How To Buy A Used 2012–2015 Kawasaki Ninja 650

Smart money tips say that the Kawasaki Ninja is a classic and reliable sportbike.

2012–2015 Kawasaki Ninja 650
2012–2015 Kawasaki Ninja 650©Motorcyclist
2015 Kawasaki Ninja 650
2015 Kawasaki Ninja 650©Motorcyclist

The advertising adage goes like this: Sell the sizzle, not the steak. That's one of the paths to success in the middleweight sportbike market, where speed and racing victories translate into sales. But some middleweights offer more than just sizzle, bringing a tasty menu of performance, practicality, and even entry-level user-friendliness to the table. Kawasaki's Ninja 650 has all of these ingredients, making it a full-meal deal that won't leave you hungry for some other bike an hour after your latest ride.

If you’re the kind of rider who thinks you need four cylinders and triple-digit horsepower to have fun, you need some quality time with the Ninja’s 649cc engine. With “only” 67 hp on tap, the plucky little fuel-injected parallel-twin has a wide spread of power that makes aiming for redline on every shift unnecessary. A counterbalancer quells the 180-degree crankshaft’s vibration as you spin past 6,000 rpm, where the fun begins. The flat exhaust note and lack of drama means speed sneaks up on you, mandating a close eye on the speedo as well as the road. And yet the torque, peaking at 45 pound-feet, lets you bimble around town all day without fear of stalling.

The 2012 Ninja 650 included a number of significant upgrades compared to the original, which came out in 2006 and got a refresh in '09. Chief among those upgrades were the broadest spread of power yet seen in the line, a wider handlebar, a better seat, and supposedly more compliant suspension. The styling department got its licks in, too, and gave the Ninja an angular, insectoid look that's spikier and less curvy than its ancestor.

A new steel frame with a single-backbone seat subframe resulted in a higher load-carrying capacity and came with a new twin-pipe swingarm with forged rear-axle holders. The narrow frame, wrapped around the svelte parallel twin, came shrouded in a new fairing with a quieter windscreen that offered 2.5 inches of adjustment.

Adequate if not cushy passenger accommodations and a few handy tie-down points make two-up sport-touring a possibility, if not the best use of the Ninja’s talents. (We should say that much of the Ninja 650’s chassis was adopted by the Versys 650, and if you’re interested in the Ninja for its versatility, don’t underestimate the Versys—it’s overall a better bike than the Ninja on the 650 platform.) With a range of almost 200 miles you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try them out before you need to gas up.

Most online forums are alive with chatter about mods and performance upgrades. Ninja 650 owners are just as likely to brag about how many miles their bikes have gone without problems, some of them reporting 80,000 or more. Seemingly immune to issues other than those you'd find on any high-mileage bike, they chug along for years. The Ninja pulls off the amazing trick of being both a great beginner's bike and one that still attracts veteran riders, though it's not quite the crossover-king the Suzuki SV650 once was. A huge fan base and an equally huge aftermarket make the Ninja 650 an appealing choice.

Real-world versatility, swoopy looks, budget price, easy to live with.
Not the most refined bike in the world especially compared to its newer rivals.
High-mileage ills like notchy steering, loose swingarm bearings, scored brake rotors, balky starters, poor overall maintenance.
Surprisingly good across a wide range of missions, the Ninja 650's biggest competition is the newer (and still more expensive) Yamaha FZ-07.
2010 / $4,260
2011 / $4,425
2012 / $4,655
2013 / $4,885
2014 / $5,180
2015 / $5,810

2009 Ninja 650R
2009 Ninja 650R©Motorcyclist

Initially perceived as a bike for newbies and commuters, the 650R’s appeal proved much broader. Its parallel-twin engine raised eyebrows but soon earned praise for the breadth of its capabilities. The chassis was low enough for short riders and sprightly enough to encourage intemperance on back roads. A fairing redesign came along in 2009.

1994–2009 Ninja 500
1994–2009 Ninja 500©Motorcyclist

1994–2009 Ninja 500

The EX500 evolved into the Ninja 500 in 1994. The redesign included bigger, 17-inch wheels, a new fairing and instrument cluster, firmer suspension, and an update of the problematic cam-chain tensioner and transmission, both of which could be retrofitted to the previous generation. The model was dropped in 2009, but you can easily find a good used one.

1987–1993 EX500
1987–1993 EX500

1987–1993 EX500

This is the bike you’ll ride when your exotic is in the shop and that you’ll hand down to your kids. It topped Kawasaki’s sales charts for several years, won numerous Bargain Blaster shootouts, launched the riding careers of countless novices, and even provided a cheap and reliable platform for production racing. It’s a super-cheap buy-in, with lots of parts still around.