2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250 Review Part 2 of 4
Now is the long awaited second part in the 4 part review of the all new 2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250.
Part 1 was more of an easy going ride, but we all knew that wouldn’t last long.
For this ride Gary starts to open the bike up a bit more and tests the limits of the suspension. Stay tuned for Parts 3 and 4 where Gary takes the bike to even more extreme lean angles and higher rev limits!
The 2008 Ninja 250 is the bike everyone is talking about this year since it has received a MAJOR face lift from the engineers at Kawasaki.
Best Beginner Motorcycles was lucky enough to catch up with Gary Jaehne, the author of Sportbiking – The Real World: The Advanced Riders Handbook and Sportbiking – The Real World 2: Rider and Bike Tuning Handbook. Gary Recently purchased one of the ’08 Ninja 250s and has written a 4 part ride report of his experience.
- Part 1 – First 50 Mile Ride
- Part 2 – Ridden in Anger
- Part 3 – Looking for Nits
- Part 4 – Full Anger Mode & a Miracle
2008 Ninja 250 – Ride #2 “Real World” Impressions (Ridden in Anger)
With yesterday’s take-it-easy, get to know the bike, first 50 mile break-in ride on the new ’08 Ninja 250 now in the history books, today’s mission was to raise the bar a few notches on the riding …. and see what shook out at the next level. I’ve been home a few hours since the ride, yet the ear-to-ear grin still hasn’t gone away. What can I say …… but OMG ……… I LOVE this friggin little bike …… and ….. I want to race this bike!!!! To begin, here’s a little background on the flavor of today’s 2nd ride on the new bike, where I put in another 50+ miles on more of the best tight and twisty local roads up in the Santa Cruz mountains.
The overall pace was definitely a lot quicker today. The speeds however, especially in the straights, were still kept conservative, and the RPM at which the engine was ridden was kept in the sub-10K range (of a 13K redline). The focus was in running the bike much harder through the tight and twisty turns, with the goal for working the tires, suspension and chassis to a much more demanding level. In the 1st-Ride report, I mentioned that one of the areas of the new Ninja 250’s behavior that had raised a flag slightly for me, was the overall “firmness” of the bike’s suspension …… front and rear.
Yesterday’s initial break-in pace was much more mellow then a normal backroad Sunday ride. As a result, I recognized the bike’s suspension was not being worked very hard, and was wishing really hard that the suspenders would “come into their own”, once the pace was picked up to a more spirited level. Sometimes you wish, and it will come true. Today was one of those days!
The firm spring rates and damping on the bike really showed their merits when I began pushing harder on the bike. Literally the harder I pushed the bike’s chassis going into, and through, the turns…. the more supple, planted, and confidence inspiring the bike felt. It was incredibly good! As the bike was called upon to strut-its-stuff, every aspect of the machine seemed to peel off its Clark Kent exterior, and scream out ……. “Let’s Fly!” Before I get any more carried away in enthusiasm, let me get back on track by picking up the itemized list of evaluation points format that I’d originally used in the first test ride report. I’ll simply bring back the key items from the original evaluation list where the bike really shined today, when “ridden in anger” ….. and expound on each category with today’s impressions. Here you go.
Electing to still keep the engine well below the real power curve (that lies in the upper 3,000 RPM) on today’s 2nd ride on the new bike, I’m still in a holding pattern on being able to provide an honest old bike vs. new bike evaluation in this category. Stay tuned, as that final page should be coming after just a few more miles post up on the odometer.
The only feedback I can share from today’s ride, is that the engine definitely responded favorably to the extra 3-4K RPM that was explored. You could tell that it was very happy to be called upon to begin flowing more air through the little cylinders. I have no doubt there’ll be more good stuff to come when the upper range of the engine’s speed is tested.
Riding the previous generation Ninja 250 on stock suspension always demanded a lot of attention from the rider when upping the pace. Constantly trying to minimize the amount of work the suspension was being asked to do, by doing as much of the work as possible by the rider, was the key to not bottoming out, dragging hard parts on the pavement, and generally having a buckboard of a ride. Glad to be able to report that those days are gone on the ’08 Ninja 250!
The suspension is so firm and supportive that I found myself doing everything I could to consciously put the bike in a position where it would be doing as much of the work as possible. The more of the cornering forces, and pavement elevation change forces, that I directed right into the forks and shock, the more supple, and the more planted things felt. The key seemed to be getting enough weight on the suspension to put it down into the sweet-spot of its working travel. This was especially true of the front forks.
Personally, I love to ride a bike that has a front suspension that is firm enough that it demands you put a lot of weight forward on the bike while cornering; and yet will not penalize you by bottoming out as a result. The new Ninja 250’s forks behaved exactly in this manner on today’s ride. I sometimes refer to this behavior as a bike that likes to be ridden into the turns a bit like a “unicycle”, with a large percentage of the overall bike/rider weight over the front wheel. The bike did awesome when ridden this way today.
The #3 position that the rear shock preload is set at on my bike, confirmed itself on today’s more spirited ride to definitely be the best setting for my 170lb. rider weight. Turns in nice, holds a line, and is still rock stable. Can’t beat that! One take-away from the feedback of the bike’s suspension, as a result of riding the bike at the two different levels over the last two days, was that this bike will reward riders that have the skill (and desire) to work the bike hard ….. and will be less user-friendly (then the previous generation Ninja 250) on anything but smooth roads, for less experienced and/or aggressive riders.
I was absolutely blown away by the stability and precision that the bike showed today at the more spirited pace! The bike truly behaves as one entity, with zero front/rear “disconnect” (side-to-side movement) that is often seen on other bikes. I was just shaking my head in the unbelievable accuracy that the bike displayed in following the exact line that I wanted at every moment, almost as if it had telepathy, and was reading my mind. Honestly, I’ve never ridden any other bike that gave me a level of confidence that I could put it within fractions of an inch of where I wanted it go, every moment.
Racing one of these new ’08 Ninja 250’s will be a total hoot, as making totally clean passes in tight quarters, where it hardly seems possible (at least if on a regular full-sized 400lb sportbik) will surely be on the menu. How a bike responds when the front brake is trailed into a turn is often a good measuring stick on the overall success achieved by the Engineers in designing the overall package. If that form of test was used to evaluate the new Ninja 250, it would pass with flying colors!
Unlike some bikes that tend to “stand up” when trailing the front brake deep into corners, this bike absolutely shines. The front end just feels even more planted, the more loading that the trail braking generates. Totally neutral, with the bike maintaining the exact line you’re asking for. There’s no question this little $3,500 bike could humble a lot of the high-dollar, big-bore sportbikes I’ve ridden, when it comes to late braking and slicing into a tight turn. David and Goliath ……. bring ’em on.
Due to the confidence that develops in the “firmness” and competence of the bike’s suspension, I found myself a lot less prone to shifting my body off the bike for cornering … compared riding done on the previous generation Ninja 250. Staying a lot more “on top of the bike”, and letting the bike (and suspension) work underneath me, seemed just right in most situations. I think this aspect will make the new bike a lot less physically demanding on a rider, when navigating the bike through twisty roads.
The precision and effortless shifting up or down between gears, continued to impress me. The shifting is so perfect that it’s almost like a semi-automatic transmission. One of the benefits proved to be the lack of demand on the rider’s attention that is spent on shifting this bike. The shifts occur right on cue, with so little effort, that the extra unused attention is available for focusing on more important things while carving up the corners.
Delaying longer before slowing down for turns today, resulted in calling on the brakes to begin working harder. As a result, I began to truly appreciate the much-improved firmness and feel that’s transmitted through the front brake lever (compared to the previous generation bike). I didn’t experience any signs of brake fade, or lever travel increase, despite working the front brake without much rest (due to a lot of trail braking), when making the run through the turns on some steep downhill’s today. The pads and rotors appear to have begun to “bed-in” at this point, with the level of initial bite noticeably improved from yesterday’s first-ride.
It’s really hard to believe that the ’08 Ninja 250 is a “heavier” bike (over the old model), when moving down the road at any speed. The bike felt almost like an extension of my own body …….. as if I was just flying along on a rail. Regardless of what a scale would say, when you’re riding this bike, it feels very light and narrow compared to likely anything ridden before ….. short of 125cc/250cc two-stroke GP bike.
Based on bike feedback from yesterday’s ride, I went with my plan to drop the tire pressure before heading out today. I went with 25 PSI (cold), in both front and rear. I think this was a good decision, as I noticed a couple of positive effects:
- It softened up a bit of the “harshness” that was being transferred into the bike’s chassis, on the rough/bumpy surfaces
- The tires seemed to have a higher level of “grip” with the pavement; on both rough or smooth pavement
I’m quite impressed with the Bridgestone BT-45 tires that came stock on the bike. Despite being pretty narrow, they haven’t slipped once unexpectedly, over what’s now been over 100 miles of backroad riding. Inspecting the tires at the end of today’s ride, showed that the rear tire had touched pavement to within a couple of millimeters of the edge, with the front being used a bit less ……with about 4mm’s of virgin rubber remaining.
One of the biggest limitations and shortcomings of the previous generation Ninja 250, was “dragging hard parts” due to the combined effects of limited ground clearance (footpegs, centerstand, exhaust pipes, etc) and overall squishy suspension that would easily use up all of its travel. This aspect of the ’00 Ninja 250 that I’ve logged over 80K miles on, has been the most demanding on me as a rider when trying to enjoy riding the less-smooth backroads at a fun pace. Thankfully with the new ’08 Ninja 250 those days (and worries) are over!
The combination of the nicely tucked up single muffler, higher footpeg and lower control positioning, and a vastly improved level of support from the firmer suspension components, have done a great job in addressing this problem. I’m anxious to see what degree of lean angle the bike is going to be capable of achieving, before anything touches down (when ridden in the right environment, at the track).
CONCLUSION – RIDE #2:
The impressions after getting in a second day of brief test riding on the bike …… and doing so while pushing things a bit further? Was I still impressed? Hell yes!!! It was only getting better each time out. I figured that if things continued to get incrementally better at the same rate as they have so far over every 50 miles of riding on this new ’08 Ninja 250, I should reach total riding nirvana in about another 100 miles!