Huge Fun in A Small Package
It’s interesting how the Ninja 300’s bodywork gives the visual impression of a larger motorcycle than the previous 250R. More aggressive styling cues from its larger ZX-6R and ZX-10R brethren add up to a bike that has “serious sportbike” written all over it. Even the footpegs are straight off one of the larger Ninjas, replacing the previous generic rubber-topped items on the 250R. There’s even a storage compartment in the tail section, something nearly all full-size sportbikes used to have in the past.
The Ninja 300 has a two-stage...
The Ninja 300 has a two-stage compartment in the tail section, with the upper section for a small U-lock, and the lower section for the toolkit and some small items.
The reshaped saddle on the...
The reshaped saddle on the Ninja 300 is narrower in front to allow easier foot-planting at a stoplight while remaining comfortable enough for extended rides.
The new instrument panel finally...
The new instrument panel finally replaces the antiquated dual analog speedometer/tachometer setup with a much nicer analog tach/LCD panel info display dashboard that includes a fuel gauge.
This shot looking at the underside...
This shot looking at the underside of the radiator shows how Kawasaki engineers designed the radiator fan ducting to direct the hot air blast downward out the bottom of the fairing instead of out the side vents at the rider’s legs.
That impression of size disappears once you swing a leg over the Ninja 300, however. Although the listed seat height is 30.9 inches (almost half an inch more than the 250R), it actually feels lower. This is attributable to the new reshaped seat that is substantially narrower in the front, making it easier for shorter riders to get both feet on the ground. Spec-chart mavens may point at the Kawasaki’s 379-pound listed curb weight (some 24 pounds heavier than the Honda), but you don’t notice that extra heft; the Ninja 300 feels small, light, and easy to handle. Another nod to smaller riders is a doglegged clutch lever to make it easier to actuate for those with smaller hands. Overall ergos are basically the same as the 250R, which is to say a nice compromise between all-day standard and sporty tuck.
No more fiddling with a choke lever to get the Kawasaki warmed up, as the Keihin EFI allows you to simply hit the starter button and ride off. An added bonus is much better fuel efficiency; despite the larger engine and superior performance, fuel usage never dropped below 50 mpg, even when riding very aggressively with a lot of wide-open throttle and five-digit engine speeds. Ridden in a more everyday manner, we could easily see the average owner getting more than 250 miles on a 4.5-gallon tankful.
The additional power pulses of the twin-cylinder engine make it difficult to stall the Kawasaki, and the new clutch is so effortless that you could do it with one finger. Our only complaint is that the engagement point is out toward the end of the lever travel, and the engagement area through that travel is very narrow. Although the Ninja is easy to get rolling from a dead stop, any maneuvers that require some clutch jockeying (such as parking lot U-turns) demand a deft clutch hand.
So does the extra 47cc make that much of a difference? Yes it does, and in a big way. No, the displacement boost certainly hasn’t turned the little Ninja into a 600-eater, but it has definitely resulted in a bike that will eat any of its class competitors for breakfast, and ask for seconds.
One of the 250R’s drawbacks was that you had to spool the engine up before you got any decent steam. This is where the Honda CBR had a clear advantage, as its single-cylinder emphasis on low-end and midrange allowed it to get the jump off the line and in low-rpm situations. The 300’s powerband fills in a good deal of the 250R’s low-end void, giving it enough oomph to likely keep pace with the Honda until about 6000 rpm, where the new Kawasaki will start rapidly disappearing into the distance. The Ninja 300 simply has power everywhere over the 250R, but it’s especially noticeable in the midrange and top end.
The bump in power was readily evident in the canyons, where you no longer have to ride like you’re mad at the shift lever. The Ninja 300 pulls off the slower corners from as low as 5000 rpm, a point that would have you wondering if perhaps one of the spark plugs came off on the 250R if you tried to accelerate from that rpm. Power builds steadily with the new Ninja, but best results if you’re in a hurry still reside at 9000 rpm, with the party tailing off about 1000 rpm short of the 13,000-rpm redline. That power surplus also translates to a top-end speed advantage, meaning that highway traffic passes are no longer filled with hesitation; the Kawasaki easily propelled itself to 100 mph, and seemingly had plenty in reserve (while also remaining impressively vibration-free for a vertical twin), something that certainly can’t be said of the CBR.
But perhaps even more important than the newfound power is the Ninja 300’s upgraded handling. The new Kawasaki is just as lithe and agile as the 250R, only at a pace where the older bike quickly becomes sloppy and nervous, the Ninja 300 is as calm and composed as a monk in meditation. Credit here goes to both the stronger frame and the well-sorted suspension spring and damping rates, as well as the new IRC RX-01R tires. Despite being non-adjustable except for spring preload in the rear, the Kawasaki’s suspension is compliant enough for long-haul touring duty, yet can handle the big hits well and keep the chassis under control during aggressive riding. And just as impressive was the new IRC rubber, which offers agile and precise steering with very good grip and midcorner bump absorption — light years away from the IRC “rim protectors” of old.
Braking from both the standard and ABS versions was excellent, with the non-ABS version exhibiting a nice compromise between novice-friendly response and aggressively sporty power and feel. The standard model’s brake pads are made from organic compounds, while the ABS model uses more responsive sintered metal pads up front, as Kawasaki feels that it can make better use of that response without getting a novice rider into trouble. The ABS is very transparent, with barely any cycling felt while offering strong yet stable braking in all types of stops. And the F.C.C. slipper clutch handled nearly all of our intentional ham-fisted downshifts without problems, with only poor downshifts into first gear causing just a hint of wheel lockup.
Rules? What Rules?
The 250cc sportbike class has been taking off the past few years, outselling the middleweight and literbikes by more than 2:1 in 2011. This makes the category increasingly important to the manufacturers, which is why Kawasaki is no longer alone. Although some may fault Kawasaki for not abiding “by the rules” with the Ninja 300, the company has never been one to follow convention. And that non-conformist policy has certainly resulted in a superb addition to the class.
Is the Ninja 300 the new king of the lightweights? We’ll soon find out.
2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300
MSRP: $4799 (standard model); $4999 (Limited Edition); $5499 (LE ABS model)
Type: Liquid-cooled, DOHC parallel twin
Bore x stroke: 62.0 x 49.0mm
Compression ratio: 10.6:1
Induction: Keihin DFI, 32mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl
Front tire: 120/70-17 IRC RX-01R
Rear tire: 140/70-17 IRC RX-01R
Rake/trail: 27 deg./3.7 in. (94mm)
Wheelbase: 55.3 in. (1405mm)
Seat height: 30.9 in. (785mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal. (17L)
Claimed wet weight: 379 pounds (standard); 384 pounds (ABS)