Editor’s Note – We’re trying a new format for test rides on CMG. Instead of using the usual ‘story’ format we’re breaking up the test into three elements (handy if you want to skip to certain bits): What’s New (history, tech and changes to the bike), The Ride (how the bike behaved on the road/dirt) and Conclusions (how does it compare to the competition and who’s it geared to). As always, your thoughts and comments are always welcome … especially if they’re nice.
Kawasaki has just revised their smallest and best-selling Ninja, growing it from a 250 to a 300 and incorporating a bunch of changes to boot. As the new name suggests, the biggest mechanical change is to the engine, which has gained 47 cc of displacement purely through a longer stroke, stretching it from 41.2 to 49.0 mm.
Inside the engine are new, lighter pistons (redesigned for improved cooling), shorter connecting rods, stronger crank bearings and larger oil capacity (up to 2.4 L from 1.7). The compression ratio has also come down from 11.6:1 to 10.6, allowing regular fuel to be used (great for us cheapie CMGers).
For some reason in North America we had to content with carburetors on the 250R while rest of the world got fuel injection. Well digital fuel metering is finally available on the small twin, delivered via two 32 mm throttle bodies and breathing through larger intake ports and larger valves.
Oh, and when you’re changing oil, Kawasaki has gone from a cartridge type oil filter to a spin-on, located in front of the engine and accessible without removing the fairing lower.
All those changes have amounted to a seven horsepower increase (now 39 hp), but more importantly — and as you’d expect with a longer stroke — they’ve bumped peak torque to 20 lb-ft from 16, with more torque available throughout the rev range.
The gearbox uses thicker gears to handle the added power, and exclusive on such a small machine is a slipper clutch that also has an assist feature that reduces lever effort by 25 per cent. Also new in the transmission is a roller-type shifter drum that smoothes shifting action. Overall gearing is taller, the rear sprocket losing three teeth, now with 42.
The frame has been beefed up using stronger steel tubes, some extra gusseting and spreading the top tubes apart for increased rigidity. To smooth engine vibration, there are now rubber mounts attaching it at the front of the frame. Finally, the subframe portion has been angled less steeply to provide a flatter seat and lower seat height.
Suspension settings have also been revised; the fork has softer compression and rebound damping but uses more oil for more progressive action and less dive under braking. The shock uses a shorter spring, and damping has been increased in both directions. The rear wheel is also a half-inch wider and on it is mounted a bigger 140/70-17 tire (used to be a 130).
Brakes retain the same specs as the 250R with a 290 mm/twin-piston caliper up front and a 220 mm/twin-piston caliper in the rear, though there is an ABS model coming for 2013.
Visually there’s no way you could mistake the new Ninja for the old. The fairing is more aggressively styled and larger all over, mimicking the bigger Ninja models more faithfully. It incorporates what Kawasaki calls KAMS (Kawasaki Air Management System), which uses radiator ducting to direct hot air downward and out the bottom of the bike (though you have to wonder just how much heat a 300 cc twin produces anyway).
The fuel tank is wider but it has lost one litre of capacity, now at 17 litres, although this shouldn’t be a problem as the 300 gets better gas mileage, but more on that later.
Alrightee, those are all the techie bits, now onto…
Kawasaki invited me to California to ride the new 300 along Skaggs Springs Road, a fabulous road that heads west out of Healdsburg towards the coast. It’s a motorcycling heaven, with wide, flowing curves in the first part leading to tight, tree-lined twisties nearing the coast.
When you first lay your eyes on the new Ninja 300, it’s very easy to mistake it for a modern 600 supersport. It’s physically larger than the 250R that precedes it as well as the Honda CBR250R. In fact, the only things giving it away as a smaller-than-600 machine are the taller clip-ons and smaller rear tire.
Sitting on the bike confirms this optical illusion as it feels like a larger bike, especially between the knees, where it spreads your legs wider than on the 250R and Honda. But, it feels much lighter than any 600 cc bike out there, as it should considering its claimed 172 kg (379 lb) wet weight. Comparison obsessed readers will notice that that puts it at 10 kilos more than the Honda, though you don’t really feel the added weight when moving.
Letting the clutch out from a stop requires much less throttle than on the Ninja 250R (there was one along on the ride for comparison). It’s also much smoother slipping it into first gear than the older Ninja, thanks to the changes made to the shift drum, and downshifting is buttery smooth due to the slipper clutch.
My seat-of-the-pants memory still gives the bottom-end torque advantage to the CBR250R, even if only slightly, though the new Ninja makes the old one feel like a slug in comparison. And where it really shines is at highway speeds, where there’s lots reserve power, though it will need a couple of downshifts when passing.
It’s also much smoother than the old bike, firstly due to the engine’s rubber mounting, but also because the taller gearing has reduced the engine revs by about 1,800 rpm at 60 mph (we were riding U.S. bikes), the engine now spinning at around 6,600 rpm.
The powerband is much flatter than on the carbureted Ninja 250R, and throttle response is much sharper too. And, of course, there’s no more choke to fiddle with or extended warm-up times to contend with, thank you EFI.
The difference in power between old and new was quite noticeable after I’d swapped new for old along the tighter sections of Skaggs Springs Road. Where I used mostly half to three-quarter throttle on the 300 to keep the moderately quick pace of our group, I had to twist it to the stop — often— on the 250. I also had to row through the gearbox with much more vigour.
On the highway the 250 felt buzzy and busy, whereas the 300 felt much more relaxed and smooth. Even the mirrors worked better, their widest portion now farther outward, providing an improved rear view.
The seating position is mostly upright and comfy, and wind protection is about like what you’d find on a 600 superport, with everything above mid-chest level in the windblast, though there’s no buffeting.
The bike feels more planted than the Ninja 250 with more compliant suspension. Where the 250’s harsher setup would buck and kick my ass off the seat over sharp bumps, the 300 rode over them with much more poise. The rear suspension is not as plush or well-controlled as the CBR250R’s, but the fork works better, with more damping control and better resistance to bottoming.
One area where the 300 hasn’t improved, though, is in brake feel. Most probably to keep costs down, the same braking components have been retained. Now, the brakes work fine and if needed, a good, hard squeeze at the lever will haul the Ninja down from speed effectively, but the rest of the bike is such an improvement over the old one that it seems that the brakes now lag behind. Of course, there is now an ABS option, which in itself is a huge improvement.
One item the folks at Kawasaki made a big deal about was the 300’s remarkable fuel economy. We were supposed to take part in a fuel-economy ride the morning following our test ride, but conflicting flight schedules meant we had to hightail it out of town early so we missed out.
However, some of the American journos that did take part recorded mileage figures as high as 105 mpg (U.S. gallons no less, that’s 45 km/l), with several of them achieving figures in the 80-mpg (34 km/l) range. One guy, who deliberately tried to get the worst mileage (a la Editor ’Arris during last year’s CBR250R eco run), got no worse than 50 mpg.
So, after a wonderful 200-kilometre loop on one of California’s top riding roads, here’s the …
The 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 is such a huge improvement over the older, dated 250R that it really doesn’t compare. It’s much lighter than the now discontinued Ninja 400 (the 250R is also gone!), and is just five hp shy of that bike’s 44 hp. And it’s more affordable too, with an MSRP of $5,299 for the base model, with an additional $500 for ABS.
I don’t think you can draw a fair comparison to the Honda CBR250R either. With 39 horsepower it outclasses the single-cylinder Honda by about 13 ponies. But, the Honda does marginally have the edge in the handling and suspension department, and it will cost less too. The Ninja 300 starts at $5,299, with the ABS model starting at $5,999 ($4,499 and $4,999 respectively for the 2012 CBR). Five colours are available in Canada but ti’ll cost an additional $200 for the green Special model.
It develops enough power that a capable rider will have no trouble keeping up with — or even outrunning — bigger sport bikes on tight roads (assuming they’re not squids that wind it up to 200 km/h on the straight bits of course). On the stretch of road we were on, I wouldn’t have had a better time on a bigger, faster bike, and in fact would have probably worked harder to keep the pace.
I think that the Kawasaki’s added horsepower and increased size will appeal to a broader audience, and it will also probably stay in the household longer, as it won’t be readily outgrown. I could live with this as an only bike, two-up long-distance touring notwithstanding.
Kawasaki has done very well with this new Ninja, it’s a great not-so-little bike, and I hope that Suzuki and Yamaha follow suit and bring lightweight, small-displacement machines to North America – the market is ripe with riders looking for this type of performance and price point.
I just hope that a horsepower war doesn’t ensue and these bikes begin growing out of proportion in displacement and size. The new Ninja 300 feels just right.
|Bike||2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300|
|MSRP||$5,299; $5,799 for ABS model (add $200 for the Special)|
|Engine type||four-stroke parallel twin|
|Power (crank)*||39 hp @ 11,000 rpms|
|Torque*||27 Nm @ 10,000 rpms|
|Tank Capacity||17 litres|
|Carburetion||2 x 32 mm Keihin fuel injectors|
|Brakes, front||Single 290 mm petal disc w/ single-piston caliper|
|Brakes, rear||Single 220 mm petal disc w/ single-piston caliper|
|Seat height||30.9 inches (78.5 cm)|
|Wheelbase||55.3 inches (140.5 cm)|
|Wet weight*||172 kg (379 lb)|
|Colours||Black, green, red|
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