After ruling the 250cc territory for over two decades, the Kawasaki Ninja 250R has finally got a challenger in the form of the new Honda CBR250R. Will it be possible for the old hand Kawasaki to hold its own against the tech-laden young Honda?
Now before we get into the battle of these quarter-litre motorcycles, let’s delve a bit deeper into the popular 250cc segment and find out why the Kawasaki Ninja 250R or previously known as the GPZ-250R until 2007 has ruled this class of bikes since it first turned a wheel back in 1983. Essentially there were two chief reasons that significantly helped the Ninja to remain on top of the game for over two decades – lack of a sporty-looking yet comfortable 250cc sports model and the global focus shifting to high capacity sport models in search of impressive lap times, almost ignoring the average road user.
This made the baby Ninja’s position even stronger in the global motorcycle market as it remained unchallenged through the ages with regular fresh updates to the engine as well as the design. The likes of the Suzuki GSX-R750 and Honda’s CBR900RR Fireblade changed the rules of the motorcycle world in the nineties and that was the era when the super-light and ultra-fast superbikes were born. With all the other motorcycle manufacturers vying for top honours in the supersports (600cc) and the superbike (1000cc) classes, the lower-end of the spectrum was totally ignored. Those who wanted to go up the motorcycling ranks gradually (and might I add, sensibly) but without having to compromise for a rather dull looking street-spec 250, for them the Kawasaki Ninja 250R was an absolute no-brainer.
Push forward to 2011 and the motorcycle industry is waking up to the importance of street-users than only focusing on trackday-goers. The recent global economic slowdown has made it difficult for many to pursue their passion for two-wheels and the obvious as well as the cheapest option is to take it to the street – a little less safe and less fun then, but for an average Joe rider it is certainly more attainable without having to disrupt the monthly budget to fit in a trackday or two. With such a seismic shift in the market trends, it is obvious that the companies will now hunt for a more street-worthy tool than a track scorcher. And when it comes to the streets, a 250cc machine is just the right thing especially for our Indian roads where any of the superbikes make very little sense and there aren’t too many affordable street-friendly middleweights on sale either, yet.
This was reason enough for us to pit two of the current quarter-litre motorcycles in the market, the veteran Kawasaki Ninja 250R which has enjoyed a strong following for over two decades the world over against the spunky young Honda CBR250R, which brings some really exciting technologies to the street like Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) at a phenomenal price advantage that the Ninja cannot match up to. So will the baby-CBR bring an end to the legend of the Ninja or will the Ninja continue its reign? The results are surprising.
Round One Let’s take a look at the new CBR’s design, which is largely borrowed from the big Honda VFR1200F with its chunky front fairing and curvy lines. Honestly, it’s a bit bland from the front, but the CBR certainly has one of the best looking rear-ends in the business. The Ninja on the other hand does not break any new records in styling but still carries a big-bike feel along with its sporty appeal of a middleweight supersport. The Kawasaki is roomier and feels plusher than the Honda, while the CBR is compact and easier to ride thanks to its 5kg deficit over the Ninja and shorter wheelbase. The size and weight difference amongst the two quarter-litre pocket rockets is instantly noticeable and the Ninja definitely feels also bigger one out of the two.
For the street it is important that the ergonomics and seating is comfy for daily use as well as hard-riding and both the bikes do a fantastic job at it. Ninja’s roominess and bigger windscreen make it a worthy long distance tourer but the CBR’s small dimensions and light-weight physique make it that more manageable in the city limits for everyday commute. City is where most of the Indian bikers will ply in and keeping that in mind, the CBR definitely is a better suited product for a larger audience. The Ninja is for the elite motorcyclist who will get on the saddle to enjoy the open roads than commute to work in style. There is nothing wrong with either of the choices – to each, his own. In simpler words, a city biker looking for a 250 will be happier with the seating on the CBR while the long distance rider or the weekend sport-rider will find the ergonomics on the Ninja that much suited.
Round Two On paper, the two bikes might not be very closely matched with the Ninja 250R clearly outshining the CBR20R with its twin cylinder engine layout, 33PS of power output (7PS more than the CBR) and a solid top whack of 160km/h plus. But take them to the streets and the CBR250R lives upto to Honda’s traditional engineering prowess and is quite up there with the old geezer Ninja. The 0-100km/h times on both the bikes are quite closely matched with the Ninja clocking 8.1 seconds while the CBR lacking not too far behind with a 0-100km/h time of 8.6 seconds. Although there is marginally extra torque on the CBR250R – 23.8Nm as against the Ninja’s 22Nm, the Ninja still manages to outrun the Honda in the in-gear acceleration test with the green mean machine taking just 10.9 seconds in the 30-70km/h dash in sixth gear while the Honda clocking 11.5 seconds for the same test.
So on the streets in real world Indian road conditions, both the bikes are quite evenly matched and the only real place where the Ninja outdoes the CBR convincingly is in the top-end performance with an impressive top whack of over 165km/h while the CBR only managing about 152km/h. Both the bikes possess good grunt to cruise at about 100km/h but the CBR definitely feels like its doing more work there than the Ninja which doesn’t feel like its running out of breath till about the speedometer needle touches the 160km/h mark. Both motorcycles employ a six-speed transmission to put down power and the feel from the gearbox is crisp on both the machines with precisely smooth and confident gear shifts. But the clutch on the CBR does feel a bit weak to handle all the clutch-use that is needed on our Indian roads as against the Ninja’s clutch, which feels competent to tackle the oppression due to traffic and later even allow a few burn-outs to vent out the frustration and scare the poor commuters!