Kawasaki Ninja 300: Move like a Ninja
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The Kawasaki Ninja is one of the quintessential first bikes, with countless riders having started the career on two wheels on either the early GPX250 Ninja, through to this, the sparkly new Ninja 300 ABS.
As you'd expect, the name refers to the (rounded up) capacity of the motor, a 296cc parallel twin nestled between the steel frame, and it's no slouch despite its 29kW peak power output.
But when it comes to a more experienced rider, can the baby Ninja still make an impression?
Well, yes, I reckon.
Sure, it's not going to win any points for outright grunt, especially if you're of the seemingly predominant mind that bigger is better. But when it comes to our roads, and what you can get away with, you don't need superbike levels of power.
For me, I take silly amounts of pleasure in getting the most out of a motorcycle while also keeping my butt securely out of jail.
This is where bikes like the Ninja come in. With its 296cc parallel twin encased in a compact diamond steel tube frame and bodywork inspired by the hero of the family, the ZX-10, the little Ninja is sporty enough to match the look without you needing to worry about the plod coming down hard on you just around the next bend.
Its 29kW translates to just shy of 39hp in the old money. That's pushed through to the 17 inch 140 section rear tyre via a 6-speed gearbox, so there's plenty of cogs to play with to keep the little engine on song.
It can get up and go decently enough, it only has to push your weight plus its own 172kg, so no need to think it's a slow pig like the 250s so many of us were forced into riding before the advent of LAMS.
Auckland | Wairau Valley
$98.01 p/w $392.05 p/m
It's capable of doing "the ton", while its light weight (when compared to the 250s of the 90s and 2000s) and that 140section rear tyre translate into a wickedly flickable little platform. It's not razor sharp like its big brother ZX, but a friendly little chassis that inspires confidence in the turns.
Swinging a leg over it for the first time I couldn't help but feel that larger riders might struggle with the compact cockpit and reach to the controls, and even at a slightly lower than average height myself, I noticed its small rider's triangle, too.
It felt almost toy-like. Surely, I thought, this can't be a proper bike. That said, it wasn't uncomfortable and was probably exacerbated by the fact I'd just jumped off the roomier Hyosung GT250R we had in the BRM garage at the same time.
With just a 785mm seat height you can pretty much ensure that the little Kwaka is accessible for most riders, with only the tall and gangly likely having anything to worry about from the platform.
On the open road, you can tell this Ninja is quite at home. It can hustle and has a few trick bits to keep it up to date with the rest of the pack.
While our bike has ABS and the cool KRT graphics kit, you can also grab the Ninja 300 without, though for riding on our sometimes testing roads, I'd definitely pay the extra dosh for the added safety ABS brings to the table, beginning rider or not.
Making our way through the Karangahake Gorge, one of Kawasaki's newest additions to its prime learner machine became evident as I quickly downshifted approaching a left hand corner.
The Slip and Assist clutch is a neat bit of kit, especially for learner riders. What it does is add a slipper capability, something usually found only on Supersport or Superbikes until recently, which prevents the rear wheel locking up with ham-fisted downshifts.
The assist function is less noticeable, with the only real difference it makes being a lighter and easier to use clutch lever.
I honestly think you'd have to jump off a previous generation Ninja 250 to notice the difference, but it'll be one of those things that add up to this being a great learner or commuter bike.
Clicking down a couple of gears from top and placing the parallel twin well into its power band releases a pleasing surge of speed up to, and beyond the speed limit. Compared to the 250s I learned on back in the day, the Ninja 300 makes a mockery of the painfully slow, carefully planned overtakes we used to have to endure. Simply click, click and zoom! Another car bites the dust.
Kawasaki Ninja 300 KRT
Pro: ABS, great engine, confident chassis
Con: Feels small