Kawasakiʼs Ninja 650 has come a long way since its introduction all the way back in 2006. Originally billed as an entry-level middleweight motorcycle, it’s since become a popular option for everyone from club racers, to commuters, to returning riders.

Times, emissions regulations, and styling preferences change, and so for 2017, Kawasaki has set out to update the venerable 650 platform yet again. Enter the 2017 Ninja 650.

2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650
The 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650 sports heavily updated bodywork and an adjustable windscreen to better make that conenction between it and its ZX- stablemates.Courtesy of Kawasaki

Introduced alongside the naked Z650, the Ninja 650 features a host of much-needed revisions based on proper Ninja styling and engineering concepts. The bike has a much sportier ZX-10R-inspired front fairing and revised ergonomics, plus updated engine, trellis-style frame, and new gull-arm swingarm. The total package loses a massive 42 pounds, which is nothing short of impressive.

To see how far that goes in moving the needle out on the road, Kawasaki invited us to Paso Robles, CA for a full day of riding. The roads were wet and dirty but spirits were high. Even better, things started to clear up as we made our way out of town, and we all began to enjoy the ride even more.

The Ninja 650’s new ergonomics package includes a lower seat and bars that are positioned slightly more forward, which puts you in a more comfortable riding position. Right away, I noticed that steering is light, and that the bike feels easy to steer into a corner. Credit the weight savings and lighter, five-spoke wheels here.

2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650
Thanks to a 40-plus lbs. weight savings, the Ninja 650 feels exceptionally light on its toes.Courtesy of Kawasaki

By midday, the group’s pace picked up and I was giving the 650 a hard time out on the open roads. I figured the bike would begin to protest at that quicker pace based on how forgiving (plush) it felt on the tighter, bumpier roads we’d ridden earlier. Surely it would start to come unwound in the faster sweepers, right? Wrong. In fact, on most all surfaces and at most all speeds, the 650 remained composed, enabling you to ride with confidence and control. A big change for 2017 is Kawasaki's move to a horizontal back-link rear suspension (the previous model's shock was mounted to the frame, with no link), and this seemed to make a big difference in overall response and rider comfort.

Part of that control also comes in the form of improved engine performance. Through a combination of new cam profiles (for reduced overlap), new exhaust, and smaller, 36mm throttle bodies, a smoother, more powerful, and more precise throttle response has been achieved. The added torque (with its broader curve) helps with stronger corner exits and increased roll-on capabilities when you need it, too.

2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650
Ergonomics are more relaxed, but still strike a nice balance between comfort and performance.Courtesy of Kawasaki

With this bike, you can cruise along quite comfortably at 65 to 70 mph/5500 rpm in 6th gear, or bully it around the canyons with ease. Either way you’ll relish the added power and smoother throttle response.

A new assist & slipper-style clutch is a nice extra and makes for easy upshifting and smoother corner entry. New Nissin calipers and 300mm wave rotors up front provide good stopping power and decent feel at the lever. The real treat though is the optional Bosch-controlled ABS, which saved me a few times; you’ll barely notice the system until you really need it. There is very little interruption in lever control or braking feel, just a nice smooth application of full braking power. Considering that the new 2017 Ninja 650 retails for $7,399, and the ABS model for $7,799, I feel like it’s a worthwhile upgrade.

2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650
The 2017 Ninja 650 will come in three versions: non-ABS, ABS, and ABS KRT Edition. Price ranges from $7,399 to $7,999.Courtesy of Kawasaki

There is more to this bike of course. A new dash features an analog-style needle tach with a digital MPH readout and goes well with the Ninja’s more modern look. There is an adjustable shift light sequence that’s integrated into the tachometer needle with a three stage, adjustable color sequence indication. Plus, you get a gear position indicator and readouts for coolant temp, clock, fuel consumption, and mileage.

In the rest of our ride, Kawasakiʼs aim of producing a modern, more capable Ninja 650 rang true time and time again. The bike is easy going, reasonably priced, and now does a better job than ever at reminding you of its Ninja roots, with a sporty edge that can be exploited by every type and level of motorcycle enthusiast.

Put simply, it’s economical while still retaining the track-capability heritage of the Ninja family. I stole that line form the Kawi press kit—but it’s true. Absolutely true.

2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650
2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650Courtesy of Kawasaki
ENGINE TYPE Liquid-cooled parallel-twin
BORE & STROKE 83 x 60mm
SEAT HEIGHT 31.1 in.
RAKE 24.0°
TRAIL 3.9 in.
WHEELBASE 55.5 in.
CLAIMED WET WEIGHT 419 lbs. (Non-ABS); 426 lbs. (ABS)
PRICE $7,399 (Non-ABS); $7,799 (ABS); $7,999 (ABS KRT Edition)