First Ride

2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R first ride review

Kawasaki’s baby Ninja has already sold out in the UK and offers serious style for first-timers and commuters who want to look the part. We sent a total beginner to the world launch in Barcelona

Although most power-hungry bike journalists would have you believe that motorcycling is all about top speed and how quickly you can get there, the rest of us know it’s more about isolated moments of pure fun when it all comes together through a given section of road. And in oh-so many ways, Kawasaki’s new Ninja 250R delivers just that. This small green thing made me wish I was 19 years-old, made me want to take a step back and learn to ride all over again. Except this time on a bike that could easily be mistaken (by the casual eye) for its sleek and powerful bigger brothers. God I’d look cool, meet all the wrong kinds of people and have a brilliant summer.

Kawasaki have packaged the 250R well: a small, lively engine with supersport looks, it packs a stylish punch. In 2007 there were 8,000 250cc sales in the EU, and with indications from previous-generation 250cc models being that 60% would be first-time buyers and 30% of them would be female riders, much work has been done to ensure the Ninja is rider-friendly and fun to use.

In the flesh the 33bhp 250R looks simply stunning and like it makes four times that power. Its swooping lines are directly inherited from the Ninja’s big brother and the supersport styling is reinforced in every aspect. The oversized fairing gives this bike immense credibility and stature, and at a quick glance you’d think a learner rider would be mad to sling their leg over it. The scalloped tail unit with the option to fit a single-seat cowl looks very racy, while the chrome 2-into-1 exhaust with two cats (to minimise power loss) will let you finish your Sunday morning polishing with pride. The dials are analogue but provide you with all the information you need, and a fuel light means no endless resetting of trip meters when you fill up.

Battling through a typically Catalan rush-hour in Barcelona on unfamiliar roads the Kawasaki inspires subtle confidence as we zip along. Not once did I have to even think about what the bike was going to do or (more importantly) not do. The power is of course relaxed and easy in town, easy oomph straight off the throttle with none of the judder sometimes associated with small capacity twins.

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I had it pegged against the scooter end of the market, about as fast as a Gilera 180 was my first impression. Hmm. But any disappointment quickly vaporised on escaping the city and up into the mountain roads. With a series of tight hairpins and undulating corners you could buzz the 250R into its 12,000rpm redline and the bike came alive. It’s not what you’d call fast but certainly not slow either, and being able to give it full throttle and holding it there without being intimidated generated a feeling of immense gratification. There were no signs of it being dull or lacklustre through the tight turns and winding inclines of the Spanish countryside. 

The parallel twin is a busy little thing and likes to be whipped up and down through the gears. It’s sewing-machine quiet but that’s to be expected for such a small motor. For prolonged spells on the straight stuff the Ninja hit a top speed of 100mph (flat out, tail-wind, slight downhill) so there’s plenty of speed for a learner without the risk of losing your licence quicker than you earned it. 80mph cruising is performed without batting an eyelid, and there’s no question that commuting on this bike will be cheap and effortless.

Out the front is a genuine wavy disc and single-finger braking was more than ample for most scenarios. Indeed, it helped save the life of a vile mongrel cat that got in my way no matter how hard I tried to avoid it. The brakes are engineered to be strong but not too sharp, and grabbing the lever hard in town, although obviously never recommended, always stops it straight and with no snags. Whether the light touch and power of the brakes is fully down to the petal discs is debatable, but why wouldn’t I want brake discs that look as if they belong on Mr Hopkins’ race bike? A really smart styling touch.

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I was really surprised at how agile it is to chuck about while remaining comfortable on the longer haul. Granted, the bike weighs less than a shoebox but I ride a Z750 every single day and the 250R feels far more sporty than that. With a 5-setting preload adjuster on the rear shock you can wind-up the spring if you’re a bit fatter than me. Don’t expect ZX-6R levels of handling, but the 250 strikes an excellent balance between everyday potter-bility and giving the rookie rider enough handling ammo to really learn and develop their skills with.

The ride position is more upright, making the bike more friendly over distances and less alien to newer riders. At 5’3” I had loads of room to clamber around the tank, and tucked right down there was loads of clearance from the wind so taller riders than me (not hard) shouldn’t have an issue. At just 775mm the seat height is reassuringly low, meaning that even I could get both my feet flat on the ground. This is one of the biggest concerns of learner riders, a concern I used to share before I mastered the big toe ballet-dance stance at traffic lights. The impossible-to-find sidestand is only slightly annoying.

For learner riders and those just wanting some easy transport with a huge dash of style the baby Ninja is a belter. Fun to ride with enough poke to please and very, very handsome, given enough summer jobs or a very generous parent it’s within reach of pretty much anyone. It’s probably true to say that nobody really saw the explosion of this small-engined market in the UK until the CBR125 went stellar, but along with Yamaha’s new YZF125R and now the Ninja 250R, being a brat never looked so good. I just hope they appreciate it!

Specifications

Price: £3,299
Engine: 249cc, water-cooled, 4-valve parallel twin
Power: 33bhp @ 11,000rpm
Torque: 16ft/lb @ 8,200rpm
Front suspension: 37mm forks
Rear suspension: monoshock, adjustable 5-way preload
Front brake: 290mm disc, two-piston caliper
Rear brake: 220mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 154kg (claimed)
Seat height:  775mm
Fuel capacity: 17l
Top speed: 108mph (est)
Colours: green, black

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