2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250 Review Part 3 of 4
Like a one-two punch I am releasing part 3 of this review just a day after part 2.
During this ride Gary throws off his rose colored glasses and looks deep down for any problems with the brand new 2008 Ninja 250. Will these new found ‘nits’ outweigh all of the benefits of the new ninja? Only one way to find out!
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 #3 “Real World” Impressions (Looking for Nits)
Recognizing that there’s nothing perfect in the real world, including motorcycles, I decided to dedicate yesterday’s ride to the process of looking beyond the sunshine and blue skies of taking ownership and riding a new bike ….. and focus all my attention on digging deep beneath the shiny new paint, and looking to identify the “nits” (e.g. shortcomings).
Being a budget-priced bike, there’s no question that some compromises needed to be made when Kawasaki was going to the parts bin to spec out individual components for the ’08 Ninja 250.
That’s the reality of life. You can only get so much, for so much money. Cartridge forks, fully adjustable shock, and complex computer controlled fuel injection systems just don’t come cheap. In keeping with the easy-to-digest itemized by category format of the earlier postings, for providing real world riding impression feedback, I’ll use that method for sharing the results of the “nits finding” mission from today’s ride. For those interested, please reference the following:
During the bulk of the 50+ miles that I put on the bike this evening, the riding was done while carving up some lightly traveled twisty backroads. Thanks to the open roads, the majority of those miles were spent at a moderately “spirited” pace, with the engine working mostly in the 7-10K range. In this mid-upper RPM range the fuel delivery, and resultant throttle response, had proven to be quite good. As a result, I had begun to come to the impression that all was rosy in the world of the carbureted USA model of the ’08 Ninja 250.
Normally getting stuck following traffic at a significantly sub-speed limit pace isn’t a good experience. However on the last few miles of yesterday’s ride, while on the last leg coming home, being subjected to this kind of riding environment proved to be a very valuable experience in the quest for uncovering the “nits” of the new bike. This “nit” appears in the form of a “hiccup” (momentary power lag, followed by a snatch as it kicks in again) when going from total off-throttle position, to just cracking the throttle back on again …… in approximately the 4,500 – 6,000 RPM range …… especially noticeable in the lower (3rd/4th, etc) gears.
While following closely being a train of cars in front of me (at around 30-35 MPH), every time they would go through their unexpected cycle of slowing and speeding up again, and I was forced to go to zero throttle and then come back into it again, I’d get a momentary “snatch” as if the bike lost fuel, and then had it turned back on again like a light switch. No matter how smooth I was on the throttle movement, as long as going all the way to zero throttle position was part of the off/on sequence (while in this RPM range), I’d get the “snatch”.
I experimented and found a work-around, which was to consciously keep just a small amount of throttle opening during those moments I was needing to slow for the traffic, and work the brakes slightly against the very light throttle to achieving the needed slowing. By keeping the carburetors off of their total zero idle circuits, and minimal butterfly/slide opening positions, it seemed to avoid this “bad spot”.
I suspect that the reason for this behavior can be traced back to the testing processes used by the government regulatory agencies for meeting the current strict level of emissions outputs that the bike had to meet for 2008. Likely the carburetors are setup extremely “lean” in that specific RPM range, as a necessity in meeting those standards. The penalty for meeting the emissions compliance materializing in the form of the stock bike exhibiting this “nit”; for new owners. Not a big deal, and likely can be addressed by creative carburetion tweaks …. but a “nit” none the less that should be noted in the effort of trying to provide an un-biased account of the bike for those potentially considering ownership.
SUSPENSION: (Damping Rates/Behavior)
I’d previously noted that both ends of the bike’s suspension has an extremely “firmer” feel to it, especially in comparison to the previous generation Ninja 250’s. This “firmness” is a welcome characteristic when the bike is being ridden in a spirited fashion …. at times when the road surface is not excessively rough, bumpy, or in overall poor condition.. That’s the “perk” side of this. The “nit” side is that this firmness in the compression direction (spring preload, spring rates, high-speed compression damping) definitely makes the bike less happy when the roads get bad.
The behavior materializes in the form of having the tires prone to “skittering” (momentarily losing, and regaining, traction) over really rough pavement. The more conservatively the pilot is riding the bike, the more noticeable (and more of a “nit”) this behavior will be. This will be more of a factor for less experienced riders, where the previous generation Ninja 250 had a bit like a “comfy couch” feel (due to really squishy/soft suspension). The behavior associated with this aspect of the suspension on the ’08 model will be something they’ll see when riding on real world roads.
This was an area where the previous generation Ninja 250 was SERIOUSLY lacking; at least the front forks. A “pogo-stick” was the best way to describe how the stock forks on the earlier bikes performed. It’s great to see that this historic, nearly non-existent rebound damping has been addressed by Kawasaki in the ’08 model. Unfortunately the budget price of the bike didn’t allow for the use of modern technology style suspenders. As result, the Engineers had to accomplish the additional damping using limited tools. The outcome is that the old-school “damping rod” style suspension is still WAY better then the old bike ….. but not without “nits”.
Statically testing the rebound damping in the garage, when I’d first got the bike, had already showed me that the amount (non-user adjustable) of damping (how slow it bounces back up) was slower then I would have preferred. The forks actually weren’t too far off, being pretty close to where I’d want them to be if I had an adjuster to turn. The rear shock was the primary culprit in this “too much damping” category. It should be noted that my bike has less then 200 miles on the odometer, so things are still in the process of “breaking in”. It’s possible that the shock’s rebound damping may loosen up a bit once it’s got more miles on it? We’ll just have to wait-n-see.
Recognizing this “too much rebound” characteristic of the suspension, and consciously keeping it in mind while out on the road test riding the bike, I anticipated areas on the road where I’d likely see the impact. The places where it ultimately surfaced in the most recognizable form, was when taking a few corners that were located at the crest of “uphill” rises. I found that the rear tire wanted to get a bit “light” (lose grip with the pavement) at those moments.
This was due to the unweighting effects of the pavement surface dropping away over the crest, and the rear shock not responding quickly enough to cause the swingarm to drop down at a rate where the rear tire would maintain maximum grip ….. in tracking with the road surface. It should be noted that it took riding the bike at what would be considered a VERY spirited pace (not top speed, but just cornering level for the tight/narrow backroads) in these spots, for a significant enough impact of the excessive rebound damping of the rear shock to become a fully recognizable event. Though the rebound damping is definitely not without flaw on either end of the bike (what you pay, is what you get typically, when it comes to suspension), I suspect that during the level of riding that most owners will do with the little Ninja 250, it won’t be greatly noticed while out on the road.
GENERAL – FUEL ECONOMY:
Prior to taking off on last night’s ride, I deliberately “topped off” the gas tank. The goal being to be able to get an initial feel for the fuel usage (MPG) of the ’08 model bike. The ride consisted of a mixture of approximately the following:
- 80% “Spirited” tight/twisty backroad riding (7-10K range)
- 20% city street in-traffic riding
In topping off the gas tank again (from a gas jug), upon arriving at home, the bike took right around 1 gallon to bring back to the pre-ride level. With the ride being about 55 miles today, it worked out easy to see the approximate average mileage (55 MPG) the bike had returned on this mixture of riding. As is so often said ….. “your mileage may vary”.
CONCLUSION – RIDE #3 – “Nit Hunting”
The limited number of items that surfaced, despite this being a very deliberate “nit hunting” mission, shone well on the ’08 Ninja 250. A pretty small list; from a $3,500 motorcycle! Hopefully digging out these “nits” from the recent real world riding experiences with this new bike, and sharing them in this Real World review, will be of some value for other potential owners (or eventual owners).