Accessibility, Versatility and Mile Munching Capabilities
Below-par tyres, Lack of suspension adjustability
Accessibility, that is what made the Ninja 650 a huge success in developing markets. Rather than intimidating newer riders with growling teeth, the Ninja 650 welcomes them with a friendly bear hug. Given the low seat height of 790mm, one can plant both the feet on the ground without any extra effort. Couple that with a not-so-committed riding stance, all thanks to raised clip-ons and mid-set footpegs, and you have an accessible and versatile motorcycle that you can enjoy right from the word go. The build quality of the switchgear as well as the body panels, in a true Japanese fashion, feels built to last. However, given the fact that the Ninja 650 is not a cheap motorcycle by a long shot, some sort of exclusivity and novelty would have definitely added to its premium quotient. The visibility from the rearview mirrors could be vastly better because all I could see was my own shoulders and elbows, rather than the traffic behind. Am I that self-obsessed? Certainly not. Then there’s the reach of the mirrors. Since they’re faring mounted, you have to extend your arm by a kilometre or so to reach them, making it very hard to change the view on the move.
A big, burly and friendly labrador, that’s the best I can describe the 649cc, parallel-twin motor which powers the Ninja 650. Even if you’re taking the big leap from a 150cc motorcycle, the Ninja 650 won’t make you soil your pants but don’t get me wrong here, it can definitely do that, if YOU wish to do so. The reason? The Ninja 650 gains speed deceptively quick and before you realise, you’re already clocking speeds you shouldn’t be, if being civil is your thing. Being criminal? The Ninja 650 would assist you in that too. Tractability and the linear power delivery are the star of the show. Take the powerband as a full-course meal with the good low-end grunt served as an appetizer. Then there’s the mid-range which is served on a huge platter, since it is the main course and a very scrumptious delight! If you wish to end things on a high note with a dessert, the Ninja 650 has ample top end surge as well. It is basically devoid of any flat spot or sudden spikes in performance for that matter. This tractability allows you to stay in higher gears, even if you wish to gain some rapid momentum. As far as crunching miles is concerned, this engine is always game for it. Cruising at 130-140km/h doesn’t seem stressful at all with the engine happily singing merry songs, knowing that it still has some poke left for those quick overtakes. Sure, the engine could be a bit more refined and the gearbox could be a little smoother but that shouldn’t make an impact on the Ninja 650’s image being of an amazing sports-tourer. The exhaust note sounds a little hollow when idling and sort of has a KTMish flavour to it but it improves once you give it some beans. That being said, a little more character sprinkled on this nutritional dish would have definitely added some much-needed spice because experienced riders could find the Ninja 650 to be a little bland. Some more aural delight fused with a little more flair would have worked wonders for the Ninja 650.
Even when it comes to ride and handling, the Ninja 650 extends its arms to engulf you. Since the Ninja 650 is basically a sports-tourer in its intent and not a fire breathing racetrack scorcher, the suspension setup reflects the same. It absorbs bumps beautifully well and you don’t necessarily need to shed some great speeds before the bumps arrive. Even when the need arises to do so, the braking department won’t disappoint either because the front brake is sharp, full of bite and feedback. For canyon carvers out there, looking forward to get their knee down on the slightest curvature of the road, the Ninja will disappoint in two aspects. The suspension is supple enough to absorb rough surfaces but when you start pushing it in corners, this suppleness results in a slightly unnerving ride. Couple that with the Dunlop rubber that the Ninja 650 comes shod with, and you don’t have enough confidence to go all out when attacking a corner. The trellis frame does support the motorcycle but is dragged down by the soft suspension and average tyres.
It is about time that Kawasaki started offering adjustable suspension for the Ninja 650 at both ends. That way, we can tune the suspension to behave a little firmer so that it can support the chassis even better. If that happens, the versatility quotient of the Ninja 650 will bump several notches above from where it already is. That being said, if I had to induct the Ninja 650 in my garage, the first thing that I’m going to do is burn the tyres in protest, deal with the environmentalists after doing that and get a stickier set of rubber.