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2006 EX500D - Ninja 500R 1000 mile review.

So 1000 miles has come to pass on my moderately used 06' Ninja 500R. As such I think I have found a reasonable amount of the pros, cons, and flaws in this bike. I've decided to write up a small review on my experience with purchasing a used bike. I will not be covering cosmetic issues with my bike, for obvious reasons. I do have a little bit of background on this particular bike, and it has never been dropped. All the body panels are solid, and based on what I experienced test riding a 2008 with under 800 miles, the bike's body is perfectly fine. So here goes nothing.

I purchased this bike with 8088 miles on the clock. Cosmetically it is solid, the bike has been well maintained and kept clean, and all of the plastics are properly aligned with all fittings and rubber bits in place. There are a couple minor blemishes in the paint, and a very small crack in the front fairing just behind the left mirror, presumably from someone who doesn't know how to strap a bike down. Trivial at best.

The engine is spotless, and runs great - starts and runs with zero trouble. Carbs could use a syncing but they are only ever so slightly off.

Features?

I would first like to point out a few things general to bikes and newer riders. That is to say features, or lack of features found on more expensive models. Immediately apparent is the lack of instrumentation. The bike comes from the factory with a tach, speedometer, and temperature gauge. Nothing more, nothing less. Having owned a bike with a fuel gauge and gear indicator (among other features) I felt a little lost for information.

Within a couple hundred miles, and certainly by the 2nd or 3rd tank of fuel, I don't miss either feature. You quickly learn what the range of your bike is, and a simple visual check before you take off isn't too unreasonable. As for the gear indicator I found that not having the gear indicator helped to keep my eyes on the road. I used to suggest to friends looking for a bike to find one with a gear indicator, but not anymore. Learn to ride the bike and you won't need one anyways. If you have never ridden a bike before, you won't be missing out on anything important.

You won't find any oil level sensors, electronics (other than the basics) or particularly nice storage features. The bike DOES have a kickstand switch however, and will cut off if the kickstand is down, the bike is in gear, and you attempt to let go of the clutch. This is a nice little feature especially if, like me, you have ridden other bikes and managed to forget to put the kickstand up even once.

The EX500 does not have a hydraulic clutch like my CB650 did. This was a little bit disappointing to me as the CB650 had a very, very light clutch. The direct cable means it takes a little more work to operate the clutch. Not a big deal and after a thousand miles my hand is already over the difference. The only drawback that really stands out to me is that its another cable to maintain. An extra 2 minutes of work is no big deal though honestly.

The EX500 comes with a tool kit from the factory, and this can be found underneath the seat in the tail section. There is a very small amount of storage space here but there is nothing to stop your items from sliding under the seat, along the inner fender, and out underneath the rear tire. I almost found this out the hard way with a steel plate I use to keep the kickstand from sinking.

In addition to this tiny storage compartment, there are folding luggage tie downs underneath the rear fairing. These fold out of the way when not used and can be used for a cargo net, bungee cords, or whatever.

Also included with the bike is a pair of helmet locks. One on either side of the bike. Their location is such that you can rest the helmet on the passenger foot peg while locked. This keeps them off the warm exhaust. One thing to note though is that they are a little difficult to use. I personally stick my arm through the lens opening on the helmet, then use my free hand to operate the key after I stuff the D-Ring into the lock. Not that difficult, but if you attempt it any other way it is a huge PITA. These can be relocated with some minor modifications.

Quality and appearance.

The EX500 has remained basically unchanged in looks since its inception at the end of the 1980's. Some people do not particularly love the look (myself) and wish they would have updated the 500 to match the 250. Maybe they will, maybe they wont. On the other hand, some people love it. I have had a couple of compliments on the partial fairing (which I don't like) and the less aggressive look as compared to a newer sport bike.

The finish is smooth and does not have any orange peel at all. The entire bike, engine and all shines up very nice with ease. The chrome seems to be reasonably durable, with only light scratching from hasty cleaning with a crappy towel - my own fault there.

The plastics are your standard quality found on pretty much any bike. The difference is in the mounting and fitment. The 500's plastics seem to have a minimum of fasteners (as with some other bikes I have seen) this is not a big deal and certainly nothing is going to fall off. However, you run into reverberations in the panels at times. Specifically at 4500 RPM. The whole bike resonates slightly. At 4500 RPM the vibrations peak, the engine seems louder (at least with a helmet on... with no helmet I don't seem to notice it as much), and the mirrors shake the most.

At 2000-ish RPM I found that the lower fairing also reaches a resonant frequency. For the space of 1-200 RPM when the engine is winding down you can hear the trailing areas of the lower fairing that are not particularly mounted "rattle" a little bit. Other than these two areas the bike has no other serious vibration or noise problems. It's not as balanced or smooth as some of the bigger more expensive bikes, nor is it a rattletrap like a single piston Suzuki Boulevard or something of that nature.

Newer riders may or may not find the vibration in the bars to be annoying, though I should point out that there is a noticeable vibration in the footpegs at 75 mph in 6th gear (about 7k RPM). This does smooth out at much higher speeds though, and seems to be purely from the engine. This particular vibration manages to tickle the bottom of my foot sometimes, but hey...
There is also a curious rattle in the dash and fairings when hitting particularly rough bits of road, sounds like the thing is going to shake apart. I will be investigating this in the future, but I think it's just the front fairings bouncing around.

Something to watch out for if you ever test ride one possibly? Not a major concern, this never happens on any halfway decent road and I try to avoid that super rough stuff like a plague.

Engine and drivetrain.

The overall quality of the engine and drive train isn't bad. Visually the engine and its components appear to be solid and well built, and based on the diehard 500 fans, when well maintained can last many tens of thousands of miles with basic maintenance. The entire engine has a nice looking, durable black finish and is easily cleaned.

There is valve noise, but a neat effect I have noticed when wearing a helmet (you dont hear it without a helmet) is that when the engine winds down it has a very distinct whistle that sounds almost dead on like a turbo spooling down. Kind of neat. Other than the valve noise, and a little bit "hiss" while running (like any quiet car engine if you are looking for a comparison), the motor on its own seems to make very little sound. Almost the entire bulk of noise from this bike exists at the rear of the exhaust.

In 1000 miles I have not had enough time with the bike to note any glaring problems with reliability. However simple checks of the chain tension, brake fluid and oil levels, and cable inspection/oiling which are standard to all bikes will keep this thing on the road. Talk to me in a year when I have put 6 thousand on the clock. You will need to perform regular maintenance on this bike such as valve adjustments. Automatic lash adjustment would be nice (again, a feature of my CB650) but such is life.

The engine is liquid cooled, which is very nice for being stuck in traffic, and has a temperature controlled fan as well. When maintained properly the bike should fare well even on very hot days. In addition, the radiator comes stock with a mesh guard to prevent problems resulting from rocks or debris impact. Why all bikes do not have this standard is beyond me...

The oil filter is in an easy to access place, but you must remove the lower fairing. Depending on how many beers you drank prior to the oil change this could be difficult.

The only problem I have with the engine is the painted exhaust. You must take a little more care to avoid rust on this than you would on fully chromed exhaust. Periodically you might have to clean and repaint, whereas with chrome all you need to do is keep it clean to avoid rusting.

Performance.

Well, it's not a super sport. i would hesitate to even call it a sport bike, but it is. Handling is good though. It is certainly nothing to be amazed at, but at the same time you can certainly tell you are on a small, easy to handle bike. The bike weighs around 400 lbs, but it feels like it is made of air and held together with hopes and dreams - it is a fun little toy to scoot around on. Even at highway speeds a decent rider should have no trouble dodging idiot cagers, potholes, 2x4s, and the occasional dog. I actually feel far safer and more in control on this 500 than I did on my CB650, or even than in my truck.

It does get a little dodgy at higher (I don't exactly push it to maximum) lean angles when the road gets bumpy, and it feels like the rear wants to let go even when its smooth. I would almost call it over steer, but that isnt exactly the right term - the bike will go where you want it. It hasn't chucked me off yet, but the bike doesn't inspire confidence in "extreme" performance situations that I will probably never even get to anyways. The rear just feels "squishy". With all that being said, I don't ever push the bike any farther than I am comfortable. I am sure there is much more that it can do, but I think what really matters is how does it do on the street?

Not too shabby actually. As said, dodging idiots is effortless on that thing. Straight line comfort is not entirely overlooked either. The lightweight EX500 has a far smoother ride than I could have ever managed with my CB650. I haven't properly adjusted the suspension yet, but it absorbs most bumps in the pavement without any major whiplash. A "drop-off" bump is another story. If the pavement drops even by a half inch, it is very noticeable. Larger stuff that a big bike might glide right over does manage to toss the little 500 around though. It simply just doesn't have the weight to power through those rough spots like a 900 lb harley might.

"Speed".

I am a little wary to include this section, but people will ask... so here it is. Keep in mind that these descriptions are relative to my own experiences, and I weigh 210 lbs.

The bike is "quick", it is not "fast", but it's not as slow as a 250. Which I think is the biggest selling point of this bike. So many people go out and buy a brand new 250 and then wind up disappointed in its performance. Then they go out and pick up a 600 cc or larger bike and never look back. Nothing wrong with that, however if one had purchased and learned on a 500, it might have spent more than 3 months in the garage before being traded in at 600 miles. Most notable of the 500 is its passing power on the highway. It is obviously not as powerful or as fast as... pretty much any larger sport bike, however you will not feel like you have to get off and push like a big guy on a 250 (me) might.

Cruising along at 65 mph the bike is sitting right at the beginning of where it starts making decent enough power. Opening the throttle won't cause you to suddenly start doing 100 mph, but the bike accelerates briskly all the way up to and beyond 90 mph, while leveling off right around 100 then slowly climbing to a top speed of 115-120 indicated. And when I say briskly, I mean it has more "seat of the pants" pull than my 200 hp SUV with my foot to the floor by a good amount.

More than fast enough to get yourself into trouble if you ask me. Also more than fast enough to where you shouldn't need to worry about whether or not you will make it past the asshole semi driver who wont let you over while your lane ends in a thousand feet.

Again, this is not a "powerful" motorcycle. However you should not feel as though it is underpowered by any means. It will get you where you need to go in a hurry if needed, while being tame enough to not intimidate a new rider completely. It is certainly faster than my uncles big bore 1300 something Harley by a large margin, something you can laugh about when the guy on the 883 sportster asks if the top speed is only 35.

Obviously things will change a bit with a heavier load on the bike. If you intend on having a passenger and weigh as much as I much as I do, with only 60 hp at the crank (if that) an additional 100+ lbs on the bike makes a HUGE difference. If you intend on having a passenger you may want to look at a larger bike.

That being said, the 500 is far more comfortable on yourself and your passenger than many of the more aggressive sport bikes due to its outdated design. A trade-off I guess. However, at the price of these things you can always just buy a second one for her xD

Mileage.

Lots of it! My first tank with this bike got me 62 mpg with all manner of screwing around, full throttle runs that should have gotten me multiple tickets and a 40 mile freeway trip at 70 mph. My second tank, which involved several minutes at and above 100 mph, and a full hour at 75-80 on the freeway averaged out to 51 mpg. I feel that if I was easy on the bike, keeping to no more than 55-60 mph tops and easy running around in town I could make 70+ mpg.

In addition to the mileage, the somewhat large tank results in a respectable range for this bike. I have gone 185 miles and still had over a gallon left in the tank when I filled up. Not too shabby! My friend's 750 manages 90 miles per tank... Ouch.

Overall impression.

The EX500 is a solid entry level bike that sticks with you. I have noticed that the cush drive seems to need some extra padding, if I ever decide to get in there (next time the tire gets replaced probably), and I had to re-learn how to shift the thing after my 650. I am still not quite at the point where I can do it smoothly and without anything more than a light click 100% of the time. Just need more practice I guess, it took a full year on my 650 to get that thing figured out. That bike also had a vastly different torque range, with a redline of 8k.

There is a good chance I will not ever sell this bike. If I get over the whole sport bike thing, or simply want something much faster, this bike will make an excellent little touring bike. You can attach full baggage, a touring windscreen and bar risers and with 200+ miles per tank go on a pretty comfortable trip. As it stands now I have some neck comfort issues, but these are probably more from my inexpensive, heavy helmet than anything else. I had this issue on the 650 too.

I have noticed that despite, or perhaps because of the slightly leaned forward posture on this bike as compared to my upright posture on the 650 my back is WAY more comfortable. I can go hours and hours on this bike without my back hurting whatsoever. On the 650 I would make it maybe 45 minutes and both my neck and back would be sore.

It wont be anything like a full bagger, or a Goldwing, but if you can deal with the minimal vibration (apparently people make thousand mile trips to Sturgis on hardtails with solid engine mounts, this isnt that bad) then you will have a very solid bike for a road trip.

I would highly recommend the EX500 over the 250 to anyone looking for a starter bike. Especially if they are worried about getting their money's worth. The 500 can be very versatile, and makes a very strong argument in the power vs. mileage debate. A 100 mpg scooter is nice, but wouldn't you rather have something a hell of a lot faster? I would, especially when you consider that 70 mpg isnt very far away from 100.

If you are looking for a big bike to impress people with, you are not in the right place. But if you are looking for something with good mileage, decent power, and won't kill your insurance bill, this is it.

One last thing I should note is that the rear shock's adjustment nut seems to be way up and difficult to get to. There is probably a simple truck to get to it, however from first glance it appears to be stuffed way up under the seat with no apparent way to access it. When it comes time that I feel like adjusting things I will figure it out I am sure.


If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask. If I get motivated I will update this with pictures describing the various "features" or aspects of the bike I described above. If you find any errors in the text or perhaps something I have stated twice (I do that sometimes) let me know. I typed this all up in one go, and in a hurry.
 

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I know you wrote this article some years ago but I wanted to let you know that your article is fantastic, and I can relate. I currently own a 2007 ninja 500r that I bought used with 21 thousand and some change on it. I bought it in February of 2015 and have since put 1,979 miles on it. It snows in the winter here so riding all year isn't possible. I notice minor differences from mine and the one you described. Mainly the my exhaust is chrome. I find riding the bike is a blast. As you had started it isn't a powerful bike but it does have balls. I've ridden plenty of motorcycles but this is the first bike that I've personally owned. I too am happy that I chose the 500 over a 250. The 500 is a great first bike although I'm at the point that I've out grown the bike and want to upgrade to a bigger bike. I'd certainly recommend it for any beginner or someone looking for a bike that is minimal maintenance. It's been good to me this last year and a half. It seems to me that the 500 does best at 80+ mph. I've been at 70 and with a slight twist of my wrist and I was hitting 100 easily with power left over to hit 120 mph. I know the spedometer says 140 but I have yet to take it over 130 mph. The confusing thing is that the few websites that list a top speed of 118 and another site said 130. The one time I hit 130 was between 9,000 & 10,000 RPM's. I'm a smaller guy and weigh 160lbs which factors in I'm sure. It red lines at 11,000 rpm's and 140 mph might be awful close to red lining it. I found your post to be a good read and very accurate. Thanks for taking the time to write it, you provided some great information and also answered the question I had regarding the cargo hooks and now I know that they move outward as well. I saw them tucked in there but never knew what their purpose was. Lol. I haven't had the need for them so I never really bothered to inquire their purpose. Thanks again for your great article
 
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