Motorcycles

Kawasaki's 39 horsepower Ninja 300 bonsai superbike

Kawasaki's 39 horsepower Ninja...
Ninja 300 Kawasaki
Ninja 300 Kawasaki
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The new Ninja 300 Kawasaki
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The new Ninja 300 Kawasaki
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The new Ninja 300 Kawasaki
Honda's CBR250R
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Honda's CBR250R
Honda's CBR250R
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Honda's CBR250R
Tom Sykes is still in with a chance of the 2012 World Superbike Championship riders on his Kawasaki ZX-10R - the high profile of the series is directly relevant to learner class sales, and interestingly, the other contenders for the title (BMW, Aprilia and Ducati) do not have bikes in the same category as the Ninja 250/300
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Tom Sykes is still in with a chance of the 2012 World Superbike Championship riders on his Kawasaki ZX-10R - the high profile of the series is directly relevant to learner class sales, and interestingly, the other contenders for the title (BMW, Aprilia and Ducati) do not have bikes in the same category as the Ninja 250/300
The new Ninja 300 Kawasaki
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Kawasaki's best-selling motorcycle is not the lightning fast Ninja ZX-10R litre sports bike, the only Japanese bike still in the race for the World Superbike Championship. Nor is it the company's 200 mph ZX-14R Ninja projectile. Ironically, it's the diminutive Ninja 250 which translates the performance DNA of the brand into a more practical and affordable "learners" bike with definite sporting aspirations.

On the fortieth anniversary of the bike which changed everything (the original 900cc Z1 superbike), Kawasaki has announced a 300cc version of its entry-level, four-stroke, parallel-twin Ninja 250R, and those sporting aspirations have been comprehensively realized.

Ninja 300 Kawasaki
Ninja 300 Kawasaki

A significant redesign of the 250 was recently announced for the Japanese marketplace after three decades of incremental improvement and the new 300 gets all those features, plus an extra 50cc.

Most significantly, the engine is entirely new, and although the stroke is only slightly longer, the power output of the new liquid-cooled, DOHC, 8-valve, fuel-injected parallel twin is claimed to be 29 kilowatt or 38.9 horsepower - that's roughly a 20% increase in power over the current Ninja 250 and puts it into the same performance envelope of the thinly-disguised two-stroke quarter liter racer-roadsters of not-long-ago ... and instead of the hydrocarbon-broadcasting, ecological disasters of yesteryear, we now have finely-tuned, fuel-injected, responsive and squeaky clean engines which the other ASEAN motorcycle manufacturers will not be able to match, at least not in the foreseeable future.

Ninja 300 Kawasaki
Ninja 300 Kawasaki

Both the new Ninja 250R and Ninja 300 are clearly aimed at Honda's sweet single-cylinder CBR250R which has taken significant market share from the Ninja in many important "monied" marketplaces since its release.

It's not surprising that the Honda CBR250R should draw such an aggressive response from Kawasaki - just as prestige automotive brands provide entry-level vehicles to introduce aspiring enthusiasts to their brand, the emergence of dozens of Chinese and Korean brands has now elevated the Japanese establishment into the utmost upper strata of motorcycledom.

Honda's CBR250R
Honda's CBR250R

Accordingly, Honda and Kawasaki are fighting over what they perceive as long-term customers, so the prestige/horsepower war that has traditionally been fought with flagship four-cylinder liter-plus models has now being escalated to Defcon 1 in the lower, entry-level classes.

A quick perusal of the specifications reveals a completely new motorcycle - new motor, new induction, new frame, new suspension, new brakes, new wheels, and a superbike class feature set - many of the features which sell liter-bike supersport machinery have been added to the bonsai Ninja.

Ninja 300 Kawasaki
Ninja 300 Kawasaki

Apart from the massive horsepower boost, clumsy agricultural carburettors have been replaced with finely calibrated, second-generation fuel-injection, and features which have only recently become available on superstock contenders have been added to the mix - a 290mm petal-disk, twin-caliper brake, advanced suspension, and astonishingly, a slipper clutch.

The slipper clutch was derived to mitigate the engine braking of high compression racing four-strokes on the entry into corners on the racetrack ... and not all that long ago.

Ninja 300 Kawasaki
Ninja 300 Kawasaki

Apart from adding unnecessary stress on the engine, chain, clutch and gearbox, the dysfunctional stress of engine braking unsettled the bike on corner entry, and getting a bike into a corner on the limits no longer required the additional effects of engine braking as the rear disk brake had more than enough power and feel to provide optimum retardation. What was once a bonus on big four-stroke singles with anemic drum rear brakes had become a problem and the slipper clutch was the answer.

Such invention is less than a quarter century old at the elite level of motorsport, so whether it's warranted on an entry-class machine is debatable – we'll reserve judgement on the need for a slipper clutch on such a small free-revving engine until we've ridden one. Whilst it sounds like a minor case of overkill, it may be just another refinement on the way to the perfect motorcycle for riders who have not yet developed the feel to push a motorcycle to its limits.

Ninja 300 Kawasaki
Ninja 300 Kawasaki

The ABS (anti-lock braking system) is claimed to be significantly more sophisticated, and a new more rigid diamond frame, revised suspension, a wider 140 mm rear tire, better heat management (to direct hot air away from the rider), plus a range of features from larger Ninja and ZZR models such as a ZX-10R-style floating windscreen, dual headlights similar to the Ninja ZX-6R, a ZZR1400-style fairing and wheel design, aluminum foot-pegs and a silencer shaped much more like the bigger Ninja models (and far more advanced in its design.)

Ninja 300 Kawasaki
Ninja 300 Kawasaki

There's also a completely new instrumentation package, with an analogue-style tachometer, a multi-function LCD including fuel gauge, dual trip meters, clock, and an "Economical Riding Indicator."

The new Kawasaki Ninja 300 will be available at Kawasaki dealerships later this month or next. Different colors and specifications will be available in different markets, but for now, we're aware of Pearl Stardust White, Ebony or Special Edition Lime Green liveries, and some markets will get ABS as standard, while others will get them as optional. Pricing has not yet been announced.

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19 comments
19 comments
Daishi
The 300 Ninja has a lot of potential to be a home run. People tend to buy the 250 as a starter bike and outgrow them into something else on the opposite side of the spectrum like a 110 HP 600 super sports in part because they don't want to go from the 250 to something that weighs 600 lbs.
The new 300 could be the perfect fit for a lot of people because it could challenge the (nearly) Status quo of buying one bike to learn on and another one for after that.
Guy Macher
Engine braking is not quite the dysfunctional problem described in the article. My KLR 650 can be engine braked without fuss to a near stop. I use brakes for traffic conditions but on the open road my engine does most of the braking. I ride hard but my 2004 bike is running like a top and never had a bolt turned on the engine.
Daishi
@Guy "on the open road my engine does most of the braking"
That is kind of the point though and the KLR has a 9.8:1 compression ratio vs my 12.9:1 so without a slipper clutch the bike would decelerate quickly when I let off the throttle and I have brakes for when I don't. It makes for a smoother ride and helps stay more neutral in the corners.
hydra
Woot!! The main reason I was planning on getting a cbr250 instead of a ninja 250 is because the ninja did not have ABS. Now I think I will get a Ninja 300, after I take a look at some reviews of the bike. This bike is really getting me excited.
Martin Hone
Hell, why not just make it a 650 ?
Daishi
@Martin, the 650 is 100 lbs, $3000, and 40 HP more than the 250 and gets 20 MPG less mileage. It is overkill.
WhyEyeWine
The Honda is still the better looker.
rudedog4
according to Kawasaki's website, the Ninja 250's curb weight is 374 pounds. If the 300 is the same, or possibly less due to the redesigned engine, 40 hp would be a lot of fun in such a light bike, plus the fuel economy with the fuel injection is sure to be excellent. Unless you're planning on taking passengers and/or carrying a lot of cargo, or if you weigh 300 pounds, this would be a great bike for just about anyone.
Mike Barnett
Just an FYI... the slipper clutch is more than 25 years old, and was used on Honda's 1981/82 FT500 Ascot, an entry level bike, and has been used elsewhere. Great technology-yes, new to this market level- nope, and not by 30 years or so.
Risto Penttinen
Mrtin. Why should they make it 650 because they make Kawasaki Ninja zx-6r 636? Very nice bike with 130+ horsepower but more expensive and maybe not so good learner bike.