Kawasaki J300: Scootering’s best-kept secret?
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When you think of Kawasaki Motorcycles, your mind is likely to wander to the KX range of motocross weapons, the World Superbike Championship dominating Ninja series or even the tuatara of the motorcycle world — the KLR650 — crossing continents with ease.
But you don’t usually associate Kawasaki with the popular mid-sized scooter market.
But that’s where we find ourselves as we step through the 2019 Kawasaki J300 — Kawasaki’s tradition-breaking scooter that is more than just the brand’s first foray into the global scooter market.
When it comes to scooters, the practical corner of the motorcycling world often gets shunned by more traditional motorcycles with more sex appeal. But in times when driving a car for your daily commute becomes even more expensive thanks to rising fuel costs, this is the scooter’s time to shine.
The J300 is a substantial option for the entry-level daily commuter with a decent wheelbase of 1555mm and tipping the scales at 191kg. However, because the bike’s engine, fuel tank and other running gear is all held low in the bike, this weight is nearly unnoticeable from the rider’s perspective.
Under the substantially proportioned seat — that offers plenty of real estate for even a passenger — is enough storage to fit a full face helmet and briefcase. However, it would have been nice to have a little more space to accommodate another helmet considering how tempting the large seat is to chauffeur a friend around.
With that said, the storage options of the J300 are reasonable. And, on top of the under-seat storage, is a rear carrier that can be used as well as a sealed glovebox complete with a 12V outlet for charging accessories. The J300 packs in a lot of practicality for $6995.
Despite its sporty Ninja derived styling, the J300 is surprisingly powered by a 299cc single cylinder engine unique to the scooter as opposed to the 296cc parallel twin of the recently replaced 300cc Ninja as I had assumed would power the J300.
While the sound of a single cylinder may be underwhelming compared to that of a modern parallel twin, the performance of the J300 is far from disappointing. With 20.5kW of power and 28.7Nm of torque pushing through a CVT transmission, the J300 has no issues with getting off the mark first in traffic light drag races.
Sure, with the engine pushing power through a CVT transmission to the rear wheel it admittedly takes a few revs before the J300 sets off at pace.
But like firing a rubber band out of your fingers the Kawasaki launches from a stop with the analogue tachometer reading just under 3000rpm. It wasn’t long before I found myself holding the rear brake on while I kept the engine just below the takeoff point while waiting at traffic lights, jumping ahead as soon as the light went green.
Naturally, the CVT transmission can make the J300 feel like you are riding a rubber band-powered bike once you are moving, as you twist the throttle and wait a millisecond for the bike to respond to your request for more go. But once it is delivered, the J300 is fun to ride.
With some scenic backroads at my doorstep, the J300 was put to use for a weekend exploring the stunning Maungatautari mountain.
Even when riding at a brisk pace, thanks to that CVT transmission the J300 gets great fuel economy, with Kawasaki claiming a frugal combined fuel usage.
When we think of the natural habitat of most scooters, the majority are purely designed to be inner-city commuters with little to no regard for open road prowess, however, the J300 is just as comfortable on the open road as it is within our crowded inner-city streets.
While the J300 can boast the usual must-have scooter features such as under seat storage for a helmet and “curry hook”, thanks to that Ninja-inspired fairing the J300 benefits from a decently sized windscreen which deflects the majority of windblast off the rider. That means that the J300 isn’t limited to just the big cities, and is equally at home on the open road.
The only limitation is its small 14in wheels that can find themselves overwhelmed on some of our less well maintained surfaces.
For the money, the J300 offers a lot of value compared to the traditional Vespa-wannabe. With its nearest rival a full $1000 above it, Kawasaki has gifted Kiwi commuters an appealing alternative to the small used imports clogging our main roads.
PRICE: $6995 + on road costs
ENGINE: 299cc single cylinder
PROS: Great fuel economy, decent power, substantial enough to comfortably take a passenger
CONS: Limited underseat storage, unconventional styling for a scooter