First Ride: 2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R - A First Ride To Remember

By Teri Gorrell, Photography by Alfonse Palaima

Do you remember your first streetbike? I've spent the last few years trying to forget mine. Heavy and difficult to maneuver, it let me know who was really in charge. The new Ninja 250R is everything mine wasn't. Lightweight and fun to ride, it builds your confidence instead of destroying it. After five minutes on the 250, I concluded that it's more than a great beginner's bike. It's a great bike, period.

You notice the sportier look immediately, along with a Ninja family resemblance. The low seat height and even weight distribution aid maneuverability, so you're comfortable parking or even pushing the machine around the garage or parking lot. One of the most intimidating feelings for a new rider is sitting too far from the ground. Kawasaki eliminated this problem by lowering the seat to 30.5 inches-lower than on the original 250R. Interestingly, the lower saddle didn't seem to affect the seat-to-peg distance. I felt a comfortable bend in my knees and a nice, upright seating position, placing minimal strain on my wrists and lower back.

An optional $99 accessory seat cowl gives the Ninja an even racier look, completely eliminating the pillion if you're not carrying a passenger. Unfortunately, there's minimal underseat storage. Registration and insurance papers are about it, and they'd better be well secured. Plan on using a tank bag or backpack if you commute.

The dramatic new styling isn't the only improvement to the '08 model. According to Karl Edmondson, Kawasaki's sportbike product manager, over 70 percent of the engine was updated. I noticed smoother power delivery in the low end and midrange, and a burst of power above 9000 rpm. Experienced riders may find themselves wanting a bit more, but the littlest Ninja definitely gets up to speed quickly enough to put a smile on your face. The transmission is extremely smooth, as is the clutch engagement, and the lever is easy to pull-a relief if you have small hands like I do. That makes in-town riding much more enjoyable, preventing a new rider from fatiguing his or her underdeveloped motorcycle muscles.

Slowing down is easy too, thanks to new dual-piston calipers and petal discs front and rear. They stop you faster than the original bike's brakes and with better feel. New 17-inch wheels replace the previous 16s, opening the door to a wider range of tire options.

All of these changes felt great riding from stoplight to stoplight, but the real proof came in the twisties. Equipped with a 37mm Showa fork and single Kayaba shock working with Kawasaki's trademark Uni-Trak linkage, the littlest Ninja handled nicely under my 140 pounds. The rear suspension is adjustable this year, a noteworthy improvement since not all riders stand 5-foot-6 and weigh a buck twenty. Previous Ninja 250s were notorious for front-end dive, but with the new suspension and chassis geometry I didn't experience any difficulties.

After a full day of urban and canyon riding, I was extremely impressed with the new Ninja. Kawasaki has built a bike to benefit specific riders, and the motorcycle industry in general. It's an inexpensive machine that will bring plenty of new riders into our sport. Whether you're a first-time buyer, a commuter, a canyon rider or even a roadracer-Kawasaki is offering racing contingencies and a few clubs are running spec classes-the '08 Ninja 250R is worth a look. No matter who you are, this one will surprise you.

By Teri Gorrell
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