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The first generation was manufactured from 1987 to 1993, the second generation started in 1994 and continues to 2009. The first generation was specifically called the "EX-500", the name was changed to "Ninja 500" in 1994, and then to "Ninja 500R" in 1998, however all names are usually used interchangeably. It should also be noted that the model sold in California differed from the other 49 states, by having additional emission reducing equipment. As of 2008, the California model was discontinued due to tightening pollution laws.

1987–2009 Specifications:

Engine type 4-stroke, liquid-cooled Parallel Twin
Displacement 498cc
Bore x stroke 74 x 58mm
Compression Ratio 10.8:1
Valve system DOHC, 8 valves
Fuel system Keihin CVK34 x 2
Ignition Digital
Starting Electric
Transmission 6-speed with Positive Neutral Finder
Frame type Double-cradle, high-tensile steel
Rake/trail 27°/91 mm (3.6 inches)
Suspension, front 37mm telescopic fork
Suspension, rear Bottom-Link UNI-TRAK® with adjustable preload
Tires, front, rear Tubeless; 110/70-17; 130/70-17
Brakes, front Disc with Balanced Actuation Caliper
Brakes, rear Disc with single-piston caliper
Dry weight 176 kg (388 pounds)
Wheelbase 1,435 mm (56.5 in)
Dimensions L 2,125 mm (83.7 in) (1987)
2,110 mm (83 in) (1988–1993)
2,096 mm (82.5 in) (1994–2009)
W 685 mm (27.0 in) (1987–1993)
701 mm (27.6 in) (1994–2009)
Seat height 770 mm (30 in) (1987–1993)
775 mm (30.5 in) (1994–2009)

Weight 169 kg (373 lb) (Calif: 170 kg (370 lb)) (1987–1993)
176 kg (388 lb) (1994–2009) (dry)
185 kg (408 lb) (1987–1993)
199 kg (438 lb) (1994–2009) (wet)

Fuel capacity
15.9 l (3.5 imp gal; 4.2 US gal)
Fuel consumption 64.0 mpg-US (3.68 L/100 km; 76.9 mpg-imp)
 
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