DO motorcycles need to be as fast as the fastest ones have become?
Probably not, is the conclusion I reach whenever I ride a well set-up smaller machine like Kawasaki's new Z300. It takes me back to when I began motorcycling, on two-stroke 125s, and I remember that I had at least as much fun riding then as I do now. There is no direct relationship between speed and enjoyment. It's not power that makes an engine but character.
The Z300's has character. It's the same 296cc parallel-twin as used by the Ninja 300 – the Z300 is a naked version of the Ninja given straight bars and new styling.
At a claimed 39hp, it makes a good bit more power than the two-stroke 125s I just compared it to but still a modest amount by most standards, including those of its competitors. KTM's single-cylinder Duke 390 and RC390 make 44hp and Yamaha's forthcoming parallel-twin YZF-R3 is 42hp.
But ride the Z300 and numbers are forgotten.
The engine's specifications are identical to the Ninja 300's. It's got the personality of a litre sports bike perfectly scaled down, with everything exactly where it should be, including the red line, up at 13,000rpm.
It's lively from the off. At 4,000rpm it gets livelier. It really perks up at 5,000 and then zings in a quick burst to that high-altitude red line.
By the time the needle touches 13,000rpm on the rev counter dial, the digital display to the right of it shows about 36mph in first gear and 52mph in second. Remember, numbers are not proportionate to fun.
Most of the action is at the top end. Peak power is at 11,000rpm and peak torque, of 19.9lbft, at 10,000rpm.
But everywhere in the range there is something. At 4,000rpm in sixth, which is about 37mph, opening the throttle produces accelerate. Not so much that your licence is in jeopardy but enough to keep you awake.
It's a good engine that probably doesn't get talked about enough because it's only little.
It sounds good, like it's working hard and enjoying it. Just don't expect a rumble.
The throttle response is smooth. It doesn't feel stressed as revs climb. It likes it.
An indicated 70mph comes at just under 8,000rpm in top, and an indicated 80mph at just under 9,000. Here again the engine shows its flexibility. It's unflustered. There's a slight tingle through the bars and pegs (probably more so the latter) but it's not a big deal. Accelerating from 70 to 80mph in sixth takes about four seconds.
Flat-out top speed is going to be a bit over a genuine 100mph. Cruising at an indicated 90 is feasible if you can tolerate the wind blast. I suppose it goes without saying that any naked bike will get tiresome held at speeds like that for long. It wasn't too annoying at 70 or 80.
Keep it at around 5,000rpm and you'll have enough acceleration for town use. Revving it higher has a tendency to worry pedestrians and cyclists, who hear the engine noise and probably over-estimate your speed. You need a sign saying, 'It's okay. Look: only 25mph.'