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2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 Review


by Pascal Bastien ,

I recently had the opportunity to try out the upgraded 2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 on a small country road near Mont Tremblant, Quebec, with a beautiful sun shining high above. This standard sport bike from Japan benefits from a new frame and swingarm combo, revised suspension settings and improved ergonomics for superior comfort and versatility.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650

''Our main target is young male and female riders between 20 and 35, beginners and intermediate riders alike who want to spend time in the city as well as on nearby roads,'' explains Masanori Kinuhata, who supervised chassis tests on both the Ninja 650 and ZX-10R for Kawasaki Motor Europe. ''The 650 enjoys a good reputation, so we've decided to preserve its appeal and overall dynamics.''

Ride quality
The offset laydown single shock again highlights the profile of this Kawasaki. The suspension has been significantly revised, not to mention various other parts of the chassis. The longer swingarm makes the shock's life easier, while the extra travel on the front fork allows more progressive damping.

In addition to a three-position adjustable windshield, the rider gets a smaller yet more comprehensive instrument panel that now displays range and average fuel consumption.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 instrument panel
The rider gets a smaller yet more comprehensive instrument panel. (Photo: Sébastien D'Amour)

Flexibility and precision
The engine is not completely new, however, extensive changes have been made. The 649cc twin-cylinder proves more flexible, while the six-speed transmission is sharper. There's a bit more punch between 4,500 and 7,000 rpm, although the meaty part of the powerband remains beyond this range and all the way to the 10,500 rpm redline.

The engine revs in linear fashion, and the healthy amount of power (72.1 hp at 8,500 rpm) allows you to have fun on small winding roads without scaring yourself by carrying too much speed into a corner, as is often the case with a 1,000cc bike.

Even at low speeds, the results are impressive. The Ninja 650 is easier to ride through traffic, which kind of changes the game. And when you have to distance a badly driven Buick, it responds with enthusiasm and energy, providing a good dose of thrills and auditory delights in the process.

And what can I say about the gearbox? The improvements are in line with Kawasaki's latest products and make the rider feel as though he or she has been using it for a long time.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 engine
There's a bit more punch between 4,500 and 7,000 rpm. (Photo: Sébastien D'Amour)

Sport vs. comfort
The softer springs and tighter hydraulics (compression adjustment) combine to absorb bumps and imperfections more effectively, which sounds perfect for our damaged road network. Moreover, the rider and passenger benefit from extra seat padding.

In terms of cornering performance, the little Ninja remains a nimble athlete with sharp reflexes and good feedback from the front wheel. However, due to the soft suspension and more upright, comfort-oriented riding position, the bike quickly shows its limitations in aggressive riding. While it fares pretty well in a succession of twists and turns (as evidenced by the increased flow of adrenaline in your veins), the fact is that a steadier, smoother approach to high-speed riding will help you get more fun out of this machine.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 face view
In terms of cornering performance, the little Ninja remains a nimble athlete with sharp reflexes. (Photo: Sébastien D'Amour)

Bottom line
Kawasaki always listens to its customers, and the 2012 Ninja 650 is a brilliant example. Faired standard bike enthusiasts will be happy with what the engineers have done to this cash cow (over 60,000 copies of the previous generation were sold across Europe). A better engine, sharper styling, improved ergonomics and a more rider-friendly chassis will give it even more appeal and value, as pricing remains extremely competitive.

Engine is more responsive at lower revs
Sharper transmission
Improved overall comfort
Just as nimble yet more rider-friendly

Aggressive riding is limited by a soft suspension and relatively upright riding position