Sunday, May 22, 2011

Kawasaki Ninja 250

It looks like a hypersport, but its seating position is as comfortable as a standard’s. It’s named after a line of superfast bikes, but is sedate enough for beginners. Its build quality is high, but its price is about as low as it gets.

But then, does Kawasaki’s Ninja 250R even need an introduction? Since receiving a stylistic and functional makeover in 2008, which you can read about here, the Ninja has continued its legacy as a top seller for Team Green.

To those of us who’ve known this little screamer for a while now, it’s not a mystery. Perhaps the only mystery in our minds is why the other Japanese OEMs have been content to let Kawasaki own this segment for the past couple of decades or more, but we’ll save that for the sidebar.

Kawasaki Ninja 250
Kawasaki Ninja 250Motivated by a smooth-running DOHC 249cc parallel-Twin pushing a peak of 25.4 hp to the rear wheel, this 374-lb machine offers enough power to stay ahead of around-town and suburban traffic, and will top out around an indicated 100 mph or so.

Its twin Keihin constant-velocity carburetors aren’t as sophisticated as the fuel-injection on the Euro version, and the twin carbs are jetted lean to pass emissions regs. This results in an engine that needs to be warmed up before it’s able to be ridden away, and low-end throttle response is a bit soggy.

“It’s definitely on the lean side in the low end and midrange,” says Kerry Bryant, who has tuned many Ninja 250s as owner of Area P, a SoCal-based shop that also manufactures exhaust systems. “Changing/adjusting the jetting can make a dramatic improvement in throttle response, even with the OEM exhaust system.”

Once warmed up after a few minutes, the machine will accelerate from a standstill with the revs at around 3,000 rpm while slipping the clutch. Carburetor tuning is not a pre-requisite, but to make it run the way it could, it is something we would do.
Kawasaki Ninja 250
Kawasaki Ninja 250
Kawasaki Ninja 250As we said of the earlier Ninja 250 when it won our 2006 Newbie Comparo, this bike gives a rider just enough rope not to hang themselves. Sure, riding the 250 doesn't remove the inherent hazards of motorcycling, but it is an extremely forgiving mount. When a newb hits a pothole on the 250 and slips the throttle to full blast, they will get a scare but be okay. Compare this to the brave/stupid who hop on a ZX-10 or ZX-14 as their first-ever motorcycle and accidentally blip the throttle only to end up picking themselves off the asphalt wondering a) where their bike went and b) where they can go change their pants.

While power delivery on the Ninja is tolerant, the new 6-speed gearbox is more lenient than Brittany Spears chaperoning a Vegas bachelorette party. Even when we tried to confound the idiot-proof system with some intentionally ludicrous downshifts, the Ninja's transmission handled the extreme gear changes with a nurturing admonishment rather than rear-wheel lockup. The new, more durable clutch delivers seamless engagement - one would have a difficult time conceiving a better transmission to hand over to a green rider.

The often held notion that it is more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow is often scoffed at. But there is truth to the assertion, especially on public roads. Unless you want your license revoked and cut up into a million pieces, the ZX-10R cannot be ridden to its limits anywhere other than the racetrack, and even then, unless your last name is Hacking or Hayden, you ain't getting everything out of the bike. Yet, almost anyone can ride the Ninja 250R to its potential, which makes it an absolute blast.

Handling on the Ninja is quite a revelation. Even though the new model has added a surprising 29 lbs for a claimed dry weight of 333 lbs, the Ninja is still super slender and feels quite light. The last Kawasakis we rode were the ZX-14 and Concours, so believe us when we say the little Ninja is much easier to navigate in the parking lot. For foot-dabbing newbies, the 250 is going to be a treat.