Monthly Archives: July 2007

Review: The Amazing (Super-Fantabulous) Ninja 250

Okay, if there was ever a bike that got no respect, or no respect equal to its value – this is the one. People who have never even dreamed of riding a motorcycle will say, “it’s ONLY a 250…” No one says, “it’s only a Harley Sportster” or it’s only a “Porsche Boxster”… What people don’t realize is that a stock EX 250 will give either of those a run for its money – and still get upwards of 50 mpg.

Outright speed aside, the automotive equivalent for the EX 250 is probably either the original VW Bug or the Mazda Miata… Like the Bug, the little Ninja is fuel efficient and reliable as anything on the road (owing to its incredible simplicity). If you want to spend next to nothing maintaining a motorcycle, the 250 is a good choice. If you do need to repair something, parts are cheap and plentiful. And also like the Bug, the little Ninja has an almost cult following (Ninja 250 Riders Club). Ninja 250 worshippers are more devout than almost any other group out there next to Harley riders and Ducatisti. And even 250 agnostics wind up having good things to say (a review I linked to in a previous post). Like the Miata, the 250′s strength is in its light weight and handling. Knucklehead riders who just like to go straight real fast (!) will never be able to appreciate what the 250 is good at: tight turns and amazingly quick turn-in that makes you feel like Valentino Rossi before you even get to the parkway.

Since there are plenty more Google searches you can make to get the facts about the EX250, allow me to present a simple first person non-professional impression of the bike…

Some Initial Thoughts…
Sitting on the Ninja, the 250 feels shockingly light (about 100 lbs lighter than an R6). Give it a little choke, hit the starter and it starts right up. The pegs and bars are pretty much in a “standard” position, which is fine considering the low seat height.

Once on the street in normal traffic, the Ninja turns (amazingly) quickly and easily…It’s skinny, and easy to squeeze between cars and trucks in traffic. On swifter roads body position makes a big difference. Hanging off in turns makes a drastic impact on lean angle. Every body movement gets transmitted to the tires. By the same token when a passenger shifts on the seat that gets transmitted to the wheels as well. All this can be attributed to its super low weight.

The low seat height and super light weight makes this a popular bike for beginners, but at the same time, this is not necessarily an easy bike to ride. Its super light weight that contributes to good handling also makes for a bike that “feels” unstable at times, and vulnerable to being knocked around by wind gusts. This is a motorcycle that can help an intermediate rider hone his or her skills on the road. I managed to slide the rear out at intersections (and scare myself) a few times… The upside to this is you CAN slide the rear out on a pretty regular basis at speeds around 30-40 mph without being a total menace on the road. In that sense this bike reminds me of the Miata (or the old MR2′s) that can four wheel drift at low speeds. To fix the instability, 250 aficionados recommend changing the rear shock (a 10 minute job) to an EX500′s, and upping the tires to slightly larger Dunlops. I think the better tires alone would make a huge difference in handling. I can see how the Ninja 250 can set some track lap records.

Brakes & Transmission

The front brakes are excellent (they give as much feel as what you’d find on a CBR, R6 or ZX6); and the rear brake is adequate (in other words it feels mushy mushy mushy until it locks up – just remember to keep it locked until you come to a complete stop and you’ll be okay).

The shifter is fine…nothing to write home about. The clutch lever is super-light, as would be expected on a small engine bike. This is nice in traffic. As with most sportbikes, you don’t need to use the clutch to shift (except for first to second), but something about the gear ratios made it nearly impossible (for me) to get smooth upshifts without the clutch. Clutchless downshifts, on the other hand, were easy… Usually it’s the other way around: most people only need to use the clutch for downshifts.

Power

You don’t buy a Ninja 250 for its power – for it’s handling, yes; for its economy, etc… But having said that he power is amazing compared to any other 4-stroke 250 out there. The one catch is you have to rev it (and keep it revved) above 8k in order to get any power. This works just fine for city riding: low revs keep it quiet for the slow drives, and you can rev it up for spirited driving. There’s just enough power to power-wheelie coming over the crest of a hill – or to clutch it up in second on a flat piece of road.

The power can come on a bit suddenly (around 8k) just to remind you that this thing means business. There’s a strong drive-lash when you crack open the throttle, which makes the 250 feel edgier than you’d expect; it takes a little work to be fast and smooth on this thing. For spirited riding, you have to really keep the rev’s up more than you would on any other bike. If you don’t keep the rev’s up, you won’t have enough torque to pick the bike up at the end of a turn (especially if you’re heavier, or riding two-up). Once again, the EX250 is a great bike for beginners because of its weight, price and ergonomics, but it’s actually not an easy bike to ride well.

Riding two-up on the Ninja 250 is reasonably comfortable depending on your size and weight (it seems to be made for people under 6ft, under 150lbs). The passenger seat is almost level with the front making for a comfortable rear seating position (my wife prefers this kind of seating over the raised rear seats on most sportbikes). You have to keep the revs up even on local roads in order to have enough torque to move around traffic. Also, due to the lightness of the bike, a passenger really changes the way the bike feels and turns at local speeds… On the highway, is a different story.

In my opinion above 50mph is where the little 250 really shines. It doesn’t give you the jolt a supersport can give you in third gear at highway speeds – but it is comparable to the kind of power you’d find in say a Harley Sportster…only with a geekier attitude. Yes you can ride this thing all day at 100 mph without any problems (except for the police)…and still get 50 miles per gallon. Two-up riding is also a lot better on the highway than it is on local roads. Whereas the extra weight makes local riding a little more work, on the highway the extra weight doesn’t seem to get in the way. In fact, it seems to add a bit of stability…

Personal Conclusions

I don’t think the Ninja 250 is right for everybody to ride long-term, but I think everyone could benefit (and have a blast) riding it for a year. These things are in such high demand that you can buy one for under two thousand, ride it around for a few months and sell it (probably in a day or two) at around the same price you bought it.

Things that make this a great city bike:

  1. Dependable
  2. Fuel Efficient
  3. Cheap to buy and maintain (+ it’s NOT usually a target of bike thieves)
  4. Zips through traffic, but can also handle itself on the open road

Things that make this less than perfect for a city bike:

  1. No fuel injection (carbs need to be cleaned from time to time, and have trouble in cold weather)
  2. Retro-80′s styling that’s not quite old enough to be cool yet.
  3. A little tight in the seat for two-up, (although that’s not always a bad thing!)
  4. Not good for folks with low self-esteem…for those who need to compensate for something, go get yourself a Ducati 1098 (low self esteem should have its rewards too!)

The Low Down on the Rise in Theft

[Pic of actual stolen bike from the UK, click for info]

Here’s how most people picture it: Some punk walks up to your bike and disables the lock with some sleight of hand, then starts the engine by putting two wires together, and rides off with your baby… Probably to a chop shop where it will be taken apart in a matter of minutes and sold on the black market… If that’s what you think then congratulations, you’re not a thief!  But unfortunately that also means many of things you do to protect your bike from theft will be absolutely useless.

The problem is unless we can think like the bike thieves, it will be hard to defend against their attacks on our precious wheels. So here’s the inside scoop on how motorcycles get stolen in NY.

A Profile of a Thief
Who are these bike thieves? Although there are organized crime rings that steal things for profit, many of bike thieves (stealing sport bikes) around NY are 20-30 something male “amateurs.” Like the rest of us, they love to ride, only instead of working for it they want to get their rides the “easy” way – and don’t have the frontal lobe activity to recognize it’s not worth jail time. Lucky for them they usually don’t get caught. And when they do, the maximum time they will do is a year and a half (which to the frontal-lobe-impaired seems not-too-bad). You can see some of these guys doing wheelies down by the park in Astoria. Yes, they are punks, but no, they’re not die-hard criminals (they’re not smart enough)…for the most part.

Now I know that other sites will tell you that stealing motorcycles is a lucrative business, but from what I can tell there are many better things to steal that will make more money with less risk.  Bikes are easy to steal, but stolen bikes and parts are difficult to sell.  The market is too small and specialized to make a lot of money doing this.

New or highly-in-demand bikes can be stripped and sold for parts. But many of the bikes that are stolen, are simply ridden around. Motorcycles are “recovered” frequently…although not often enough and in poor condition.

The Tools of the Trade
The main tools used for bike theft are trucks, vans, U-Haul rentals…  Didn’t think of that did ya?  If you’ve ever had to haul a bike somewhere on a truck, it seems like a lot of work… but if you actually see how easy it is for three guys to pick up a sportbike and put it in a van, you will think twice about ever parking your bike on the street.

Trucks and vans are the main way bikes get stolen in the city.  If you have wheel locks, each wheel can be lifted onto a dolly and rolled up a platform – or with a U-Haul truck, put onto the automatic lift – or (for sportbikes) lifted by two or three guys into a van. The whole process takes around a minute. You can park right in front of your house and chances are you won’t catch them: the city is too noisy to look out the window at every truck or van that passes by. Once they have your bike, it’s just a matter of time (less than an hour) before they get the locks off and take your bike for a spin.

The Method
They often check out your bike before coming back with a truck. So if you have a bike for sale, they might just see your ad and come check out your bike, and all your other bikes, along with the kind of security you use. Most people with garages don’t bother to chain up their bikes in any serious way… Garages can give you a false sense of security.

If you don’t have anything for sale they might see you lubing the chain or follow you coming back from a ride to see where you park. These guys have more time on their hands than you or me, so it’s nothing for them to check out a few bikes a day and keep a mental catalog of possible hits.

For whatever reason, my informal poll in NY bike thefts indicates the thieves usually hit between 1AM and 3AM in the morning. Perhaps this gives them time to stash the bikes and get through the locks before morning – or perhaps these are the best times to show up with a truck.

Preventative Measures
So how can we prevent our bikes from being stolen? Some bikes are more likely targets than others. But keep in mind, even if your bike is a few years old and too worn to sell for parts, it can still be a target (especially H-D’s, CBR’s GSXR’s, R6′s and Ninjas). So the threat level might help determine how far you’re willing to go for your bike’s security.

Once you know how the thieves work, you have a few options. Here are a few easy suggestions:

1. Disc locks may be good for day-time parking on busy streets, but for the evening hours and not-so-busy-streets, you might want to step up the security a bit…

2. Alarm your bike - I hate car alarms! But…IF you park in places where your bike is always close or within viewing distance, an alarm with motion sensor will give you a little heads-up before they leave with your bike. Or better yet, get a 2-way alarm with a remote receiver that beeps in your pocket when your alarm sounds. The problem with bike theft is that lifting and trucking your bike happens so quickly (and quietly), a little bit of noise would make this more difficult to pull off smoothly.

3. Chain the front wheel to something immovable – just make sure it is actually immovable. Plumbing is easy to undo, and anything that “anchors” to the ground is (surprisingly) easy to pull up with a crow-bar. Street signs and telephone poles are good, but the only way to do this (usually) is to park on the sidewalk (which is fine on some streets, but will get you a ticket in others).

Why the front wheel? The rear wheel is a little easier to remove, and it’s (a little) easier to maneuver most bikes w/o a rear wheel rather than the front. I’ve seen articles recommend chaining the frame – but I’ve never personally owned a bike that you could do that with…the frame is too flush, and the chain is too heavy to get in there.

And by the way…Get a good chain! OnGuard chains and locks are heavy and can’t be cut with a regular bolt cutter…but they’re too heavy to carry around. Kryptonite has some lighter models that combine lighter weight with strength, but it’s always a trade off between the two.

4. Location Devices - this is the priciest suggestion, but for around $500 you can have LoJack installed. The problem with this is that it relies solely on the Police to recover your bike, and it is not activated until the Police file a report. Also, when the Police do recover a stolen motorcycle (when you are not present), it can be weeks before your motorcycle surfaces at the pound… I don’t know what they do, but motorcycles mysteriously disappear from police property for a time before arriving at the pound. For a little extra (plus a hefty monthly charge) there are remote GPS tracking devices that can track your bike in real time, anytime.

For some statistics on what types of motorcycles get stolen most and in which cities, check out this article by Progressive. Have any other security tips? Share the wealth and post a comment! Cheers!

Bikes are Dangerous…(but maybe not as dangerous as you think!)

[Okay we're back from our blogging hiatus! Too many nice riding days, and too much work to crank out to be sitting behind a computer screen. Hope you're doing well and riding safe!]

Most bikers have heard about the Hurt Report. It gave us useful tips like how weather and road conditions were not a factor in 98% of motorcycle accidents, and how 92% of those in accidents had no formal training (so take your MSF and ride in the rain!) But what it doesn’t tell us is exactly how dangerous is motorcycling?

Here are the numbers (for 2004) from the NYS DMV:

  • There were 256,571 licensed motorcyclists (in 2004) in NY State
  • 4,588 motorcycle accidents,
  • 148 of which resulted in a death

That means 1.79% of motorcyclists were in an accident in 2004, and 0.06% were killed. Just to put this into perspective, the percentage of people in the US who died of cancer in 2004 was 1.87% (most of which is tobacco related).

As a motorcyclist, you are almost three times less likely to die of a motorcycle accident this year than dying of cancer. The odds are actually a little better than that if you take into account nearly half the motorcycle accidents are by unlicensed riders (but I couldn’t get the exact numbers on that from the DOT).

What this means is, if you have a choice between riding a motorcycle and smoking cigarettes, your odds are slightly better on a motorcycle. Fortunately there are no DOT statistics for smoking cigarettes WHILE on a motorcycle, but I’m sure that pretty much means instant death. j/k!

Cheers!

[PS - the graphic is from the ICBC Insurance web site - no help for us here in the US, but neat graphic nonetheless]