2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 vs. 2012 Yamaha FZ6R | Next Besters

By Ari Henning, Photography by Kevin Wing

The Ninja’s rubber-mounted seat, handlebar and footpegs are simply an admission that the engine is turning too much gas into vibration. The vibes travel from one location to another, manifesting as a loud buzz in the fairing at 2500 rpm before moving on to blur the mirrors and numb your butt as the revs rise. The FZ is largely unaffected by shaking-engine syndrome (SES, not currently covered by our health plan, sadly), and the wide-set mirrors remain clear and functional at all revs.

Neither bike has a particularly invigorating exhaust note, partly because they both pipe spent gasses through under-ship mufflers that suck all character from the sound. At least the Kawasaki’s sculpted can matches the lines of the bike, unlike the FZ6R’s bulky breadbox of a muffler.

The Yamaha’s style is mostly appealing, and makes an effort at keeping the bike from looking cheap. The angular fairing, two-piece seat and sharp tail, red rim strips and matching shock spring are hot. The stamped-steel rear brake lever, box-section swingarm and fake air intakes are not. The front end appears properly fierce at first, but then you notice that weird jewel-like lens above the headlight; it not only looks out of place, it doesn’t even serve a purpose since there’s no bulb behind it, at least for U.S. bikes.

You’d be hard pressed to find fault with the Ninja’s style, especially in Candy Lime Green. The FZ6R doesn’t look much like its supersport sibling, but the Ninja could easily be mistaken for its good-looking big brother. The bodywork was redesigned to resemble the Ninja 1000’s and features similar fairing-integrated front turn signals, petal rotors and tank-top ignition switch. The FZ wafts some heat in traffic, but openings in the Ninja’s bodywork direct hot air away from the rider, and the reshaped seat is softer and more comfortable than before.

Kawasaki moved the footpegs inboard a full 2 in. so your feet, knees and thighs are fairly close together. That makes the Ninja feel narrow and nimble in traffic, though there isn’t much to latch on to when you’re carving up a twisty road, and the seat’s textured fabric is difficult to move around on.

The Yamaha’s firmer seat is covered in ordinary vinyl so it’s easy to slide across, and the flared tank works well for bracing your lower body in turns. The FZ6R is also much smoother in terms of the ride quality and engine character. All but the most offensive bumps are absorbed by the Yamaha’s suspension, and fine-tuned fueling insures perfect throttle response at all rpm. The Kawasaki, on the other hand, suffers from abrupt on/off throttle response and strong engine braking.

Off the Record
Eric Putter, Test Consultant
AGE: 48 | Height: 5’7”
Weight: 148 lbs. | INSEAM: 29 in.

After stepping off my ZX-6R, I find the Ninja 650 and FZ6R refreshing. Their wide handlebars, relaxed ergonomics and accessible power make them easier to handle and more enjoyable to ride in most situations. The Ninja’s peppy parallel-twin engine is buzzy, but it has better low-end thrust and feels unique—it’s not just a detuned sportbike motor. With such a short inseam it’s nice to be able to flat-foot it on these bikes, but even at my Height there isn’t enough legroom to be truly comfortable. In the end, I’m swayed by the Ninja’s newness and the fact that it’s purpose-built. The FZ6R might work a little better, but it’s too vanilla, especially in white!

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