2016 Kawasaki Ninja 300 – “It’s a 300”

The Kawasaki guy wanted to know what I thought of the Ninja 300, after riding around on its little seat for a week. “It’s a 300,” I told him, and shrugged. It’s neither a terrible thing, nor a great thing. This Kawasaki does a better job at being a 300 than others, but it’s still a 300.

It does a better job because it handles like a “real” motorcycle, and by that, I mean a bigger, heavier, more powerful one. Thanks to its aerodynamic fairing, and despite its light weight at just 174 kg, it remains well grounded and doesn’t feel like it will take flight at higher speeds.

I’ll give it to the Ninja: it handles well and is pretty steady in the corners. Thanks to a slightly more aggressive riding position with a lower handlebar that forces the rider to lean in, you’re not uncomfortable against the wind. You become the Ninja. You are the Ninja.

I didn’t think I’d say it, but this 300 feels better on the highway than it does in the city. The stiffer suspension is challenged on all the bumps and holes the city streets throw at you, and the rider takes a lot of the hits. It’s far happier on the smooth stretches of highway, and you will be too.

The transmission is very smooth; the transitions are on point. The clutch offers satisfying resistance. The transmission’s technology comes from racing and uses two types of cams, an assist cam and a slipper cam, that help relieve the amount of work required by the hand and reduce some wear on the mechanism, even if (or when) you mess up and downshift too early.

The only tricky feature with the Ninja 300 transmission is how brief and far is the friction point. Once you reach it, you’re not far from dropping the clutch altogether. In the words of Confucius, mastering this art will be the difference between a sick takeoff and one that will bring shame to your family. You’d better work on it right away.

Let’s face it though: Power is not this Ninja’s forte. I found it underwhelming. Acceleration lacked a bit of spirit. The Ninja 300’s parallel-twin engine is best up in the higher rpm range, which is very high indeed, redlining at 13,000. It does have a very high compression ratio of 10.6:1, which you quickly learn to use to your advantage. I did a lot of my commute with little to no touching of the brakes.

Kawasaki is chasing the same novice riders with the Ninja 300 that Honda is after with its 250, but I think this is a mistake. If you’re going to get on a 300 as a starter bike to get a feel for it, I recommend you buy a used one. I’m not trying to kill the industry, I’m just being realistic.

The 300 is best bought by people who know what to expect, says Sabrina.
The 300 is best bought by people who know what to expect, says Sabrina.

Many new riders jump on a good deal for a brand new bike only to sell at a loss a few months later when they want to upgrade. 300s are like your grandmother’s broche: passed down from generation to generation. Every new rider gets a first season on one before passing it down to the next generation of new riders, and so on.

No – in my opinion, the target market should be experienced riders who have touched a bit on everything, looking to downsize both their ride and their costs. They want a capable, competent, good-looking and inexpensive motorcycle, but nothing too exciting or impressive. They know exactly what they are getting themselves into and won’t want to sell after only a season. Rant over.

None of this means the 300 can’t be fun. It now has its own dedicated racing series in Canada, with identical spec’d machines that its riders find more rewarding to race than the more powerful, frightening superbikes. The final two races of the season are happening this weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (the former Mosport), and the riders will push the little bike’s limits.

This featherweight series is cheap, fun, far from fast, but definitely zippy. With the base model starting at $5,099, an informed buyer will certainly enjoy his pick. A new rider might not.


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25 thoughts on “2016 Kawasaki Ninja 300 – “It’s a 300””

  1. 174kg seems kinda heavy for a bike like that. I imagine an R version with doubled up front discs and beefier suspension would be quite the fun track weapon.
    Of course any bike with under 40hp compared to a 600 is going to have “underwhelming” power, and even compared to an RC390.

    Bring back the 18000rpm i4 400cc screamers I say.

  2. “The stiffer suspension is challenged on all the bumps and holes the city streets throw at you, ” Actually stiffer suspension is something you want on this bike .It helps with it’s handling and lets you feel the bike better out of the corners…also less break dive.
    Sabrina…. you can still be cool if you ride a smaller bike. Remember…. Loud Pipes Don’t Save Lives..Not driving in peoples blind spots do!

    1. Because not enjoying the 300cc and liking more power has everything to do with wanting to look cool and to produce an ear-piercing exhaust note, and nothing to do at all with trusting the agility of a bigger displacement to get out of the way — and the blind spot — of distracted drivers 🙂

      1. Don’t ride in the blind spot in the first place ? Displacement isn’t going to help that….
        At least there were no comments about your butt-crack in this ‘riding impression’…

  3. I’m a huge fan of small-displacement motorcycles, although I do miss the days of accidental wheelies on the RD400. These days, a 400-class or smaller simply won’t get the front end even light without a lot of work. The joy of such bikes as the Daytona Special, RD350LC and their ilk were that they ticked all the boxes of being light, good-handling and miserly. No, wait. My RD did 36 MPG. Okay, so 2 out of 3. 😉

    I do respect the whole wrap up newbies like the Pillsbury Dough Boy and protect ’em from themselves, but the dearth of excitement in the micro-stakes classes (especially without MotoGP-esque seating positions) is a concern. Safe fun is good, sure, but a little fear goes a long way. The RD wasn’t a good starter bike, but it was an ideal replacement for the XS360 that preceded it. It was WAY more fun than the KZ650 that followed.

    Long live small bikes with a spunky attitude.

  4. Thank you Sabrina for one of the more poorly written, uninspired motorcycle articles I’ve read in quite some time. I know you can do better. I thought your other articles were written with more care and attention to detail. I suspect you were pressed for time. I’ve been there. Then again – I’m sure it isn’t completely your fault, as this article should have been thoroughly edited for content and accuracy before being published to this site.

    I also get the sense from your writing (of course I could be mistaken) that you wish to convince readers that you normally ride much more powerful bikes and seem worried how it would look to say good things about a “beginner bike” like the NInja 300. You wouldn’t be the only journalist to lend this kind of impression. Liking a small displacement bike doesn’t necessarily mean that you lack skill as a rider, or can’t handle a larger, more powerful, bike. And there are a multitude of reasons for liking a small displacement bike. Yet somehow – you barely touched on any of them….

    I guess I should try to back up some of what I’ve been contending here. Not sure where to start, but I’ll try. For instance, a 10.6 to 1 compression ratio is clearly not a “very high compression ratio” as you state, at least compared to most liquid cooled, 4-stroke, fuel injected sport bikes today. If it was – you would expect the bike to require premium fuel (high octane) rather than the recommended, regular fuel. Now, if you look at the KTM RC390 (a competitor to the Ninja 300), it has a compression ratio of 12.6 to 1. Comparatively speaking, that is a pretty high compression ratio for any motorcycle. Premium fuel is recommended for this bike.

    And to suggest that the Ninja 300 does well, because it handles like a bigger, heavier, and more powerful motorcycle isn’t very flattering for the Ninja. From what I’ve read, and what I’ve experienced riding one, it handles much better and is more flickable that these bigger, heavier and more powerful bikes. And you would expect it to, partly because it’s so much lighter in weight than most bigger, heavier, and more powerful motorcycles.

    You also write “Let’s face it, power is not this Ninja’s forte”. Compared to what?!? Other small displacement bikes!? With a 296 cc engine and 39 hp, that translates to about 132 hp per litre. Sounds pretty powerful for its displacement size to me. And were you really truly in need of much more power when riding the Ninja? I hope you aren’t one of those who feel that they need a bike that can suddenly accelerate hard at 130 km/hr to….um…(it’s hard not to laugh while writing this)……get yourself out of trouble……

    I’m surprised you didn’t stress any of the advantages that the Ninja 300 might offer over larger, heavier, more powerful bikes. Like good fuel economy, great handling (you could have easily expanded on this one), affordable cost of insurance, easy and cheap maintenance, affordable parts, and the fact that you can wring it out and hear it rev without losing your licence.

    1. @GearDrivenCam: thanks, I like informed comments like this one! I would like to point out that the bone I have to pick with smaller displacements is mostly (not all) about how they are marketed.
      And I do enjoy bigger displacements because I drive in the city a lot more than I drive in the countryside and I feel I can trust more power and torque to get me out of the way of distracted drivers a lot faster than a 300. But that’s a personal preference and I was hoping to make the point that the Kawa is still a good 300. I do not feel the need to ride at ungodly speeds 🙂

      1. If Sabrina needs mor torque and power to get out of the way in city driving, she is doing somting wrong . Pay more attention to your surroundings!!!!

            1. “It does a better job because it handles like a “real” motorcycle, and by that, I mean a bigger, heavier, more powerful one.”
              She should stick to only reviewing big bikes and stop bashing the small cc’s like she also did with the Honda CB500F. If she doesn’t feel comfortable on a bike …well than it’s a loser in the review

        1. A version of Kevin Cameron that speaks in language of the layman is what every motorcycle editor has been searching for since, oh, the dawn of time (which was when Cameron’s great career started).

          1. Ha..ha….You guys just made me laugh out loud. I actually love Kevin Cameron’s articles. I bought one of his books a few years ago to give away as a prize at a motorcycle rally. Much respect for his work. However……if I had to nitpick, I find that with some of his articles he sometimes skirts around the question – and follows tangents that include an impressive amount of peripheral knowledge – but just doesn’t address the question as directly as I feel he should.

            Sabrina – I took another look at my posting and it sounds harsher now and more pejorative than when I wrote it this morning. I made a few assumptions about you as well without any real evidence and I shouldn’t have. I could have been more tactful. I write a bit too – and am always striving to improve.

            1. No hard feelings 🙂 As I said, I always welcome comments like the one you made and I’m always glad to discuss or defend a point of view. Keeps me on my toes. We’re all bike lovers/enthusiasts in the end.

    2. GearDrivenCam, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Was really surprised by the complete “bologna” in this “review”. They are fun bikes, and I think any rider, novice or expert would have a lot of fun, and find utility with one. I’d own one if I had unlimited resources, and room in the garage.

    3. “It does a better job because it handles like a “real” motorcycle, and by that, I mean a bigger, heavier, more powerful one.”
      She should stick to only reviewing big bikes and stop bashing the small cc’s like she also did with the Honda CB500F. If she doesn’t feel comfortable on a bike …well than it’s a loser in the review

  5. The EX300, and its former guise the EX250 owned the lightweight ‘sporty’ market for many years.
    It encouraged Honda to bring in the CBR250R (now the CBR300R), Yamaha the R3 and KTM the RC390.
    Fuel injection has made all these bikes a lot more user friendly than their predecessors, and insurance and maintenance is manageable.
    If it gets more and younger riders involved its a good thing (IMO).

  6. I own a 300 and i think it’s a great bike. I love it and is almost perfect for me. And i say almost because even the size is right for me. Only the lack of power has been bothering me. But at 4f10, i really don’t think i can upgrade to a bigger sport bike like a zx or a gixxer so the 300 will suffise for a couple of years i guess

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