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Kawasaki's 39 horsepower Ninja 300 bonsai superbike


September 6, 2012

Ninja 300 Kawasaki

Ninja 300 Kawasaki

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Kawasaki's best-selling motorcycle is not the lightning fast Ninja ZX-10R litre sports bike, the only Japanese bike still in the race for the World Superbike Championship. Nor is it the company's 200 mph ZX-14R Ninja projectile. Ironically, it's the diminutive Ninja 250 which translates the performance DNA of the brand into a more practical and affordable "learners" bike with definite sporting aspirations.

On the fortieth anniversary of the bike which changed everything (the original 900cc Z1 superbike), Kawasaki has announced a 300cc version of its entry-level, four-stroke, parallel-twin Ninja 250R, and those sporting aspirations have been comprehensively realized.

A significant redesign of the 250 was recently announced for the Japanese marketplace after three decades of incremental improvement and the new 300 gets all those features, plus an extra 50cc.

Most significantly, the engine is entirely new, and although the stroke is only slightly longer, the power output of the new liquid-cooled, DOHC, 8-valve, fuel-injected parallel twin is claimed to be 29 kilowatt or 38.9 horsepower - that's roughly a 20% increase in power over the current Ninja 250 and puts it into the same performance envelope of the thinly-disguised two-stroke quarter liter racer-roadsters of not-long-ago ... and instead of the hydrocarbon-broadcasting, ecological disasters of yesteryear, we now have finely-tuned, fuel-injected, responsive and squeaky clean engines which the other ASEAN motorcycle manufacturers will not be able to match, at least not in the foreseeable future.

Both the new Ninja 250R and Ninja 300 are clearly aimed at Honda's sweet single-cylinder CBR250R which has taken significant market share from the Ninja in many important "monied" marketplaces since its release.

It's not surprising that the Honda CBR250R should draw such an aggressive response from Kawasaki - just as prestige automotive brands provide entry-level vehicles to introduce aspiring enthusiasts to their brand, the emergence of dozens of Chinese and Korean brands has now elevated the Japanese establishment into the utmost upper strata of motorcycledom.

Accordingly, Honda and Kawasaki are fighting over what they perceive as long-term customers, so the prestige/horsepower war that has traditionally been fought with flagship four-cylinder liter-plus models has now being escalated to Defcon 1 in the lower, entry-level classes.

A quick perusal of the specifications reveals a completely new motorcycle - new motor, new induction, new frame, new suspension, new brakes, new wheels, and a superbike class feature set - many of the features which sell liter-bike supersport machinery have been added to the bonsai Ninja.

Apart from the massive horsepower boost, clumsy agricultural carburettors have been replaced with finely calibrated, second-generation fuel-injection, and features which have only recently become available on superstock contenders have been added to the mix - a 290mm petal-disk, twin-caliper brake, advanced suspension, and astonishingly, a slipper clutch.

The slipper clutch was derived to mitigate the engine braking of high compression racing four-strokes on the entry into corners on the racetrack ... and not all that long ago.

Apart from adding unnecessary stress on the engine, chain, clutch and gearbox, the dysfunctional stress of engine braking unsettled the bike on corner entry, and getting a bike into a corner on the limits no longer required the additional effects of engine braking as the rear disk brake had more than enough power and feel to provide optimum retardation. What was once a bonus on big four-stroke singles with anemic drum rear brakes had become a problem and the slipper clutch was the answer.

Such invention is less than a quarter century old at the elite level of motorsport, so whether it's warranted on an entry-class machine is debatable – we'll reserve judgement on the need for a slipper clutch on such a small free-revving engine until we've ridden one. Whilst it sounds like a minor case of overkill, it may be just another refinement on the way to the perfect motorcycle for riders who have not yet developed the feel to push a motorcycle to its limits.

The ABS (anti-lock braking system) is claimed to be significantly more sophisticated, and a new more rigid diamond frame, revised suspension, a wider 140 mm rear tire, better heat management (to direct hot air away from the rider), plus a range of features from larger Ninja and ZZR models such as a ZX-10R-style floating windscreen, dual headlights similar to the Ninja ZX-6R, a ZZR1400-style fairing and wheel design, aluminum foot-pegs and a silencer shaped much more like the bigger Ninja models (and far more advanced in its design.)

There's also a completely new instrumentation package, with an analogue-style tachometer, a multi-function LCD including fuel gauge, dual trip meters, clock, and an "Economical Riding Indicator."

The new Kawasaki Ninja 300 will be available at Kawasaki dealerships later this month or next. Different colors and specifications will be available in different markets, but for now, we're aware of Pearl Stardust White, Ebony or Special Edition Lime Green liveries, and some markets will get ABS as standard, while others will get them as optional. Pricing has not yet been announced.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, Telstra.com.au (Australia's largest Telco), Seek.com.au (Australia's largest employment site), top100.com.au, hitwise.com, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon

The 300 Ninja has a lot of potential to be a home run. People tend to buy the 250 as a starter bike and outgrow them into something else on the opposite side of the spectrum like a 110 HP 600 super sports in part because they don't want to go from the 250 to something that weighs 600 lbs.

The new 300 could be the perfect fit for a lot of people because it could challenge the (nearly) Status quo of buying one bike to learn on and another one for after that.


Engine braking is not quite the dysfunctional problem described in the article. My KLR 650 can be engine braked without fuss to a near stop. I use brakes for traffic conditions but on the open road my engine does most of the braking. I ride hard but my 2004 bike is running like a top and never had a bolt turned on the engine.

Guy Macher

@Guy "on the open road my engine does most of the braking"

That is kind of the point though and the KLR has a 9.8:1 compression ratio vs my 12.9:1 so without a slipper clutch the bike would decelerate quickly when I let off the throttle and I have brakes for when I don't. It makes for a smoother ride and helps stay more neutral in the corners.


Woot!! The main reason I was planning on getting a cbr250 instead of a ninja 250 is because the ninja did not have ABS. Now I think I will get a Ninja 300, after I take a look at some reviews of the bike. This bike is really getting me excited.


Hell, why not just make it a 650 ?

Martin Hone

@Martin, the 650 is 100 lbs, $3000, and 40 HP more than the 250 and gets 20 MPG less mileage. It is overkill.


The Honda is still the better looker.


according to Kawasaki's website, the Ninja 250's curb weight is 374 pounds. If the 300 is the same, or possibly less due to the redesigned engine, 40 hp would be a lot of fun in such a light bike, plus the fuel economy with the fuel injection is sure to be excellent. Unless you're planning on taking passengers and/or carrying a lot of cargo, or if you weigh 300 pounds, this would be a great bike for just about anyone.


Just an FYI... the slipper clutch is more than 25 years old, and was used on Honda's 1981/82 FT500 Ascot, an entry level bike, and has been used elsewhere. Great technology-yes, new to this market level- nope, and not by 30 years or so.

Mike Barnett

Mrtin. Why should they make it 650 because they make Kawasaki Ninja zx-6r 636? Very nice bike with 130+ horsepower but more expensive and maybe not so good learner bike.

Risto Penttinen

Sometimes a lightweight bike that you have to ring out to go fast is the best fun. It makes you "feel" as though you are going faster. Combine that with great mpg and ABS and I think you have a winner. 100 in 2nd gear and in 5 seconds is fun but most of the time extreme and not necessary. I've been waiting for Honda to come out with a 350 (or so) cbr but this new Ninja may just fit the bill.

Harry 'O

As a two-stroke off-road rider, I object to your calling them "the hydrocarbon-broadcasting, ecological disasters of yesteryear".

The 1985 Honda 400F was about the same power (a tad more) and just about identical in weight. That was an inline four cylinder and raced well against the famous Yamaha RD 350 but the Honda had better manners. The Kawasaki Triple 350 two strokes were a bit rare but might compare well with these new bikes and they were on the streets prior to 1975. Considering modern prices and the repair costs on these machines I'm not so certain that they are a wise buy although they would certainly be enjoyable. I wonder if the older bike designs could be restored using modern fuel injection and ignitions. They might actually be every bit as good as today's bikes and in some ways better. Jim Sadler

My 1992 250cc Suzuki Bandit weights the same (170 kg) and makes more power 45 hp. I don't understand why these modern small capacity engines are underpowered when compared to the late 80's early 90's bikes? No more 4 cylinders either?

Craig Smale

Just went to the Long beach Motorcycle Show today. I went because I wanted to be able to have a sit on the 300 without some annoying Stealer..er.. I mean "Dealer" breathing down my neck.

The sit was goooood! I expected the seat to just be a brutally hard butt-pad sorta thing but it actually was quite comfortable. I was shocked. And I was easily able to reach down over to the rear subframe member and pickup the rear of the bike with ease pivoting off my knee. It actually felt lighter than my KX500 (even though it's not)! When my one and only son was born. I sold my FZ1 because I realized how much I would habitually push it on that bike and decided to go back to a Honda PC800 since I used to have one before. I like the PC800 and I have it for the few times a year when I have to commute into LA from OC for work. But she's a big ol' girl and takes up a lot of real estate in my garage. And quite frankly after I put on the taller Rifle windscreen (which is super nice for commuting) the PC's mileage dropped to just under 40mpg with my riding style and that extra wind resistance. So now I'm seriously considering selling the PC800 to pickup either a Ninja 300 or a Honda CBR500. The idea being to not have such a big bike in the garage, and get back to a sportier riding experience. And on both of those bikes the sitting position was only slightly forward at all. I felt these bikes would be no problem on my wrists. (I'm a programmer so type a lot so it's a concern for me). Just figured I'd chime in with my notes for those considering the bike like I have been.

Gary Hart

Owned a 200 a long time ago which would scare you. 2 cycle Demon. If this approaches that performance Kawasaki will sell a zillion.


"the engine is entirely new, and although the stroke is only slightly longer, the power output of the new liquid-cooled, DOHC, 8-valve, fuel-injected parallel twin is claimed to be 29 kilowatt or 38.9 horsepower - that's roughly a 20% increase in power over the current Ninja 250 and puts it into the same performance envelope of the thinly-disguised two-stroke quarter liter racer-roadsters of not-long-ago ..."

Where did you get that idea? Those two-stroke 250s of not long ago had about 60 hp and about 50kg less weight.

That is NOT the same performance envelope, it's not even the same postal service.

Christopher des Baux

Having ridden the 300 Ninja, as well as the earlier 250 Ninja and the original GPX250, as well as the CBR250 single, several versions of Hyosung 250 as well as the 650 twins from Hyosung, Kawasaki and Suzuki, and all the older 250cc two-stroke twins, plus many of the 250 and 400cc fours, may I add some observations? First: IGNORE peak power figures. That is what we call "brochure horsepower" - as in it looks good in the brochure. It's the torque curve that gives you a better idea of real world usability (rather than fantasy land dreams). I would rather ride a CBR250 single or a 300 Ninja than row around in the gearbox of a 250cc four waiting for the power to arrive. Those things were almost as exciting as a blender, and if you think of their gearbox as the 'beat, chop, whip' selector, you will get the idea. Heaps of revs, a screaming engine, and... 50 km/h. Sure, if you found a looooong straight you would probably exceed the top speed of the 250 single, but it would be a damn looong wait. The last of the 250cc two-strokes? Exciting? Hell yes? Practical - hell NO! You would not want to ride one for two or three days back-to-back but you could thoroughly enjoy riding a CBR250 single or a 300 Ninja all day. Naturally, you would be riding on winding roads, but then, who (apart from some Harley and Gold Wing owners) wants to putt along the Super Slab all day? The new Honda CBR500 looks interesting, but if Kawasaki's next update of the 300 Ninja was to take the displacement to 375cc, they could produce a bike 25 kg lighter than the Honda and with around the same sort of power curve. If it was still $1200 cheaper, then it would definitely be a case of keeping the Good Times Rolling.

The Baron

the most powered superbike which has overtaken the rulers called cbr 250,150 and even it rides awesome than rc series....

Chirag Gowda
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