2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650

Editor Score: 86.5%
Engine 18.5/20
Suspension/Handling 12.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.5/10
Brakes 8.0/10
Instruments/Controls5.0/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.0/10
Desirability 8.5/10
Value 9.0/10
Overall Score86.5/100

Up until now Kawasaki’s Ninja 650 has been recognized as a genteel gateway drug to the company’s true supersport model, the ZX-6R. For 2017 Kawasaki has further distilled more performance from the beginner-ish Ninja while maintaining the bike’s streetable mannerisms. In other words, the 2017 Ninja 650 is a more potent sportbike capable of shredding a twisty canyon road or closed course race track on the weekends, while performing commuter duty during the weekdays.

The most substantive element of the new Ninja is the bike’s drastic weight reduction of 42 pounds, giving the 650 a claimed curb weight of only 419 pounds (426 pounds with ABS). In our Middleweight Intermediate Sportbike Shootout from 2014, the Ninja 650 tipped the MO scales at 465 pounds (461 pounds for the Honda CBR650F, 470 pounds for the Yamaha FZ6R). If we were to conduct that same comparison today the Ninja would have a whopping 35- and 44-pound weight advantage over the Honda and Yamaha, respectively.

A breakdown of where Kawasaki engineers hacked weight from the Ninja 650, no small effort for an affordably priced mid-displacement non-supersport model. Interestingly, the 2017 Ninja 650 weighs a claimed 1.8 pounds less than its supersport ZX-6R model, 426 vs 427.8 pounds.

A breakdown of where Kawasaki engineers hacked weight from the Ninja 650, no small effort for an affordably priced mid-displacement non-supersport model. Interestingly, the 2017 Ninja 650 weighs a claimed 1.8 pounds less than its supersport ZX-6R model, 426 vs 427.8 pounds.

A bike weighing 42 pounds less than its predecessor shouldn’t be taken lightly (aha… aha… aha…). You can’t help but feel the bike’s increased maneuverability at around town speeds, or especially when transitioning through a tight set of switchbacks. For newer riders, a lighter curb weight is less intimidating, while experienced pilots will appreciate its newfound flickability.

2017 Kawasaki Z650 First Ride Review

Engine performance too has been massaged via a myriad of changes/improvements: fine-atomizing fuel injectors, 36mm throttle bodies and narrower intake ports, camshaft with modified profiles, airbox design, shorter exhaust pipe with no crossover tube all add up to an engine with greater low- and mid-range performance compared to last year’s model.

No exact figures were provided but this rudimentary dyno chart from Kawasaki illustrates how the new engine fills mid-range cavities in the old engine’s power curves. Peak torque appears to be slightly more, while peak horsepower has decreased compared to the outgoing engine. In our 2014 shootout the Ninja 650 produced 64.7 hp at 8,900 rpm, and 43.0 lb-ft of torque at 7,100 rpm.

No exact figures were provided but this rudimentary dyno chart from Kawasaki illustrates how the new engine fills mid-range cavities in the old engine’s power curves. Peak torque appears to be slightly more, while peak horsepower has decreased compared to the outgoing engine. In our 2014 shootout the Ninja 650 produced 64.7 hp at 8,900 rpm, and 43.0 lb-ft of torque at 7,100 rpm.

Usable power from the Ninja 650’s parallel-Twin is abundant and corresponds with Kawasaki’s claims for improved low- and mid-range. The engine is a willing participant in almost any situation, whether it be building revs from as low as 2,500 rpm in 6th gear without shuddering to snappier responses in 3rd spinning at a more aggressive 6,000 rpm. Some vibes are going to creep through – mainly via the seat – but nothing excessive for two pistons in a parallel arrangement.

In the technology department, the Ninja 650 comes outfitted with an Assist and Slip clutch which provides a light pull at the adjustable clutch lever, and the ability to row the gearbox with successive downshifts without fear of locking the rear wheel. The transmission also features a positive neutral finder that makes it easier to find that gearless position between 1st and 2nd.

The restyled Ninja 650 is fairly aggressive for 2017, more closely resembling its supersport/superbike stablemates. The new 5-spoke wheels are lighter, and the shorter under-engine exhaust helps centralize mass. That’s possibly the best looking pressed-steel swingarm we’ve ever seen.

The restyled Ninja 650 is fairly aggressive for 2017, more closely resembling its supersport/superbike stablemates. The new 5-spoke wheels are lighter, and the shorter under-engine exhaust helps centralize mass. That’s possibly the best looking pressed-steel swingarm we’ve ever seen.

To complement the Ninja’s sportier nature and aggressive new looks, Kawasaki reconfigured the bike’s seating position. The handlebars are now 25mm (1 inch) more forward and 42mm lower compared to the 2016 Ninja 650. As far as we’re concerned, this was a nice tweak to help performance while not putting too much weight on a rider’s wrist. In our previous shootout we complained that its front end was vague because there’s so little weight over the wheel due to the handlebar position. This new handlebar placement should help remedy that complaint.

The taller of us MO testers also had problems with the seat-to-footpeg distance in that 2014 shootout. For 2017, Kawasaki moved the footpegs 60mm forward, and while they also lowered the footpegs 15mm they also lowered the seat 15mm. The shorter seat height should help less-taller folk, but during our day ride, the uncomfortable bend in my knee didn’t go unnoticed, so our complaint about the seat-to-footpeg distance will probably remain, at least for riders pushing six feet in height.

What I definitely did like was the sloped, flat fuel tank – perfect for leaning forward and laying on for taking a rest during a long ride on a straight road, or to get out of the wind on a cold day.

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The new negative-lit instrument cluster is a huge improvement over the old one, and, incredibly, the digital readout is more legible in direct sunlight than it is in shade. Yah, we know, sounds crazy but it’s true. There’s also an adjustable shift light above the gear position indicator, while the tach needle also changes from white to pink to red to correspond with the shift light.

Stopping power comes by way of new Nissin 2-piston calipers gripping 300mm discs up front, while a single Nissin caliper clamps on a single 220mm disc out back. We complained about how much pressure it took to get the old brakes to quickly slow the Ninja 650, and these new binders seem to perform much more efficiently. New ABS is the Bosch 9.1M that’s lighter and offers more precise anti-locking measurements. Non-ABS models remain available from Kawasaki, which offer slightly lower weight and price, but in our opinion, ABS is worth the few added pounds and dollars.

The new negative-lit instrument cluster is a huge improvement over the old one, and, incredibly, the digital readout is more legible in direct sunlight than it is in shade. Yah, we know, sounds crazy but it’s true. There’s also an adjustable shift light above the gear position indicator, while the tach needle also changes from white to pink to red to correspond with the shift light.

For only $200 more than last year, you get a much lighter, better handling Ninja 650 with improved mid-range engine performance. The more aggressive styling should appeal to the newer rider as much as the experienced one.

Big news in the suspension department is a new horizontal back-link KYB shock. Compared to last year’s linkageless shock, the new unit should provide a more progressive movement and reduce most occurrences of bottoming out. Rear suspension travel is the same as last year’s, and front suspension has gone unchanged. Any noticeable improvement in rear ride quality wasn’t apparent during our outing; a full suspension evaluation will have to wait until we can get a test unit.

2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650
+ Highs

  • Light makes right
  • Improved mid-range engine performance
  • Minimal price increase
– Sighs

  • Seat to footpeg ratio
  • Basic brakes and suspension
  • Cheap looking rear sprocket
The 2017 Ninja 650 features a three-way adjustable windscreen. Other niceties include adjustable clutch and front brake levers, a narrow seat/tank junction, and comfortably dense seat material. Among other accessories, the seat cowl is especially stylish and dresses-up the look of the Ninja 650 for not much money.

The 2017 Ninja 650 features a three-way adjustable windscreen. Other niceties include adjustable clutch and front brake levers, a narrow seat/tank junction, and comfortably dense seat material. Among other accessories, the seat cowl is especially stylish and dresses-up the look of the Ninja 650 for not much money.

Kawasaki has really upped its game when it comes to fit/finish, and the Ninja 650 is another stunning example of the company’s attention to detail. The Ninja 650 isn’t an A-list celebrity, but Kawasaki sure seems to treat it like one. Everywhere you look on the bike speaks quality. About the only thing we found that visually says budget is the rear sprocket. Of course, steel is used in place of aluminum, and the suspension isn’t the latest fully adjustable Öhlins unit, but what you get for the price is a competent mid-level sportbike for which you don’t have to prostitute yourself to afford.

Our cold one-day ride is only a glimpse into the improvements Kawasaki rendered on the Ninja 650. Once we get a test unit for a more in-depth evaluation, and a shootout against some of its competitors, we’ll know better how well the improvements perform. One thing we already know for certain, though, is you can’t go wrong dropping 42 pounds off of any model motorcycle, and for that reason alone the 2017 Ninja 650 is a winner in our book.

2017 Kawasaki Ninja Specifications
Engine Type Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke Parallel Twin
Displacement 649cc
Bore and Stroke 83.0 x 60.0 mm
Compression ratio 10.8:1
Valve system DOHC
Fuel system DFI with 36mm Keihin throttle bodies
Ignition
TCBI with electronic advance
Starting Electric
Lubrication Forced lubrication, semi-dry sump
Maximum power 67.3 hp at 8,000 rpm (claimed)
Maximum torque 48.5 lb-ft at 6,500 rpm (claimed)
Transmission 6-speed, return shift
Final drive Chain
Clutch Wet multi-disc, manual
Frame Trellis, high-tensile steel
Front suspension 41 mm telescopic fork
Front wheel travel 4.9 in.
Rear suspension Horizontal Back-link with adjustable preload
Rear wheel travel 5.1 in.
Front tire 120/70 ZR17 Dunlop
Rear tire 160/60 AR17 Dunlop Sportmax D214
Front brakes Dual semi-floating 300mm petal discs with dual-piston caliper
Rear brakes Single 220 mm petal disc with single-piston caliper
Caster (rake) 24.0º
Trail 3.9 in.
Wheelbase 55.5 inches
Seat height 31.1 inches
Curb mass 419 pounds/426 pounds with ABS (claimed)
Fuel capacity 4.0 gallon

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Kawasaki Communities

  • Campisi

    Wouldn’t want to ride through that square on a wet day.

  • Michael Mccormick

    I guess the owners ego told him he didn’t need any helmet

  • Junker

    Saw this yesterday and the Z650 at a local shop. Very impressive….light, compact. Very disappointed how soft the shocks seemed, though. I didn’t ride, but my 200+ pounds squashed the shock like it came off a Chinese pogo stick. I’d definitely need a pre-load adjustment and test ride before I even considered (sad), but if you’re a skinny jean guy…maybe.

    • Preload changes ride height not spring rate so soft remains soft

      • Junker

        Yeah, as I said, I didn’t ride so I wasn’t using “soft” as a description of comfort or sportiness. Probably should have used a different word. I just meant I would need a lot of preload to balance the height front/back. It was like an elephant on a grom. I have no idea how soft the ride is.

  • Born to Ride

    I’m sad Kawi didn’t see fit to give the old girl a front end update with this iteration. Even a non-adjustable inverted cartridge fork like the one on the GSXS-750 would have made this package complete. The biggest reason I won’t ever own another bike in this class is the irritation of fixing the suspension. I think if Suzuki could manage such a drastic weight reduction on their 750 and give it a clean looking quarter or half fairing, they would have a real winner in this class and price range.

    • c w

      and call it a Katana…maybe in a couple years? A GSX-S750 with a touch more swingarm length, a bit of upper fairing, a center stand, and a real passenger area is the bike I wanted when I ended up with 7 year old GSF1250.

  • DickRuble

    “seat-to-footpeg distance will probably remain, at least for riders pushing six feet in heigh” — that’s something manufacturers, especially Japanese ones, don’t seem to get. How do they expect to attract the younger generation, the majority of which, in the US and Europe, seem to be over 6ft, with tiny contraptions that require the rider to fold like a pretzel? It won’t matter that the bike turns and flicks like a dream if you can’t fit on it.

    • neal

      The manufactures have made sporty standards smaller recently because ADV bikes suit taller riders. I don’t think they try to make one-size-fits all anymore. The Versys 650 is what you want if this appeals but is too small.

      • Gee S

        Here’s hoping that all of the engine changes and some of the mass reduction work flows down to the Versys 650.
        For folks that actually use their motorcycles for transportation — which also implies taking stuff with you that is bigger than a sandwich — the Versys is a much better choice.

  • lennon2017

    I will take an upright, “non-adjustable” fork over a bargain-basement tweakable inverted any day of the week. Anyone who has witnessed the travesty of the first set of FZ09s will tell you that the option of knobs isn’t necessarily any smarter than no knobs. Suspension, as long as it is properly damped and sprung, is, with few exceptions, a set-it-and-forget-it technology. Heavier oil, progessive coils are simple, relatively inexpensive upgrades that pretty much anyone with a center stand (diy or otherwise) and a socket wrench can enact, and the underlying parts are more cheaply serviceable too, should, say, the fork seals need replacing. And, at least in the US, the number of crap road surfaces to creme is astronomic now, so a “plusher” ride is much appreciated by people who actually put significant miles on their acquisitions rather than resell low-wear-no-tear minters. And yes, rider (etc) weight is everything. Under 160lbs and under 6′ and you’re probably going to be grinning more than wincing.

    • Born to Ride

      While I agree with you that compliance/damping is more important than stanchion orientation, I have owned a stock sv650 and an upgraded sv650, and a cartridge set up from the factory is far better performing. My triumph sprint had right side up Showa non-adjustable cartridges, and they were wonderful for 90% of riding. The problem is that most buyers would rather see a 500$ lower MSRP than be told that their hidden shock and invisible fork internals are superior to their competition.

    • azicat

      I agree with your sentiment about proper rates, but I think you went off the rails after that. You can’t fix a damper rod fork with progressive springs and heavier oil. In fact you can’t fix anything with progressive coils as it’s impossible to match the rebound to the spring rate unless you have some serious shim stack tuning, which can’t be done with a damper rod. Heavier oil will just give you too much rebound in the initial soft stage of the progressive spring, and hydraulic lock with high speed compression.

      The FZ09 fork is structurally fine – they just messed up the damping and spring rates for anyone bigger than a small child.

      My TL;DR take on this MO review is: the new Ninja 650 is perfect for short lightweight people.

  • Mark Vizcarra

    I hear that insurance companies jack up premiums when they hear Ninja.

    • Andy C

      That’s why you say it’s an “EX-650”. It’s really just a dressed up standard. Most insurance companies will know what it is, and isn’t.

    • Junker

      I only considered one “Ninja” a couple years ago–the non-ZX 1000 (sport tourer). I think I was getting quotes near 2k per year. My VFR800 is a little over 300 per year (full coverage)…lol. So there might be something to that.

  • KLRJUNE .

    A Dakota is not an entry level pickup, it is a mid sized pickup. A motorcycle that can do 130 mph is not entry level either.

  • Bubba Blue

    I don’t know. This one is going to make about 68 hp. An older 6R will be over 100. It still sounds underpowered to me. Of course, I can have a great time on a ’79 Bonneville with about 35 hp.