As the new year starts and the cold weather sets in I receive an invite from Kawasaki to join them for the all new 2020 Ninja 650 press launch. What better way to start off the season than by test riding motorcycles on the sunny west coast?

After a full day of travel and some solid sleep I eagerly wake up early Wednesday morning looking forward to a day of solid riding around b eautiful Santa Barbara California. I’m always like this no matter what, this innocent childlike excitement comes over me because not only am I getting to ride a new machine but I’m in a new environment. So I throw on my leathers, grab my cameras and run to check out the bikes before anyone else gets there—they’re all lined up beautifully glistening in the morning sunlight in front of the hotel. Yup, it might as well be Christmas!

First things first, The Ninja is equipped with Bluetooth connectivity via the Rideology App. It’s easy to set up and sync thanks to Kawasaki’s new TFT color instrumentation. What was only available on larger cc and higher end model bikes, is now accessible on the 650 giving the cockpit a high tech look. While connected to the Rideoology App, I was able to track my entire trip throughout the day with details such as route, mileage, speed, rpms. Other models can also track things like throttle, brake pressure, lean angle and more.

First thing I noticed when I sat on the Ninja was how planted and steady I felt. I was easily flat footing it at 5’8” thanks to the narrowly tapered seat and tank design. I could also lean it around and maneuver it effortlessly with a full tank of gas. Everything is neatly compacted within the high-tension steel trellis frame chassis which is light but engineered for strength with minimal angles to help disperse stress. The muffler is mounted below the engine to farther help lower the center of gravity and aid in the weight centralization.

As soon as I took off I immediately noticed how torquey and punchy the throttle is thanks to the parallel-twin engine. Because I usually ride inline 4s, it took me a moment to readjust my muscle memory and become smooth with the throttle. I must admit that after 10 minutes I was impressed with how the Ninja just wants to go off the start. Even while letting the clutch out from a stop the engine is already pulling you ahead which makes stalling nearly impossible. Because of this low to mid range power delivery this is a perfect street bike for commuting as well as having fun in the canyons and it just invites you to rip on the throttle.

For the first 30 minutes I meandered around city streets getting a feel for how fluid and maneuverable the bike is in traffic. I instantly noticed how the bar input is impeccable and intuitive more so than many other bikes I’ve ridden. You literally look where you want to go and the Ninja goes with what feels like almost no input at all. Next we rode out to the canyons where we veered off onto a one lane heavily elevated back road chock full of hairpins. I’m going to be honest here, I don’t do much of this type of riding. This was probably the most technical road I’ve ever been on so I was very much out of my comfort zone. However on this machine I conquered it and didn’t do so bad 😉 The torque pulled me up the inclines effortlessly while the light bar steering allowed me to push through switchback after switchback. At one moment I had lost my focus and dropped my vision but even with that hiccup the Ninja had my back. One foot on the ground in a corner to regain my composure and we were back in business, she forgave my inability and pulled me onward. Finally reaching the top and taking a deep breath I looked back and was just wowed…this was a first for me!

Next we continued on to some nice twisties and sweeping canyon turns that are more my personal flavor. The pavement was pretty bumpy and pitted in many places but no matter. The Ninja’s suspension ate it up comfortably without making me feel like I was going to tuck the front. At first I was concerned the suspension would be too soft as I’m used to a more aggressive hard super sport setup, however I can see a benefit to a softer suspension that can handle a hectic commuting lifestyle where potholes and crappy pavement are the norm. Even with me pushing the bike while lightly trail braking into corners the suspension performance was solid.

The front has 41mm KYB telescopic front forks providing 125mm of front wheel travel. The rear is a back-link progressive KYB suspension system, just like on the ZX10r, which optimizes balance, sport riding potential and comfort. The linkage is placed at the top of the swing-arm which helps make room for the under engine muffler contributing to the bike’s mass centralization. I can honestly say I had an absolute smile on my face as I smoothly rolled around the rough corners and still felt full confidence in the machine. It’s solid responsiveness gave me self assurance.

While testing the brakes I did notice the Ninja dove quite a bit (again due to the soft setup). The brakes themselves were very progressive in feel which I prefer personally over an aggressive grabby feel. The model I rode came with ABS, however non-ABS is also available.

Concluding thoughts:

I’m very impressed with the look and feel of the 2020 design. I got to ride a previous version a couple years back and I really love all the changes Kawasaki has incorporated mechanically and visually. While this is a bike in the sport touring category, the Ninja takes inspiration from its racing siblings with a very stylish and aggressive fairing design and KRT livery (also available in black and white). The 650’s distinctive slanted upper cowl gives it a very aggressive look and seamlessly blends into the windscreen.

Overall it complements Kawasaki’s lineup as a perfect bike for both new riders and those with several years of riding experience under their belt looking for comfort with a sportbike style. The $7,399 (non-ABS) price tag puts the 650 in an attractive and reasonable price range. Its upright comfortable seat and bar positioning makes the Ninja a perfect candidate for commuting. However when you lock your knees into its tank and side fairing the 650 transforms itself into a canyon carver just as easily. Having spent over 170 miles in one day on this machine I definitely noticed how pleasant it was to ride. Nothing hurt or bothered me and the windscreen provides solid protection from getting battered by the elements when going highway speeds.

This machine definitely surprised me and put a massive smile on my face. The ease with which I was able to maneuver the 650 filled me with confidence and made me feel in complete control. For me, that’s absolutely invaluable and full of Good Times!