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

By Ari Henning, Photography by Kevin Wing

Suspension is usually where budget bikes suffer most, and the Ninja and FZ are no exception: forks are non-adjustable, and the shocks are only adjustable for preload. The Ninja’s side-mounted unit puts the preload collar out in the open while the Yamaha’s shock is harder to access and adjust.

This combination makes it difficult to smoothly navigate tight twisties, which is a shame because the Ninja’s parallel-twin engine has such good midrange grunt. Once you get the throttle opened, the Ninja squirts off the apex faster than the FZ6R, which is best kept on the boil and is most at home in sweeping corners.

The Kawasaki has softer springs and revised damping at both ends. It also has more suspension travel than before, but unless you weigh a hundred pounds you’ll never get to enjoy it. For average-sized humans, a large portion of the stroke is eaten up as soon as you sit down, leaving precious little travel to deal with bumps and potholes. The resultant ride is pretty harsh, and in simulated panic stops the fork bottomed, causing the front tire to lock up upon encountering the slightest irregularity in the road.

The FZ6R’s suspension isn’t perfect, either—it wallows through fast turns and can feel loose at speed—but at least the wheels follow the road. Even though it’s heavier and longer, testers felt more confident bending the Yamaha into turns since it’s more stable on the brakes and at full lean. The Ninja’s sacked suspenders make it feel flighty on bumpy roads, but given a perfectly flat, freshly-paved section of road it flicks in quick and tracks true. Clearly the Kawasaki would benefit from some suspension work to make quicker/heavier riders happy.

But if you’re in the market for one of these low-buck sportbikes, then spending money on modifications and upgrades probably isn’t an appealing idea. The Ninja may be newer and more stylish, but the suspension is jarring and the touchy throttle response is annoying. And that bodywork buzz! The FZ6R is more comfortable, lays its power down smoother, and handles better right off the showroom floor. In stock trim, FZ6R edges the Ninja in enough areas that we’re going to call the Yamaha the best of the next-besters.

Second Gear

Words: Ari Henning

One benefit of buying a modestly priced bike is that you might actually have some money left over for riding gear. When you’re on a budget, buying second-hand is a great alternative to purchasing new—you’ll get more or better gear for the same dough. Where? There are terrific deals to be had at consignment stores, swap meets and on eBay and Craigslist.

The good thing about garments like jackets and gloves is that they show their wear. Look for road rash, blown seams or other signs of an impact. Is all the armor intact and in place? Avoid garments with obvious damage or missing pieces. Footwear is pretty straightforward: if the boots fit and the price is right, go for it!

Unlike apparel, helmets can conceal damage that might compromise their integrity, so it’s best to buy new unless you’re 100 percent sure of the helmet’s history. Manufacturers give lids a five-year in-use lifespan, so check the date sticker (usually found on the inner EPS lining). Double-check supposedly unused helmets to be sure they haven’t been stored in a harsh environment.

Beyond that, it’s a matter of finding gear that fits you, but for the sake of style, steer clear of stuff from the ‘90s!

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