Words: Amit Chhangani.
Images: Hanoz Patel & Amit Chhangani
When we did a review of the previous version of the Kawasaki Ninja 650R, we almost immediately realized that there could hardly be a big bike which could suit the Indian conditions better. A rider friendly comfortable seating position, incredibly linear power delivery, rock solid stability, ambidexterity for touring as well as able corner carving, and a windscreen which effectively deflected air at high speeds – functionally the bike was tough to fault. Detractors could point a finger at its shape, which wasn’t the most balanced and attractive, but besides that the Ninja 650 was an epitome of practical, useable performance and rider friendliness.
In its 2013 avatar, the Ninja 650R has got rid of arguably its only setback – the looks! The new Ninja 650 has been restyled to look sharper, snazzier, sexier, without leaving out any of the virtues of its forebear. We’re glad to announce that it’s functionally as fabulous as the previous version (we miss the sheer size of the previous windscreen though), and has infact been substantially improved with a plethora of changes having been incorporated. We rode the bike on a very wet day, two-up, to understand it in detail and our tuppence on this beautiful piece of machinery is provided below.
Design and visuals
The new Ninja 650 borrows the basic design template from the earlier gen machine, and then changes almost all the details to various extents without letting the original proportions or character get diluted. In profile, the silhouette of the two bikes is near identical, with hardly any difference in the dimensions and shape. Bring the details in, and almost every part seems to have been refurbished.
The entire front apron, right from the beak of the bike to the point where it ends above the exhaust, has been restyled. In profile, the full fairing now gets the ZX-14R inspired slashes and an additional vent for styling, as well as for better heat dissipation. Moreover, the apron is now shorter and doesn’t extend all the way to the sub-frame, ending just under the crankcase. The integrated blinkers on the fairing are also more vertically oriented now, in contrast to the horizontal orientation of the front blinkers on the earlier bike. The Kawasaki stickering on the lower part of the fairing is also new.
The front fender has been restyled and is now all-black, unlike the earlier two tone treatment. There is a dash of black around the headlight area too. The restyled tank which is about the same height as earlier, as is now sloped more gently from the seats towards the handlebars. The more angular, chiseled styling goes a long way in lending the new Ninja a sharper look. And it’s not just a visual upgrade; the fuel capacity has been increased to 16 liters from the earlier 15.5.
The entire rear panel has been redesigned. The new Ninja 650 now features a split seat unlike the single step seat on the earlier machine. The seat height for the pillion rider seems to have been raised a smidgeon in the bargain. The redesigned 2-piece seat assembly features thicker and wider foam though, and is still one of the more comfortable seats for the second rider if you compare it with other similar products. Funnily, the grab rail on the left hand side has been replaced by an ugly, humongous saree guard. Thanks to our stupid laws, you’ll have to buy the grab rail for the other side as an accessory for extra money. Wow!
Thankfully, the exquisitely designed exposed sloping one sided rear mono-shock has not been touched and looks as distinctive as ever, lending the Ninja 650 is characteristic allure. The underbelly exhaust has been redesigned, is a tad more angular in form and more sharply inclined upwards.
In addition, the twin-pipe perimeter frame has been redesigned for more rigidity. The seat height has been lowered for more stable handling and improved aesthetics. The swing-arm has also been redesigned and now features a twin-pipe assembly for both more stiffness and better styling.
The instrument cluster has been newly designed too. The all digital instrument cluster has now been replaced by an analog tachometer and a digital readout. There is also an ECO display which turns on when you’re riding the bike in a fuel efficient manner. Headlamp and tail-lamp have been restyled and now look much better than the ones on the previous version. We especially loved the dotted light pattern of the LED tail-lamps. The handlebars on the new bike are 20mm wider for better rider comfort. The seat, handlebar and foot-pegs are rubber mounted to keep the vibrations minimal.
In all, the new Ninja 650R has been given a thorough makeover to make sure that restrained styling (on its predecessor) isn’t a retardant when it comes to buying decisions. It looks much more modern and sharper in its newest avatar, and comes across as a proper supersport machine.
A special mention must be made of the paint quality on this machine. The glossy green paint on our test bike made us look at it over and over again. The quality and depth of the paint on this machine is simply outstanding. You’d want to run your fingers over that sculpted tank only to appreciate the smooth and deep paint finish. It’s one of the best we have seen on any bike and needs to be witnessed to be believed.
Engine, transmission and performance
The 649 cc twin on the Ninja 650 produces max power rated at 72.1 PS @ 8500 rpm and 64Nm of peak torque @ 7000 pm. It’s mated to a 6-speed transmission which doesn’t leave you with anything to complain about.
The liquid-cooled, DOHC, eight-valve fuel-injected twin cylinder engine on the Ninja 650 has always been known to offer great low and mid range performance. Now it has been further tweaked to become even smoother, and offer even better performance between low to medium-rpm range. The focus has been to improve the roll-on response for better overtakes and deliver an enjoyable experience even in city traffic.
Thorough measures have been taken to reduce the vibrations, including a 180-degree crankshaft-driven balancer shaft. Furthermore, the connecting rod ends have oil jets to keep the underside of the pistons cool for this engine which is the most compact in its category. A high capacity radiator works towards improving cooling capacity.
Advanced fuel injection, along with a 300 cell catalyzer works towards facilitating lower emissions. The fuel injection settings are tuned to boost the engine’s bottom-end power while letting it rev more quickly. The under-engine exhaust apparently helps mass centralization but hinders ground clearance. More on that later though.
As mentioned earlier, the focus here has been on the low to mid range performance and smoothness. And Kawasaki have absolutely nailed it! The Ninja 650 offers a rider friendly character unmatched by any other such bike offered in India. There is absolutely no problem whatsoever in pottering about the city in high gears at ludicrously low rpm with this one. There is truckloads of torque at the bottom of the rev range and it keeps getting better as you rev it up.
Apart from offering fantastic tractability in slow moving traffic, that trait also means that the Ninja 650 wouldn’t ever take you by surprise. The power builds up progressively, incrementally, with no spikes or flat spots, so even newbies can climb up the rev range with confidence. Progressive power build-up, however, by any measure doesn’t mean a lack of rev-happiness. Crack open the throttle and the Ninja 650’s analogue tacho needle would sway all the way up to its redline of 11,000 rpm hastily without any protest. Just that it wouldn’t shock you with a sudden burst of power anywhere, all the way through. That said, with its 72 ponies, this Kwacker has enough firepower to take you all the way upto a ton and a half without wasting any time. The Ninja is lightening quick for road use, but with its friendly power delivery, not frighteningly so. 0-100km/h comes in a less than 5 seconds.
For all practical purposes, the Ninja 650 has more power than you would ever use on an Indian road. It’s capable of taking you past the 200km/h mark which is almost a suicidal speed for Indian roads. Point being, you can travel all day long with the speedo needle above 130km/h in sixth gear with the engine totally unstressed. To give you a perspective, the Ninja is capable of going past 140km/h in third gear, with three more cogs to spare. As long as you don’t compare it to a liter class superport machine, the Ninja 650 is a hard-charging beast, with ample flexibility for the tourers.
Ride, handling and braking
The most striking feature of the Ninja650R’s handling is it’s rock solid poise. In a straight line, irrespective of the speed you’re doing, the Ninja 650 feels incredibly stable with its boulder steady poise. We can’t tell whether it’s by virtue of the superb twin tube chassis or the heavy 211kg weight, but this machine feels totally unshakeable at speed. Minor undulations, road imperfections, gravel or plain potholes, there’s no taking away the sturdiness and sure-footedness from this motorcycle.
We were riding the Ninja 650 on an extremely wet day, and while passing through the open valleys approaching Lonavala, we encountered some really strong crosswinds. We could feel our helmets wobbling around our head, but no change in the bike’s own behavior. It’s after riding bikes like these that you come to know where smaller machines like the KTM 390 Duke could improve as regards straight line stability.
Making an important contribution to the Ninja650’s poise are its 120 / 70-17 front and 160 / 60 – 17 Dunlop Roadsmart II tires. Even while riding through absolutely rain lashed highways which had patches of mud and other predicaments strewn all across, the Dunlops offered astonishing grip levels. We were thoroughly impressed with their performance in wet, and can only imagine how good they would be in dry conditions. The good news is, those tyres are known to be quite durable too, and should last you a good distance before requiring to be replaced.
Braking duty is handled by dual 300mm petal-shaped disc brakes with twin-piston calipers up front. At the rear you have a single 220mm petal-shaped disc. There is no dearth of braking power or feedback. We do think that the lack of ABS as standard on such an expensive machine is a grave omission. This holds especially true as the recently introduced KTM 390 which is a third of the Ninja’s price has the feature as standard.
The Ninja650R is shod with a 41mm Telescopic fork up front with 120 mm travel, and a 7 – step adjustable single offset lay-down shock with 125 mm travel at the rear. At the default setting, the Ninja 650R feels just right with one rider. It soaks up a whole range of road imperfections with legendary aplomb, without being perturbed one bit. There is a bit of a problem though when you are riding two-up. On default setting the clearance gets reduced and you manage to scrape the underbelly exhaust much more often than acceptable. That factor is one small blemish on the Ninja 650R’s otherwise spotless personality.
As regards handling, the Ninja 650, though not a razor sharp corner carver like the ZX-10R, is a plausibly well sorted handler. While naysayers would want to drive your attention to the high handlebars and the relaxed riding position of the bike, you can easily ignore such extremists in the real world. Going extreme, SuperSport style would render a bike unusable for long durations. Those of you who have ridden a proper supersport like the Yamaha R1 or as an even more extreme example, the Ninja ZX-10R, would know what I am talking about. Within an hour of riding those ‘sharp handlers’ your shoulders and wrists start aching to an extent where you cannot continue riding anymore. You need to ride those bikes on a regular basis for long hours to keep your body in shape to handle those extremities. The Ninja 650, on the other hand welcomes any and everybody who may want to ride for hours at a stretch.
So while there may be some compromises for a racetrack, the 650 is absolutely spotless for your real-world corner carving adventures. The turn-ins are effortless. Even with its weight, you can lean and lift back the bulk of this machine quite naturally. The balance and the linear power delivery ensure that you can crack open the throttle while making an exit on a corner. And that’s why the Ninja is so good for our 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 yourself on the other side of the road in the gutter.
Sure, 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.
Images of details and other features
All in all, even with it focus on everyday utility and practicality, the Ninja 650R wouldn’t disappoint if you took it for a track day. 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 your adventure trip across Konkan, and it would be your trusty steed if you decided to get your Saddlesore or Bunburner 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.
With its newfound supersport looks it has eye-candy value too. Not only would it help you get those PYT’s more easily, it’ll keep them relatively comfortable too if one of them was adventurous enough to accompany you for a weekend ride. It would happily carry a couple of heavy panniers and haul them across the length and breadth of India. We do think that ground clearance can be a bit of an issue when the bike is loaded though. With its efficiency that ranges from 18 to 28 kmpl depending on your riding style, it’ll be relatively easy on fuel. Finally, as compared to a proper superbike, it would be much easier on the pocket when it comes to service and spares too.
At the price of roughly around Rs 5.6 lakh OTR, the Ninja 650R is the most complete ‘proper’ bike you can buy in India. Surprisingly, at that price, it’s the cheapest too in its segment, even with a Rs 50k premium over the previous version. It fits the bill of an ambidextrous, useable performance bike for India perfectly.
Price:Rs 5.6 Lakh OT Mumbai
|Engine||Four – stroke, DDHC 8 Valve, Parallel Twin (BSIII)|
|Displacement||649 cc, Max Power 72.1 PS @ 8500 RPM, 64 NM Torque @ 7000 RPM|
|Bore X Stroke||83.0 x 60.0 mm|
|Compression Ratio||10.8 : 1|
|Fuel System||Digital Fuel Injection, Keihin 38 mm Dual Throttle bodies|
|Fuel Type / Minimum Octane Rating||Unleaded petrol / RON 91|
|Ignition||TCBI with Electronic Advance|
|Transmission||6 – Speed|
|Final Drive||Sealed O – Ring Chain|
|Cooling System||Liquid Cooled|
|Frame Type||Perimeter, high-tensile steel|
|Rake / Trail||25 / 106 mm|
|Front Tyre||Size 120 / 70-17 ZRI7M / C (58W)|
|Rear Tyre||Size 160 / 60 – 17 ZRI7M / C (69W)|
|Ground Clearance||130 mm|
|Front Suspension / Wheel Travel||41 mm Telescopic Fork / 120 mm|
|Rear Suspension / Wheel Travel||Single offset laydown Shock with 7 – step adjustable / 125 mm|
|Front Brakes||Dual 300 mm Tripe Petal disc with two – piston calipers|
|Rear Brakes||Single 220 mm Petal disc with single piston caliper|
|Fuel Capacity||16 Litres|
|Seat Height||805 mm|
|Kerb Weight||211 kg|
|Overall Dimensions L x W x H||2110 mm x 770 mm x 1180 mm|