider like no other big capacity bike ever has in India. The height and reach of the handlebars, the seat height position, the foot-peg position – everything makes you feel comfortable right from the word go. Someone hopping straight off the ZMR onto the Ninja’s saddle will feel instantly at home. Sure, the Ninja 650 appears and feels big, but without being intimidating in any manner whatsoever. Sure it feels bigger than your usual sports bike, but that’s about it as we talk differences, unless a new instrument cluster is also something that scares you. Heck, even the handle-bars are not clip-ons, and yes, I brazenly appreciate what you may want to call stinginess……

 Dab the starter button and you get to hear an exhaust note which is quite unusual for parallel twins, especially the high capacity ones. The primary reason is the tiny can which is tucked away below the bike’s belly. Unlike the throaty note of liter-class superbikes which turns into a thunderous howl as you rev up the range, this one burbles at low revs, and even as you twist the wrist fully, doesn’t create any divine music. The sound from the exhaust is muffled throughout the rpm band, and it definitely won’t make people realize that something special is passing them by virtue of its noise.

The instrument console is fully digital, with big digits showing speed in the central area. The top left portion is meant for the odo and trip meter, while the top right section displays time. Right below the speedo, across the width of the display you have the fuel gauge, with the tachometer displaying 13000 as its highest reading.  The instrument cluster is made of high quality plastics and all the buttons and switches are placed in comfortable and familiar positions. There is an extra button on the Ninja though – a ‘Hazard Lights’ button. A great feature we must say, and probably a first on any bike being sold in India. The quality of plastics, paint, fit and finish is absolutely top notch. I couldn’t find any panel gap worth complaining and there were no squeaky or rattling noises emanating from the machine, as we rode it, but more on that later.

On the move, the Ninja feels friendly, nimble and easy to maneuver. The upright riding position makes it very comfortable, but you never feel as if you are riding an un-sporty commuter machine as regards handling. Right from the moment you swing your leg over the saddle, the Ninja 650R has a sense of reassurance about it. It really feels like a bike with great poise and skills. The turn-ins are quick, the flickability is great, but the nimbleness doesn’t compromise stability. At all times, the 650R feels extremely well planted on the tar.

There is ample torque at your disposal right from the bottom of the rev range. No splutter or resistance to pull from as low as 1500 rpm. Within the city’s slow moving traffic the Ninja will pull with reassurance from as low as 2000rpm. It pulls cleanly from low rpms, although the real fun begins only after 6000 rpm, when the speedometer looks more like the millisecond part of a digital stopwatch, with the digits changing at dramatic rate. It’s the closest you can get to experience the manic acceleration of a superbike in the safest way possible. The Ninja 650R is tremendously quick and fast by Indian standards, but sans the bloodthirsty craziness of a proper liter-class monster. The power builds in a linear manner, and is perfectly manageable at all times. Quite unlike the rather abrupt and peaky power delivery traits of superbikes which throw up everything after a certain rpm, leaving the inexperience rider shocked and scared.

I have been interacting with a few people who have their views on the Ninja, of course without having ridden it. They think that the bike is not ‘fast’ enough. As goes without saying they are comparing the specs on paper, and not understanding the usability aspect which I think is the strongest USP of this Kawasaki. With a liter class machine, no matter how divinely blessed you are with your riding skills, you won’t be able to utilize more than 50-60% (and I am being generous here) of its virtues on the streets. Going beyond poses a serious risk to life and limb, keeping in view the chaotic and unpredictable traffic and perilous road conditions that prevail here.

However, you can utilize the power of the Ninja almost fully. If you have the required skills, the Ninja is more than a handful for the road. It’s lightening fast and quick. 0-100 comes in a blindingly quick 5 seconds or thereabouts. 160kph appears on the speedo without you even having to make any effort. The top whack is a mighty 200kph, which is more than enough to keep you ahead of everything else on the road, but most importantly, you can extract that top performance from this machine in the real world, all by yourself, and feel proud about it. On an SBK, you’d always keep trying, feel bad about it, and end up with s few broken bones the day you dare, as there is absolutely no place where you can take the liter class machines to their limits consistently.

Given good road conditions, it’s a snap to hit the limiter in lower gears with the Ninja. I did a few times, while trying to figure the in-gear top speeds. The first gear takes this Kwacker to 84kmph, second gear hit the limiter at 118 kmph and there was still some way to go when I last checked on third cog at 140kmph. The exceptionally heavy traffic on NH4, on my way to Wai prevented me from going all the way in higher gears, but on a good day, it’s easily possible as the Ninja doesn’t take much time reaching those speeds.

I must make a mention of the engine and gearbox smoothness here. It happens quite often while testing a car and bike that the engine gets vibey and noisy at the upper spectrum. It doesn’t enjoy being taken to the limit and discourages you from hitting the roof and being there for long. It’s a flaw that I take very seriously. However, the Ninja 650’s butter smooth twin is ready to be revved without mercy all the way to the limit. There’s hardly any vibes at the pegs or at the bars. It loves being revved hard, all the way up to the limit. The delightful engine refinement is matched by an equally smooth 6-speed transmission which is precise, has ample feel and slots in perfectly. The engine, however, was dissipating quite a bit of heat, and I could feel it on my shins all the time.

The extruded mono-suspension on the Ninja was set on the stiffer side when I set off. Although I didn’t find it uncomfortable, I did experience the rear wheel bouncing off slightly on hitting the bumps. I think two notches below the extreme stiffness would work well here and help absorb undulations better. It’s a breeze to set the stiffness on the 650R’s rear shock, as it’s extruded and within easy reach.

The bike was shod with tubeless120/70 – 17 (F)  / 160/60 – 17 (R) Bridgestones. The grip from the tyres was impressively reassuring. Riding it through the city, then through the superbly laid out NH4 and finally through the twisties leading up to Mahabaleshwar, the rubber performed well enough to keep any apprehensions or doubts away from my head. I didn’t get to ride the bike in wet conditions, but the performance by the tyres was laudable in normal road conditions.

Although not at the cutting edge of technology, the Ninja 650 is a very well sorted bike. And it reflects in its handling and cornering prowess as well. Some people may have their reservations about the relatively high position of the 650’s handlebars, and its impact on the handling aspect. However, I had an absolute ball riding up the hills of Mahabaleshwar, and very frankly have never been more comfortable leaning a powerful bike around corners on the streets (not talking of the racetrack here). The turn-ins are easy, you can dip and lift the bulk of the machine without putting in any efforts, and most importantly, the poise of the bike and the linear power delivery ensure that you an crack the throttle wide open while making an exit. And that’s why the Ninja is so good for out conditions. Try being a cowboy on a liter class machine, twist the wrist with too much enthusiasm while still being leaned over and you will find your self on the other side of the road after a good slide. The Ninja with good help from the grippy Bridgestones, however, will duly oblige if you are a good rider. And Being able to utilize a hefty chunk of a bike’s full capability will make you feel good and will inspire you to get even better. Yes, there are better bikes for the racetrack which will swallow and spit the Ninja around a circuit, and will help you train better as a professional racer. However, in the real world, for the real world rider, the Ninja really is the real deal.

Having said that, the Ninja wouldn’t disappoint if you took it for a track day either. True, it won’t be the best option in those conditions, but it would still be perfectly at home! Unless you are a professional racer, the Ninja has the goods to make your day an absolute hoot around the circuit. It would accompany you to the valleys of the Himalayas without a whimper, and it would be your trusty steed if you decided to get your Saddlesore certificate. It would actually make the whole exercise a lot less taxing than for those who tortured their bodies on the Karizmas and the Pulsars of the world to get the coveted certificate. Then, it wouldn’t fail to impress the chicks in your college, and it’ll keep her comfortable in the pillion seat if one of them decided to come with you for a weekend ride. It would happily carry a couple of heavy panniers and haul them across the length and breadth of India if it’s a month long adventure trip you are on. Thanks to its ground clearance, it wouldn’t have much trouble treading those untrodden territories every once in a while. It’ll be relatively easy on fuel, and compared to a proper superbike, it would be much easier on the pocket when it comes to service and spares too. The wide network of Bajaj Probiking should come as an added relief.

All in all, the Ninja 650R is the bike for you if you want a stylish superbike, a capable tourer, a competent track day tool, an adventure bike, a comfortable pillion hauler and an every day commuter rolled into one with a an affordable price tag. The Ninja 650R is a beautiful machine, and it’s humble enough to be at your service for whatever tasks you may want to assign it. If you’re a performance enthusiast, you won’t require another ‘small’ bike to take care of the daily chores, once you have this baby parked in your garage – it’s that practical.

I don’t see any real flaws with the Ninja 650R, and very honestly, at this stage if I come up with any, I would be making them up. It’s a superb package for the Indian conditions, and unless you want a machine specializing in a certain discipline, the Ninja 650R does almost everything right. I’m sold!

More insights, details and pictures of the new bike coming in a bit. This is all I could manage while being on the extremely tight schedule for the past two days. Sorry for the delay guys!

Here’s the detailed spec sheet of the India specific Ninja 650R

PARAMETERNINJA 650R
EngineLiquid-cooled, 4-stroke, Parallel Twin Cylinder
Displacement (cm³)649
Power (Ps) @rpm72.1 @ 8500
Torque (Nm) @rpm66 @ 7000
Fuel SystemFuel injection: ø38 mm x 2 (Keihin)
Compression Ratio11.3:1
Valve/Induction SystemDOHC, 8 valves
Frame TypeDiamond, high-tensile steel
Front Suspension41 mm telescopic fork
Rear SuspensionOffset laydown single-shock with adjustable preload
Ground clearance (mm)145
Saddle Height (mm)790
Overall length (mm)2100
Overall width (mm)760
Height (mm)1200
Kerb weight (kg)204
Wheelbase (mm)1410
Tyre Size- Front120/70 – 17 (Tubeless)
Tyre Size-Rear160/60 – 17 (Tubeless)
Fuel Tank (lts)15.5
Brakes: Front (mm)300 mm dual semi-floating petal discs, dual piston
Brakes: Rear (mm)220 mm single petal disc, single piston
ColourLime Green
Delhi Ex-showroom priceRs. 4.57 lacs