Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 23rd March 2017

The middleweight class is resurgent right now, with bikes like the Suzuki SV650 and Yamaha MT-07 providing a real shot in the arm to a sector where the words ‘dull commuter’ were commonly used to describe what was on offer.


That was a somewhat cruel term to describe motorcycles that, for all their ride-to-work capabilities, could be tuned to lap the iconic Isle of Man TT course at average speeds in excess of 120mph. Despite the relatively low rent specifications, bikes like Kawasaki’s enduring ER-6 provided plenty of smiles per pound and, as the Suzuki and Yamaha have proven, when you keep them light and dress them in a sharp suit, a sub-700cc twin becomes fun. A lot of fun. Now Kawasaki is joining the party with a pair of new middleweights for 2017, the Z650 and this, the £6349 Ninja 650.


Kawasaki stamped its authority on the class when they brought out the ER-6 over a decade ago. There were two versions, the unfaired ER-6n (which stands for naked) and the ER-6f (which, of course, denotes faired). These bikes proved to be not only extremely capable commuters, but also brilliant light tourers and ideal first big bikes. They’re also a common sight in the Supertwins class in club racing, and in the Isle of Man Lightweight TT.



Kawasaki Ninja 650 candid


Rather than simply update the old stager to comply with the latest Euro 4 emissions laws, Kawasaki has decided to drop the ER tag and take the two variants in different directions. They’ve given them more individual personalities, the Z650 echoing the bigger Z1000 in its look and attitude while the Ninja adopts its styling cues and name from the flagship sports bikes bearing the same mythical badge.


That puts the Ninja 650 in a unique place in the market, as the only sports styled faired bike in the class, and despite looking like a mini-superbike at first glance, it really is just as versatile an all-rounder as the ER-6f it replaces in the range.


At first glance the Ninja 650 looks like it has just escaped from the world superbike grid, but get closer and you can see that it’s largely skin deep. The first indication that this isn’t our own sponsored rider, Johnny Rea’s ZX-10RR, comes when you clock the forks, 31mm right way up jobbies, and the relaxed handlebar position that gives a nice neutral riding position.


Kawasaki Ninja 650 Dash


Climb aboard the Ninja 650 and the first impression is of the weight, or rather lack of it. Where the competition has really taken the class on is by shedding weight to make the bikes more manageable and more fun. Kawasaki recognised this and have developed a new chassis around a steel trellis frame that is claimed to weigh just 15kg. At 193kg ready to ride, the Ninja 650 is a said to be a whopping 18kg lighter than the bike it replaces. It certainly feels it.


That weight loss means that even though the Ninja 650 makes slightly less power than the ER-6f, it feels sprightlier. The engine is stronger in the low to mid range, although peak power is down by 3bhp at 67bhp. Fuel economy is claimed to be improved by over 6% too.


In real world riding, it matters not a jot. Despite the name, Kawasaki doesn’t make any pretentions that the Ninja 650 is a sports bike and it really is a doddle to ride.


The controls are easy to use, the clutch is light, and although there is nothing spectacular about the specifications, everything does the job it is meant to do without any fuss. The instruments are clear and easy to read, the Dunlop tyres provide decent levels of grip, and the ABS brakes are unobtrusive and more than up to the job of hauling the bike down from speed.


As you would expect for a bike that prides itself on accessibility, the seat height is a relatively low 790mm. The screen is adjustable though, which is a good touch, and aids comfort for riders tall and short.


Kawasaki Ninja 650 on the road


To quote that teeth clenchingly overused expression, the Kawasaki Ninja 650 ‘is what it is’. What it is though will change from rider-to-rider and from day-to-day. This is a bike for which the word ‘versatility’ could have been invented and while it is likely to be a daily ride for most riders, it is more than capable of taking on a European tour (particularly with the accessory luggage fitted) or providing fun on a quick Sunday morning blast. As first big bikes go, there are few better and its appeal stretches to shorter riders and perhaps even older guys looking to downsize in later years.


That’s the appeal of the Ninja 650, it’s just so versatile but with a presence and riding experience that make it so much more than a mere ‘commuter’. It has a unique place in the market place and we’d be surprised if we don’t see plenty of these on British roads in the coming years.





Two cylinder, liquid-cooled, four-stroke, eight-valves






50kW (67bhp) @8,000rpm


66Nm @ 6500rpm


41mm telescopic fork






15 litres



*Based on our average customer 52 year old, 9 years NCB, garaged, WA14 postcode, no claims/convictions, 4000 miles Comp cover is £425.33 with a £300 excess. Insure your Kawasaki motorbike with Carole Nash.