What Is It?
Kawasaki launched the predecessor to this bike, the Ninja 250, almost 30 years ago. Since then it has set the pace in the entry level sport bike category. The journeyman Ninja is now up to 296 ccs in displacement, still divided between two liquid-cooled, upright, parallel cylinders now making an estimated 35 hp to move the 379-pound bike down the road with entry level urgency. First-time sport bike buyers might not be able to afford one of the bigger Ninjas, and maybe with all the power of those larger motorcycles they should consider starting here anyway. This Ninja is a great way to get the feel of the road-racer sport bike category with a little less of the risk. It offers many of the functional features found on the larger Ninja models, too, like Digital Fuel Injection, a “slipper” clutch and ABS brakes.
How Does It Ride?
This is by far the smoothest, quietest bike in the class. Its upright parallel twin is much smoother than the last Ninja 250 we rode way back in 2008, and it’s likewise smoother and quieter than the single-cylinders of the competition.Push the button and it starts without even a hiccup of hesitation, no matter if it’s warm, cold or anywhere in between. Kawasaki is proud of the FCC clutch on this bike, the Assist feature of which helps with engagement and allows for a lighter lever action. However, on our bike the lever engaged a little too far out on the handle for our tastes, but maybe that could be adjusted. We had to keep our clutch hand at an angle to accommodate the engagement position. The engine revs so smoothly to 10,000 rpm and beyond (redline is at 13,000) that you almost forget which gear you’re in. The power and torque feel pretty evenly distributed across the tach, too, though as in all the 300-or-so-cc bikes in this class, there’s not a lot of either. We found that with an upright seating position, torso pointed skyward and flag-poling the breeze, the engine was turning 10,000 rpm at 90 mph and felt wound out. Tuck behind the windscreen and you’re clearing 100 mph easily. The tucked position was the most comfortable in the class, too, we’d say. Downshifting is also helped by the FCC clutch, which has a slipper function to ease engagement and help limit what would otherwise be rear-wheel lockup for overzealous downshifters. The clutch really smooths out the shifting both up and down. Are we saying “smooth” too much? That’s just how the bike is.Except maybe on LA’s notorious freeway hop. The rear suspension is adjustable five ways to accommodate different configurations and weights of rider(s). We didn’t try adjusting the rear Uni-Trak and maybe we should have. As it was the bounce was a little too much for comfort. On the twisting two-lanes of the Santa Monica Mountains, we didn’t get the same urge to lean into apexes as we had riding the KTM RC 390, a strong entry in the is class. The Ninja cornered well enough but not in the same way as the KTM or even the Yamaha R3, both of which made you want to slide a bun off the side and scrape something. It’s hard to say why. Other riders may try this bike out and like it better than the competition. Ride everything in the class before you buy, we say. There’s a bike for every body.