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.
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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