Yamaha Tracer 700 and Kawasaki Ninja 650 in comparison test

Yamaha Tracer 700 and Kawasaki Ninja 650 in comparison test
Arturo Rivas

Yamaha Tracer 700 and Kawasaki Ninja 650 in comparison test

Sports tourer from the middle class

One likes it upright, the other more front-wheel-oriented: Because these two sports tourers from the middle class impressively prove that there is still such a thing as egg-laying woolly milk pigs, we clarify which concept can do everything better.

M.he early twenties still have a fire under your bum. University, party, love affairs and flexible daily planning – that’s all it takes to get through the year. Well, maybe more beer. There is only a non-binding commitment: If you come today, you come tomorrow! The bike also has to fit this lifestyle. After all, you want everything at once: Universal is ideal. You want to travel, race and romp, but also be cool and be able to take the pretty, blonde exchange student from Sweden with you – including tent equipment, of course. That is why there is only one true destination for what has been saved for a long time: the sports tourer or such a crossover bike. Chic is what is useful!

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Yamaha Tracer 700 and Kawasaki Ninja 650 in comparison test

Yamaha Tracer 700 and Kawasaki Ninja 650 in comparison test
Sports tourer from the middle class

Kawasaki does something there. The name alone: ‚Äč‚ÄčThere is something rebellious about owning a ninja per se. You don’t have to emphasize that the 650 is the successor to the ER-6f, that it is the most civil ninja in the Japanese portfolio and that its in-line twin-cylinder only pushes 68 hp and 65 Newton meters at its peak. That may sound a little brute, but it’s enough for everyday life. And it is precisely here that the ninja should ultimately convince, should have a suitable answer ready for every emotion of the young spirit of its pilot.

Of course there are alternatives. In addition to the sporty Ninja 650, which weighs only 195 kilograms, including luggage racks, the Yamaha MT-07 has been praised in the highest tones since it was launched in 2014. But in series production it doesn’t really offer travel qualities. The crossover variant Tracer 700 with a slightly modified frame, larger wheelbase, 17 liter tank, fairing and windshield fits much better. In addition, experts consider it “the better MT-07”. Well, it doesn’t look as sporty as the ninja, it is always sleek and detailed. With 75 hp and 68 Newton meters, your crossplane two-cylinder even has a few more grains in its quiver. And who knows: Maybe she’s hanging out from the ninja on the country road? Trying out is more important than studying – and maybe the two sport touring concepts are closer together in the end than one might expect when looking at the driver’s posture?

You swing your leg casually over the seat of the Ninja at a height of 790 millimeters, and you are happy that even the small ones can easily put their feet on the asphalt. Up to a height of 1.80 meters, the knee angle is comfortable and the knee is pleasantly narrow. Only taller people are better off ordering the 30 millimeter higher bench. The raised handlebar stubs are within easy reach, the upper body is positioned towards the front wheel, but contrary to what you might think, it is comparatively upright behind the optional touring windshield. It’s impressive how the ninja integrates its driver – especially when compared to the tracer. You are actually enthroned on the Yamaha. But despite their imposing appearance, even drivers around 1.65 meters don’t have to worry about not getting the tar under their feet at the traffic lights. Seat height of 830 millimeters sounds suspiciously high, but the motorcycle is narrow – step length is the magic word here! You sit casually on the wiry Japanese woman as if on a wing chair, feeling like you are on a large travel enduro, which with a total weight of 200 kilos (including optional pannier racks, touring windshield and heated bench) only wears size 36. The optimally positioned and not too wide handlebars enable playful handling of the tracer, and the great handling properties of the bike can be shown to advantage at just above walking speed. It’s crazy how cheeky you can flip the 700s from left to right. Only the intimate contact, the oneness of man and machine, that may not come about as quickly on her as on the Kawa.

In any case, the ninja scores with the fact that they make it easy for their pilot in every respect. Its trump cards are stability, neutrality and homogeneity. I beg your pardon? Yes, really, this Kawasaki is convincing from the engine to the chassis not with its extremes, but with its balance. Boring? No, all in all a really good motorcycle! The anti-hopping clutch can be operated as light as a feather and with just one finger (servo assistance). All six gears find their power connection smoothly without any effort or noise. The two-cylinder in-line accelerates gently, turning motivated through the rev range from 2000 tours. Thanks to the short gear ratio and homogeneous power delivery, there is always enough traction on the chain. Low load change reactions, a captivatingly neutral steering behavior and the Dunlops D214, which is easy to set up, complete the all-round carefree package of the Ninja 650, whose Nissin floating calipers can also be dosed more finely than the fixed-piston calipers of the Yamaha. In combination with a jagged ABS, the Kawa enables short braking distances. Whoa, what an idea. That sits!

Especially because the Tracer 700 shouldn’t overwhelm anyone. But her clutch and transmission are not that easy and precise to operate; she follows steering commands with less commitment, yes, a bit less willing. Its tight chassis setup offers significantly more reserves for driving for two or when riding the last groove, but the tracer does not fall neutrally in an inclined position and tends to stand up, especially when braking and on bumps. Where the Kawa chassis, which tends to be comfortably tuned, swallows short distortions and long waves, but starts pumping because of insufficient damping, the tracer bumps woodenly over potholes, stands up and lets the driver or his wrists iron out the vibrations.

The mounted Michelin Pilot Road 4 makes the Yamaha pleasantly agile despite the wide 180 mm rear tire (the Kawa is soled with a 160 mm tire), but the motorcycle tends to tip over in deep lean angles. The tracer is undoubtedly motivated and whirls rapidly through the track, but it does not lie like a board in the carousel of curves in the Swabian Alb. All in all, the Ninja 650 is not quite as aggressive, but all the more stable. Even when anchoring hard in front of the curve, it stays precisely in line and moves steadfastly on steep slopes.

Logically, both bikes are not pure racing rolls, but offer a high level of everyday use: The fairing and the Kawa windshield, which is already three-way adjustable in the series, provide excellent protection for the legs and upper body of the pilot, for example. If the helmet is also to disappear completely from the draft, the driver has to stretch himself flat over the 15-liter tank. Then you can hear the rattling intake noise of the engine or get annoyed by the vibrations of the two-cylinder. Huh? Yes, the engine of the ninja vibrates quite strongly, causing the driver and pillion to tremble with fine nerves from 5000 tours. The tracer engine is much smoother and appears more confident thanks to the displacement advantage. The 700 always serves its performance with a certain spice that some on the Kawa may miss. The Yamaha crossplane two-cylinder reacts more directly and with more flavor to gas commands, but does not respond as gently as the Ninja engine.

And the travel qualities? Well, the passenger definitely lacks development opportunities on the Kawa. It only offers a narrow seat cushion, little space for the feet when the notches are positioned high. On the Tracer 700, on the other hand, you can easily drive to Sweden with the potential Swede on the back. Not only does the infinitely adjustable windshield ensure peace and quiet in the command center, the pillion passenger is also comfortable, simply more relaxed. The solid accessory cases also fit more luggage than the smaller pockets of the Ninja. With a measly 167 kilos payload, you should always keep an eye on the gross vehicle weight. It’s actually a shame, because the tight chassis of the Yamaha can handle more.

But she also allowed herself a real mistake in the pillion rating: Not only that the ABS prevents shorter braking distances with coarse control intervals, but that it does not prevent stoppies when decelerating with pillion, you have to blame the tracer. A forward role cannot be ruled out in tricky situations.

With this mixed record, can there even be a clear winner? The Kawa is lighter, safer, consumes less, can also take a quick dash, but reluctantly a passenger. Their biggest faux pas are the vibrations of the two-cylinder. The Tracer, on the other hand, scores solidly in all categories, looks more adult, has the livelier engine, but not the outstanding lightness and neutrality of the Ninja. On the other hand, you can travel with her excellently and also confidently charge the lady of the heart. The Tracer wins on points. The price-performance winner is the ninja. In the end, everyone has to decide for themselves: So it remains a question of attitude.

MOTORCYCLE test result

1. Yamaha Tracer 700
A really grown-up motorcycle that masters the balancing act between traveling and speed. The driving behavior should be more neutral, however, and the chassis elements should respond more sensitively.

2. Kawasaki Ninja 650
It offers an all-round carefree package of great driving behavior, powerful brakes, an economical engine and a sporty look. If now the two-cylinder vibrated less and the pillion had more space …

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