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Baby Ninja Matures

December 1, 2012

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By Costa Mouzouris

Photos by Kevin Wing, Adam Campbell and Kawasaki

Kawasaki’s popular Ninja 250 can trace its roots all the way back to 1983, when it was first introduced to the Japanese market. The parallel-twin sportbike entered the Canadian market in 1986 and has since proven popular with riding schools and beginners, proving itself dependable enough for the former and offering adequate performance to satisfy the latter. It has received a few generational upgrades over the years, and has even changed names a couple of times (for a short time it was sold as the ZZR-250). But Kawasaki’s smallest Ninja has just received its biggest redesign ever – it has gained some displacement and again changed names. Meet the 2013 Ninja 300.

I gladly accepted Editor Roberts’ offer to fly to California to sample the new bike. As a former road racer, I have a keen interest in sportbikes, though I don’t believe they have to be the biggest or most powerful to be appealing. Having already spent some time on the Ninja 250R and Honda’s CBR250R, I was looking forward to seeing how the new 300 would perform.

There was ample time to test the newest Ninja’ s handling along Skaggs Springs Road, a fabulous stretch of motorcycling heaven that heads west out of Healdsburg, a town just north of San Francisco, for 100 kilometres toward the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s a wonderfully winding strip of asphalt with wide, flowing curves in the first part leading to tight, tree-lined twisties nearing the coast. We’d then ride south along the PCH, hugging the coast for a few miles to our lunch stop before turning around and heading back to Healdsburg.

It’s not hard to mistake the Ninja 300 for a modern, 600 cc supersport machine. The bike looks larger than the outgoing Ninja 250R; the fairing is wider and more aggressively styled, with lines that mimic the bigger Ninja models more faithfully. In fact, only the taller, clip-on handlebars and narrower rear tire give it away as a smaller-than-600 machine. The fuel tank is also wider, though it has lost one litre of capacity compared to the Ninja 250R, now holding 17 litres. This won’t be a problem, though, as the 300 gets better gas mileage than the 250, but we’ll get to that later.

Sitting on the bike reinforces the optical illusion, as it feels like a larger machine, especially between the knees, where the wider gas tank spreads your legs farther apart than on the 250R. Seat height is now 10 mm taller, at 785 mm (30.9 in.), though it doesn’t feel taller, because the rear sub-frame has been redesigned and the seat is now more level. However, the bike feels much lighter than any 600 cc bike out there, as it should, considering its claimed 172 kg (379 lb.) wet weight. This puts it at 10 kilos more than the Honda, though you don’t really feel the added weight when moving.

A new instrument panel includes a large, centrally mounted tachometer with a smaller digital display to the lower right. Only basic info is included in the display, including speed, two trip meters, odometer, a bar-type fuel gauge and a clock. A gear-position indicator was curiously omitted yet would be so useful.

The biggest mechanical change is to the engine, which has a 7.8 mm longer stroke (now 49 mm) – it has gained 47 cc and now displaces 296 cc. To smooth engine vibration, there are now rubber mounts attaching it at the front of the frame. Until now in North America, we’ve had to be content with carburetors on the 250R, while other countries got fuel injection. Digital fuel metering is finally available on the small twin, and the system uses two 32 mm throttle bodies that breathe into larger intake ports with larger valves.

Inside the engine are new, lighter pistons redesigned for improved cooling, shorter connecting rods and stronger crank bearings. Due to the larger displacement, the compression ratio has been reduced to 10.6:1 from 11.6:1 to allow the engine to run on regular fuel. All those changes have amounted to an increase of eight horsepower (now 39 hp at the crankshaft), but more importantly, they’ve bumped peak torque to 20 ft-lb from 16, with more torque available throughout the rev range.

Oil capacity has been increased to 2.4 litres from 1.7 litres, and when it’s time to change its oil, you’ll no longer have to remove a cover to replace a cartridge-type filter; Kawasaki has incorporated a spin-on oil filter, conveniently located in front of the engine and accessible without removing the fairing lower.

You can really appreciate the additional power if you ride the Ninja 300 back-to-back with the Ninja 250, and fortunately, the folks at Kawasaki had the quarter-litre model on hand for comparison. The first thing you notice on start-up is that there’s no more choke to fiddle with or extended warm-up times to contend with, due to the new bike’s EFI. Selecting first gear was much smoother on the new bike, and letting the clutch out from a stop required less throttle. Exclusively on such a small machine, Kawasaki has added a slipper clutch which also has an assist feature that reduces lever effort by 25 percent. . .

LIST PRICE$5299; $5799 ABS
WARRANTY1 year, unlimited mileage
ENGINE TYPELiquid-cooled parallel-twin
DISPLACEMENT296 cc
POWER29kW (39 hp) at 11,000 rpm
TORQUE27 Nm (19.9 lb-ft) at 10,000 rpm
BORE AND STROKE62 x 49 mm
COMPRESSION RATIO10.6:1
FUEL DELIVERYDigital fuel injection with dual 32 mm throttle bodies
TRANSMISSIONSix-speed
FINAL DRIVE TYPEO-ring chain
FRONT SUSPENSION37 mm telescopic fork, non adjustable
REAR SUSPENSIONUni-Trak single gas-charged shock with 5-way adjustable preload
WHEEL TRAVELFront: 120 mm (4.7 in.); Rear: 132 mm (5.2 in.)
BRAKESFront: 290 mm wave disc with twin-piston caliper; Rear: 220 mm wave disc with twin-piston caliper; ABS optional
WHEELBASE1405 mm (55.3 in.)
RAKE AND TRAIL27 degrees/93 mm
TIRESFront: 110/70-17; Rear: 140/70-17
WEIGHT (WET)172 kg (379 lb); 174 kg (383 lb) ABS
SEAT HEIGHT785 mm (30.9 in.)
FUEL CAPACITY17 litres
FUEL ECONOMY (CLAIMED)NA
FUEL RANGE (ESTIMATED)NA

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