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.
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…
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:
- Fuel Efficient
- Cheap to buy and maintain (+ it’s NOT usually a target of bike thieves)
- Zips through traffic, but can also handle itself on the open road
Things that make this less than perfect for a city bike:
- No fuel injection (carbs need to be cleaned from time to time, and have trouble in cold weather)
- Retro-80’s styling that’s not quite old enough to be cool yet.
- A little tight in the seat for two-up, (although that’s not always a bad thing!)
- 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!)