Just back from Kawasaki’s annual dealer conference in Orlando, Florida, here’s photos I shot of the two biggest news items unveiled there. The 2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R is a mild facelift of the existing bike, but thanks to a larger stroke upping capacity to 1,441cc, it should put out something in the region of 200bhp sans ram air in American trim, a slight advantage over the European model, which is held back to 197bhp by EU noise regulations. The 2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650 is pretty much all-new with the exception of its parallel-twin motor. That’s good, this is now a very, very good-looking budget middleweight.
In person, the ZX-14 refresh does little to reduce the bloated proportions of the old model. The new headlights do flow a little better, but that huge upper fairing — there to make the bike practical for high-speed touring, its raison d’etre in other markets — still looks ungainly and the overall package still appears exceedingly long and oddly detailed.
In contrast, the Ninja 650 appears positively svelte, and not just parked next to its very big brother. The new swingarm, especially, contributes to a design that feels way more desirable and upmarket than its $7,500 price and basic spec suggest. The exception there is the plethora of cheap black plastic fill panels nearly everywhere you look — even between the otherwise very nice-looking frame tubes ahead of the rider’s knees. Those are an odd touch of cheapness in a component that otherwise evokes tactility, quality and solid engineering. Still, with the SV650 going the way of the Gladius, this is now the best option for new-ish riders upgrading from a 250, commuters looking for something practical and capable or riders on a budget looking for a do-it-all quasi-sports tourer.