The world of high-performance sportbikes isn’t one to be jumping off the deep end. Today’s track-inspired, street-legal racers like those featured in the 2011 Supersport Shootout IX Track and 2011 Superbike Smackdown VIII Track harness more performance than most riders could ever use. Americans have an insatiable hunger for the biggest and baddest while disregarding the consequences. At best this generates a lack of proper fundamentals, and at worst it can lead to dangerous riding situations. There’s certainly no shame in starting out small. Those smart enough to get their feet wet with more manageable motorcycles can opt for rides like the new Honda CBR250R or Kawasaki’s proven Ninja 250R.
These two sportbikes are awesome for riding on public roads, which we found out in the Honda CBR250R vs Kawasaki Ninja 250R street evaluation. Knowing that riding on a track can help hone skills used in everyday riding, we signed up for track time at Streets of Willow and Thunderhill Raceway with Pacific Track Time to see how these machines handle in a controlled racing environment. In the saddle were our A-level Road Test Editor, Adam Waheed, and professional stunt rider Brian Steeves. These men regularly get their jollies with bikes that have more horsepower than a car. But, in the case of Waheed, there’s a personal history with the Ninja that dates back to his first two-wheeled experiences. We also enlisted Lynda Sorensen for a short, light and feminine perspective. She too cut her teeth on the trusty Ninja but has been riding a supersport for the past six years. Finally, I took the handlebars. Why would the Off-Road Editor be involved? Because I want to learn to ride sportbikes, too, and the bosses sure as hell weren’t going to let me borrow the CBR1000RR or ZX-10R.
Honda surprised everyone with the introduction of its 2011 CBR250R. Not only were folks eyeballing the single-cylinder engine and VFR-ish styling, but also wondering why it took so long for another major OEM to see the value in this market. Once the biggest motorcycle manufacturer in the world puts its weight behind something, it’s virtually guaranteed not to suck. By differing from the Kawasaki in its engine arrangement, the CBR offers riders a level of variety in this class. It’s not merely a matter of choosing red or green, but the new kid on the block has its own look, feel and character. Honda decks out the little CBR with upscale instrumentation and tops it off with the attention to detail and ultra-refined package we expect from Big Red.
Up until now, Kawasaki has been enjoying the entry-level sportbike market all alone, and it’s been slaying newbie sales with its Ninja 250R since 1986. The popular mount received a major styling overhaul in 2008, the first in 20 years, which brought it back into the limelight and up to spec with the rest of the Ninja family. Kawasaki has always relied on its Parallel Twin engine to provide the user-friendly power. Unlike the European version, any 250R that makes it to American shores still uses dual Keihin carburetors, which is one of the few features that gives the Kawi an outdated feel compared to Honda’s nifty fuel injection. Regardless, Kawasaki dealers are more concerned about getting a higher volume of the little crotch rocket imported, since they reportedly can’t keep them on showroom floors.
In order to level the playing field and keep our impressions as consistent as possible, we equipped each with a matching set of Bridgestone Battlax BT-003 Racing Street Front Tire and Bridgestone Battlax BT-003 Racing Street Rear Tire. Because the bikes are so affordable, they can also make great secondary machines simply for club racing or the general thrill and challenge of competing on small-bore motorcycles. So, knowing these two machines are likely the best option for new street riders, off we went to see how they hold up on the track.