Comparison Review: 2016 Kawasaki Ninja 650 ABS vs. 2017 Suzuki SV650 vs. 2016 Yamaha FZ-07

Small-to-middleweight bikes are all the rage nowadays, and for all the options in the assorted Fun Size bag, the defining characteristic is just that: fun. These three—the Suzuki SV650, Kawasaki Ninja 650 ABS and Yamaha FZ-07—epitomize the fun bike ideal, but which one you pick out of the bag will depend on your tastes (Nutty? Smooth? Crunchy? Chewy?) and the sort of ride you’re looking for. (Photos: Kevin Wing)
Small-to-middleweight bikes are all the rage nowadays, and for all the options in the assorted Fun Size bag, the defining characteristic is just that: fun. These three—the Suzuki SV650, Kawasaki Ninja 650 ABS and Yamaha FZ-07—epitomize the fun bike ideal, but which one you pick out of the bag will depend on your tastes (Nutty? Smooth? Crunchy? Chewy?) and the sort of ride you’re looking for. (Photos: Kevin Wing)

Fun Size Rides

You learn a lot about yourself, as a motorcyclist, working at a magazine like Rider. It has something to do with the warehouse full of bikes, all of which are available for your riding pleasure on any day of the week. And when spoiled for choice, I’ve learned that the bikes I keep returning to when I just want to go out and ride are often like the three in this comparison.

They aren’t the biggest, baddest, fastest or loudest. They don’t have a lot of cargo capacity, wind protection or touring-plush ergonomics for long trips. They are, like the candy bars you give out on Halloween, “Fun Size”—enough to quell your craving for a sweet ride, but not so much that those with a smaller appetite will be turned off by the portion size. They’re spunky, with manageable powerbands and decent handling, and they’re affordable, in terms of purchase price, maintenance, fuel and insurance. But choosing a favorite isn’t an easy proposition, and I decided that mine is the one I find myself drawn to when throwing open the warehouse door: the one that’s the most fun.

This trio shares a few similarities: fuel injection but no throttle-by-wire or fancy ride modes; simple, mostly non-adjustable suspension; skeletons of cost-effective steel; and a willingness to run on regular gas. Beating at the heart of each is a twin-cylinder engine (a 645cc 90-degree V-twin in the Suzuki, a 689cc parallel twin in the Yamaha and a 649cc parallel twin in the Kawi). For as much as they share, however, these three Fun Size machines offer surprisingly different riding experiences, and your favorite will likely depend on what kind of candy bar (i.e. riding experience) you’re craving.

The Ninja 650 received its last major redesign in 2012, and compared to the other two it’s showing its age.
The Ninja 650 received its last major redesign in 2012, and compared to the other two it’s showing its age.

THREE MUSKETEERS – KAWASAKI NINJA 650 ABS

If looking the part of a sport rider, complete with a full fairing, gorgeous metal-flecked green paint and a color-matched, side-mounted shock, is what you’re after, but the insurance quote and five-figure sticker price for a pure supersport make you choke on your latte, the Ninja 650 ABS might be worth a look. The venerable Ninja 650 has been around since 1996, and received its last major update in 2012, when the engine and exhaust were tweaked for more power and efficiency and the seat and suspension were revamped for more comfort. When ridden back-to-back with the other two thoroughly modern Millies, however, it begins to show its age.

Instrument cluster has an easy-to-read analog tach but no gear indicator.
Instrument cluster has an easy-to-read analog tach but no gear indicator.
The Ninja 500-derived engine shows its best character above 5,500 rpm.
The Ninja 500-derived engine shows its best character above 5,500 rpm.
The Ninja is less than half an inch longer than the compact FZ-07, with the same 31.7-inch seat height and the highest footpegs of the bunch, giving it a sporting and flickable nature, but it still feels like the largest specimen by far. No doubt much of that is due to its hefty 467-lb curb weight, 38 pounds more than the Suzuki and 69 more than the Yamaha. This isn’t helped by the fact that it makes the least horsepower and torque, with a dip between 4,000 and 5,500 rpm—right where most casual riders will spend the majority of their time—and keeping it in the fun zone above 5,500 rpm requires a bit of effort. Sporty-looking petal-type discs slow all that momentum, and our test bike also came equipped with ABS. Brake feel is only slightly better than the wooden feel of the SV650, but showed signs of fading during extended stints of aggressive riding on curvy descents.

Greg's gear: Helmet - Fly Street Conquest Jacket & Pants - Firstgear Mesh Tex & HT Air Boots - Joe Rocket Meteor FX Tail bag - Rev Pack
Greg’s gear:
Helmet – Fly Street Conquest
Jacket & Pants – Firstgear Mesh Tex & HT Air
Boots – Joe Rocket Meteor FX
Tail bag – Rev Pack

As a freeway commuter the Ninja shines, with the fairing and windscreen providing protection from the elements and the forward-mounted mirrors affording visibility of more than just your elbows. The seat has ample padding, leaving me comfortable even after a full day in the saddle. Like most parallel twins, it can get a bit buzzy at higher rpm, but it was never enough to really annoy me. The instrument display is simple and easy to read, though it lacks the gear indicator found on the other two bikes.

Pulling into your local hangout or lunch stop will turn heads, especially if you’ve opted for the Candy Lime Green/Metallic Spark Black paint scheme. I prefer something a bit stealthier, however—a wolf in sheep’s clothing, so to speak. And so the flashy Ninja takes third place in this Fun Size comparison.

The new-for-2017 SV650 represents a return to what made the original SV so great.
The new-for-2017 SV650 represents a return to what made the original SV so great.

MILKY WAY – SUZUKI SV650

I reviewed the SV650 back in the September issue, and after a few more months of quality time with this friendly little bike, my initial impressions have only been reinforced. The SV’s approachability is complemented by its willingness to have fun. It will breeze through traffic as sedately and unobtrusively as your favorite aunt in her Buick, and when the road opens up and the curves tighten into hairpins, it sheds its puppy dog demeanor to become a willing accomplice to mischief—if that’s your thing, of course.

A lot of information fits on the large display, including gear position, time, fuel level and range.
A lot of information fits on the large display, including gear position, time, fuel level and range.
The 90-degree V-twin delivers a smooth ride and made the most horsepower of the bunch.
The 90-degree V-twin delivers a smooth ride and made the most horsepower of the bunch.
We were surprised to see that the Suzuki makes the most peak horsepower (a tested 71.7) and it keeps pumping out torque at least 900 rpm beyond the other two, topping out at 45.6 lb-ft at a whopping 8,000 rpm. The delivery of that power is linear and predictable, and with the Low RPM Assist making easy work of launches, stop-and-go traffic and slow-speed maneuvering, narrow bars and an easy reach to the ground from its slim seat, the SV gets top marks for rideability. It also has the best instrument cluster of the trio. The display is positioned forward, over the headlight, making it easy to glance down for information like speed, fuel level, range, gear selection, rpm and time of day (helpful when you’re running late for work because you opted to take the “fun way”).

Jenny's gear: Helmet - Bell Star Jacket & Pants - Fly Flux Mesh & Joe Rocket Alter Ego Boots - Sidi Vertigo Lei Tank bag - Chase Harper USA
Jenny’s gear:
Helmet – Bell Star
Jacket & Pants – Fly Flux Mesh & Joe Rocket Alter Ego
Boots – Sidi Vertigo Lei
Tank bag – Chase Harper USA

As I noted in my original review, the SV serves up a smooth and stable ride. On this test, reviewers praised its stability, thanks in no small part to its long (56.9-inch) wheelbase. The brakes got low marks, however, with the front brake especially offering a very wooden feel and inspiring little confidence when the pace picked up through the twisties. On the plus side, ABS is available for an additional $500.

The only other major complaint from the group was with the SV650’s seat. Suzuki did a great job of lowering the seat height and trimming the width to appeal to smaller riders, but in doing so it seems to have been trimmed to the bare minimum. If the bike was mine to keep, I would consider an aftermarket seat with thicker foam that gives me both more cushioning and more legroom, but inseam-challenged riders will likely find the stocker a reasonable tradeoff.

All told, the SV650 is a smooth and satisfyingly fun bike in a familiar, easy-to-ride, easy-to-make-mischief-on package. Though it isn’t my favorite, it’s a close second.

The feisty FZ-07 might be even more fun than its big brother, the FZ-09.
The feisty FZ-07 might be even more fun than its big brother, the FZ-09.

BUTTERFINGER – YAMAHA FZ-07

Boil a middleweight sportbike down to its raw essence, and what you get will look very much like the FZ-07.  There’s an edge to the FZ that is missing from the other two, and it’s that edge that makes this bike so darn much fun.

The word that came to mind when I first climbed aboard the FZ and twisted the throttle was “immediate.” The dyno chart tells the tale: there’s no windup to the power curve. Things happen immediately and the FZ out-pulls both of the other bikes all the way to about 7,500 rpm, where the Suzuki finally surpasses it. It reaches its peak torque of 47.6 lb-ft, the highest of the bunch, at only 6,400 rpm. What you’ve got on your hands is a nimble, sub-400-pound bike with a comfortable, neutral riding position and a 270-degree crank in the fiesty Crossplane Concept engine. It serves up smooth, ample power throughout the “real-world” range in which we spend most of our time, and its angry howl betrays its intentions to get from here to there NOW. It’s the Bart Simpson of the group: hanging out with this bike could very well get you in trouble.

The display sits back over the handlebar, forcing the rider to lower their chin to read it when wearing a full-face helmet.
The display sits back over the handlebar, forcing the rider to lower their chin to read it when wearing a full-face helmet.
This Crossplane Concept parallel twin has serious character—and the most torque of the trio.
This Crossplane Concept parallel twin has serious character—and the most torque of the trio.

 

The beauty of it, though, is that with a bit of throttle restraint, the FZ-07 is a sensible ride. It returned the highest fuel economy figures of the three, and its wide rear tire (a 180, as opposed to the 160 on both the Kawi and Suzuki), shod with a Michelin Pilot Road 3, offsets any potential skittishness with a solid, planted feel. Styling is sporty without being too overbearing. ABS is not available, but 4-pot opposed piston calipers squeezing 282mm dual-floating wave rotors up front keep the FZ reined in and under control. And, unlike its big brother, the FZ-09, the chassis and engine are well matched; it never feels like the engine is trying to wrench itself free from the rest of the machine. It’s just what it’s supposed to be: quick, nimble and, most importantly, fun to ride.

Mark's gear: Helmet - Nolan N104 Jacket & Pants - Olympia Moto Sports Air Glide Boots - Tour Master Solution WP 2.0 Air Tail bag - Firstgear
Mark’s gear:
Helmet – Nolan N104
Jacket & Pants – Olympia Moto Sports Air Glide
Boots – Tour Master Solution WP 2.0 Air
Tail bag – Firstgear

When I throw open that warehouse door and survey my options, my eye keeps returning to the little FZ-07, and I’m as powerless as a moth when it spies a hot, bright Coleman lantern. That’s why it’s my top choice for a Fun Size ride.

wide-wing8407

 

2016 Kawasaki Ninja 650 ABS

2016 Kawasaki Ninja 650 ABS
2016 Kawasaki Ninja 650 ABS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Base Price: $7,599

Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles

Website: kawasaki.com

Engine

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse
parallel twin

Displacement: 649cc

Bore x Stroke: 83.0 x 60.0mm

Compression Ratio: 10.8:1

Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.

Valve Insp. Interval: 15,000 miles

Fuel Delivery: DFI w/ 38mm throttle bodies x 2

Lubrication System: Wet sump, 2.4-qt. cap.

Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch

Final Drive: O-ring chain

Electrical

Ignition: TCBI w/ electronic advance

Charging Output: 372 watts max.

Battery: 12V 10AH

Chassis

Frame: High-tensile steel twin-tube perimeter, tubular steel swingarm

Wheelbase: 55.5 in.

Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/4.3 in.

Seat Height: 31.7 in.

Suspension, Front: 41mm fork, non-adj., 4.9-in. travel

Rear: Single offset lay-down shock, 7-position adj. preload, 5.1-in. travel

Brakes, Front: Dual 300mm petal-type discs w/ 2-piston floating calipers & ABS

Rear: Single 220mm petal-type disc w/ 1-piston floating caliper & ABS

Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.

Rear: Cast, 5.0 x 17 in.

Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17

Rear: 160/60-ZR17

Wet Weight: 467 lbs.

Load Capacity: 439 lbs.

GVWR: 906 lbs.

Performance

Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gals., last 1.0 gal. warning light on

MPG: 87 PON min. (low/avg/high) 45.5/50.1/53.2

Estimated Range: 212 miles

Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 4,400

 

2017 Suzuki SV650

2017 Suzuki SV650
2017 Suzuki SV650

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Base Price: $6,999

Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles

Website: suzukicycles.com

Engine

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 90-
degree V-twin

Displacement: 645cc

Bore x Stroke: 81.0 x 62.6mm

Compression Ratio: 11.2:1

Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.

Valve Insp. Interval: 14,500 miles

Fuel Delivery: DFI w/  STDV & 39mm throttle bodies x 2

Lubrication System: Wet sump, 2.9-qt. cap.

Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch

Final Drive: O-ring chain

Electrical

Ignition: Electronic

Charging Output: 375 watts max.

Battery: 12V 12AH

Chassis

Frame: High-strength steel trellis, steel beam-type swingarm

Wheelbase: 56.9 in.

Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/4.2 in.

Seat Height: 30.9 in.

Suspension, Front: 41mm fork, non-adj., 4.9-in. travel

Rear: Single link-type shock, 7-position adj. preload, 5.1-in. travel

Brakes, Front: Dual 290mm floating discs w/ 2-piston floating calipers

Rear: Single 240mm disc w/ 1-piston floating caliper

Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.

Rear: Cast, 5.0 x 17 in.

Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17

Rear: 160/60-ZR17

Wet Weight: 429 lbs.

Load Capacity: 496 lbs.

GVWR: 925 lbs.

Performance

Fuel Capacity: 3.8 gals. (3.6 gals. CA model), last 1.0 gal. warning light on

MPG: 86 PON min. (low/avg/high) 48.1/54.1/60.7

Estimated Range: 195 miles

Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 4,250

 

2016 Yamaha FZ-07

2016 Yamaha FZ-07
2016 Yamaha FZ-07

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Base Price: $6,990

Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles

Website: yamahamotorsports.com

Engine

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse
parallel twin

Displacement: 689cc

Bore x Stroke: 80.0 x 68.6mm

Compression Ratio: 11.5:1

Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.

Valve Insp. Interval: 26,600 miles

Fuel Delivery: DFI w/ 38mm throttle bodies x 2

Lubrication System: Wet sump, 2.75-qt. cap.

Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch

Final Drive: O-ring chain

Electrical

Ignition: Electronic

Charging Output: 410 watts max.

Battery: 12V 8.6AH

Chassis

Frame: High-tensile steel diamond, steel beam-type swingarm

Wheelbase: 55.1 in.

Rake/Trail: 24.8 degrees/3.5 in.

Seat Height: 31.7 in.

Suspension, Front: 41mm fork, non-adj., 5.1-in. travel

Rear: Single link-type shock, 9-position adj. preload, 5.1-in. travel

Brakes, Front: Dual 282mm floating discs w/ opposed 4-piston calipers

Rear: Single 245mm disc w/ 1-piston floating caliper

Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.

Rear: Cast, 5.50 x 17 in.

Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17

Rear: 180/55-ZR17

Wet Weight: 398 lbs.

Load Capacity: 385 lbs.

GVWR: 783 lbs.

Performance

Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gals., last 0.7 gal. warning light on

MPG: 86 PON min. (low/avg/high) 54.6/59.3/63.3

Estimated Range: 217 miles

Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 4,100

middleweight-comparo-3-bike-dyno-run-hp
middleweight-comparo-3-bike-dyno-run-torque

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