Track days are not only a safe way to get your speed fix, they also condense the motorcycle experience into the most highly refined morsels of speed and handling. Every street bike rider should get out on a race circuit at least once. The problem is track days are like potato chips or cheesecakes – you can’t stop with just one. Now you may find many excuses on why not to give it a go. “I’m just a beginner.” ”I’m too old.” ”I’m too slow.” ”My bike is too small or too slow.” Nonsense. Just about any bike will deliver that rush on a closed course. Recently Kawasaki hosted a “for fun” day at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway that proved my hypothesis.
Kawasaki brought four Ninja models from its 2013 line for a day of wide open fun. A fleet of green machines waited for us to enjoy some spirited riding. From the beginner friendly Ninja 300R to the almighty ZX-10R, take your pick and get your lean on. This presented a unique opportunity to show that every Ninja is track worthy while finding out what type of rider would benefit from each machine’s particular character.
Ninja 300 – $4,799
If you think an experienced rider wouldn’t be caught dead on the Ninja 300, then you are sorely mistaken. While having the lowest tech, the most budget components and the smallest displacement, the 300 is fun and useful for anyone looking for some quality time and practice on the track. In fact, during our time at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, the Ninja 300 was the most in demand by the fastest riders.
Why would the most experienced riders on the track clamor for the slowest machine? Three letters – F, U, N. The lower power output brings the speed down to levels that lets the pilot concentrate on line selection, body position and momentum. One 20-minute session on a Ninja 300 will teach you more than an entire day on a ZX-10R.
Additionally the handling, despite non-adjustable suspension, is rock solid while being supremely agile. The braking performance is better than expected, although you won’t spend much time squeezing on the binders. Every bit of momentum is critical when racing a pack of Ninja 300s and you are the one being drafted. Even when matched against faster bikes, the 300 can stun you on how quickly it can lap a circuit.
So who is the Ninja 300 rider? Everybody – young, old, fat, skinny, slow or fast. You will never have so much fun on something that seems like it would be easily outpaced and outgrown. Smiles per dollar – the 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 is the champ every time.
Ninja 650 – $7,599
It may look softer and more comfortable, but on the track the 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 650 is still a blast. While Kawasaki dropped the “R” from the 650’s moniker for the current model, there is still plenty of sport bike DNA lurking inside, and all it takes is a lap around Chuckwalla to find it. Its unassuming demeanor is the perfect track day sleeper to wax unsuspecting weekend warriors.
A 650cc Parallel Twin powers the Ninja 650, and although it has less than 60% of the horsepower of a ZX-6R it’s an excellent mill for track day duty. With more mid-range grunt than screaming top-end boost, grunting around the circuit is supremely satisfying with an easy-to-control character.
What makes the Ninja 300 so fun is also what makes the Ninja 650 a blast. It’s simple, the speed is faster but still not into scary territory and the riding position is relaxed. All of this allows you to concentrate on riding technique while not having to reign in triple digit horses.
But unlike the 300, when the need for speed does strike, carry a little momentum and you can get the 650 to lap with respectable lap times. The suspension is planted even when pushed – just don’t get to herky-jerky. The smoothness learned on the 650 will help down the line if and when you step up to a supersport or liter-bike.
The 2013 Ninja 650 is a great track mount for riders that have some experience but are still intimidated by the power 600cc and open-class repli-racers. Additionally those that aren’t quite as flexible as they used to be will enjoy the room to stretch out while still going like stink.
Ninja ZX-6R – $11,699
Inline Four, traction control, big-piston forks and Nissin Monbloc brakes – this is serious business, and when you want to get serious the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R is ready when you are. Kawasaki added some extra cubes for 2013, bringing back the 636 engine displacement to make the 6R a better street bike. But that has also made it an even better track weapon.
The mid-range grunt has been bolstered with the additional 37cc’s and getting out of a corner is now easier and happens with more authority. This makes it more enjoyable for racers or riders that are less than sharp at the controls, but those on top of their game can also exploit the extra oomph for better lap times.
Compared to the Ninja 300 and 650, the 6R is a scalpel that cuts lines with precision that the lower spec’ed green machines can only dream of. The fully-adjustable suspension allows riders to fine-tune the Kawasaki to the rider and track. And there is no doubt that the track is where the supersport Ninja excels.
The ergonomics are much more compact and race specific. This could be an issue for those larger or less flexible riders, but it does put most riders in the position to make the most of the ZX-6R’s handling and performance.
If you are serious about getting the most out of a day at the track, the 2013 Kawasaki ZX-6R is the top choice. No other machine in the line-up has a much going for it at the racetrack. It’s got a great powerplant, awesome traction control and solid chassis.
Ninja ZX-10R – $14,299
Literbikes are the pinnacle of track-bred sportbikes, and the ZX-10R is the ultimate Ninja for the power hungry rider. Featuring all the technology present in the 6R, the 10R does it all with an engine that can warp space and time. Straightaways shorten and time between corners compress when the ZX-10R is ridden in anger. There is not much more fun than setting one of these 1000cc beasts loose out of a corner.
Even with a traction control system that can temper the aggression emanating from the 10R’s powerplant, the rider must be on point at all times. With so much power on tap, it’s easy to overcook a corner or come out too hot and run wide. Clarity of mission and honestly assessing of your abilities is paramount with the ZX-10R. Override this beast and you’ll be going backwards as smaller machines eat you for lunch in the tighter sections. Get it right, however, and you are a god among men.
If you like to make your time up on the straights, are power hungry or a highly skilled track day shredder then the ZX-10R would be the machine for you. Just be forewarned, the ZX-10R will magnify your deficiencies and expose the chinks in your armor. But all those other riders won’t see them as you blow by in a flash of green.
Hopefully this helps some of you choose the right machine for you and your abilities. Be honest with yourself where you belong in terms of experience and skills and I can guarantee you’ll find the right bike for a more enjoyable day at your local race track.