As we noted in our recent middleweight comparison, Kawasaki’s venerable Ninja 650 is ripe for an update, having received its last one in 2012. The time was right for a new Ninja, and Kawasaki has not disappointed.
Like its predecessors, the 2017 Ninja 650 was designed for the rider who wants the look and performance of a sportbike, but who doesn’t necessarily want to step up to a full-blown race-replica like the Ninja ZX-6R. For 2017, the Ninja 650 was given an updated engine, a new, lighter frame, new rear suspension, a redesigned swingarm and new bodywork.
The previous Ninja 650 was a bit hefty, especially when compared to its middleweight brethren. To address this, Kawasaki developed a new high-tensile steel trellis frame that uses the engine as a stressed member and is slimmer than the previous model. Most importantly, Kawasaki claims the new frame is nearly 40 pounds lighter than before. A new twin-tube rear subframe is more rigid for improved carrying capacity. The familiar side-mount, lay-down rear shock is gone, replaced by a more traditional, centrally mounted horizontal back-link shock with progressive linkage. New Nissin brake calipers promise better performance, and new 5-spoke wheels shave another 3.96 pounds off the weight of the bike.
When nit-picking the previous Ninja 650’s engine, we noted a dip in the power band between 4,000 and 5,500 rpm and snatchy on/off throttle response. Kawasaki has addressed both issues with the reworked 649cc parallel twin, featuring a slimmer intake and throttle body ports for finer atomization of fuel and improved airflow, and camshafts with reduced overlap and less duration. The result is improved and smoother power delivery at low rpm, better low-to-midrange power output, a more consistent torque curve and better fuel economy. A new assist-and-slipper clutch eases downshifting and allows a light clutch pull.
The Ninja 650’s bodywork was given a facelift, with a new front cowling that fits in with the Ninja ZX family and a new X-shaped LED taillight. Already comfortable ergonomics were revised, with new clip-on handlebars that are positioned slightly higher than the previous one-piece handlebar, with the grips rotated slightly forward for a relaxed but sporty stance. Coupled with a seat that is just over half an inch lower than before and a new, adjustable windscreen, the 2017 Ninja 650 promises to be comfortable for canyon rides or commutes.
Our last gripe about the old Ninja 650 had to do with its instrument display. Kawasaki pulled through once again, with a new digital display that adds a gear position indicator.
The 2017 Ninja 650 will be available in three colors: Metallic Spark Black, Pearl Blizzard White and Candy Burnt Orange. A fourth color scheme will also be available on a special KRT Edition model. U.S. pricing is set at $7,399 for the non-ABS model, $7,799 for ABS and $7,999 for the KRT Edition.