MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: Kawasaki Ninja 650R: Blurring the Lines

Part sportbike, part sport touring

By Genevieve Schmitt, Photography by Alfonse Palaima

I kept hearing how amazing Kawasakis new-for-2007 Ninja 650R is, so I just had to ride it. Well, I finally had my chance in the saddle of this newest addition to the Kawasaki Ninja family, and now I know what all the excitement is about.

One reason the Ninja 650R is so easy to handle is because it weighs only 400 pounds, very light for a motorcycle.

The bike is dialed in so right; its effortless to ride. What I mean by effortless is that it’s light, low, and precise giving the rider added confidence to lean it over in the twisties or turn up the throttle in the straight-aways. A true-blue sportbike can be intimidating to novice riders. The 650R blurs the lines between delivering sporty performance but in a sport-touring package.

The 650 is right at home on the corners. Its ease of handling inspires confidence in beginner to intermediate riders.

Before this middleweight Ninja was introduced, the entry-level Ninja sportbikes consisted of the 250R and the 500R. The 650R builds on those two models giving novice riders an added option without feeing like theyre making a jump to a much bigger bike. The seating position on the 650R is more upright than leaned over like on the smaller Ninjas. The handlebars come up to the rider as opposed to the rider having to lean down to reach them. This riding position is all part of a new approach Kawasaki took when designing the 650R.

The Ninja 250, the only 250cc sportbike available.
The Ninja 500 sportbike.

Engineers started designing the 650 with the rider in mind, not the motorcycle. After studying every kind of rider and all types of riding, engineers focused on the human-machine interface. Different riding positions were examined to discover which instilled the most confidence. The feel of a lower seat achieved by making the bike narrow, low effort hand controls, and easy to reach footpegs all played into the design effort.

The extremely light weight of the Ninja 650R at 393 pounds make it a breeze to handle the 31-inch seat height—a standard height for sportbikes, but on the tall side for average height female riders. The seat is narrow, as is the distance laterally between the footpegs allowing riders more leg length with which to reach the ground. A textured seat as opposed to smooth, keeps the rider planted in the saddle so no sliding forward when you dont want to. Footpegs are angled behind the knees just slightly, but not too far back to force a sportbike riding position. For those who still want the look and power of a sporty bike, the 650R displays all the sporty characteristics of a Ninja with its upswept rear cowl and powerful parallel-twin 649cc twin cylinder engine.

The narrow profile and light weight enable shorter riders to handle the bike.

At the flick of wrist, you can feel the 650s power take hold. This responsive is due in part to the fuel-injected engine and the way the bike is tuned. A microprocessor works in conjunction with the ECU (engine control unit) to control the timing. The result is an engine that delivers precise performance. Flicking through the six gears is smooth. The transmission is very forgiving if you find yourself in the wrong gear for the speed of the bike. No choking or sputtering.

Most of the torque is found at the lower to mid-range of the powerband, which comes in handy when negotiating traffic. Kawasaki specs indicate maximum torque of 48.5 foot-pounds at 7,000 rpm. At high speeds the engine starts to thin out a bit; downshifting from sixth to fifth to pass on a highway I discovered less torque available to me, but this is a 650cc motorcycle. It performed as a middleweight sportbike should, with most of its guts felt at roll-on in lower gears. Nonetheless, novice riders will find plenty of power for their taste. It’s worth noting that experienced riders wanting a solid, steady ride for daytripping or commuting will love the Ninja 650. It has enough get-up-and-go to satisfy those who desiring an easy to handle, reliable bike.

The 650R show in Candy Plasma Blue.

The brakes do a good job of stopping you. Dual petal design rotors offer improved cooling and warp resistance; petal design means the edges are shaped like a flower petal as opposed to a perfect circle. This is the same rotor design found on the Ninja ZX-6R and ZX-10R supersports machines. Twin-piston calipers squeeze the 300mm dual discs up front while a hydraulic caliper in the rear applies force to the 220mm disc.

The petal disc brakes are supposed to improve wear and tear.

The 4.1-gallon fuel tank is large enough to allow you to do some serious touring without having to stop for fuel often. The windshield is a little higher and fuller than whats available on the other two Ninjas, again, a feature lending itself more to spending long lengths of time in the saddle.

Considering this is a newer model, I was surprised Kawasaki used “old-fashioned” analog controls when so many bikes today feature digital speedometers and tachometers. With that said, I actually prefer the look of analog controls because I like to see the whole spectrum of speed. The odometer and trip meters on the 650R are digital though.

The 650R has an aerodymanic design to improve wind resistance.

I like that the Ninja 650 blurs the lines a bit in the middleweight sportbike category. Nothing was sacrificed in terms of engine performance. The 650Rs precise handling inspires confidence in riders to lean it over just a little farther in the corners like one would a sportbike; but the upright ergonomics and rider comfort are what sets this bike apart from others in its category.

The Specs at a Glance: 2007 Kawasaki Ninja 650R
Displacement: 649cc
Seat Height: 31.1 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4.1 gallons
Dry Weight: 393 pounds
Price: $6,499

WRN Recommendation
I know a couple of moto-journalists who liked the Ninja 650R so much after they tested it, they actually bought one. This bike is downright fun to ride. Its versatility allows it to satify the tastes of those desiring a lot from their motorcycles. Its also ideal for those who cannot decide between a sportbike or a sport touring bike. This bike straddles the line delivering qualities of both very well.

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20 thoughts on MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: Kawasaki Ninja 650R: Blurring the Lines

  1. Very informative.Easy to read and I learned a lot!Thank you!

  2. I just bought a 2012 Ninja 650. Would love to see a review on the new version of this bike. It weighs about 70-90 pounds heavier than the 2007 Ninja 650R, but has a meaner sportier look to it.

  3. I just bought a 2007 Ninja 650R and I am in love! It is comfortable like a tourer but has the get up and go of your normal street bike. It is so easy to ride and fits the rider perfectly. If you have never owned a bike I would surely consider the 650R. You will not be dissatisfied!

  4. I’m 31, and I’ve been riding for 16 years. I am short; I think I have less than a 29-inch inseam. One of my current bikes is a Suzuki M50 (used to be known as the Marauder), a respectable 800cc middleweight cruiser with a tad of muscle bike looks. Through the years I’ve had it, I’ve liked it less and less. Although cruisers have a low seat clearance compared to sport bikes, they are often very wide. Almost all my friends ride sport bikes, and while I don’t succumb to the peer pressure of the group, I wanted to have a taste of what they were getting out of the curves, while I’m still young enough to give it my all. I’ve been looking for more than two years for a sportier bike that would suit my needs without being too tall for simple daily riding, as I ride the gamut: twisty day rides, weekend trips, annual trips to Tail of the Dragon, commuting, you name it. I had been told by numerous people that the Ninja 650R is the bike for me: light, fun, good riding position, affordable, and all the aftermarket accessories I could ever want if I decided to outfit it as a smaller sport-tourer. What I dreamed of was a VFR or a Concours but small enough for my proportions, and small enough to be a daily rider. I recently had the occasion to buy a 2009 650R from a friend who pretty much just broke it in.I am just now back from a 561-mile round trip on my 650R. This trip included several hours of interstate, many miles of highway, driving though two states, two major cities (Cincinnati, and Columbus, Ohio, at rush hour on a Friday in 100-degree heat), neighborhoods, grocery stops, gravel roads and grass in a camping area, and two laps around the Mid-Ohio race course. This weekend I have ridden packed to the nines for the camping, then without any luggage at all, and back home through the gusty front end of a storm for almost an hour.I never thought after all my years riding that I would feel like this after such a demanding weekend trip. I am not exhausted. I am not sore. I am invigorated – even riding through the rain was a pleasure. I feel like I rode through a Sprite commercial. This is without a doubt the bike I dreamed of but refused to believe existed. I fully believe that with a few simple modifications to control vibration, like foot pegs and grips, I could perform an Iron Butt on this bike.I still owe money on my M50 (bought it new). If I didn’t, I’d put it on craigslist right now.

    1. Thanks for the feedback regarding the Ninja 650R. You truly put the bike through some real-world riding. We appreciate your sharing your thoughts with the WRN readers, and so glad you found your dream motorcycle.

  5. I’ve had my Ninja EX250 for the last 3.5 years and just sold it this week. I’ve been trying to decide between the 500 and 650, but you’ve got me sold on the 650 now. Can’t wait to try it out myself!

  6. I am interested in owning a Ninja, however, I am a beginner and I would like to know which would be the best buy for a beginner? Should I start with the 250, 500, or the 650? I would also like to know why does the Ninja ZX-6 cost more than the 650, and which is the bigger/more powerful between the two? I thought the Ninja 650 was slightly bigger/faster than the ZX-6.

    1. We asked Jan Plessner, Public Relations manager for Kawasaki to answer this question. Here is her response:

      The Ninja 250R is a great bike for beginners, folks on a budget, or people that don't plan to spend all their time at high speeds, say on the freeway. This bike is very light, easy to ride and especially confidence-inspiring for those with smaller frames or those just getting into the sport. It is a super fun bike, very user friendly and one of the most popular bikes in our line-up. Many first time riders start here, then upgrade to a larger bike after a year or so. The resale value on a Ninja 250R is fairly strong for this reason alone. Due to the high fun factor of this bike, seasoned riders are discovering this bike as well.

      The Ninja 500 is also a great bike for beginners, offering a little more power than the 250cc. Unfortunately, we are no longer making this bike as sales for the 500cc have really shifted to the Ninja 650R.

      The Ninja 650R is a more standard style, rider-friendly bike with more of an upright seating position. It has a very smooth powerband and appeals to many types of motorcyclists. This bike is good for beginners, intermediates and experts. It uses a 650cc parallel twin engine and was actually designed to integrate with the chassis and rider for comfort and confidence. The usability and comfort of this bike is what makes it a great bike and easy to ride for longer distances.

      The Ninja ZX-6R is a purpose-built superstock racing-style motorcycle that is street legal, and designed for and enjoyed by more experienced riders. While the powerplant in this bike is 600cc, the in-line four cylinder engine format provides optimum power, torque and performance. You'll notice the seating position is much more aggressive, as you have to lay down a little more to reach the handle bars. This type of bike is extremely responsive. It is much more expensive, too, because higher performance parts are used from top to bottom (ie. brakes, suspension). This bike is a very popular race bike and used often for amateur track day activities.

      From Genevieve: This explains also why the ZX-6 costs more, too.

  7. My first bike was a Yamaha FZ6 then I had a Kawasaki Vulcan 900 (2007) then the Ninja 650. Hands down I love this bike best! I am a 5-feet-4 130-pound female. The only bike I would trade up to is the Triumph 675 street triple (my friend and riding buddy owns one). I love that bike! Just too pricey for me right now. My Ninja has a Scorpion exhaust that makes it sound very aggressive and a sport screen. I commute with it almost every day 48 miles round trip and fill the tank around every fifth day. I use it around town, and also on long trips. Very comfortable ride. No power loss here. I will always have this bike. It will become vintage with me as we have become one.

  8. In April of '08, I upgraded from a Ninja 250 (my first bike) to an '07 650R. I love it! It's everything you said it is in the article, Genevieve. With the lower-end torque, it's more “calm” than the 250. It has just enough heft so that I feel more secure, especially when riding in the wind, but is not so heavy that I can't paddle it around if I need to. And I agree with you, I like the analog controls for the very same reason. My only wish would be a gas gauge. I find the flashing “FUEL” light to be not-so-accurate, sometimes flashing at 170 miles on the trip meter, sometimes at 195 miles even when doing the same type of riding.

    With the 650R being mid-way between a sport bike and a sport-touring bike, I went in the other direction from Chet (6.23.08). I put on a bigger windscreen, handlebar risers, a full set of Givi touring hard cases, and an Alaska Leathers Sheepskin seat pad. Makes a great tourer. I can see keeping this bike around for a very long time.

  9. I recently purchased the 2009 650R. I am an experienced rider with a cruiser, but have never owned a sportbike. It is the perfect go between. It has more get up and go than it appears to. I have easily been able to keep up with guys riding bigger sport bikes, and have accidentally popped wheelies when doing a quick take off. The transmission shifts smoothly and it navigates extreme turns very well. It doesn't have the “manly” appearance that most men like their motorcycles to have.

    I would not recommend this bike for anyone who wants one with a more intimidating appearance. It's very streamlined and light, which would not suit a guy with a heavier build. I am a 5-feet 8-inch 145-pound female. The height and weight are just right. It stands out in a crowd, and it's a pleasure to ride. I am extremely happy with my choice.

    1. Thanks for your feedback on the bike coming from the cruiser rider perspective. I tested the bike and wholeheartedly agree with your point of view.

  10. I have the 2007 650R and I found I wanted to have it lowered also. Someone at the dealership recommended a friend to build a custom shock based on my weight. (It's painted coil is black, but I actually like this color better with the bike.) It lowered it about an inch and a half and I can now flat-foot on both sides. I am 5 feet 4 inches tall, so this did the trick. It was pricey – about $500 – but I felt instantly more confident on the bike. Because of this cost, one might want to get the Suzuki or Yamaha comparable models instead, which can be lowered more easily and cheaply. The 650R just fit better overall for me with its smaller dimensions and close/easy controls, so it was worth the extra cost.

  11. Does anyone know if this 650R can be lowered? Even with a narrow seat, the 31-inch seat height is still too high for me. I'm afraid the “linkageless” design will not allow lowering, but I haven't been able to confirm.

  12. Thanks for this article. In my 20s I rode a Honda Interceptor 700 but it always felt too heavy for me to handle. I just got a Honda Rebel 250 for commuting but immediately wished I bought a bigger bike. I've been looking at touring bikes but really love the sportbike feel. I just don't want to have to bend over like the old days.

    After reading this review I think I've found my perfect match! A lighter sportbike where I can sit upright. Thanks, I'll be recommending this site to all my friends!

  13. I have owned my 650R for about a year and a half. This review is very well- written and and extremely accurate. The Ninja 650R is exactly what Genevieve described it as.

    Also, Steve's response (dated 6.1.08) in the Reader Comments sums up exactly what I feel about it. This is my first bike. I've had a wonderful time riding it and learning to ride through it. It has been perfect for that.

    As with Steve's outlook on it, after having ridden for a while, I am wishing I went with something more of a true sportbike like a Yamaha R6.

    After doing some modifications to my Ninja 650R, I'm a little more content with it. My next two projects will help further my decision to stick with it or not.
    1. I'm going to change out the “touring handle bars” as I call them and put on some that are more angled downward like sportbikes.

    2. (and this is my biggest gripe) Change the exhaust to give it more of a powerful sound.

    This bike is a halfway point in the touring and the sportbike line. I just want mine to lean more toward the sporty side. Hope this was a little helpful/informative.

  14. As a new new rider, I looked at the 650R and the position your body is in as a great way to learn how to ride. I rode it for a few months before winter and loved it. However, I'm starting to wish I went with a more conventional sportbike instead of the sport/cruising bike like the 650R. Learning to ride only takes so long, and after a couple months you may want something with more power and a sportier look and feel. The Suzuki SV650S is something to look into before buying the Kawi 650R.

  15. I love that you did a very thorough review on this bike. I owned a cruiser before and this bike made me a lover out of sport/touring bikes — no looking back for me.

    I have a 2006 Ninja 650R and absolutely love it. It's light, it's takes turns like it was built for it, with incredible power from a 650. It's a great bike for beginners, but challenging enough for an experienced rider, which makes it a motorcycle worth hanging on to for a long while. I highly recommend this motorcycle to anyone looking for a fun, comfortable — and I must say — awesome looking ride.

  16. I have a friend with the '08 Ninja 650R. Just so happens she's a female, and this bike is clearly aimed towards the female audience (with a few exceptions). The bike is pretty solid overall, but it surely doesn't match up to my ZX-6R.

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