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Duel of the Ninjas

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R, Ninja 650, California

For those of us not endowed with overflowing bank accounts or impeccable credit scores, buying a motorcycle can sometimes be a game of needs versus wants.  While the newest Liter bikes or Custom cruisers have all the specs that look good on paper, at the end of the day we often find ourselves asking if it’s really worth the money.  So it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that middleweight bikes are still in high demand.  After all, what’s not to like about decent gas mileage, great looks, and a price tag that won’t completely rob your future or current child’s college fund?

But let’ s say you want to really narrow the market down.  You want fast, sleek and something with a decent pedigree.  We posed this question to our staff and came back with two answers, both wearing a Kawasaki badge.


The Favorite

If you’ve never ridden a ZX-6R, or swung a leg over one since the early 2000’s, there are two things you’re bound to notice immediately. First off, even at 80 mph in second gear, this bike is eerily smooth.  Second and most importantly, there seems to be no end to the power.

If you want hard numbers, depending on which Dyno test you believe, the bike pulls between 112 to 115HP.  For a 636cc machine that only weighs 427lbs, trust us, this thing will clear double the speed limit faster than you can blink.

Kawasaki ZX-6R

Another grin factor is how perfect the suspension feels right out of the box.  With today’s newer bikes you can spend all day tweaking the adjustable suspension to get it dialed in just right.  But the ZX-6R feels smooth and confident on almost every road surface we tackled. Even hardcore enthusiasts might be surprised at how little they need to adjust.  However, if you’re the tinkering type, a 41mm Showa at the front, and Uni Trak 25 way rebound-dampening option at the rear will let you wrench away till the sun goes down.  For the majority of sport riders, the 32.7-inch seat height will feel fine, and the 54.9-inch wheelbase shouldn’t feel too cramped for anyone under 6’3.  That having been said, we’re still wondering if there’s hope in the near future for a stock gel seat.  Kudos should also go to the steering geometry, which feels near perfect, and the silky transmission complete with clutch assist and slipper functions.  This is one of those bikes that will let you run through the gears all day long, and twice on Sunday.

For those wanting to really explore the tech side of sport riding, the 6R has all kinds of goodies; including, but not limited to a selectable power mode that drops the engine to 80% of its usual performance.  We found it useful in less than desirable riding conditions such as rain and unfamiliar slippery roads.  For further proof that Team Green has your safety in mind, the Ninja’s brakes are equipped with 310mm Nissin four-piston Monobloc calipers and can be had with ABS (on the ABS version).  If that weren’t enough, Kawasaki’s patented KTRC gives you three levels of traction control ranging from maximum acceleration to complete tire slip elimination.

In short, this sport minded middleweight is a bike worth fawning over.  After riding it around for 3 weeks uninhibited, we must admit that the idea of having one permanently assigned to our garage would be quite nice. T here’s no denying it’s a phenomenal machine that’s right on the cutting edge of modern sportbikes.


The Underdog

Now take the ZX-6R, add about 30lbs, drop the seat height, lose some of the fuel tank, give it 15 more cc’s, but take away about 30HP. Then fix it to a slightly larger wheelbase, swap the inline-four engine for a parallel twin, and Viola!


Kawasaki Ninja 650, Matt Hansen, California

Hardcore riders will argue that the Ninja 650 is not really worthy of being called a Ninja.  And if this review were conducted strictly on a track, we’d be inclined to agree.  But what it lacks in pure adrenaline and race tech advances, it more than makes up for in all-around functionality.

Thanks to a low seat height, easy to reach handlebars, and generous ergonomics, this unassuming middleweight makes all day riding truly enjoyable.

Most of that fun factor is due to the 650’s proven engine.  With a midrange that’s user-friendly yet still punchy enough to chase down anything you see, this liquid-cooled fuel-injected power plant offers plenty of performance.  The transmission comes in the form of a six-speed gearbox that gives you that familiar Kawasaki first gear (THUNK).  But after takeoff, civilized and confident gear changes abound. Highway riding is smooth and balanced, but should you feel the need to really let loose, this Ninja will give you more than enough reasons to surrender your license.

The 650’s short but effective windscreen easily covers the sweeping analog tachometer, digital fuel gauge, and display setup.  Our Associate producer cleverly pointed out that after a short amount of seat time, he had already trained his brain to read the tachometer instead of the speedo to judge how fast he was traveling.  He’s a bit of a show-off though; so don’t try that one at home kids.  Our test bike came ABS-equipped which we highly recommend and only adds $600 more to the stock price.  You’ll thank us when you need to stop on a dime because that teenager in their new Prius decided to run a red light while texting without seeing you.

Kawasaki Ninja 650

The Decision

There are many questions you could ask yourself when reviewing a bike.  What’s the fun factor?   Will this machine help to improve my riding?   Could I keep this for the long haul?  For us, the deciding factor came down to one recurring theme.  Personality vs Price. 

The ZX-6R is overall faster, sleeker in design, and has the technology advantage over the 650.  It’s also so easy to handle that in a short time, a novice rider might be convinced they’re track ready.  If Kawasaki’s design team was going for a race bike that in its stock setting is almost perfect, then champagne toasts are due all around.  But strangely enough, in its near perfection lies the flaw.  Yes, the bike delivers solid, smooth, and lightning-fast performance, but so does every other current Honda CBR600, Yamaha R6, or Suzuki GSXR600.  The 6R is a more than capable street machine, but its heart beats pure race blood.  And OTD after taxes, this racer will cost you well over $13,000.00.  Now take a moment to step back and look down the road about 4 years See that lighter, faster bike coming over the horizon?  It’s arrived just in time to make your cutting edge sportbike obsolete.  Think we’re joking?  Go check out Kelly Blue Book retail prices for a 2010 ZX-6R in Excellent condition.  Scary huh?


Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R, Mat Hansen, California

What we have left then is a Ninja with an all-day appeal that has already reached its peak.  The 650 offers up a smile-inducing rev-happy motor, friendly ergonomics, better fuel mileage, and the same ability to chase down your buddies on city streets or back road canyons as the 6R.  In fact, the phrase "I had no idea it was this capable” was heard more than once during our spirited testing.  Did we forget to mention you could also carry a passenger comfortably for long rides?


Kawasaki Ninja 650

The reason this bike feels like it’s doing a lot more than its pricey sibling is simply that it is.  As a whole, Standard Sport motorcycles are really starting to come into their own as a viable option for a large majority of riders.  The 650 can confidently take its place as a standout example of a bike that has everything you need at a price you want.  A new one will only set you back about $8,000.00, and just think of the track days, new gear, accessories, fancy meals, and maybe even a small vacation you can afford to take with all that money you’re saving.  For that price, you might even want to take the Ninja with you.  Who’s up for a Road Trip?


Ninja ZX-6R

The Good 

Top Performance

Amazing Handling

Instant Street Cred

The Bad

Riding position gets old in City and Highway traffic

They seem to attract 22 years olds with more money than brains

The Ugly

When did 600cc Sport Bikes become more expensive than Economy cars?


Ninja 650

The Good 

Great Midrange Motor

Friendly riding position

Handles much better than you expect

The Bad

No place to put soft bags

Rubber mounted rear pegs feel sketchy

The Ugly

Looks you get from new riders as you pass them with ease in the corners


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