Chances are that if you have been looking for a low-displacement sport bike, then you've at least taken a glance at Kawasaki's smallest Ninja, the 250r (or EX250 for you technical guys). The Ninja 250 has been in constant production since 1983 and has had four different model generations. As usual, the American market didn't see the Ninja until the second generation came out in 1986. Luckily, since then, Kawasaki's smallest Ninja and a slew of aftermarket parts have been readily available to folks all over America.
A liquid-cooled, parallel twin cylinder engine that is claimed to put out 32 horsepower powers the bike, but in actuality, most dynos show stock bikes to produce about 23-28 rear wheel horsepower. Twenty-eight horsepower may not seem like much, but the Ninja 250's 90+ mph top speed is plenty to get most folks in trouble with the law sooner rather than later. Stopping the bike is taken care of by a single disc, two piston caliper setup on the front and a single disc on the rear. While it may not be a superbike-spec braking system, the bike is more than capable of a few stoppies with an extra hard grab of the brake lever.
While the baby Ninja isn't for folks looking to compensate for certain small body parts, it is definitely a real rider's bike. The Ninja is relatively light at 360ish pounds wet, and this makes it quite a flick-able machine in the corners and the latest (4th) generation bike's 17" rims allow you to take advantage of modern motorcycle tires. It has a large cult following and 250 lovers do everything from race 'em to tour cross country on the tiniest Ninja.
There are a few differences between the third (1988-2007) and fourth (2008-present) generation bikes. The main differences include the styling, rear shocks and wheel size. While the older third generation bike looked the part of a real sportbike when it came out in 1988 it definitely looks a bit dated these days. On the contrary, the latest fourth generation bikes look the part of a modern day sportbike. The fourth generation bike also has the advantage of 17-inch wheels (versus the third gen's 16-inchers), which gives you a much more modern and abundant selection of tires for your bike. This is probably the single most important thing to consider if you plan on racing your baby Ninja.
Speaking of racing, there is now a new Ninja 250 class (called E Superstock) in the WERA roadracing league that utilizes the newly redesigned Ninjas. Earlier in the Summer I profiled father and son roadracers Chris and Jamie Spencer who happen to race in this new WERA E superstock class. After one of their race weekends Chris told me, "Racing these Ninja 250s has got to be the cheapest form of roadracing I've ever experienced. One example is with most race bikes you have to replace the tires every weekend which is a huge cost (at almost $300 per set) but these little Ninjas are so easy on the power delivery that you can go multiple weekends on one set of tires."
Other major/minor changes to the latest iteration Ninja 250 include the addition of an adjustable rear shock, beefed up front suspension, and a little extra heft with a claimed dry weight of 335lbs. Surprisingly enough the engine is pretty similar to the old models. That is, with the exception of a new case design and a retune emphasis on mid range power. Of course there is always a sacrifice and the fourth generation Ninja 250 is no different. Kawasaki's reemphasis of mid-range lost 1 peak horsepower when compared to the previous generation. One horsepower doesn't seem like a lot, but on a 28 hp bike that is almost a 4 percent power loss.
One of the greatest things about the Ninja 250 is its abundance of availability. Be it Knoxville, Morristown, the Tri-Cities, or Chattanooga, I can just about guarantee that there will be numerous bikes in our set price range of $2,500 or less that are up for grabs. In the Knoxville area alone (on Craigslist) there are baby Ninjas ranging in price from $595 for a third-generation 1995 model (sans fairing) to a fourth-gen 2008 model in good condition for $2,500. If you are just starting out on a motorcycle and don't want to spend an arm and a leg, it is a good safe bet that you can find a third-generation Ninja 250 for around $1,000ish no matter where you happen to be.
As long as you don't do much dual-sport riding, Kawasaki's smallest Ninja can handle just about anything you throw at it. With its 20+ year track record of high reliability, low cost, and abundance of parts, the value of the Ninja 250 per dollar is perhaps the greatest you get on a two-wheeled vehicle today. Beginner or professional, it is easy for real motorcyclists to appreciate all the Ninja 250 has to offer. After all, there is nothing better than another mashed potato motorbike for the everyday riding man/woman, and the Ninja 250 certainly fits the bill.
Good looks (2008+)
Dated Looks (1986-2007)
16" Wheels (1986-2007)
Lack of Power
SPECS (fourth generation):
Engine Type: Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, parallel twin 249 cc
Carburetor: Keihin CVK30 x 2
Front Tire Size: 110/70-17
Rear Tire Size: 130/70-17
Wheelbase: 55.1 in.
Front Brake: Single 290mm hydraulic disc with two-piston caliper
Rear Brake: Single 220mm petal disc with two-piston caliper
Fuel Tank Capacity: 4.8 gal.
Seat Height: 30.5 in.
Dry Weight: 333 lbs. / 337 lbs. (CA-model)
Overall length: 82.1 in.
Overall width: 28.1 in.
Overall height: 43.7 in.