Last decade the entry-level sportbike class in the United States was a one-bike show. Novice riders could have any bike they wanted, as long as it was Kawasaki’s Ninja 250
. Now as manufacturers clamor for market share of coveted new riders, the once stagnant beginner bikes are finally benefitting from R&D attention. The result for consumers is a more robust offering of small-displacement mounts, with the promise of more on the way (see sidebar).
Kawasaki’s Ninja 250 reigned unchallenged for years as the
quarter-liter sportbike in America. It faced zero direct competition from Kawasaki’s Big Four rivals, despite the little Ninja’s obvious popularity. Instead, manufacturers seemed content to chase the higher margins afforded by the larger displacement Supersport and Superbike classes. Then the motorcycle market crashed, with the sportbike segment high-siding… Now as the market stabilizes, more manufacturers see wisdom (or is it necessity?) of producing fun, affordable bikes to court a new generation of riders.
Honda was the first to challenge Kawasaki with its CBR250R. The 2011 model year debut showcased some of Honda’s engineering might – with features like the off-set cylinder head on its liquid-cooled Single. It also offered big-ticket newbie-friendly features like optional ABS and linked braking. While it thankfully provided sportbike initiates with a second option, it couldn’t displace the Kawasaki in our 2011 CBR250R vs. Ninja 250R comparison
Two years after the CBR affront, Kawasaki delivers its Ninja 300, powered by a now-296cc Parallel Twin. Those extra 47 cubes impressed during the 300’s First Ride introduction
late last year. But the other redesign changes and additions on the Ninja, like its slipper clutch, make this Kawasaki a comprehensively better bike than its predecessor.
The above statement doesn’t bode well for the Honda, of course, but the CBR showed true Samurai spirit by not flinching in this 2013 comparison test. Down 47cc, the CBR squared off against its bigger Ninja rival in MotoUSA’s standard showdown format. Our test kept to the streets (in hopes that we may follow up this year with a track test), with a mix of freeway, city and canyon carving duties surrounding our offices in Southern California. We ran the little rippers on the in-house dyno and weighed them on the scales, as well as gathered the usual performance test data as best we could.
As author of the Ninja 300 First Ride and well-versed with the previous 250 iteration, I serve as author and chief test rider alongside our do-it-all editor/video guru Justin Dawes. Chasing my colleague on Ortega Highway with the throttle pinned, my little CBR screaming at redline… we were far from a triple-digit pace, but both of us were grinning. True, these entry-level bikes are a critical segment for the motorcycle industry. But they also deliver a legitimately fun riding experience. Here’s what we discovered.