Price: R62,999. Or R63,000 with five Chappies change.
by Donovan Fourie
At last, it’s here. The G310R has been big news ever since BMW announced it 400 years ago (at least, that’s how it feels). Obviously it is big news – BMW has pretty much already conquered the above 500cc market, so let’s give the small bikes a go. This certainly makes business sense – the global yearly market for bikes above 500cc is 850,000 units. The yearly market for less than 500cc is many millions. Understandably, BMW wants some of that pie.
They have partnered with Indian motorcycle giants TVS, a company that builds more than 2.8 million motorcycles a year, and have a dedicated production line especially for the blue and white propeller brand. Obviously the Germans have done all the clever engineering and design work, and you can be assured that a German is standing behind the TVS workers saying “you vil build zis prroperly, ja!”
And so it is at last in South Africa, and all accusations from social media like “it is going to have Indian build quality” and “it will be slow and boring” will now be answered.
First of all, it looks magnificent. The photos do it justice, real life does it even more. The design is based on that of the S1000R naked superbike, and with all the bikes lined up in the larniest bit of Melrose Arch, it took a second look to tell the difference between the 310 and its four-cylindered brethren.
The only small spoiler is the handlebar switches that are bulky, a bit unimaginative and look like something found in the toddlers section of Toys R Us. And that is the only criticism. The plastics are aggressively styled, the finish on tank is fantastic and the frame and engine look as though they come from Germany’s best factory floors.
That’s the impressions while parked. Let’s go for a ride.
Revving through Jo’burg
People have various views of Jo’burg. Some think of it as nothing but a concrete blotch in the pristine Highveld grasslands, others will see nothing beyond crime and greed. Of course, mostly these are people that don’t actually live in South Africa’s biggest city, but on this day even they would have to agree that it is damn beautiful.
We started in Melrose Arch before heading through the wealthy, old suburbs of Waverly, Illovo, Orange Grove, Houghton, Newtown, Westcliff, Melville, Greenside, Northcliff, Emmerentia, Parkhurst and Killarney.
Even in the deep throes of winter, when many of the leaves have given up the ghost and joined their kin in the compost heap, these streets still weave through a lush urban forest, passing divine mansions, climbing steep hills with panoramas of the metropolis and finding new twists in the road that will rival some the greatest tracks in the world.
And if you’re going to do a city joy ride like this, you need to be on something light, nimble, easy and lively. Something like, and this is a curious coincidence, a G310R. Like all bikes in this class, the G310R is tiny. Not just low to the ground, but slender, short and nippy. The suspension feels surprisingly plush and stable, while the seat is cosier than even some tourers. You can fit this bike into almost any space, throw it into any gap and, yes, even have the power to get out of a sticky situation.
It has a 313cc, single-cylindered, liquid-cooled, fuel injected motor pushing 34 hp at 9,500 rpm and 28 Nm of torque at 7,500. You might notice that the peak performance figures are at relatively high revs, and that’s because at high revs is where this bike really thrives. It isn’t too slouchy at lower rpms (though it does stall fairly easily if you are not paying attention when pulling off), pulling calmly and smoothly, but at about 6,000 rpm it shouts “Sparta!” and screams up to the 10,500rpm rev limiter.
Screams is a good word to describe the noise of a small single at full chat. I’d say it is a trait of only the G310R, but in truth all the 250/300 models do it. They may not be as fast as some of the midrange models, but the speeds they do achieve are done with so much gusto and theatre that 100km/h on a 300 feels like 300km/h on a 1000cc superbike.
This brings us to a small concern – the opposition is a fair bit more powerful than 34 horsepower.
The problem and the solution
The KTM Duke 390 is 43hp and the Kawasaki Z300, that is due to make a return to South Africa in September this year, has 39hp. That doesn’t mean that the BMW is necessarily slow. It weighs a ridiculously low 158 kg and we saw a very easy 160 km/h before we hit traffic.
The others might be a bit faster, but where the BMW trumps them, however, is in its price. The KTM is R69,000 and the Kawasaki is expected to be similar when it returns, but the BMW G310R, with its added bonus of reputable dealers, back up, service and probable low rate of depreciation, is just R63,000.
And so we must conclude
BMW has had record sales year after year, even when the Japs and the Americans have had to tone down their operations massively. Understandably, they want their growth to continue. Currently, they are selling around 150,000 units per year. By 2020, they are aiming to top 200,000. They are doing this by two means – an increase in their number of global dealers from the current 1100 to 1500, and to penetrate new markets like this one.
KTM is currently the largest bike maker in Europe. Much of this is down to their off-road/motocross domination, but what has really pushed them over the success edge is their Duke 125/200/390 range. And now BMW has jumped in head first with this, the G310R.
You would have to be a truly bad gambler to bet on them not succeeding.
World Launch video
More so, here is a video by Mat Durrans of The Bike Show who went to the World Launch of the BMW G310R in Los Angeles.
BMW Motorrad South Africa has begun what they call a service campaign to check all BMW R1200GS and GS Adventure models sold between 2013 and 2017. Technically, this is not a recall, as dealers will only do a safety check to ensure that nothing is wrong and not necessarily replace parts. What will happen is that the dealer will check the clearance at the top of the fixed fork stanchion, and should it show a gap, they will repair it for free with special replacement parts. This will not be an easy task as there have been more than 6500 potentially affected motorcycle sold in South Africa. Owners of these models have already been notified via their relevant dealers, and checks and repairs are free.
Below is the press release from BMW Motorrad South Africa:
Midrand. As part of a precautionary measure, BMW Motorrad South Africa is carrying out a service campaign to check the fixed fork tubes of the front forks of all the BMW R 1200 GS and R 1200 GS Adventure models produced between the periods November 2013 to June 2017. In South Africa 6 100 motorcycles are affected.
BMW Motorrad has determined during ongoing field observations that the fixed fork tube of the specified models can suffer preliminary damage under certain circumstances when high stress can occur without the customer noticing the damage. Such high stress can be causedfor example, when riding over an obstacle in the road, during a fall or when riding through deep potholes with unvarying speed. There may not be any visible damage to the front wheel however any severe impact should be checked by an authorised BMW Motorrad dealer.
Potential preliminary damage to the fixed fork tube manifests itself through a gap between the pipe and the pressed in top seal plugs which can be seen if the rubber grommet is moved down the stanchion.
If the fit of the pressed in seal plug has become loose, the gap may increase through longer usage and where the vehicle experiences high stress situations. This usually results in oil leaks, a clacking noise as well as increasingly imprecise steering. If these signals are not observed or are ignored and further high stress incidents occur, the plug may become completely loose. Subsequently, critical driving conditions cannot be ruled out.
BMW Motorrad South Africa has therefore decided to check and repair all the above mentioned motorcycles .
Owners of the affected motorcycles will be informed by BMW Motorrad South Africa of the service campaign, which will be carried out countrywide. All authorised BMW Motorrad dealers are equipped to carry out the check and repairs. The service campaign is free of charge and all affected customers are encouraged to contact their nearest authorised dealer as soon as possible.
In the interests of safety BMW Motorrad South Africa encourages customers to have their motorcycles checked by an authorised dealer before riding. Customers may also contact BMW On Call or an authorised dealer to have their motorcycle transported to a dealers’ premises.
For any further questions or information customers should contact their nearest BMW Motorrad dealer or call the BMW Customer Service Centre on 0800 600 555. Queries can also be directed via social media to BMW Motorrad’s social media sites: Facebook: @BMWMotorradSA and Twitter: @BMWMotorradSA.
Below is a video shot by the passenger of a following car using his cellphone. It is of a road rage incident that took place yesterday in California on the southbound 14 highway towards Los Angeles. Reports suggest that it started as the result of a lane changing incident by a Nissan sedan that clearly angered the motorcyclist on what is probably a Harley-Davidson. The motorcyclist then kicked out at the Nissan and it is unclear whether the driver swerved towards the bike deliberately or simply got startled and swerved.
The bike was pushed slightly by the car, but luckily managed to regain control without falling or colliding with anything. The car’s situation was very different, as it lost control completely, hit the inside barrier in a cloud of sparks before veering across the highway and colliding with an innocent SUV.
The elderly driver of the SUV was taken to hospital with relatively minor injuries, the driver of the Nissan is believed to be okay and the motorcycle rode on unscathed. Police are investigating and are in search of the motorcyclist.
KTM live by the slogan “Ready To Race”. Donovan Fourie of The Bike Show decided to put that slogan to the test at their studio test track using the new for 2017 390 Duke – with a revised chassis, electronics, a TFT dash and more – and KTM South Africa’s marketing manager, Riaan Neveling.
Mat Durrans of The Bike Show is an experienced, talented and mature(ish) motorcycle journalist, as it shows in yesterday’s road test and video of KTM’s fantastic 1290 Super Duke R. But sometimes even people like Mat get it very wrong.
The 1290 Super Duke R was originally launched in 2014 and was not compared to a sexy lady, a loyal companion, a friend and a delightful means of transport. It was a homicidal maniac. A chainsaw savage. A fire breathing, skull crushing barbarian.
Man it was good. Now there’s a new one
KTM did very well with the 1290 Super Duke. It sold well, but more importantly KTM had the guts to defy tradition, to ignore all notions of discipline, responsibility and adulthood, and build something that is nothing but fire and emotion.
What always ends up happening is a manufacturer would bring in a well-performing superbike, take the fairing off, remove a huge chunk of power from the motor – cleverly but deceptively marketed as “retuning to make it more rideable” – and calling it a naked bike. Think about every naked bike in existence, and you will find exactly the same process.
Then along came the Super Duke. It was based on the now discontinued 1190cc RC8-R superbike, but instead of dumbing it down, they increased the capacity to 1301cc, increased the horsepower by 5hp and boosted the torque to 140Nm. If you want to know what it was like to ride, re-read the introduction to this story.
The 1301cc 75º V-twin motor has been revised with some updates. The intake funnels in the airbox are a different length to help smooth out the power delivery, there is a new resonating chamber that creates 10% less emissions, the inlet valves are now titanium and 19 grams lighter, the crank is lighter creating a quicker pick up of revs and lighter handling, and the compression ratio has increased from 13.2:1 to 13.6:1. All this results in a more linear horsepower curve that peaks at 177hp and a flatter torque curve with a maximum of 141Nm at 7,000rom.
If it ain’t broken, fix it anyway
So, to this day, nothing remains as bonkers as the 1290 Super Duke – except possibly a green framed, supercharged Kawasaki but that is another whole kettle of sea monsters – and by all rights they could have kept it running with their heads held high, but this is KTM, the compulsive fettlers, and the thought of not improving something is seemingly foreign, alien even.
And so here it is, the improved Super Duke R in South Africa. More specifically, there was a row of them idling in the pitlane of Red Star Raceway for the South African launch. The word “idling” sounds terribly subdued, and normally it would be, but this is a row of 1301cc motors, each equipped with two 650cc pistons, thumping angrily, sounding like an ill-tempered pitbull behind the rusted fence of a greasy scrap yard.
They don’t look pretty – pretty is not the correct word. Buffalo Bill was not pretty, nor was Ted Bundy, but you wouldn’t tell them that to their faces. And nor you would you do the same to the Super Duke because it might just rip your liver out. It does look different – the side shrouds are bigger and pointer, like a dictator’s military hat; there are less plastics covering the tailpiece, making it look like a the stubby rear end of a muscular pitbull; the headlights are now twin LED, that look as though they are concealing a billionaire, playboy philanthropist. The reason they are twin LED lights is to make room for a gap between them that houses an aluminium cooling slot to keep at bay the massive heat generated by the LEDs.
The bike is tall (seat h of 835mm), adding to the muscular look, and this is apparent the moment you swing your leg over and inadvertently kick the rear seat – a reason, perhaps, that they removed all the plastics around the subframe. The tank is narrow but tall, and the bars are now wider, lower and further forward.
There is a new TFT colour dash, not the quite the same nor at the same level as the new Super Adventure R but good nonetheless. Functions are again controlled by four buttons on the left handlebar, and while it might still be a bit of effort to change the electronic settings, it is a good deal easier than the previous model.
What is fun is the new keyless ignition – put the key fob in your pocket, push a square grey button and the lights on the TFT dash go through dial-up. Push the bottom of the emergency stop button and everything comes to life.
A KTM Super Duke R and a Red Star raceway – a perfect combination.
Please feed the animals
And so the line of Super Dukes made their way down pitlane, spitting and snarling like chained dragons incandescent with rage. The standard bike comes with three rider modes – Rain, Street and Sport, with Rain delivering “only” 130hp, Street delivering the full power and Sport delivering the full power but with a snappier throttle – but these bikes were equipped with KTM’s Track Pack that adds a Track mode to the mix that delivers the full power, the full throttle response (with the option of changing it if need be) and the full eight-level traction control, but with the ability to turn off the wheelie control without turning off the traction control.
Whoever thought up that idea deserves a medal and a statue in their honour.
Thus, as you zig-zag out of the rule-laden confinements of pitlane, you open the throttle in first gear, hear the snarl turn into a roar, feel the bike shoot forward and the front wheel shoot skywards.
The previous Super Duke pushed 173hp (originally, they claimed it was 180hp, but that figure was very quietly lowered on their spec sheet sometime after the launch) and 140Nm of torque, which was plenty, yet more is always more, thus has now been boosted to 177hp and 141Nm of torque. More significantly, it makes 100Nm at just 2,500 rpm. That means that you can open the throttle at nearly any speed and be bombarded with torque and forwardness.
The result of this is the front living the American dream and the rider throwing in some socialism by means of short shifting until third gear. This is aided by a quickshifter that came as part of a Performance Pack that was added to these machines to keep the Track Pack company. Also included with this package is a slip regulator that works with the slipper clutch to keep the back wheel stable under down changes by opening the throttle slightly when it feels the back wheel locking under compression. Then there is the new KTM My Ride system that connects the dash to your phone via Bluetooth and can then go through the music playing through your headset, plus tell you when your phone is ringing and who is calling.
But back to the track – after a brief but glorious spurt of torque and acceleration, we got on with the job of traveling in a vaguely circular motion as fast as possible. The previous Super Duke was fun in the corners, but there was a slightly disconnected feeling that usually stems from something being a genuine road bike. The suspension was a touch soft, the steering is a little delayed and there tended to be movements when there shouldn’t be. It wasn’t as bad as you might visualise it after a sentence like that, but it was there.
With this new one, they’ve re configured the WP suspension, especially the front forks. The bike feels more stable, more nimble, more confident. What’s more, the large bike sitting in pitlane has turned into a nimble little racer on track. The handlebars are further forward than on the previous model, but are far from far away. When you get into the rhythm of track riding, they seem to disappear from your vision, leaving nothing but the panorama of track before you.
The frame is steel trellis connected to an aluminium single-sided swingarm, a trait of KTM and a design they are very experienced at. The suspension comes from KTM’s WP division, and has been hugely refined on this model offering the same amount of comfort as the previous model with more stability through corners. The brakes are from Brembo and use their top-of-the-range M50 front calipers.
The brakes use M50 calipers, the top of the range from Brembo, that are aided further by KTM’s clever cornering ABS. Plus the quickshifter is a both-ways system with an autoblip downshift, so braking involves no clutch action and only the blip of an auto-throttle invoking more snarling and growling from the engine.
The traction control has been better dialed to be less intrusive and smoother, which was a problem on the last one but not so much on this one. Especially with Track Mode activated, in which you can adjust the level of slip on the fly by simply pressing the arrow buttons on the right handlebar. This feels very MotoGP-like, where riders adjust the traction control according to the degradation of the back tyre and the track conditions. It’s probably less necessary for us mortals, but is does feel like we are living the MotoGP dream.
Making the traction control’s life easier is a throttle response that picks up quicker, but also in a smoother manner. Where turning the throttle on the previous model simply incited violence, this model gives you some hair raising and growling before it gives you violence.
Red Star is a fantastic circuit for honing your riding skills, getting the hang of your technique and ensuring that every other track henceforth will be a doddle. The only issue is that, with its many corners, its intensity can be a little taxing on the body and mind.
Although the Super Duke adds the sit-up position that physicists associate with bad aerodynamics, chiropractors will praise it for not destroying the riders’ physique. The truth is, as someone who doesn’t get much time as he’d like on the track these days – and even less in the gym – five laps on a modern superbike around Red Star has near crippling effects. However, ten laps later on the Super Duke, and I am annoyed that the chequered flag is out already.
Part of the reason for this is the easygoing handling that’s synonymous with naked bikes, plus the fact that you tend to not concentrate that hard on lap times and more on simply enjoying the experience. The tight hairpins of Red Star are easier to get your head around, and the exits are chance to lift the front wheel on the power in second gear and holding it through third using the quickshifter. The grunt of the engine means that you need not hammer down 12 gears in the braking, nor have to scream the thing everywhere. It tractors out of corners, churning the tar in its wake.
It’s a toy, a plaything, not a serious track machine, as naked bikes should be. You are already compromising lap times by daring to not have a fairing, sacrificing time for fun, and this is where the Super Duke thrives. It’s a capable track machine, but not a compulsory racer.
That’s half the joy of the Super Duke. The other half is what happens when you are not on a track…
It may not break lap records, but it is some of the most fun you can have on a track. There is new WP suspension that feels a good deal more progressive than the units on the previous model. The electronics are more refined and less intrusive.
Always be irresponsible
Naked bikes are compromised. Their brick-like aerodynamics, their non-laydown seating and the added comfort all don’t bode well for track riding. And yet, many a manufacture insists on equipping their bike for it at the detriment of their road handling. And this is where the Super Duke has thrived – the previous one was not the best track tool. It was fun around the track, but I fear that there were a handful of rivals that could out-laptime it. They were sharper, more refined and had a better handling and electronic package.
What they lacked, though, was Super Duke’s ability to be fun everywhere. Ride one of these rivals down to the shop and they would be good, but would not necessarily induce huge smiles, never mind flat out, mischievous laughter.
From the moment you hit the starter button and it grunts into life, you feel entertained. Roll out of your driveway, with the two grizzly bear pistons growling, and you smile. Open the throttle and immediately it shunts forward riding an aggressive wave of torque, and you cannot help but giggle like Dennis the Menace with a handful of stink bombs.
It ticks all the grown up boxes too – it’s comfortable, it handles traffic easily and, should you choose to, you can average 26 km/L if you stick to the speed limit on the on the freeway. Although it’s nearly impossible for the human hand to hold the throttle still enough to not accidentally break the speed limit, thus the option of a cruise control helps immensely. When the fuel tank does need a topping up, there is still no need to reach for the key because the fuel cap is electronically locked. It opens when the ignition is on and for ten seconds after the ignition is turned off.
There is one niggle, though – the motor is strong and aggressive, and an industrial amount of torque comes, seemingly, with an industrial gearbox. Where other bikes change gear like oiled-up silk, the Super Duke seems to do it by moving two giant chunks of metal via the foot. While seeming to be very meaty, the gearbox does require some work. Although, these bikes were very new, and KTM gearboxes tend to smoothen out with mileage.
The new TFT display has both day and night modes that it switches between automatically. It looks and works perfectly, except when you ride under a bright street light at night, in which case it momentarily reverts back to day mode. The functions are all controlled via the buttons on the left handlebar. It is still a bit of work to adjust the settings, but is a good deal easier than the last model.
All good things don’t always come to an end
Apart from this, the Super Duke is pure joy. It is the sort of bike you want to ride all the time, in any circumstances and in any conditions. This isn’t your trusty friend or faithful companion. It is the bad kid that wants to lead you astray. It’s the kid that your parents warn you to stay away from, the one that is sitting giggling next to you in prison, the one that drags you out of the house when you should be doing homework. You might not get any doctorates, but you will gain many a good memory.
Owning one makes absolutely no logical sense, but that is what makes it so damn good.
Note the linear curve on the power graph, and a top end 129 kw (177 hp) Also note how the torque curve shows 100 Nm at just 2,500 rpm.
The Bike Show video
Mat Durrans rode the new Super Duke also, except he had a TV camera following him. See the video below:
In some countries, the Z900 is taking over from not just the previous Z800, but also the Z1000. In South Africa, the Z800 and Z1000 are still available, although they are 2016 models. Looking at all of this, it’s easy to assume that the Z900 is simply a Z800 with a bigger drill used to make the cylinders but, in fact, it is a completely new bike with new designs, new concepts and new technology.
The aggressive Z900 with the strangely passive Elvis the lion at Jugomaro Predator Park
Actually, the technology part is stretching things somewhat. If anything, there is very little of that on the Z900. There is no traction control, rider modes, quickshifter, cruise control, heated grips and they probably put the ABS on grudgingly because the EU said they had to. But in many ways this adds to the charm of this motorcycle. It is refreshingly simple in a put motor, put chassis and ride kind of way.
While simple, it is still newly-designed from the ground up. The engine uses the typical Z format of in-line four-cylinder, but while the 800 actually ran an 803ccc and the 1000 has a 1043cc, the 900 runs a middle ground 948cc. It pushes a plucky 125hp, a good step up from the 113hp of the 800 and not completely out of touch of the 142hp of the 1000. The torque output is much the same deal, pushing a midway 98.6 Nm, 15Nm more than the 800 and 13Nm down on the 1000.
Justin Fernandes taking a break from cuddling lions to ride the Z900. We battled to get the keys out of him afterwards.
While keeping with the Kawasaki theme, it follows much the same Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde feeling of other Kawasakis. The bottom end feels subdued and relaxed, offering a gentle ride that is perfect for cruising long highways or weaving your way through morning traffic, whereas the top end is perky and ravishing, instilling the full Kawasaki sports mode.
While the engine is good fun, the real interest is in the new frame, with Kawasaki doing away with the tubular backbone frame of the 800 and replacing it with a steel-trellis unit. With this, we are certainly spotting a new Kawasaki trend here.
Originally, the H2 was released with a steel-trellis frame, much to the surprise of everyone who did not expect this sort of thing from Kawasaki. They said that this type of frame offered light weight and nimble handling while still remaining stable under acceleration. At the time, it was believed that Kawasaki did this to attempt to cope with the massive acceleration of the H2, but now we are seeing more than just this. The new 650s have received the trellis treatment, and here too in the Z900.
The rather simple dash with a digital rev counter.
It has made a noticeable difference in the feel of the bike – it is more compact than the 1000 and the 800 that, if we are going to be honest, felt slightly bulky. The seat h of the 900 is just 795mm. That’s a huge dip from the 815mm of the 1000 and the massive 834mm of the 800. More the that, the reduced weight of this bike beggars belief. The Z1000 weighs in at 220kg, while the Z800 weighs a chunky 229kg. The Z900, with Euro4 compliance, is just 208kg. That’s mega.
We spent an Autumn Sunday with it and the Ninja 650 in the Cradle/Magaliesburg area, enjoying the sublime of scenic twisty passes and long flat out sections. I started on the 650 with my mate Justin Fernandes, proprietor of the famous Jugomaro Predator Park, buzzing along some distance ahead on the 900.
One more of Elvis the lion. Why not?
For some reason, and I think we can guess what it is, Justin was hesitant in handing over the Z900’s keys when it came turn for me to have a go. He had spent the day embarrassing 1000cc superbikes through the mountain passes and pulling massive wheelies on various straights. Eventually, we arrived back at his farm, and the only opportunity I had to ride the Z900 was the 40km ride home.
It is small, very small. It gives the feeling of confidence, of oneness. It’s not trying to control you, in fact it wants to do your every bidding. The motor has that split personality between quiet town cruiser and raving monster, which is actually quite grown up. When it’s play time, it’s play time, but there are grudging moments when it’s time to be a grown up. Open the throttle and let it rev, and you are rewarded with a respectable surge of acceleration. Run between traffic and it is a gentle kitten.
The Z900 makes use of a new in-line four-cylindered motor and a steel-trellis frame.
There are no funny, incomprehensible switches, no complicated array of information on the screen, just what you need to know. The only annoyance is the gear change light; well, we say light, it is more of a strobe effect. When you get to peak rpm, the entire digital rev counter flashes in an epilepsy–inducing light display.
Beyond that, it is comfortable, practical, fun and all the things we said about the 650 except on an obviously higher level. And here for a price of R139,9995 (approx $10,700).
The Isle of Man is quite possibly the scariest motorcycle race in the world with riders requiring nerves (and other organs) of steel and lightning fast reaction times. Generally, IOM TT racers shrug off close encounters which is understandable given how often said encounters are, in fact, encountered. But even double TT winner James Hillier breathed a visible sigh of relief after this near-crash.
It took place at the Ballagarey Corner situated between three and four miles into the 37 mile (roughly 60km) lap. On that section riders are flat out in fifth gear, meaning they are riding somewhere in the region of 250km/h. Midway through the bend there is a slight lip that riders normally bounce over almost imperceptibly. However, if you happen to hit it slightly wrong, as Hiller did on his Kawasaki ZX-10R, things become a little less imperceptible.
“Ninja” is an important word in the vernacular of motorcycling. Most motorcyclists, upon the utterance of the word “Ninja”, think not of steely-eyed men clad in all black awaiting the next kill. Far more ominous is a devil-eyed motorcycle clad in a green fairing and a countenance that says pure death. In this case, it’s the new Ninja 650.
The Ninja 650 looking badass on the Cradle Road
It isn’t without due consideration that Kawasaki will put that name to anything, but the 650 seems to have passed the entrance tests. In a previous life, Kawasaki had the ER-6 brothers – the f and the n. While seemingly joined at the hip throughout their adolescence, as often happens, they have gone their separate ways in adulthood. The n has joined the Z clan together with the Z1000 and the Z900 that is on the trip with us. The f went the Ninja route, and so has been given a sincere make-over.
The previous ER-6f was mostly an ER-6n wearing an ill-fitting green trench coat. This new incarnation is no longer dressed by its mother, now donning the clothing of its Ninja clansmen. And it looks pukka. Many a passerby would be forgiven for giving it a glance and presuming it to be its bigger ZX-6R or even ZX-10R brother.
Despite its superbike disposition, the Ninja 650 is surprisingly comfortable
More so than new colours, the 650 also sheds its previous steel perimeter frame to make way for a steel-trellis version that was passed down to it by the king of all Kawasaki madness – the H2R. This has quite an impact. While this bike keeps the parallel-twin 649cc heart from its previous life, interference by the EU and their Views means that it now pushes 68hp, a drop from its previous 72hp. While this seems tragic, the day is saved by extra torque in the midrange, plus a weight of 193kg, a massive 7kg decrease from the previous, heavier framed version. This is even more amazing given that this new model complies with Euro4 emissions that adds a good chunk of extra metal to the bike.
We buzzed along the sinuous Cradle Road near Johannesburg, letting the warm Autumn sun shine down on us, reveling in the joyous twists and turns that carve their way through the Cradle of Humankind. We are very sure that our far-strung ancestors that inhabited these lands thousands of years ago saw these hills very differently, and more in a one-at-a-time fashion and so, when people refer to the good old days, we are inclined to disagree.
Of course, as is the way with Kawasaki these days, wavered disks are standard
This 650 twin motor has always been the revvy sort, starting with an irritable gargle at the bottom end and crescendoing in a sonorous roar. With Kawasaki’s retuning, the bottom end irritable has been replaced with bottom end irate as it picks up better, reaching the top end growl far quicker. The previous model was fun to rev, as you listen to it slowly crescendoing, where this one is fun everywhere, throughout the rev range. It’s fast, but not in a tense every muscle H2 manner. Top speed is somewhere close to 200 km/h and the steepest hills around Magaliesburg are handled without much in the way of downchanging.
But this is only where the joy of this motorcycle begins. It is good at blasting down the Cradle Road chasing others on faster bikes, but it is also good everywhere else, and by everywhere we mean everywhere. Its light handling and low seat h means that it can handle any urban road with ease. It has a sit up position, uncommon in the Ninja range, an ergonomics that is roomy and has a screen that somehow keeps its sporty appearance while delivering good wind resistance. After two days of riding, I felt nothing. No pains, no creaks, no fatigue, just nothing. If you were to ask me whether I’d be okay riding it the 1600km distance to Cape Town the answer would be “yes I would”.
It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s comfortable, it’s practical and it’s all things to all humans. At R125,995 (Approx $9600) for the base model that sounds like quite a bargain.
The Isle Of Man TT race is dangerous as it is, and more so when your bike hits an irrecoverable false neutral at 220 km/h. This was the fate of TT racer, TV personality and truck mechanic, Guy Martin, who had to jump off his out of control Honda Fireblade and narrowly missed walls, pavements and the tumbling bike.
Martin, a veteran of many big road racing crashes, most famously his highside at the UlsterGP that left him hospitalised with multiple fractures, is not often shaken by such things, but in the below video it is evident he has been affected. He skipped the following Supersport and Superstock TT race, and it is unclear whether he will participate further.