Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Quick Ride: 2007 Kawasaki Ninja 250
2007 was the last year of the old Ninja 250. In 2008 it got a long overdue restyle that made it look more like its bigger siblings as well as adding some small improvements under the fairing. Still, the older model was around largely unchanged since 1986, and with good reason. This is and has been Kawasaki's best selling bike.
Pedro got a great specimen. It had only 600 or so miles on it and was in perfect shape. He got the metal flake maroon and quickly peeled off all the tacky flame sticker graphics. Really Kawasaki, what were you thinking? Being the generous guy he is he offered me a spin on it and, of course, I immediately took him up on it.
I have followed the little Ninja for some time and even considered buying one a few years ago. Though small in stature and displacement, it has a noble heart. Looking it over, it certainly shows it's 80s styling. Whether or not it looked cutting edge even when it came out I can't say, but the style was never significantly updated until 2008. It is nonetheless obviously a sport bike. Full fairing, sleekish lines, disc brakes front and rear.
Throwing a leg over it is pretty easy. The square gauges and dash lights are dated but give you all you need to know. Speedo, tach, fuel gauge, two trip meters, and a host of the usual lights. All the controls fall easily to hand. For a sport bike the seating is very upright and comfortable. Leg room is pretty snug but then again, I'm 6' tall. It might be too tight on a longer trip. The seat, like all Kawasakis I've ridden, is sloped forward. This looks great in profile but usually tends to mash you into the tank. Not so on the 250, it's pretty comfy all things considered with no unintended sliding forward.
It starts right up but is notoriously cold blooded. You need to keep the choke on or the revs up for a little while. Below 5000 RPM it feels pretty gutless, even more so when it's cold. Then it starts to wake up. There's no massive burst of torque but you get moving along well enough. At 9000 RPM there's another notable uptick in power. Nothing earth shattering here either but you notice it. Redline is an astronomically high 13,000 RPM. I didn't push it that far.
The ride is nice. Once it warms up there's a little more power below 5K but it's pokey enough that you'll wind it past there even on moderate take offs. You never really feel any burst of power but you also never have any trouble getting up to speed. Vibration is unobtrusive but you can feel it running. The exhaust note is tiny but, um, cute? It actally sounds kind of cool. Just going through the first three gears and getting up to city speeds sounds like pulling away from the starting line at Laguna Seca. The little mill spins so high so readily that it almost always sounds like you're wringing its neck.
The suspension is soft but well balanced and composed. It's great for casual riding, even with my 225# aboard, but starts to show its limits when leaned over and pushed a bit. The front end starts to get vague and a little squirrelly. No doubt some front springs and better tires would pay big dividends.
The bike is amazingly narrow. It feels like sitting on a 2x4. It's also very light. For such a tiny machine it feels really long. It's very stable at all speeds, not twitchy at all. Still, since it's so light you just push on the bars and it flicks right over. I can see why it's lauded as such a great beginner bike and also one you won't get bored with.
I took it out on the open highway. It's not going to win any drag races but it had no trouble getting up to speed and keeping up with 60+ MPH traffic. Even passing was acceptable. Again, rock steady and no unwanted handling surprises. The brakes were adequate and predictable at all speeds.
Finally, I'll say what every other review has said: this bike has a lot or features for the money. Disc brakes front and rear, pretty rare on a 250. Six speed transmission? Yup! It even has both a side and center stand. The newer models have abandoned the center stand for sleeker looks but anyone who lubes their chain regularly will tell you it's really nice to have one. And it's got everything else a big, full size sport bike has except for the power.
So why am I reviewing a bike that hasn't even been available for five years? Well first and obviously I'll ride just about anything if someone hands me the keys, may as well write about it. More importantly, even the older model Ninja 250 is a fabulous little motorcycle. There's also great community support on the internet for any question you could dream of. Reliable, cheap and easy to ride and maintain, and a ton of fun even for an experienced rider.
Pedro's story is not unique. Low mileage examples in good shape are out there in the dusty corners of too many garages and can be had for very little money. With a fresh battery and tires, and a quick cleaning of the carbs and fuel tank they're ready to go and good as new. If you want a really fun small bike on the cheap it's tough to beat an old Ninja 250.
Ninja 250 Riders Club
Wikipedia - Kawasaki Ninja 250R