KAWASAKI NINJA 300
At first glance, Kawasaki's littlest Ninja is hard to distinguish from its ZX-6R sibling. The 300's sporting intentions are evident in its angular bodywork, and the theme carries over to the ergonomics, which find riders reaching forward to low clip-on bars and hooking their heels on high-set, grippy footpegs. The fuel-injected, 296cc parallel twin fires up without any of the fuss of its predecessor, and the old off-idle lag is gone. In its place is smooth, steady power that builds rapidly beyond 7,500 rpm. You don't have to wring the Ninja's neck to make forward progress, but when you do, it rewards with an exciting top-end rush. The Ninja is the only bike here able to attain triple-digit speeds. Our testbike put down 35.7 hp at 10,900 rpm, more than 10 hp up on the Honda and Suzuki and 2.5 hp stronger than the last Ninja 300 we tested. Out on the road, those extra ponies pay big dividends. The Ninja cruises at 70 mph without breaking a sweat, and unlike the 250s, the 300 still has ample power on tap for passing.
Just 47cc more displacement than the Ninja 250 makes a huge difference.
That strong motor and a full-size, 4.5-gallon tank should make the Ninja the most suitable for longer trips, but a lack of legroom, a hard seat, a shock that seems to be calibrated for heavy riders, and a buzz in the grips encourage you to exit the highway and seek out a twisty route to your destination. This is a sportbike, after all. Just in miniature.
Swapping gears is quick thanks to a short-throw shifter and crisp gearbox, but all our testers found the clutch hard to master due to an inconsistent engagement zone, likely due to the slip-assist clutch mechanism. On the other side of the bike, the front brake lacks bite and the lever has a wooden feel. The suspension, too, misses the mark. The taut shock transfers too much weight onto the undersprung fork, resulting in a rough, imbalanced ride on bumpy surfaces. The Ninja is still a thrill in the twisties and would surely be a real treat with the right springs and more aggressive brake pads.
With a 13,000-rpm redline, sporty looks, and the most power, the Ninja 300 is the clear choice for aspiring sport riders. Its $4,799 price tag is a bit higher than those of the 250s, but that extra cash nets you a lot more performance.