2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650: Road Test

Lots of fun for the fast, mellow for the matured and sexy for the suave, the new 2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 has something for everyone





Most motorcycle companies today flaunt product portfolios longer than South Indian restaurant menus, featuring at least one model dedicated to a specific discipline of motorcycle riding, such as big burly trailies for dual purpose riding, blisteringly quick superbikes for sport riding or highway cruisers for laid-back mile-munching;  and scooters remain the in-town commuting favourite. But were motorcycles always so specialized, catering to the varied tastes of each and every end user? Roll back the pages of motorcycle history books and one finds that back then most riders owned one motorcycle that managed everything, be it long distance highway riding, corner carving as well as the daily commute around town.


Simply but aptly referred to as street bikes, this breed of motorcycles were all things to all riders. But as the battle for motorcycle sales transformed into a mega war amongst bike makers over the past few decades, it has made way for specialised motorcycles catering to one discipline exclusively. In 2012’s fast changing scenario, with the global economic slump once again forcing bike makers to give more for less, the all-accomplishing street bike is making a solid comeback.






The new 2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 epitomises a modern day street bike like none other, being many things to many riders, but we shall talk about it in detail a bit later. To begin with, the Ninja 650 in its newest avatar is a lot spunkier and aggressive than ever before. Introduced in 2006 as the Ninja 650R, the latest upgrade sees the middleweight Ninja 650 shed not just the ‘R’ moniker but also its rather conservative aesthetic appeal for a sportier and younger exterior make-up.






A welcome amendment is the change over from the previous generation Kawasaki racing green to the company’s new snazzier metallic green paint scheme that has been introduced in the Indian market with the latest Ninja 650 upgrade. The motorcycle now looks a lot smarter and suave with the revised bodywork raising its oomph by a large margin. Personally I think the new green is in line with the Ninja legacy and takes no time in reminding us about the madness and beastial nature associated with the Kawasaki brand.






Kawasaki hasn’t gone to great lengths in developing an all-new machine for 2012 and instead of re-inventing the wheel and starting from scratch the Japanese bike maker has very intelligently made coherent advances to iron out most of the flaws that had bogged down the previous generation Ninja 650R. While there was a general consensus about the 650R being a bit lazy in changing directions, that glitch has been well taken care of on the 2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 thanks to the revised double-pipe perimeter frame built from high tensile steel that is narrower than before, complimented by an all-new double-pipe steel swingarm featuring a gull arm design on the right side of the motorcycle to incorporate a more swooping exhaust unit. The new lighter and revised underpinnings have transformed the lethargy of the 650R into more energetic and willing-to-turn dynamics on the new 650.






While its handling characteristics have been tuned for sporty riding, the riding position ensures more comfort and ease. The narrower chassis design and a compact motor have permitted Kawasaki to significantly improve the ergonomics on the 650, allowing the rider’s knees and feet to be placed closer, making it easier for short statured riders to reach the ground at all times. The single long saddle from the previous model has been trashed for a split-seat sporty configuration and unlike the common belief that sports seats lack comfort over longer durations, the saddle on the 2012 Ninja 650 is cushier and comfortable for the rider as well as pillion.






Completing the cushy seat and comfy riding stance picture are new handlebars which are 10mm wider on each side contributing to improved control and effortless riding. Though the new motorcycle has gained 7kg and tips the scales at 211kg, the altered ergonomics have been designed in a manner that the rider does not feel any of that increased mass diminishing the riding experience. Swing a leg over the new Kawasaki Ninja 650 and the most striking bit is how swiftly the machine envelopes the rider in a smooth fashion. No matter how intimidating its looks and the Ninja aura, once in the saddle the rider is greeted with a far friendlier and welcoming demeanour.








Why, it may even seem so friendly that one is fooled into taking the potential of the liquid-cooled, parallel twin, fuel-injected 649cc motor for granted. But proceed with some caution because besides the complete design and handling rework on the new 650, the powerplant too has undergone significant revision. Mated to a 6-speed transmission, the motor gets new reshaped pistons which result in a lower  compression ratio, from 11.3:1 to 10.8:1, thus improving the torque output significantly below the 7,000rpm mark. There are other reworked bits like the airbox and the ignition system, which has been retuned for a more evenly spread torque without hampering the performance while improving the overall fuel economy. Sounds a bit too ambitious?






We thought so until the 2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 stumped us with its incredible fuel efficiency of 33kmpl under mixed riding conditions and then went on to complete the 5th gear 30-100km/h roll-on acceleration test in just 8.3 seconds! While the engine power and torque output of 71PS at 8,000rpm and 64Nm at 7,000rpm remain  unchanged on paper, they are extremely well regulated to attain a phenomenal balance between power, usability and efficiency, to bring out more from less – to apply method to prevailing madness.






And the madness of this Ninja 650 shows once the tachometer needle hits the 6,000rpm mark as the machine comes into its own all the way to the redline of 11,000rpm. Touching 100km/h from standstill in just 4.86 seconds, this mean green Kwacker can surprise you in the blink of an eye. No kidding. It’s an ingredient found in abundance in the DNA of all Kawasaki motorcycles. On the new Ninja 650 there are plenty of jollies on offer for the experienced street rider but it also exudes a docile and well mannered air so as not to scare away the apprentices.







One of the biggest complaints on the non-ABS 2011 model was the lack of bite and feel from the brakes (the ABS model is not yet introduced in India) and that hitch has been resolved diligently for 2012. A motorcycle capable of crossing 200km/h, also needs stopping power to match.  While we would like to see the ABS model make its entry into the Indian market, the current non-ABS model gets revised brake pads that provide a solid bite as well as feel bringing the Ninja 650 to a halt from 80km/h in just 37.3 metres and 3.36 seconds. Helping the overall braking dynamics are Sportmax Roadsmart II tyres which provide adequate traction and a strong feel, bestowing the Ninja 650 with excellent feedback qualities.






In its latest iteration, the 2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 is everything an average Indian biker would want it to be and thanks to Bajaj Auto’s efforts, the price (Rs 5.00 lakh ex-showroom, Delhi), is a bargain for anyone looking for a premium motorcycle. Oodles of comfort on Indian roads, a seamless throw of torque available from low down in the rev range, neutral handling that demands zero effort from the rider and plenty of grunt for hours of mile-munching, the new Ninja 650 raises the bar to a brand new level. And it does it all in a manner that does not burn a hole in the rider’s wallet with fuel bills even when he gets accustomed to the torque and goes burning rubber. Voila!