2006-2009 Kawasaki Ninja 650R

Smart Money

Nobody rolls a Ninja 650 into the garage because it's quicker or faster or more intimidating than any other sporting denizen of the twisty bits. Actually, it's the polar opposite of all that: Kawasaki's fizzy little 65-horsepower parallel-twin is a modestly priced sporting ticket to just about anywhere that gets 50-60 miles from a gallon of unleaded. If expediency outranks pure speed on your list of motorcycling priorities, this Ninja is way ahead of its more warlike brothers.

More broadly focused and infinitely comfier than the typical 600cc supersport, this Kawi fits compact riders better than the big and tall. Narrower than an equivalent inline-four and shorter than a V-twin, the fuel-injected, counterbalanced lump down below lays down more than enough thrust to rivet a novice pilot's attention. Expect to cover the quarter-mile in a respectable 12 seconds at 109 mph. Once above 3000 rpm, it requires less shifting than multi-cylinder alternatives like Honda's 599 or Yamaha's FZ6. Add accurate fueling, a well-mannered driveline along with humane ergonomics and you have a practical, light-steering, 441-pound commuter that gets in and out of corners with very little effort.

Concessions to the bottom line are inevitable. Welding on the steel-tube frame and swingarm isn't gorgeous. Fast learners will tire of price-point suspension that's harsh on rough roads and fidgets constantly at high speeds. That 41mm fork offers no adjustments, and the easily accessible shock offers only spring preload. Numb, high-effort brakes are a disappointment, but a few aftermarket upgrades will cure most of those ills for a few extra bucks.

Problems? Many owners complain of a vexing buzz from the fairing around 4000 rpm. Cheap nuts holding things together don't help, but a Factory Authorized Repair (FAR) kit from Kawasaki and a little ingenuity usually does. Misaligned engine mounts on some '06 frames are prone to cracking, and check the sidestand mount for tabs while you're looking around down there. Inspect for evidence of coolant leaks in and around the lower fairing-they're usually traceable to a bad water pump or radiator cap. Blame a weak seal for the oil that often collects at the crankcase breather/airbox junction. Find one with a good service history and the kinder, gentler middleweight Ninja redefines performance with a bang-per-buck ratio anybody can be proud of.

Light steering, accessible power and comfortably upright ergonomics.

Underwhelming brakes and suspension.

Watch For
Buzzy fairing, coolant leaks, cracked engine mounts, slipping clutch, oil around crankcase breather, sticky fuel-cap lock.

Score it Ninja 1, Recession 0.

2006 | $3645
2008 | $4420


2006-2009 Kawasaki Ninja 650R

Honda CBR600F4i
2006 | $4550

The four-cylinder Honda is hard to beat if you're looking for a balanced portfolio of practicality and speed. Though it's not as fast or furious as an RR, the F4i is much more tolerable for commuting or light sport-touring duty.
Suzuki SV650S
2006 | $3790

Suzuki's beloved sporting V-twin is 7 lbs. lighter than the Ninja 650R and makes 6 more bhp. It also comes with superior suspension and brakes, though steering is a bit heavier. Good ones are more expensive and harder to find.
Yamaha YZF-R6S
2006 | $4880

The S is a comfortable reprise of the '03 R6 with softer suspension at a nicer price than the take-no-prisoners later versions. This sporting four is characterized by sharp handling and abundant top-end power with not much down below.