I got to ride my brother Andrew's 2012 Ninja 650L last night. Given the Ninja 1000 is my daily ride, I was very keen to see what they'd done to little brother ninja, and I wasn't disappointed!
The first thing I noticed was how low it is! It's not a small bike, and given it handled my 5"9'ish height without a hassle I reckon that even those who are pushing over 6" will find this bike comfortable to ride, but the seat is quite low, and the chassis is quite narrow, which means that it's a breeze to put both your feet flat on the ground - an attribute not to be undervalued on your first bike! It also feels very light - at least compared to my Ninja - and I suspect that many riders could catch and hold the bike up with their leg muscles in the event of a stationary drop or side-stand mistake.
The 2 cylinder engine has a nice rumble to it, and while it won't tear your arms out of their sockets it is prepared to get a bit of a wriggle on when you give it some juice; again, I think it's hit the mark perfectly for a learner bike.
I found the little "eco" light that displays on the clocks when you're not accelerating fast enough to be a questionable use of dashboard real estate, especially when Kawasaki could have put a gear indicator there which arguably would have been much more useful for a beginner rider. But everything about the bike comes across as well finished, and even a little refined, such as the adjustable clutch and brake levers (which is more than the brand new Z1000 boasts).
It has a much more tactile ride than my old Suzuki GS500 offered, though perhaps I'm a better rider now than I was when I had the GS and so I can appreciate such qualities more now, but it happily tipped into the corners without fuss or feeling at all unsettled, and it stopped quite smartly and predictably without any dramas at all. Oh and it comes with ABS as standard, so no rear lock-ups on this bike.
For those who don't like paying for new fairings after a character-building experience, I believe that the ER-6nL is for all intents and purposes the same bike in naked guise, but to be honest I think the Ninja is much more attractive that the cyclopsian nose of the naked, and if you're thinking of commuting on it I reckon the wind protection is worth its weight in thermals. Still it's horses for courses, but with 650ccs of power and ABS to help you rein it in, I reckon the Kawasaki Ninja 650L is going to be hard to beat for LAMS bikes this year. If you're thinking of taking up riding, this is one bike to put on your list to check out.