It’s green. It’s a tourer. It’s fast. It’s comfy. It’s top-notch. And it’s affordable. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for the Kawasaki Ninja 650R.
The sun had just begun peeping out of the dark clouds that were now rolling away, giving me high hopes of a dry ride. With the onset of the monsoon the bikers are at the mercy of weather’s mood swings. A wet ride is perfectly all right if you are prepared for one. But today I wasn’t. And the reason was quite simple: having a fast motorcycle that craves for leans and wheelies at over 80 km/h calls for a dry ride to enjoy every bit of it.
NH4 it was, just near Talegaon, and the sight of the long straights leading to Lonavala was enough to make me feel like twisting the throttle. The clock was already ticking at over 120 km/h and I could sense that the bike had much more in store. One gear down, I twisted the right wrist hard and, in the nick of time, the clock was well past the 160 km/h mark. The Ninja 650R was turning out to be more fun than expected. Climbing up to speeds in excess of 150 km/h was easy, very easy. And most importantly, it was amazingly confidence-inspiring. There was no hint of nervousness from the motorcycle. The strong-willed engine made sure that my grin grew wider with every degree of the throttle’s twist. The bike’s fully faired bodywork and wide windscreen kept wind-blast at bay and offered excellent aerodynamics. While I was still trying to let the fact sink in that this 649-cc machine was rewarding beyond my wildest expectations, I was already at Lonavala. Taking the left turn towards the Amby Valley, I started getting one with the bike yet again.
It was time for the twisties now and I was praying to the Almighty for a dry tarmac so that I could use every bit of the 160-mm rear rubber and leave no room for chicken strips. The Ninja 650R started negotiating the initial corners at a fraction of its potential as I was still getting used to the bike’s handling myself. With a few corners left behind, I started pushing the Kwacker harder through the varying sets of bends (from tight hairpins to flowing ones) on the uphill leading to Tiger’s Point. The softer suspension of the motorcycle that had kept me comfortable until now started showing its shortcoming. Actually, more a compromise than a shortcoming. The Ninja 650R is essentially a sports tourer and is supposed to deliver extreme comfort. Taking that into consideration, it was obvious that knee-scrapping action was not on the list of characteristics of the Ninja. Thus came the slightly wallowing feel when pushed hard through the corners. That apart, if you look at the ride quality in general, it is nothing short of excellence. The offset rear monoshock often makes one wonder if the absence of centred position will make the bike unstable. No. It doesn’t. In fact, since the shock has been directly connected to the swingarm without any linkage, it forms a triangular box-type section that makes flexing negligible. Also, the monoshock is seven-step adjustable for pre-load, which, when set to the stiffer side, will make the cornering on this bike a tad solid. Of course, at the cost of a comfortable ride otherwise.
On my way back, the only thought in my mind was the kind of comfort this machine offered on long journeys. Upright position, wide handlebar, soft and broad seat, soft suspension and the large windscreen at front – everything is spot on to keep you going for miles on end. Talking of the windscreen reminds me of the small duct in the front that takes aerodynamics one step up and creates what Kawasaki people call a ‘air curtain’ and keeps the wind-blast away very efficiently. Having heard that in the press conference, I checked it for myself on the actual ride and was satisfied with the fancy words they used for describing their airflow management. It really works. Also, the full fairing ensures that you can do high speeds so comfortably that you actually have to keep glancing at the speedometer to make sure from time to time.
With 230 km already clocked on the trip meter and my body feeling as if the ride had begun just a few minutes ago, I was satisfied with the fact that this isn’t just another sports tourer, but a superb one at that.
I then shifted my attention towards outright performance. And that meant hooking on the data-logging equipment, doing 0-100 km/h runs, quarter miles and harsh braking. The spec sheet provided by Kawasaki told me that the parallel-twin 649-cc engine powering the Ninja produces 72 PS of peak power and 66 Nm of maximum torque. Now it was time to see how these figures got translated on actual tarmac. Naught to hundred in 4.56 seconds! Are you serious, I asked myself and did a couple of more runs to make sure nothing was going wrong. It wasn’t. This Ninja managed to score on outright performance too beating its competition hands down with a margin that is wider than you could imagine. The 650R even managed to show me 198 km/h on the clock (191.8 km/h true speed) before running out of road. Brakes felt a little on the spongy side compared to the segment rival, but did the job satisfactorily.
Mightily impressed by its sportiness and touring abilities, I returned to the environment where a typical Indian biker would force his bike to spend most of its life. City, urban streets, crowded roads and heavy traffic. Riding round the town at 45 km/h in as high as fifth gear, I started wondering if anything from the Indian premium bike market comes even a bit close to this machine when it comes to city rideability. So tractable, so manoeuvrable that it becomes hard to believe that you are astride a big bike. Also, the 204 kg of kerb weight on paper seems to disappear when set in motion. Roll-on acceleration figures in every gear continued to keep me surprised with the versatility of this Kawasaki. Was there anything I could complain of? Absolutely nothing. The parallel twin has a 180-degree crank, which makes it feel more like a torquey V-twin. It is extremely refined and offers a very strong bottom and mid range. To obtain this strength in the lower revs, Kawasaki have compromised on the top end front, but then who really rides at 200 km/h to exploit the real top end of this machine?
The sun had set and over 350 km had been clocked over the day. I parked the Ninja at a café and sat down with a cup of coffee, staring at the Kwacker parked outside. Painted in trademark parrot green, the bike looked flashy and grabbed everyone’s attention. However, it doesn’t look very big, probably one size up compared to the 250R. The Ninja 650R’s distinctive design feature comes in the form of the offset monoshock at the rear. Another highlight in the styling department is the way the exhaust has been hidden away under the body of the bike. Shaped like a mini missile, the can fights shy of revealing itself. Petal discs at both the front and rear look good too. The tail seems to be cut short abruptly. With the grab rails in line with the panels and not popping up much, it looks sleek too. The instrument console is wide with LEDs on either side of the display for various indicators. The console reads out information like speed, RPM and, very importantly, the fuel level. The only complaint about styling will be the red backlight for instruments, which looks too loud at night.
So, the Ninja 650R proved to be an able tourer, quick and fast, fairly good handler, amazing in the city, great looker and packed with high quality material with excellent fit and finish. Did I miss anything? Oh, yes! Leaving the best part for the last, let me tell you that this one costs Rs 5.26 lakh (OTR, Pune). I hope you haven’t fallen off your seat! A 650-cc middleweight sports tourer with utmost practicality and an affordable price tag is what the Indian biker wanted for so long. And Kawasaki, along with Bajaj, have brought it here. The least I can say to them is, “Kudos, guys. You’ve made a dream come true!” Good times are all set to roll now!