Road Test: Kawasaki Ninja 650R

The Kawasaki Ninja 650R made a highly favourable impression upon its launch over a year ago. The new Ninja goes several steps further to make things easier for the rider. We just experienced how it does so

Photography: Sanjay Raikar

It was over a year ago that Kawasaki launched the Ninja 650R in India and offered us a motorcycle that was an all-rounder in the premium segment. The bike had enough grunt, good styling, practicality and all this at an affordable price among the premium products. However, there was just one problem: availability. The bike was launched in India towards the end of its generation and the 2012 model was already being readied for a début at the end of 2011. Thus there was only one stock of a limited number of bikes available and it was sold out even before the first bike hit the roads. Later, I remember having seen the 2012 model at the Tokyo Motor Show in December 2011 and was impressed by its re-styled bodywork at the first glance itself. From then onwards, it was a long wait and the new bike impressed me further as it came to us for a road test just a couple of days after its launch in India.

As mentioned earlier, the new Ninja has impressive styling and quite a few elements that distinguish it from its earlier generation model. Take, for instance, the fairings, which are sharper and more aggressive now with better aerodynamics. There are new vents on the fairing for heat dissipation that connect the bike’s visual appeal to that of the ZX14R. The nose of the bike looks a little slimmer with a sharper angle to the headlight. The black treatment on the nose is gone and it is now all green. The tank, on the other hand, now has a black portion, which breaks the monotony of the old tank that used to be in green only. Visually, by paying proper attention, one can spot the changes in the chassis, swing-arm and exhaust end can too. Once in the saddle, the major noticeable change is the new instrument cluster that features an analogue tachometer and digital speedometer, odometer, fuel gauge and clock, etc, (earlier, it was a complete digital readout for everything, including the revs). Similarly, the red back-light has now been discarded to make way for a better and sober white back-light.

While all these are changes noticeable externally in the new Ninja, there are some more that matter even more. These include revised suspension settings, new brake pads, a 20-mm wider handlebar, a three-way adjustable windscreen, enhanced fuel capacity and, most important of all, a revised engine mapping. Although the new Ninja 650 has the same engine specifications-wise as the old one, the power and torque delivery curves have been changed. Along with the new digital fuel injection system, this new engine mapping ensures better low- and mid-range delivery. Our tests with the Racelogic data logger proved it by showing an improvement in the bike’s roll-on acceleration from 40 to 120 km/h, especially in the fourth gear.

So what does all this mean? Well, the Ninja 650 has just become better than what it was earlier. The engineers at Kawasaki have wisely maintained the maximum power output of 72 PS and 66 Nm of torque while improving the delivery in the lower and mid revs to considerably improve the bike’s rideability in traffic. In real world conditions, I found the bike strong from as low as 2,500 revolutions per minute and it pulled strongly from such low revs even in the fifth gear. In a country like India, where traffic always tends to be dense and heavy, this Ninja makes a lot of sense when you have to crawl inch by inch and pull away quickly once you get an opportunity through the smallest gap in traffic. The throttle response of the new Ninja is crisp and provides excellent connection between the rider and the engine.

The other major change in the Ninja comes in the form of an all-new twin-tube, perimeter style chassis that is lighter and more rigid than the old one. There is a new, arced swing-arm in a similar twin-tube style. The new chassis with the revised suspension settings has improved the handling of the bike. The new Ninja feels more solid than its predecessor in corners and has not compromised on the ride quality for everyday use. And last but not the least, a positive feel comes from the brakes. The outgoing Ninja’s brakes had a little spongy feel, but with the new pads on the 2012 version this issue has been addressed and there is a solid bite from the brakes.

Does it then mean that an already perfect bike has now been bettered in such a way that there is nothing to complain about? Well, to answer this question with candour, we noticed one small issue with the Ninja. The distance between the left foot-peg and the gear-shifter is longer than what it usually is and that becomes a problem, especially when riding with proper biking boots. What happens is that when you lock the heel of the boot on the foot-peg, the shifter is so far that one needs to shift up or down with the tip of the toes. To compare it on the other side, the distance between the right foot-peg and the brake lever is correct and almost an inch shorter than on the left side. Of course, the shifter can be adjusted and brought upwards to reduce the distance, but that will spoil the angle in which the rider places the foot and it will be a little uncomfortable in any case.

That apart, the Ninja 650 is a stunning machine in every respect. It was a fantastic bike when it came to India and now it has just got better. Improved styling, better rideability, better handling and better brakes – what else would one want? Bajaj Auto have done one more good thing: they haven’t fiddled a lot with the price. The earlier Ninja was priced at Rs 5 lakh (OTR, Pune) and the new one is available for Rs 5.4 lakh (OTR, Pune). This price revision is not too high considering every extra bit that they now offer. The Ninja comes only in one colour, of course, to keep the cost low (so that the company doesn’t have to stock multiple spares of different colour options). But then, who wants a Ninja that is not green?'

Bike India Team – who has written posts on Bike India.

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