2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250 Review Part 4 of 4


This is the final installation of the 2008 Ninja 250 review. It’s been a long ride, but a good one!

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.

2008 Ninja 250 – Ride #4 “Real World” Impressions (Full Anger Mode – & a Miracle)

The new bike was showing about 160 miles on the odometer at the start of the first weekend of riding, as a result of the three 50’ish mile first impression mini test rides that I’d managed to squeeze in during the previous evenings after work.

Fresh oil had been put into the engine at that early mileage mark in an effort to ensure any initial break-in impurities were removed. At this more established stage of ownership, this posting will cover the impressions taken away from a solid 350 miles of “spirited” riding that was done on the local twisty backroads, while enjoying two days of beautiful California winter weather (sunshine, dry roads, and temps nudging into the 70’s).

In keeping with the itemized format previously used for evaluation of the various categories of the new bike; this weekend’s impressions/experiences are again presented in that fashion.

ENGINE:

Subscribing to the school of gotta run an engine, with proper RPM variation and loads on the rings, to properly break it in, the RPM range the engine was worked over the course of this weekend gradually increased over a reasonable working range. No wide-open, 6th gear stuff …. or running it up to redline (13K) … but definitely using the engine the way it was intended to work. It’s still only a seat-o-the-pants dyno impression at this point, but based on having run the new bike on the same combination of twisty backroads (including some with steep uphills) that I’ve sampled for the last 80K miles on my old-generation (2000) Ninja 250, I suspect that in stock emissions-legal trim, the ’08 model is putting out just a tad less peak HP.

The engine runs great through the RPM range, and definitely does a good job of pulling the rider along nicely during general riding, while just cruising her along in the 6-8K range, but that upper RPM “hit” (10K-13K) of the previous generation bike just seems to be slightly soft on the ’08 model. Riding this weekend with the many of the same experienced riders (on their 600-1000cc machines) that I’ve spent time with in the hills in the recent past, while mounted on the old bike, I was able to somewhat gauge where the ’08 bike’s actual performance stacked up. Measuring how hard I had to work the little bike, to blend in with the riding of the folks on their bigger-bore machines, provided some pretty quantitative feedback. The key for optimizing the strengths of the new bike, during this “spirited riding”, was in recognizing that banging downshifts every time the engine dropped below the 11K range is not necessary, or in its best interest.

Letting the upper-midrange (8K-10K) pull the bike along, results in getting down the road in a very efficient manner, at a lot better pace then the lack of screaming engine RPM (of the old bike) might imply. For those looking for the root of the missing top end “hit” of the old bike, I’m not sure where that lies. It may be in the modified cam profile and timing, the new catalytic converter equipped exhaust, emissions-friendly carburetor jetting ….. or some combination? The bottom line however on engine performance, based on 500+ miles of real world riding experience on the new bike, is that this lack of extreme top-RPM “hit” doesn’t make the bike any slower then the old generation machine.

If anything, the added “grunt” of the upper-mid, if utilized smartly by the rider, can result in the ’08 bike running a stronger pace then the old bike. This is true; at least on anything short of taking the bike out on track in a roadracing environment.

CHASSIS/SUSPENSION:

The significantly increased “firmness” of the suspension on both ends of the ’08 bike (compared to the pogo-stick ’88-’07 machines) has already been well noted in the earlier segments of the bike review. On the second day of the weekend riding I had a chance to really put the suspension to a worst-case test out on an incredibly tight/twisty, bumpy, up-n-down rollercoaster style of backroad (“Stage Road”.) in the local Northern California mountains. On the old bike, the “G-Out” dips that reside at the worst possible locations, right at the apex of some challenging downhill corners, used to badly sack the bike’s suspension out.

At a “spirited” pace, this has occurred to the point where the exhaust pipe, shift lever, rear brake lever, side and center stand all touched down to pavement at various times ….. providing a shower of sparks …. and badly upsetting the bike. Not a fun moment!

Recognizing this limitation on the old bike, required a lot of effort on the part of the rider to try to minimize the impact. Keeping the bike as vertical as possible, being on the throttle just prior to (and during) the “G-Out” (to keep the engine working the drive chain through the rear wheel to provide some “anti-squat” assistance), and using a lot of leg-suspension by the rider, were all required. Carving up those very same turns on Sunday, on the ’08 bike, totally changed everything!

The bike has what so far appears to be almost unlimited ground clearance between “hard parts” and the pavement (at least as setup on preload #3 position, and my 170 lb. rider weight).

The combination of the high clearance, and “firm” suspension, resulted in not a single “G-Out” moment ….. despite the pace being (if anything) a bit more “spirited” then most past rides on the old bike. It definitely takes a ton of the stress out of riding the bike briskly on lesser quality roads, where there’s higher demands put on the suspension. Good stuff!

P.S. As hard as it was for me to believe (from what I found over the last 500 miles of riding), experienced riders that take one of these little bikes out in an environment (the track) where “getting a knee down” is commonplace …… are going to find it’s REALLY HARD to touch a puck on this new bike!

The combination of the “firm” suspension (that doesn’t squat under load going into the turns) the taller seat height (and wider), and the higher rearset/footpeg position, keep the ground a long ways away while cornering. This is true even when leaning the bike quite far over (to within a few mm’s of the edge of the OEM rear tire). This capability being a total 180 degree opposite of the “old” (last generation”) bike!

FUEL MILEAGE:

There were some intervals (miles) of riding this weekend where the bike was exclusively being used on a series of very tight/twisty, mostly un-traveled backroads, at a consistently “spirited” pace. Due to the lower speeds of the twisty roads, the bike was being worked a lot in the lower gears, and at higher RPM.

Based on past experience, this form of riding always puts the highest demands on fuel economy. After completing about a 115 mile loop which consisted mostly of this form of riding, a gas fill-up was done to check how thirsty the bike had been in this most demanding form of use. The bike took about 2.5 gallons to fill back up.

This figured out to an average mileage, for that extreme level of riding, of: * 46 MPG (lowest) Pretty amazing mileage (compared to a 600cc+ machine), considering the type of riding!


OVERALL IMPRESSIONS:

A good friend, and weekend riding partner of mine (that happens to also be a very fast local roadracer with about 20 years of experience) joined me on Sunday’s ride. He’s ridden with me many times over the last few years, on his CBR-600 and CBR-1000 Hondas, while I was on the old Ninja 250.

Despite riding with me on the little bike (prior to yesterday) he’s never thrown a leg over a Ninja 250, much less ridden one. After our breakfast stop up at “Alices” restaurant (an infamous sportbikers watering hole at the top of the mountain roads in our area) I offered him a chance to swap bikes for a short test ride during the first stint of our day’s riding.

The good looks of the ’08 Ninja 250 (over the previous generation model) was the carrot that pushed him over his previously shown total lack of interest in riding one of these little 250cc machines. We headed out on an 8 mile stretch of Hwy 35, heading north, to the junction point of our proposed turnoff onto one of the tastier little goat trail roads in our local sportbike riding area (“Tunitas Creek Rd”).

I waved my friend by at the start, to allow him a chance to set the pace to whatever he felt comfortable with ……. as well as to allow me a chance to actually see what the little green bike looked like in action. The first of the twistys started less then a mile up the road, and I was amazed to see that within about 3 turns, his body posture changed dramatically. He went from a “I’m just sitting here cruising along checking out someone else’s bike” ….. to a “lets carve ’em up” mode.

I was grinning ear-to-ear in my helmet as began to see a gap developing between us, as he exited a couple of consecutive tight turns, while dropping into the “spirited” mode. I found myself actually having to get into the throttle a bit on his 600RR, to use the superior power to close things back up again. Wow …….. I couldn’t believe it. He’s REALLY having a blast riding that thing!

This cat-n-mouse continued for the next five miles, with him looking more and more confident, and having more and more fun, as every turn fell behind us. Pulling into parking area at stopping point for our turnoff to the goat trail road, I got off his Honda and walked over to him. He was still sitting in the saddle of the Ninja, and didn’t seem in any hurry to get off. His last comment to me, as we debriefed a bit on the test ride, was “let’s go!. This was accompanied by a head gesture motioning in the direction of the entrance to the road we were about to ride. Apparently he was all set to stay on the little 250, and continue with the fun. Being a bit of a party-pooper (but doing so with a smile) and proud papa, I replied; “If you want to ride one of these little Ninja 250s any more at this point …… you’re just gonna have to buy one of your own”. At that point we swapped bikes back, and headed out for what ended up being another 100 miles of great riding by the end of the day.

The significance of the reaction of my friend, from his brief test riding experience on this new ’08 Ninja 250, cannot be understated. The fact that this particular individual came away with a big smile on his face, really had a blast riding the bike, and commented verbatim after his ride; “One of these bikes would really be a lot of fun for riding on the roads up here!” speaks volumes for the success and recognition that Kawasaki engineers and designers deserve for their work in creating this new generation bike. It only gets better with every ride ……….. can’t wait for each new opportunity! Congratulations Kawasaki …….. “you done good”. I hope you guys sell the _hit out these little bikes. It’d be great to see a lot more riders that are better suited to smaller displacement machines ….. get off the bigger-bore bikes ……… and onto something where they can have a great time, and really learn the art of riding. Happy riding all! Gary S. Jaehne Scotts Valley, California