Honda CBR250R vs. Hyosung GT250R vs. Kawasaki Ninja 250R | MC Comparison

Flight Simulators

By Ari Henning, Photography by Kevin Wing

The 250cc sportbike segment has never exactly teemed with choices. For years there was just one: Kawasaki’s ubiquitous Ninja 250. Then, in 2005, the class size doubled when Hyosung entered the American market with its GT250R. Now, with the introduction of Honda’s new CBR250R, the options list is at an all-time high of three, confronting neophytes and other would-be buyers with a multiple-choice challenge they’ve never faced before.

All three of these budding sportbikes share the same $3999 price tag (in base trim; our Ninja’s special-edition black/white/red paint cost an additional $250), come within a few horsepower of barely enough and take far too long to cover the quarter-mile. Yet despite their frugal cost and power figures, they each have enough sporting DNA to provide new riders with room to grow and experienced hands with enough performance to work up a smile. Each is an excellent motorcycle in the right context, offering easy locomotion, outstanding fuel economy and a fair share of fun. Which one takes the cake as the King of the Quarter-Liter Sportbikes? We gathered the entire class together to find out…

Honda CBR250R

American Honda hasn’t had a 250cc sportbike in its lineup since the VTR250, last seen in dealerships some 20 years ago. Unlike that bike’s V-twin, the CBR250R’s heart is a single-cylinder engine that cranks out a modest 22.3 rear-wheel horsepower at 9000 rpm. Its piston reciprocates below a four-valve head operated by dual overhead cams, and the whole compact assemblage is water-cooled and fuel-injected for reliability and efficiency. Just thumb the starter button and go.

Honda’s new 250 may carry the CBR moniker, but everything about our testbike screamed VFR. From the color and shape of the bodywork to the dash and do-it-all practicality, the CBR250R is a VFR1200F in miniature. In Asian markets, where this bike is expected to sell well, the VFR is viewed as the pinnacle of performance, so the objective is clear. While the Kawasaki’s 130mm-wide IRC rear tire is silly-skinny and the Hyosung’s 150mm Shinko too chunky, the Honda’s 140mm IRC looks just right, and keeps the bike’s proportions in line with that of its bigger brothers. Fit and finish are typical of the Japanese manufacturer, even though this bike is assembled in Honda’s Thailand factory, in operation since 1967.

The CBR feels nimble, ultra-compact and punchy. It has the same seat height as the Ninja but a softer perch and some extra legroom. A slightly shorter reach to the lower, clip-on handlebars makes the Honda’s riding position sportier than the Ninja’s while still remaining comfortable, and you’re close enough to the windscreen to let it do its job. With loads of low-end torque and a light, cable-actuated clutch, this bike sprints away from stoplights and is the quickest and easiest to ride around town. The single- cylinder engine exhibits a distinct power pickup at 5000 rpm that tapers off after 9000 rpm, but keep it thrumming in the midrange and you’ll keep a smile on your face. The Kawasaki is faster, but the Honda goes nearly as quickly with less effort. Handling is completely neutral, and at just 355 well-centralized pounds—a full 59 lbs. less than the Hyosung—this featherweight changes direction with a thought. The single front disc brake with two-piston caliper slows the little bullet quickly and with very little effort. For even more braking confidence, the CBR is available with ABS for an additional $500.

Commuting to work and running errands become fun aboard this little thumper, and no matter how hard we rode it, mileage never dropped below 60 mpg. Softer suspension soaks up surface imperfections better than any other bike here, yet because the CBR is so light, it doesn’t hold you back on the back roads. In sixth gear, 70 mph puts 7500 rpm on the analog tachometer. You can squeeze another 25 mph out of the bike before the 10,500-rpm redline, but at higher revs vibration blurs the mirrors, tingles your feet and makes the engine sound painfully overworked.

Like all Hondas, the CBR250R is built to last. The owner’s manual suggests letting the engine stew for 8000 miles between oil changes, and after the initial 600-mile inspection, the valves don’t need attention again until the 16,000-mile mark. That leaves you with a lot more time and gas money with which to ride and master this small-scale CBR before moving up to the real thing.


Off the Record
Ari Henning
Age: 26 Height: 5’10”
Weight: 175 lbs. Inseam: 33 in.






The old adage that it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow is as accurate as Jack Lewis behind a carbine. Flogging these 250s is a hoot—and you can do so without breaking the speed limit! Of the three, the Honda and its torquey thumper proved the most entertaining. It was also the most comfortable and had the most balanced suspension. I wasn’t a fan of our testbike’s VFR-derived appearance at first, but it grew on me. I’ll be giving the thumbs-up to any CBR250R pilots I see in the future!

Hyosung GT250R

Hyosung’s mini-missile is powered by an air/oil-cooled V-twin with four valves per cylinder and DOHC. The EFI logo on the tail was added in ’08 when injectors supplanted the previous carburetors, and last year saw the model receive a slimmer tail section with an LED brake light and a softer seat.

The GT250R is the big kid in this class. It is dimensionally identical to the Korean company’s 650cc sportbike, and weighs in at a hefty 414 lbs. wet. The 32.5-inch seat height limits entry to those standing taller than about 5-foot-5, but if you’re looking for that real sportbike feel, the Hyosung has it. A long reach to the fork-level clip-ons puts you in the archetypal attack position, but that means you carry a fair amount of weight on your wrists.

Gaps between fairing panels, a wrinkled seat cover and exposed electronics don’t stack up to the Japanese bikes’ fit and finish, but when it comes to creature comforts the Hyosung has the other bikes beat. The GT comes equipped with three-position adjustable rearsets, a reach-adjustable front brake lever, a brightness-adjustable digital dash, an inverted fork, dual front disc brakes and other features unheard-of on a $4000 motorcycle.

The Hyosung pulls smoothly and steadily toward its 10,500-rpm redline, with all of its 22.6 bhp unleashed at 10,250 rpm. It takes a strong hand to pull in the heavy clutch lever, and movement through the five-speed gearbox is less than precise, but more than one tester felt the V-twin had the most linear power delivery and the best character. And at an average 62 mpg, it’s the second most fuel-efficient mill here.

The engine does have a few quirks, however. Performance testing revealed that there is no rev limiter, and the clutch plates occasionally chattered and howled after shifting into neutral while coming to a stop. We also experienced a misfire off idle after prolonged freeway riding, although the issue went away after the bike cooled down. Prospective Hyosung owners had better be comfortable performing periodic maintenance themselves or prepare to fork over a lot of dough to a mechanic; the owner’s manual recommends changing the oil and filter and checking the valves every 2500 miles.

Although it has twice the front brakes of the Honda and Kawasaki, the Hyosung’s squishy lever takes double the effort and has practically no feel. Engine power is on par with the others, but the GT’s extra heft makes it slow to accelerate and turn. But the added weight and longer distance between axles translate to more stability at speed and in heavy crosswinds, which we experienced a lot during this test. Or maybe we just noticed them more?

The 70-mph freeway flow finds the Hyosung’s motor spinning at 7000 rpm, but pushing the bike up to its 100-mph indicated top speed seems to take forever. High rpm also brings on high-frequency vibrations, which are focused primarily in the handgrips, though the mirrors remain clear. And with a sizeable windshield, the GT250R offers the best protection of this group.


Off the Record
Julia LaPalme
Age: 30 Height: 5’5”
Weight: 130 lbs. Inseam: 30 in.






The Honda and Kawasaki felt fairly similar in size, weight and power. Between the two, the CBR’s engine was buzzier, and tended to tickle my feet. I preferred the V-twin rumble of the Hyosung, even if it’s a meager impersonation of my Ducati Monster. But the GT250R’s size, weight and stretched-out ergonomics had me cursing it within 15 minutes of getting on board. The Ninja seems to have the best of all elements: riding position, size, weight and looks. It’s been a top choice for so long for a reason!

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.


Off the Record
Bekah Snyder
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.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a burgeoning knee-dragger or just looking for a practical commuter, there has never been a better time to investigate the quarter-liter sportbike class. From the Honda’s flickability and peppy engine to the Hyosung’s extensive features list to the Kawasaki’s spicy 13,000-rpm redline, the current crop of 250s is a fine one.

With its larger profile and 2000-era GSX-R lookalike bodywork, Hyosung’s GT250R receives a wave from every passing sportbike rider while the smaller Ninja and CBR are often snubbed.

Parked next to its peers, the Hyosung looks like it has all the right stuff to be the most proficient sporting machine of the group, but things aren’t always what they seem.

The brakes are severely lacking and there’s simply too much bike for the motor. And the fact that it had some mechanical hiccups and needs frequent maintenance can’t be overlooked.

Kawasaki’s Ninja 250R does the best impersonation of a full-sized sportbike. It’s the fastest of the bunch but requires a fair amount of concentration and clutch finesse to keep it singing. Other issues include fickle off-idle fueling, a hard seat and a too-upright riding position for a sportbike. The Ninja has potential, but it’s not the best right out of the box.

Which makes Honda’s new CBR250R the leader of the pack. Aside from some high-rpm vibration, there’s nary a nit to populate our cons list. The bike’s low seat height and featherweight feel are ideal for smaller riders, yet the cockpit doesn’t exclude taller folks. It’s got great wind protection, well-balanced suspension and a frisky motor that excels at cut-and-thrust riding, in the city or the canyons. Efficient, flawless fuel injection is a major plus, as is a maintenance schedule that lets you log 8000 miles before you have to pick up a wrench.

If you’re still drawn to the Hyosung’s full-size stature or the Ninja’s sporty styling, check out the CBR250R in black. That looks a lot more like a bigger CBR.


2011 Honda CBR250R | Price $3999
Dyno
The most torque off idle means the single-cylinder Honda is easy to get under-way, and its 22.3 ponies are only 0.3 bhp shy of the Hyosung twin. You feel that power spike at 5000 rpm, but redline comes too soon. Tech Spec

Engine type: l-c single
Valve train: DOHC, 4v
Displacement: 249cc
Bore x stroke: 76.0 x 55.0mm
Compression: 10.7:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 6-speed
Frame: Tubular-steel twin-spar
Front suspension: Showa 37mm fork
Rear suspension: Showa shock with adj. spring preload
Front brake: Nissin two-piston caliper, 296mm disc
Rear brake: Nissin two-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front tire: 110/70R-17 IRC Road Winner RX01F
Rear tire: 140/70R-17 IRC Road Winner RX01R
Rake/trail: 25.0°/3.7 in.
Seat height: 30.5 in.
Wheelbase: 53.9 in.
Fuel capacity: 3.4 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 355/335 lbs.
Measured horsepower: 22.3 bhp @ 9000 rpm
Measured torque: 15.0 lb.-ft. @ 6750 rpm
Corrected ¼-mile: 16.20 sec. @ 77.6 mph
Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 8.2 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 71/61/66 mpg
Colors: Red/silver, metallic black
Availability: Now
Warranty: 12 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact: American Honda Motor Co., Inc.
PO Box 2200
Torrance, CA 90509
866.784.1870
www.powersports.honda.com
Ergos
The Honda feels similar to the Kawasaki, but it’s got a tad more legroom and a much softer seat. Well-balanced suspension and a decent windscreen make it the most comfortable of these three bikes to ride.


2010 Hyosung GT250 | Price $3999
Dyno
The GT250R has decent thrust off idle and a respectable midrange that makes it easy to get moving, but fueling gets funky in the upper revs and power begins to decline after 8500 rpm.
Tech Spec

Engine type: a/o-c 75-deg. V-twin
Valve train: DOHC, 8v
Displacement:  249cc
Bore x stroke: 57.0 x 48.8mm
Compression: 10.3:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 5-speed
Frame: Steel twin-spar
Front suspension: S&T 41mm fork
Rear suspension: S&T shock with adj. spring preload
Front brake: Dual Hyosung two-piston calipers, 300mm discs
Rear brake: Hyosung two-piston caliper, 230mm disc
Front tire: 110/70-17 Shinko SR740
Rear tire: 150/70-17 Shinko SR741
Rake/trail: 25.0°/3.7 in.
Seat height: 32.7 in.
Wheelbase: 56.5 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 414/387 lbs.
Measured horsepower: 22.6 bhp @ 10,250 rpm
Measured torque: 13.8 lb.-ft. @ 6750 rpm
Corrected ¼-mile: 16.80 sec @ 75.7 mph
Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 8.6 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 68/52/62 mpg
Colors: Red, black, gray/black, white/black, red/black
Availability: Now
Warranty: 2 yrs., unlimited mi.
Contact : Hyosung Motors America, Inc.
5815 Brook Hollow Pkwy. #B
Norcross, GA 30071
770.447.5571
www.hyosungmotorsusa.com
Ergos
The Hyosung’s ergonomics fall right in line with those of 600cc sportbikes. The reach to the bars is 3.5 inches farther than on the Honda and there’s an inch less legroom. Comfortable, it is not.


2011 Kawasaki Ninja 250R | Price (as tested) $4249
Dyno
The Ninja’s low-rev anemia means you flog it or bog it. The bike’s parallel-twin makes the most power but the least torque, and there isn’t much of either until the tach needle swings past 6000 rpm.
Tech Spec

Engine type: l-c parallel-twin
Valve train : DOHC, 8v
Displacement: 249cc
Bore x stroke: 62.0 x 41.2mm
Compression: 11.6:1
Fuel system: (2) 30mm Keihin
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 6-speed
Frame: Steel semi-double-cradle
Front suspension: Showa 37mm fork
Rear suspension: Kayaba shock with adj. spring preload
Front brake: Nissin two-piston caliper, 290mm disc
Rear brake: Nissin two-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front tire: 110/70R-17 IRC Road Winner RX01F
Rear tire: 130/70R-17 IRC Road Winner RX01R
Rake/trail: 26.0º/3.2 in.
Seat height: 30.5 in.
Wheelbase: 55.1 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.8 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 383/355 lbs.
Measured horsepower: 24.6 bhp @ 10,250 rpm
Measured torque: 12.8 lb.-ft. @ 9500 rpm
Corrected ¼-mile: 15.30 sec. @ 84.15 mph
Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 6.3 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 61/46/52 mpg
Colors : Black, Sunbeam Red, Candy Thunder Blue, Green/Metallic Diablo Black
Availability: Now
Warranty: 12 mo.,unlimited mi.
Contact: Kawasaki Motors Corp., USA
PO Box 25252
Santa Ana, CA 92799
800.661.7433
www.kawasaki.com
Ergos
A low, 30.5-inch seat height is the Ninja’s claim to fame. High, clip-on bars give the bike the most upright riding position, but a hard, slanted seat and stiff shock offset that comfort.

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