The Kawasaki EX500 is one of the longest-running models in sportbike history. Its unbroken lineage of 22 years is not only noteworthy, but a true testament to this legendary entry-level streetbike.
Introduced in 1987, the 500 filled the spot between the Ninja 250 and its bigger 600cc brother. Little did Kawi know that it would grow into the cult-classic it is today.
The first generation EX500 sported a steel cradle frame, 36mm forks, a front disc brake and 16-inch tires for a combo that offered a lot of bang for the buck. Powering this package was a 498cc parallel twin engine that featured liquid cooling, a six-speed transmission and enough power to keep riders on their toes.
Over the course of the next eight years "the little Kawi that could" became an all-star hit. Power was more than ample from the half-liter mill, as it pulled cleanly from idle to its 11,000 RPM redline. But more remarkable than the capable motor was the chassis. The EX500 was a handler, so much in fact that it quickly garnered a reputation for being a giant killer on a tight road-many a liter bike fell victim to the EX500 when it had the right pilot behind the bars.
As the popularity of this affordable bike grew so did its presence in the sportbike community. No longer considered just a beginner bike, experienced riders acknowledged its capable chassis and plethora of aftermarket support. Considered to be the perfect recipe for cheap speed, racing organizations across the country followed-suit with EX500-specific classes.
Heading into its eighth year of production, Kawasaki revamped the EX500 with 17-inch wheels, new bodywork, revised gauges and a new name-the "Ninja 500." Larger diameter fork tubes were also added along with a rear disc brake and an updated instrument cluster.
The new Ninja took the first generation's handling prowess to the next level with its 17-inch hoops that opened the door to more tire options. The thicker fork tubes added stability and the rear disc was less prone to heat-related fade like the earlier drum.
With some key updates, Kawasaki again reignited its 500cc sensation and sales skyrocketed. To this day the Ninja 500R (it earned the "R" in 1998) remains a performance bargain that's still a hit on Kawi's roster. Though little has changed since 1994 besides new graphics, the same killer Kawi remains.
As with most Japanese sportbikes, the EX500 is nearly bulletproof. Owners have logged over 100,000 miles on their examples and the term versatility couldn't be more apt. Whether they're hitting the track, commuting to work, cutting up the canyons or traveling the world, the EX500 is a willing companion.
Used prices are extremely affordable and finding parts for a bike that hasn't changed in 15 years is a breeze.
If you're looking for a cheap do-it-all sportbike the Kawasaki EX500 is a great mount. Street cred isn't exactly on par with a full on 600cc sportbike, but for a rookie rider that shouldn't be an issue.
Introduced as a starter bike slotted between the Ninja 250 and 600, the EX500 sported a 498cc parallel twin, steel perimeter frame and budget-oriented sport suspension. Performance was good for just 500ccs with quarter-mile times in the high 12's at over 100 mph and dyno numbers in the low 50s at the rear wheel. It was the epitome of cheap speed and soon developed a dedicated following based on its decent handling and absolute affordability.
Going into its eighth year of production, the EX500 became the Ninja 500. Other than a digital ignition the engine was status quo. But the big news was the larger diameter fork tubes, 17-inch wheels and a whole new look. Though little has changed since then, the 2009 Ninja 500R still sports a meager price tag with a maximum return on investment. It's a great starter bike and a capable backroad blaster. And, with very few changes over the past 15 years you're guaranteed tons of replacement parts.