New Bikes 2006

Enter the SV Assassin
Yes, Kawasaki's intriguing twin-cylinder Ninja 650R is coming to America and no, it's not a warmed-over, punched-out version of the pre-primordial EX500. Wrapped in more marketable plastic skin, U.S.-bound bikes are infinitely easier to look at than the minimalist neo-jellybean ER-6n Kawasaki sells in Europe. Those are both good things, and the story gets better from there. Billed as a sporty all-rounder and aimed at the jugular vein of Suzuki's popular SV650, the green team's latest middleweight looks like a refreshing alternative to uncomfortable, expensive, track-sharp 600s.

Because a V-twin would have been too long for what Kawasaki's engineering brain-trust had in mind, power comes from a liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 649cc parallel-twin. Working under two cams and eight valves, the new Ninja's relatively oversquare (83mm x 60mm), fuel-injected cylinders are tuned to produce the sort of mid-range power favored by rookies as well as aspiring experts.

A balance shaft geared to the 180-degree crankshaft should cancel most of the twin's vibration. Stacked transmission shafts keep the new mill short, while a semi-dry-sump design--oil stored in the gearbox allows a shallow pan--similar to Kawasaki's KX450F motocrosser's helps keep it short. Such compact engine dimensions keep seat-height low, with room left over to sling that stylish muffler directly underneath. Though Kawasaki hasn't released official horsepower numbers, expect something close to the Euro-only ER-6n's 72 bhp at 8500 rpm--comparable to the SV650.

Using a lattice of steel tubes rather than slab-sided aluminum spars, the 650 bolts its single shock to its steel swingarm with no linkage in between. Petal-style 300mm front rotors are paired with dual-piston calipers to save a few bucks, but stopping power should be sufficient for sporting street duty. Though it's too soon to tell if it's capable of dethroning Suzuki's little SV, we'll say this much: The 650R looks like very good news for anyone in the market for a simple, stylish, affordable roadster.

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