The backwards glance I gave the much-revised 2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R after I parked it in the garage after a long two-day ride spoke volumes about the lift in the bike's visual appeal.
AT A GLANCE
|Engine: 649cc liquid-cooled dohc 8v parallel twin stoked by fuel injection to develop 49kW (67bhp) at 8700rpm and 58Nm of torque at 7000rpm.|
|Transmission: six-speed sequential gearbox, chain final drive.|
|Frame: Steel-tube trellis frame with curved swingarm, 41mm inverted fully adjustable Showa front forks with 125mm of travel, preload- adjustable rear monoshock with 130mm of travel.|
|Hot: Kawasaki's affordable all-rounder gains extra refinement and a sharper sense of style.|
|Not: The newest Ninja's value-led buying proposition is undermined by the presence of unsold 2010 and 2011 versions.|
Click on photo at left for more views of the Kawasaki 650 Ninja.
Despite wearing a garish hue that was greener than a teenage mutant Ninja turtle, the Kawasaki is now a great-looking bike for a budget-priced middleweight. It even looks good up close, the new double-pipe frame lacking the splatter-infested welding of the original 2008 Ninja 650R, and the new chain adjusters adding more class along with the sharper-styled bodywork, new seat(s), and one of the best and most informative instrument arrays of any bike priced south of $15K. As the 600km ride had just proved, the latest incarnation of Team Green's 650cc parallel twin also goes as good as it looks.
So why am I not nominating this comprehensive upgrade of an already-worthy model for Bike of the Year? At $14,339, the Ninja 650R is priced almost $2500 more than the ER-6n streetbike that is virtually its identical twin, minus the fully-enclosed engine and frame-mounted fairing.
That's quite a premium just for firing up a couple of injection moulding machines to spit out the additional plastics required for the Ninja's extra body parts and adjustable windscreen, and for ordering a different set of instrument and headlight mounts and mirrors from the component suppliers.
The parts that define the Ninja from the "Ernie" can be made in the blink of an eye, and at probably no more cost to Kawasaki than $250, yet the premium charged for the model is 10 times that sum. As a bloke who wears pants tight enough to make reaching into my pockets a major chore, I'd be tempted to buy the ER-6 instead of the Ninja then add my own wind and weather protection from the aftermarket. That way, I'd also get a bike without a silly name, although that score is highly debatable when considering the nomenclature of both models.
As mentioned, the 650cc Ninja is now a great-looking bike, and beauty never comes cheap, as any reader of a women's gossip magazine already knows.
However, if you can settle for the slightly less appealing of two twins, the previous-generation Ninja 650R is still on Kawasaki New Zealand's books, priced at either $10,995 for the 2010 model or $12,995 for the identically- engineered 2011 model.
Opting for this step backwards in time would also access a slightly sportier ride, as Kawasaki has softened both the engine performance and suspension tune of the latest-generation Ninja 650R. If you took both the current model and its immediate predecessor to a track day, I'm certain that the extra top-end power and stiffer springs of the older bike would garner more appreciation. The road is an entirely different game of skittles, and the changes have made the Ninja more rideable in the environment where it will see the most use.
A few coalmine ponies at the top of the engine's rev range have been traded for a Clydesdale or two extra in the mid-range, and the increased compliance of the suspension makes it a more comfortable riding bike over most roads. More relaxed steering geometry has also tamed the nervousness that the model used to display, particularly when tackling a broken-up backroad. To Kawasaki's great credit, this has been achieved with little collateral damage to the frisky handling persona that has always been a dynamic highlight of riding the 650cc Ninja.
It helps to be middle-sized to ride this new middleweight motorcycle. The new two-piece seat positions the rider lower than the integrated unit fitted to the previous version, making it easier for my size nines to reach terra firma. The tradeoff is less leg room than before, and while I didn't experience any cramping during some long hours in the Ninja's saddle, taller riders won't feel as comfortable. Nor will they like the adjustable screen, which requires two people and about 15 minutes with a set of allen keys to change if the task is to be done without scratching the plastics. While I found I could find a position where the screen didn't produce noisy turbulence around my helmet, those sized to take the prime positions in a rugby lineout might not be as successful.
What hasn't changed is the Ninja 650R's determination to be a practical and versatile motorcycle. As adept at cross- town commutes as it is at interisland touring, it offers frugal performance that borders on exciting.
It exudes ease-of-use with an engine that delivers the same number of brake horsepower as it does miles-per-gallon (67), a wealth of tie-down hooks for attaching luggage, decent night-ride illumination, and instrumentation that now offers twin trip meters, average and instantaneous fuel use readings, odometer, and air temperature readings.
About the only major thing wrong with a new model dedicated to providing excellent value is that there are substantially cheaper models that pack the similar performance and rider-friendliness within Kawasaki New Zealand's present range. The 2012 Ninja 650R is definitely a step up from the 2010 version, but I'll let you decide whether it's worth paying over $3000 more for.
- The Press