My green Ninja 250 R will be completing one year this month. In the initial period of purchase I could not ride it as much as I wanted to, since I have a bad back which keeps reminding me of its existence. When it raises its head, the doctors are the first to say “no biking”. This has meant that for the first six months of its existence it was not ridden too much. There were many who wanted to ride it, but I made sure that no one rode it for more than a couple of kilometres since I am very possessive about it. Right from my childhood (and I am now firmly ensconced in middle age) I have had a passion for Kawasaki bikes. I remember my friends surreptitiously looking at female nudes in a very difficultly procured copy of Playboy and I would be quite happy and content with looking at the “Kawabunga” ads that featured Kawasaki bikes.

With age my passion for biking and for Kawasaki bikes increased exponentially and my first Kawasaki was the KB -100, which I loved very much, even when everybody was writing it off. I could beat many RX-100 riders with it. Those were the follies of youth. I would not recommend that to anyone now, the racing on streets that is. Later I pretty much bought all the bikes that Bajaj launched in collaboration with Kawasaki; the 4S, the Caliber etc. Please don’t let this make you believe that I will be biased in my reportage of all things Kawasaki. Far from it, I can give you a pretty accurate picture of what the Ninja is, objectively.

The last few months, I have been riding the Ninja almost every day though not over very long distances. The first thing to understand about the Ninja is that it can even be used as a commuter, provided you are not going to be stuck in traffic over long periods. Let me explain that. The Ninja is a parallel twin, liquid cooled, double overhead camshaft engine motorcycle. This means that it has a radiator but no fan to cool it. So it needs oncoming air to cool the radiator and the engine. If you are stuck in traffic there is no oncoming air and you can see the engine heat climbing slowly. In such instances the best thing to do would be to turn the engine off and wait for the traffic to move before cranking it on again. It comes only with a self starter and no kick starter option is provided. This means that the battery will have to be taken care of properly. Another reason why the battery will have to be looked after is that the headlight of the bike in the low beam configuration is always switched on and the rider cannot switch it off. This is because the bike is built to European safety regulations which insist on the lights being switched on all the time. So now you know the philosophy behind the LED lights on the Audi’s and more recently Mercedes Benz cars. However, in India this feature is a nuisance since everybody on the road tells you that your light is on.

Now coming to the engine characteristics. It develops 33 PS of power as per the manufacturer’s specifications mentioned in the manual and is mated to a six speed one down-five up pattern gearbox that only lets you shift gears with your toes. While on the subject of the manual I would like to mention that Kawasaki unfortunately uses bad American spelling in many instances, one being that the mention of “curb” weight of the bike instead of “kerb” weight. The bike is 149 Kilograms heavy but not at all difficult to ride. On paper 33PS of power looks formidable. I have grown up with the now iconic Rajdoot Yamaha RD 350 in its 30+ bhp guise and also in its 26 bhp guise. The RD 350 always kept you on your toes and trying to act funny with it meant that one could have serious injury. So when I saw 33PS I thought wow, this is going to be good fun. When I took delivery of the bike, I gingerly engaged gear one and very gently released the clutch hoping that the bike would not pop a wheelie. No such thing happened. The bike was a like a docile little lamb. My thoughts at that time ranged from ‘did Kawasaki lie about the power or is that what I paid so much money for’ etc. The first few days of riding the machine were a huge disappointment to say the least. I was actually thinking that this is probably the reason why Kawasaki wins the wooden spoon in World Superbikes and also in MotoGP when it competed there. But I told myself that one day, I should break the rules of running a bike in and try riding it at higher speeds. So one Sunday morning, with my riding gear in place, I went to one of the empty and straight roads of Hyderabad, near the new Airport and opened the throttle fully. The surge of power from six thousand rpm was incredible and all the way upto twelve thousand the power just kept coming. I touched a top whack of 130 kmph when I finally ran out nerve and road. I later on checked with another friend who said he touched a top speed of 160 kmph. He is much lighter than I am and his bike was also fully run in.

The frame which is diamond type can cope up with the power of the engine and also with the undulations that the road has to throw up. It is not very easy to unsettle the bike and the suspension of the bike is more than adequate. The telescopic front forks and the single rear shock absorber in conjunction with the Kawasaki Unitrack system, is pretty good even on rough roads. I have not noticed any chain slack so far. The riding position is not fully forward but still does place some weight on the wrists over long distances. That can cause a bit of aching of wrists. The bike does change direction willingly and can be flipped from one side to another quite comfortably. The tyres which are made of soft compound (by IRC) need to be brought to temperature before they start holding the road properly. Cold tyres do not offer a wonderful grip. The instrument console is old school, but I like it like that. The rider’s perch is comfortable and this bike is best ridden solo. The pillion seat has one problem and that is that it does not offer anything to hold on to. The absence of a rear grab rail means that sometimes maneuvering the bike out of tight spaces can be a problem. One good feature though is the existence of a lockable storage space beneath the rear seat, where basic documents can be kept. The rear view mirrors are wonderful and give a good view of what is behind the bike. The grips on the clip on handle bars are also good with weights at the ends to iron out vibrations. Fuel efficiency vacillates between 25 and 28 kmpl, depending on traffic and style of riding. All in all the Ninja 250R is a good bike, though very pricey and with the Honda CBR 250 R debuting at half the price, it remains to be seen which way this will go. What may queer the pitch even more is the fact that a Yamaha Fazer 250 and a Pulsar 250 are rumoured to be coming. And that is not counting the Suzuki GW 250 that has been confirmed for the year end.