PH2: Kawasaki Ninja 300

The Ninja 250 first landed on the UK’s shores back in 2009. Despite looking pretty funky, underneath the fairing the 250 was little more than a GPX250 (ok, with 70% new internals) parallel twin engine and a steel chassis. On the face of it, the Ninja didn’t promise much - in fact, initially it wasn’t even destined to be released in Europe. It’s a damn good job that sales in America, where 23,000 were shifted in 2007 alone, prompted a re-think.

Since its UK debut, the Ninja 250 has proved a surprise hit. With a claimed 33bhp, it fell within the boundaries of power for restricted licence holders - but this wasn’t its only audience. There is a small yet significant section of the motorcycle community that don’t want to go mental on the roads. Commuters, new riders and some female riders considered that a lightweight, stylish bike with enough power to top 70mph to be more than up to the job. And they still do, believe it or not: last year the Ninja 250 almost outsold the ZX-6R.

Not so mean, but definitely green
Not so mean, but definitely green
So why 300?

Things change. As of 19th January 2013, new European A2 licensing laws will come into force in the UK. These will allow anyone with a restricted licence to ride a bike of up to 39bhp. To take advantage of this, Kawasaki has upped the capacity of the Ninja from 250 to 296cc. Although the Ninja’s bore is still 62mm, the stroke has been increased and various internal components redesigned.

The net result is a restricted, licence-friendly 39bhp bike that looks better than ever thanks to a new fairing, chassis, digital clocks and re-designed wheels. Oh, and it also has a slipper clutch with an ‘assist cam’ that reduces the effort at the clutch lever by 25% - but more of that later.

Small bike, big impression

I’ve ridden the Ninja 250 a few times, and I’m not a huge fan. It feels a bit small and unsubstantial and the motor is pretty gutless, even considering its 33bhp claim.

The new 300, however, instantly feels different. The styling updates give the 300 a far more ‘big bike’ feel, while the digital display is classier as well as more functional as it now contains a fuel gauge. I’d like to have also seen a gear indicator, but that’s just me. Yep, despite its small size, the Ninja 300 doesn’t feel too weedy, although when you fire it up the façade slips slightly…

There is no getting away from the fact the Ninja’s engine sounds like a series of wet farts. It’s not inspiring in any way, shape, or form, and I would strongly recommend that owners fit one of Kawasaki’s official accessory Leo Vince race cans.

Goodbye sogginess, hello fun
Goodbye sogginess, hello fun
But sound is one thing, performance is another, and the 300 is a wonderful little mover. The suspension on the old 250 was something of a weak spot due to soft settings that made the bike wobble and pitch through corners. For the 300, Kawasaki have kept the same physical suspension units but altered their damping to provided a far more compliant ride. It’s not hard or harsh, it’s simply had the sogginess removed. This, combined with pegs which are no longer rubber mounted, makes for a sportier ride. You can stir the Ninja into action and have a great time on the back roads, making full use of your corner speed so as not to lose crucial momentum. Although, having said that, the new 300 engine is surprisingly sprightly.

On a motorway the Ninja will happily hold 80mph and push up to over 100mph when required. Experienced riders will start to treat the throttle like an on/off switch after a few miles, but where the 250 was dull and slow, the 300 delivers an acceptable turn of pace. And it does it with a lovely light clutch lever action.

Speaking of which, why a slipper clutch? It’s nothing to do with racing, more safety. A lot of learners crash by shifting down too many gears and accidentally locking the rear wheel. Attempt this on the Ninja and the slipper takes over, gently re-introducing the power when the revs meet the rear wheel’s speed. An excellent safety aid and one I can see appearing on more ‘new rider’ bikes.

Random bollardage
Random bollardage
Worth a shot?

I didn’t expect to be, but I was actually quite taken by the Ninja 300. It’s not gigantically powerful, but it certainly has enough grunt for day to day use and looks fantastic. Where I would have struggled to recommend the 250 to a new rider, I would happily tell one to take the 300 out for a blast.

Is it worth upgrading to from current 250 riders? I’d say so. The extra capacity, power and handling make the 300 a far better bike, a feeling the new look only enhances.

2013 Ninja 300          

Engine: 296cc, liquid-cooled parallel twin, DOHC, fuel injection
Power: 39hp @ 11,000rpm
Torque: @ 10,000rpm
Top speed: 105mph (est)
Weight: 172kg (dry)
MPG: 60 (est)
Price: £4,800 (TBC)

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (43) Join the discussion on the forum

  • abarber 23 Sep 2012

    The previous donkey Ninja 250 did sixty in either 7.5 or 10 seconds to sixty depending on which magazine. The EX500 was always the one to get tbh, right back in the GPX250 days.

    For something slow, but much better handling, but tiny and slack, get an SZR660. Stunning alloy chassis from the last jap only TZR250R and mint ones start at a grand.

  • Electro1980 23 Sep 2012

    raptor600 said:
    As a non bike rider I have 2 random questions...

    What sort of 0-60 figure would we be looking at?

    Would it move with a 14 1/2 stone 6 foot 1 bloke on it?

    Look forward to being enlightened!
    0-60? Lord knows. At a guess I'd say around 5-6 seconds based on other bikes of simelar power.

    14 1/2 stone, no problem at all. You might be a little cramped, but you'd soon be able to tell sitting on it.

  • strudel 22 Sep 2012

    Whilst a 600cc+ bike is great for riding in every situation, I do wonder if they're a bit too easy to ride and unless you take them to a track, largely wasted. With something like a Ninja 300, you'd have to work it and might be more fun down a B road. Looks like the 250 is about 7 secs to 60 so no slouch; maybe they're more popular in the states because they have big wide roads so easy to overtake on so no need for huge reserves of power.

  • Mr2Mike 22 Sep 2012

    Numeric said:
    I like the idea of the slipper clutch - very useful
    Just read a review of the new baby Ninja in Bike magazine. It seems the slipper clutch was fitted primarily to give a very light clutch action - the springs can be made lighter because the clutch grips harder when it's transmitting torque. The slipping action on the overrun is almost a side effect, and the review mentions it's as much use as tits on a bull on such a small engine.

    Bikes biggest condemnation was the price; you are likely to be able to pick up a new SV650 for less money, and the ER6 won't be much more. They also said the Taiwanese "Road Winner" tyres it comes with are dire, though that's easily fixed.

    raptor600 said:
    As a non bike rider I have 2 random questions...
    What sort of 0-60 figure would we be looking at?
    Would it move with a 14 1/2 stone 6 foot 1 bloke on it?
    Look forward to being enlightened!
    Not a clue on 0-60 times, it's not a performance stat usually given for bikes. They compared the performance to the old RD250LC but without the sharp powerband, which should mean it's pretty brisk.

    In terms of size it will probably be a bit cramped for your height, the reviewer was 5'9" and he could put both feet flat on the floor with a prominent bend in both knees.

    Edited by Mr2Mike on Saturday 22 September 16:01

  • raptor600 22 Sep 2012

    As a non bike rider I have 2 random questions...

    What sort of 0-60 figure would we be looking at?

    Would it move with a 14 1/2 stone 6 foot 1 bloke on it?

    Look forward to being enlightened!

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