“With the tach needle in the upper register, the Ninja puts down pretty good thrust and ca
Kawasaki Ninja 250R
Kawasaki’s 250 has been around in one form or another for longer than many owners. It started life in Japan as the 1983 GPz250 (sold as a 305 here) before coming Stateside as the Ninja 250 in ’86. Redesigned n ’08, the little Ninja remains one of Kawasaki’s best-selling models.
An affordable price tag, low 30.5-inch seat height and 383-lb. curb weight have a lot to do with the Ninja’s popularity. It’s easy to manage at all speeds, and allows riders like our 5-foot-2 tester Bekah to put both feet firmly on the ground at stops. Higher footpegs cramp those with longer legs, so if you stand taller than about 5-foot-10, try the Honda or Hyosung on for size. Tucking in is the only way to get any use out of the tiny windscreen and is a requirement if you want to attain the Ninja’s top speed of just over the ton.
Kawasaki’s pocket rocket splits its 249cc between two parallel water-cooled cylinders, running four valves per hole via DOHC. Though the Ninja is fuel-injected overseas, here in the cost-conscious USA fuel is metered and atomized the old-fashion way via a pair of Keihin carburetors, and lean circuitry can sometimes cause hesitation off idle.
The Ninja’s high-revving twin puts down the most power of this group—a whopping 24.6 bhp @ 10,250 rpm—but it needs to be spun up and revs slowly. Getting away from stoplights ahead of impatient motorists requires a fistful of throttle and a deft clutch hand. Keeping the little twin above 6000 rpm is the only way to get any semblance of performance out of it, which makes riding the Ninja good practice for anyone planning to move up to a 600cc sportbike. With the tach needle in the upper register, the ZX-6R wannabe puts down pretty good thrust. And with its six-speed transmission and lithe chassis, the Ninja can be guided down a twisty road surprisingly quickly. Its IRC Road Winner tires are more than up to the task of canyon carving. And with near-limitless cornering clearance, there’s rarely any need to apply the brakes. When it is time to shed speed, the single front disc’s dual-piston caliper gets the job done nicely with a firm lever feel.
The 250R fares the best on the freeway, where 70 mph puts 9000 rpm on the tach—right in the fat part of the powerband with lots of revs to go. Freeway speeds find the mirrors, pegs and grips free of vibration, but a stiff shock spring and hard seat are uncomfortable over rough pavement. Even when flogged mercilessly, the Ninjette still manages to ring 50 miles out of every gallon of gas. The underseat toolkit is pretty comprehensive, providing DIY types with most of what they’ll need to carry out routine maintenance, which includes changing the oil and filter every 6000 miles and checking the valve clearances every 7500. With regular maintenance, Ninja 250Rs have proven practically indestructible.
Although it underwent a facelift in ’08, the Ninja hasn’t shaken all of its ’80s funk. The sleek bodywork, petal brake rotors and six-spoke wheels are just enough to offset the all-analog dashboard and acres of textured-trim plastic.
The Ninja’s panoramic, all-analog dash betrays its ’80s roots. For 2011 the bike’s gauges
The littlest Ninja rocks a petal rotor and colormatched rim strips. Kawasaki designed the
Updates to the Ninja’s engine have been few and far between, primarily because it works so
Off the Record
Age: 33 Height: 5’2”
Weight: 115 lbs. Inseam: 28 in.
The “Ninjette” was the most user-friendly of these bikes. It’s very predictable; this is the bike for a rider wanting a machine that won’t bite back. The Hyosung was an oddity to me; who wants to handle a full-sized chassis and only get 250cc power? The GT250R does have a nice engine, but the reach to the bars is too far. The Honda was the most impressive package. My only gripe was that it was so light, I felt like a kite in a tornado whenever we got hit by gusty winds.