BACK TO SQUARE ONE
Springtime in the new millennium, and the air was thick with that new bike smell. As I patiently awaited Editor arris test ride phone call, my mind raced with the possibilities. After all, last year I graduated from a Suzuki Marauder 250 to a Yamaha R6. This year was bound to bring a whole new level of excitement to my test riding experience.
When the call finally came, there was good news and bad news. The good news was that I was getting a Kawasaki Ninja. The bad news was that all of the juicy bikes were in Calgary, and it was the 250 Ninja. Hey wait a minute!
WHAT THE !!!
When I arrived at Kawasaki and first saw my ride, I was impressed with the nice look of the bike. The bodywork and "Sunbeam Red" colour made the 250 look very attractive. Unfortunately, thats where my attraction with this bike hit a snag. You see, I was expecting one of the Kawasaki Ninja 250s of several years ago. Now those 250s were impressive, as they were genuine little sport bikes with lots of power, braking ability and handling. I was simply expecting a modern version of the last 250 Ninja I rode (1987, I think), which, to be honest, I was a little excited about.
As I rode off and realized that this was not a true sport bike but a "sporty" bike, I became increasingly disappointed. It was like a watered down version of the Kawasaki EX500. I was surprised at the 14,000+ redline, and the lack of torque that the engine produced. During my highway ride home the bike revved at 9500 rpm at 120 km/h, and sounded like it was going to blow up. What were the next 2 weeks going to be like?
After recovering from my initial disappointment, and rationalizing that anything with 2 wheels and an engine couldnt be all bad, I started noticing the 250 Ninja in a whole new light.
Firstly, it doesnt look like a 250, and no where on the nicely crafted bodywork is 250 written. Most people I polled thought that it was a 500 or a 600. The colour, Sunbeam Red, (with black on the lower fairings) is instantly likable and is complemented by a matte gray finish on the engine casings, and dual chromed exhaust pipes. You also get a smoke coloured windscreen (which provided adequate protection, but would have worked better if I was lass that 59"); a clear and uncluttered instrument panel with a dial speedo, tach and temperature gauge (3 cheers for dials); integrated front indicators; a smooth contoured seat (which seemed hardish at first, but was not a source of discomfort); and a passenger grab rail.
Other features included: adjustable "dial in" clutch and front brake levers, rubber front footpegs, 2 helmet locks under the seat, fully adjustable mirrors (I mean FULLY, as they attached to their solid stalks with ball type joints), and a small "stash" compartment located under the left handlebar, between the upper fairing and the gas tank, which was the perfect size for my garage door opener, and had a flap that secured its contents with Velcro and steel snaps.
Handling the 304 pound 250 was beyond easy, with a good turning radius, a short 55.1" wheelbase (same as the ZX-6R), and single discs, front and rear, that provided good braking without being grabby or mushy. The 250 Ninja comes with tubeless tires of 100/80-17 up front and 140/70-17 out back, an 18 litre fuel tank, and a 4-stroke liquid-cooled In-line twin engine, that ends up providing adequate power, without being intimidating. After a couple of kilometres around town, this bike really grows on you.
Unfortunately, I did find some downsides to the 250 Ninja, specifically, but not limited to, the power department. Although I did manage to get up to 160 km/h (at the secret CMG Online test track), and did not yet have the throttle fully open, there was never any "pull" to the engine. It revs very high, (which can become a source of amusement) with a surprisingly low amount of vibration, but even at 12,000 rpm, just 2000+ rpm short of redline, I felt it had no (pardon the expression) "snot". It was perhaps more of a "sniffle" than anything else.
I found that my bike also had quite a habit of jerking into first from a stop with the clutch pulled in, when it was started cold and only idled for a minute of so. After it warmed up, this annoyance disappeared. Now mind you, I didnt play with the clutch settings to try and eliminate it, but it did surprise me a few times, as I stalled dropping it into first gear with the clutch fully disengaged.
Although this model comes with a centrestand, there really isnt a convenient place to grab a good hold while trying to use it. I ended up using the passenger grab rail, but this was awkward. Similarly, the bungee hooks, although nice and neat looking, integrated into the bodywork just under the seat, were too high up to be of practical use for any of my applications.
And finally, lets discuss the name "Ninja". Oh Kawasaki, how 80s! When I talk to Kawi people I get the whole "weve done lots of market research" spiel about product recognition yada, yada, yada. Perhaps next time you can research those people that did NOT just get out of a Duran Duran reunion concert.
MENACE TO SOCIETY
So whats the final word, well I guess it would have to be: unintimidating. In fact this bike is so unintimidating that it turns you into a bit of a terror, racing around town, taking corners faster that you would on a heavier bike (since you just know you could save it if anything went wrong), and darting in between and around stopped traffic, because youre suddenly so darned light and nimble.
The Kawi blurb in the Ninja brochure states: "the 250R excels at jetting around town, getting to school and just plain joy riding. Seasoned and new riders alike love the lightness and nimble handling of the liquid-cooled 250R." I agree Kawasaki. For new riders or those that want an effortless commuting vehicle, this Ninja is lots of fun.