The Kawasaki Ninja 250R is the king of small-bore sportbikes, and there’s a good reason its Kawasaki’s best-selling Ninja. Once it received the major facelift in ’08, the remade 250R was hot enough that even long-time sportbike riders were tempted to pick one up as a fun, economical option. Not only does the small engine make it entertaining to ride, but the Ninja 250R is a proven performer with great styling and dependability.
At the heart is Kawasaki’s trusty Parallel Twin engine. The liquid-cooled four-stroke offers 249cc of displacement with a pair of 62×42.1mm cylinders. With an 11.6:1 compression ratio, the DOHC mill spins up to the tune of 26.3 horsepower and 13.4 lb-ft of torque. It’s not uncommon to see fuel-injected bikes with a sharp bottom-to-mid engine and carbureted versions churning out high-rpm performance. That holds true in this case as the Honda’s EFI-equipped engine relies on midrange torque while the Kawi’s dual 30mm Keihin carbs dump fuel through the jets as the engine revs up to 15,000 rpm. Riders will pull the most power from the Twin at 11,000, and it continues to make better horsepower than the CBR until cresting 13,000. Once the Ninja starts to fall off its curve, shifting becomes critical.
“The Kawi prefers revs but you have to shift before the rev-limiter comes in because power flattens out way at the top,” Waheed notes.
The little Ninja has a more potent engine on the track. There are extra vibrations that come with higher rpm, but it also feels more racy and puts out more horsepower.
On the track, the carbureted engine is capable of pulling even large riders around the circuit thanks to a six-speed transmission. Waheed and this author are both at the 200-pound mark with a set of leathers, so any extra output is welcome, and the ability to harness that is equally important. The Twin is willing to go much higher than the Honda’s Single, which makes for a racy feel, but the transmission and easy cable clutch help the Kawasaki best the CBR in 0-60 acceleration testing by nearly a full second (7.7 vs. 8.5 seconds).
“I liked the acceleration power of the Kawasaki best,” admits Sorensen. “I felt like the power came on quicker and as I shifted and accelerated the power was there in midrange also. The Honda felt a little slower in the high end.”
The standard 37mm fork offers 4.7 inches of travel but is non-adjustable. Our slower riders found both ends too soft, but were happy with progress made by adjusting the rear end. The shock has 5.1 inches of travel and stiffening the preload helped stabilize the Ninja through fast sweepers and also give the front end more emphasis. A steel chassis with square-tube swingarm provides good feedback and adequate rigidity for track use, easily managing speeds that the engine can generate.
“The Kawasaki chassis is a little more planted at lean,” confirms Waheed. A slightly longer 55.1-inch wheelbase and more spread-out ergonomics make the Kawasaki a little easier to pilot for big riders, but the 30.5-inch seat height is still incredibly easy to mount for women or beginners. At 5’11” I was more comfortable on the Kawasaki with more room for my torso and comfortable reach to the pegs, but it doesn’t take a tall rider to appreciate the versatile layout.
“I felt much more comfortable on the Kawasaki all the way across the board,” says our shortest tester, Sorensen, “from my footpeg placement, to the cockpit, to the hand controls.”
Both of our new track riders could feel that the Kawasaki has a more aggressive engine. The ergonomics were also a favorite for the newbies.
A twin-piston Nissin caliper squeezes the 290mm front disc while a single-piston rear caliper grabs the 220mm rear. The combination provides plenty of grip to slow down. Both bikes slowed from 60-to-0 mph in the same distance, but our fastest rider, Waheed, gave the nod to the Kawasaki out on the track. He particularly praised the front binder, but also noted that both bikes have very effective rear brakes. Due to their lighter weight, the rear brake has a more noticeable effect on the bike which leads him to use it more aggressively.
“I can’t believe how fun these things are to ride at the track,” says the admitted horsepower fiend, Waheed. “Since these bikes don’t have any power you really need to focus on carrying corner speed, using the entire racetrack and trying to not use the brakes as much as possible. If you’re looking to improve your skill around the racetrack then you simply must spend some time on these bikes.”
While both bikes offer great platforms as all-around entry-level sportbikes, when considered purely for track use, the Kawasaki’s extra power simply can’t be ignored. It revs hard and the extra horsepower can be put to use at all times on a closed-circuit environment. As the author, I personally preferred everything about the Honda, except for the fact that I can wring the Kawi and it packs 200 pounds a little easier. Even Sorensen, who currently owns and rides a larger Honda sportbike, had to give the Kawasaki a nod on the track. “Hands down I would have to choose the Kawasaki, which is really hard for me to do because in our garage the Honda flag is the only one flying!”
We aren’t beating the Honda since it succeeds entirely for its intended use, but the Ninja 250R is the more popular choice for our test riders if the bikes were never going to see a regular highway. Waheed sums it up, saying, “Overall, if I was looking for a track 250 I would buy the Kawasaki as it is just plain faster. It’s got a little bit more ground clearance, more top-end power, stronger brakes and the chassis is more planted.”