How much better has the middleweight Ninja become after its fresh set of updates?
India’s first modern big bike came around in 2011 in the form of the Kawasaki Ninja 650R. Over the course of the following nine years, the R suffix has been dropped, the ergos have gone from an out and out sports tourer to a comfy sports machine, and the engine has become a lot more exciting as well. For 2020, Kawasaki has given the middleweight faired bike its fair share of updates. What difference do they make to the bike and is it still a wise choice for someone stepping up from a sub-400cc motorcycle?
- Sporty yet comfortable riding stance.
- Eager engine with a racy exhaust note.
- Looks just like a Ninja ZX-6R or a ZX-10R.
- Low ground clearance means chances of scraping the underbelly exhaust are high.
- ABS feels a little too intrusive.
- New Dunlop rubber isn't quite as grippy in the wet.
- New 4.3-inch colour TFT dash has a neat layout.
- It gets the KRT colour scheme that you find on Kawasaki WSBK race bikes.
You will be forgiven for mistaking the Ninja 650 BS6 with the Ninja ZX-6R from afar. Kawasaki’s scowling face has made its way onto the middleweight faired motorcycle now. Nevertheless, it has got a prominent 650 logo sprawled all across the fairing with the honeycomb graphics playing off well on the bike. This Lime Green/Ebony colour scheme is the old KRT livery that one can find on Kawasaki’s WSBK title-winning ZX-10RR machine. Two more colours are on offer -- a white/black and the new KRT scheme -- but we rather fancy the Ninja 650 in the colours that our test bike comes in.
The small winglets underneath the new LED headlights are a neat touch, giving it a slightly fanged appearance. The windshield isn’t adjustable anymore but that should hardly be a cause for concern on a motorcycle with sporty intentions. There are neat air scoops on both sides of the bike for better aero efficiency. But they seem rather small to make that much of a difference, especially in everyday riding situations.
Its tail is neat with a slight taper to it. What sticks out like an eyesore are the mandatory bits that the bike needs -- like the pillion grab rails and the saree guard -- to pass the Indian homologation laws.
Kawasaki’s plastics and build quality is impeccable with every panel put together well. No rattles or squeaks are heard at any given time. Even the switches have a nice positive click feel while operating them.
With the updates brought in 2017, there was a dramatic change with the way one sat on the Ninja 650 as it got a lot sportier. The same continues with the 2020 model. You are no longer sitting as upright as you would, on say a Versys 650, but you rather lean forward in a mildly aggressive stance. It doesn’t get taxing on long rides or while commuting. Think of it as a larger Ninja 400 or Yamaha YZF-R3 and not a grown-up KTM RC 390.
The bars are a single-piece unit clamped onto the tee; no clip-ons here. They are wide enough and unless you physically measure them with the ones found on its naked sibling, you would find it very hard to tell the difference in width. At 790mm, the seat too is accessible for a lot of Indian riders. It is roomy enough for someone with a paunch, like yours truly, to move around in the seat without feeling cramped or constricted. The pegs are slightly rear-set but low enough for your feet to quickly reach the ground in urgent situations.
The large 15-litre fuel tank has these lovely tank recesses that help you straddle the motorcycle well. Be it while tucking in or when leaned over, the recesses make sure your thighs can firmly grip the tank, giving you that extra sense of assurance while sport riding.
Your pillion will not complain about lack of comfort either. The seat, while firm, filters out most of the road imperfections. One can spend enough time in the city riding pillion without getting flustered. On the highway though, as you are perched a bit higher than the rider, larger pillion riders might want to opt for short breaks every other hour due to slight neck strain.
TECHNOLOGY & FEATURES
Kawasaki has included a lot of new bits and bobs on the Ninja 650 to make the ownership experience a lot more appealing. There's not much to complain about the new LED headlights. They are bright, with a wide spread and a good throw to alert you of potential hazards in the distance. There is a little blindspot due to the two beams intersecting each other, but that is far too close to the bike to really cause you any trouble. The old X-shaped LED tail-light continues with conventional bulbs still used for the turn indicators.
Also new on the 2020 Ninja 650 is the colour TFT dash. This feature is becoming a lot more common on motorcycles in a segment above but we are glad that Kawasaki specced it out on the Ninja 650 as well. There aren’t multiple layouts like other motorcycles with such screens. That said, everything is laid out in a legible manner. The colour of the rev bar changes nicely to orange and then red as you approach the redline, adding an extra delightful sensation to your sport riding experience.
It gets Bluetooth connectivity to pair your smartphone with the Kawasaki Rideology App. There isn’t a lot you can do with it though as there’s no turn-by-turn navigation here or the ability to control your music and accept calls on the fly when connected to your helmet’s communication unit. One can receive call and SMS alerts but the unit on our test bike failed to provide these alerts. We tried it with both iOS and Android smartphones but the result was no different.
The output difference between the current and the BS4 model of the Ninja 650 isn’t much. There is a drop of 1.7Nm, which is hardly a cause of concern for the new bike. And despite the changes made to the motor to make it run cleaner, the Ninja 650 as a whole has not gained a single kilo, still tipping the scales at 196kg.
The Ninja makes use of all of its 64Nm to make sure you are up to triple-digit speeds quickly. Our test figures of the older Z650 indicate the BS6 Ninja 650 is 0.32 seconds slower to a hundred, which should hardly be any bother. What you are now getting in return is a raspy exhaust note to accompany your high speed thrills. The lack of aural delight from the older versions of the very same engine made it feel quite mellow and vanilla, but now it almost sounds like you are astride a punchy L-twin Ducati motor.
The motor still has a lot of those Japanese twin sensibilities. Trundling around town in higher gears is possible, with the motor capable of sticking around 45kmph in sixth gear. You can cleanly pull away from 2000rpm with the heap of the drive arriving shortly thereafter at 3500-4000rpm. The engine pulls cleanly all the way to the 9000rpm mark, post which the power trails off a little bit and you then hit the 10,000rpm limiter.
As you exit the city limits and get on to the highway, you can have the Ninja 650 singing beautiful symphonies while rumbling along at 120kmph. There is a bit of harshness from the motor at around 6000rpm, which coincidentally is the engine speed when you are clocking around 100kmph. But this disappears if you either speed up or ride a bit more sedately.
If you choose the latter, that would bode well in saving fuel on your journey. The Ninja 650 returned 30.17kmpl on the highway. Couple that with that gigantic 15-litre fuel tank and technically, you could go 450km on a single tank full of gas. But come on, you don’t buy the Ninja 650 just for its highway cruising practicality -- that’s reserved for the Versys 650. Hence, if you do decide to increase your pace, we guess it should go around 350-400km on a single tankful of gas. It tends to sip more fuel in the city though (19.64kmpl).
If we had to nitpick here it would be the quality of the gear shifts. The six-speed transmission is unchanged from the older motorcycle with a slip-and-assist clutch present. The shifts are all positive, with no false neutrals experienced whatsoever. However, is feel a bit of a letdown is that the slickness of the older generation Ninja has gone missing. It feels a little clunky and a lot more pronounced on the Z 650.
RIDE & HANDLING
One word to summarise the handling of Ninja 650 is ‘rewarding’. The riding posture sets you up for a delightful cornering experience with the mechanicals backing up that feeling. There is very little hesitation from the bike to drop into a corner. It isn’t sudden or nerve wracking, rather like a good teacher training you for sharper bikes that the future might hold for you.
The slightly committed stance means you have to be extra cautious when taking a line for the corner ahead, being well prepared for any unforeseen hazards that might come your way. Fortunately, the bike is so well set up that the suspension can absorb minor bumps that might have arisen on your favourite twisties or you can just sit the bike up easily to avoid going over them altogether with little fuss.
At 1,410mm, the wheelbase is long enough to provide ample cornering stability with a good amount of traction to be found from the new Dunlop Roadsport 2 tyres in the dry. You do have to put in a bit of an effort in hustling the bike from one side to the other, but the experience is highly rewarding.
The new Dunlops hold their own quite well in the dry, providing decent grip and are a step-up from the older D214s. Still, there is a lot left to be desired when the roads get slippery or if you are going over concrete patches.
As rewarding as the handling is, the ride quality is even better. The suspension units on the Ninja 650 are, in fact, sprung slightly softer in comparison to its naked twin. It has to hustle the extra weight on board, thanks to the fairing. Plus, you are sitting more forward biased on the Ninja, decompressing the monoshock just a little extra than you would on the Z 650. Hence, the Ninja can go over most road imperfections without a bother.
You might want to slow down drastically for the nasty speed humps, though. The laughably low 130mm of ground clearance makes sure you end up rubbing the underbelly exhaust more often than you would like. Slow and steady does the trick then.
One of our biggest complaints with the Ninja 650 is its braking and that has largely got to do with the ABS calibration. In isolation, the braking performance is good with great bite, good feedback and progression. But the ABS system kicks in almost too instantaneously. At the slightest hint of the front wheel locking up, the system goes into a frenzy and releases pressure for far too long, which gets a bit scary in panic braking situations. Contrarily, the intervention at the rear wheel is a lot more composed and predictable. What can you do about this issue? One way to go about solving it is to use better rubber which will provide better traction and reduce the number of times the system needs to intervene.
Kawasaki offers the Ninja 650 BS6 in just a single variant, priced at Rs 6.24 lakh (ex-showroom India). It comes with three colours options: Pearl Flat Stardust White, Lime Green And Ebony (the old KRT scheme) and Lime Green (the new KRT scheme). All colours bear the same price.
Kawasaki has done a smashing job of making the Ninja 650 a whole lot sportier than before. This sporty vibe stems from its Ninja ZX-6R-inspired looks and builds further with the revv-happy motor that surrounds you with a lovely raspy soundtrack. The suspension setup too is well tuned to tackle bad tarmac stretches. There are a few drawbacks like the erratic ABS intervention, low ground clearance and tyres that don’t perform too well in wet conditions. The latter two can be solved by taking extreme precaution over oversized speed humps and by swapping out the tyres for something grippier. The ABS calibration issue can be a bit unnerving but you will have to pay more heed when grabbing the brakes. As a whole though, the Ninja 650 BS6 certainly appeals to both the mind as well as the heart, making it a good option for someone who wants to go out there and buy their first proper big bike.