The world leader in the small displacement sport bike category came out with what seems like the death blow to all the other players in the small displacement world with their newest Ninja, the EX300. With only Hyosung as a 4-year competitor, and Honda as the new kid on the block, Kawasaki seems to want to play for keeps, matching Fuel Injection and ABS, and raising with 50cc’s. Base model price point is $200 higher than the Honda, for a starting price of $4,799. So, is the smallest ninja the one-two knock-out punch Kawasaki was hoping it would be? Let’s find out:
Key differences between the 250 and the 300:
-Dash: digital speedo, analog rev counter (tachometer), fuel gauge, trip meter, odometer and a plethora of idiot lights including split turn signals to let you know which one you forgot to cancel all give the rider a lot of information to work through initially. This might be intimidating for a newer rider at first, but will prove to be worth every cent in the long run, being that many complaints of the 250 centered around the lack of information on the dash.
– ABS: Add 30lbs and $700 and you get psychological peace of mind that you’ll never crash. This is a good addition for new riders, but with the brakes being what they are on both the 250 and 300, 2 hours in a parking lot practicing panic stops is a lot cheaper, and worth a lot more in the long run. Save your money, get the standard, non-ABS bike, and spend that money on instruction.
-Engine: 296cc, 45cc’s more than on the old 250, with a longer stroke and lower compression ratio, but fuel injection means more torque, the same redline, and 15 more ponies. These factors all come together to produce an engine which we all knew the 250 could have had in 2008, and were so disappointed that it did not. It pulls from around 3,000 rpm’s quite nice, and really wakes up just past 5,000rpm’s, then screams linearly all the way up to red line. This engine is simply beautiful, and it will continue to showered in accolades.
-Slipper clutch: This is a stupid addition. Well, not really. The 250 was known for hopping the back tire during a high-revving miss-matched down shift, which was often required due to the small engine size and need for higher RPM’s everywhere. However, to one who is used to the regular old skool clutch it is too light, with a travel that is much too long, and not quite responsive enough. It’s difficult to feel when it first grabs, causing either stalls at pull-outs, or jerks while shifting. At times, it seemed significantly easier to shift without the use of the clutch all together – very smooth and quick, as long as you stayed off the gas for the right amount of time. Newer riders might appreciate this feature however, so each person should decide on test-ride.
Fuel Injection: Mentioned in the engine section, but ZOMG, this is HUGE! For flatlanders, fair weather riders, and most other people this isn’t such a big deal, but for those few brave souls who ride even when the thermometer goes south of 32F, or those who climb through a few thousand vertical feet over the course of an afternoon mountain canyon ride, this new additions bears a second and much more emphatic mention. Thank you Kawasaki for finally putting this on the 300!
The 300 is everything the 250 should have been, in every way. It feels smaller than the 250, which might mostly be psychological since the 300 uses the same frame, handlebars, and footpegs that the 250 did. The riding position is the exact same on both – upright, comfortable, with a short reach to the bars, and leaving taller rider’s legs cramped and knees bumping against the same gas tank edges as on the 250.
The 300 keeps the reputation of the 250’s insane flickability and superb handling well intact due to its light weight and small everything. A 110/70-17 tire up front makes turn in quick and light. A wider 140/70-17 in the rear means a little more meat to smear on the road in a healthy lean. Brakes could be sharper, but when there is so little, what’s the point in scrubbing off any speed? In this case, less is more, and the brakes matched to it are more than adequate. With the power increase, the 300 can now drive out of corner’s with some authority, instead of forcing the rider to hope and pray that speed will increase after the twist of the throttle. The 300 also reaches 85mph remarkably fast, and can easily sustain freeway speeds, including having enough power to pass. It seems to be able to top 100mph, but this wasn’t tested, nor would we know if it’s accurate, unless of course Kawasaki adjusted the speedo to be much more accurate than the previous 250’s.
The speedo sensor now drives off the counter shaft sprocket, instead of the front wheel, making it more difficult to convert the bike to GP shift, but the addition of proven, contemporary technology is to be smiled upon. Along with this, the boat anchor of a muffler has been discarded in favor of an updated, restyled, lighter and much better sounding exhaust. The 300 still sounds a little anemic, but not completely like an asthmatic sewing machine. Considering a stock ~40hp, the need for an aftermarket muffler is almost negligible.
Having put just over 60,000 miles on my 2008 Ninja 250, I had plans to modify it right off the show room floor. It didn’t have enough power, brakes, or an aggressive enough riding position. It had room for improvement in all those areas. The 300 however only seems to suffer from 2 of these, and if I wasn’t quite so tall, it wouldn’t suffer from any of them. Smaller riders will find the bike fits very well, taller than 5’9″ will find it small. However, if the 300 existed 4 years ago, I wouldn’t have spent a single minute modifying it, trying to build it into something more, I would just have kept riding and riding and riding. Kawasaki accomplished something magnificent with the new 300. They built a motorcycle which is excellent for beginners and which has enough to keep them riding well into intermediate and even expert territory. Honda and Hyosung would simply be silly to keep trying to dance with this one. They’re liable to land on their backs, with little ducks spinning above their heads. This isn’t just a nose-bleed folks, the new Kawasaki Ninja EX-300 is a solidly delivered, single knock-out punch that will ring victory after victory. Don’t mess with the mini-ninja. When it comes to light weight, you will end up second.
Note for Kawasaki – if you’re looking for anybody to thoroughly long-term test the 300, you have one volunteer right here!
HUGE Shout-out to Rocky Mountain Kawasaki in Longmont, CO for the test ride. These guys rock. Ask for Doug on the sales floor, he’s a fantastic individual and sales rep who will listen to you, and help you find exactly what you’re looking for! If you are interested in a 300, get your orders in quick, limited numbers will be going to each dealership, and they’re gonna fly off the show-room floors.