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250cc special: Make room for a small one

Published: 18 July 2014

Updated: 20 November 2014

There’s always been something special about quarter-litre sports bikes. A generation of learners grew up riding machines like Yamaha’s RD250LC, while wannabe GP riders could live-out their 250GP fantasies on bikes like Honda’s amazing grey import NSR250SP. And more recently those on the now superseded 33bhp licence restriction were set free on bikes like the CBR250R and Ninja 250. So it’s fair to say sports 250s have played an important role in many motorcyclists’ lives.

But not for much longer. By the time Yamaha’s new YZF-R250 is unveiled later this year it’ll be the only sports 250 left. Kawasaki’s Ninja was replaced by a 300 version in 2012, while a new CBR300 is also expected imminently.

But if you’re in the market for a modern 250 it means there’s never been a better time to snap-up one of these last-of-the-line models, while their relative new-ness means there’s plenty of good examples to choose from.

While the used market contains other sports 250s from Chinese manufacturers, the CBR250R and Ninja remain the most popular. Despite both being built in Asia rather than Japan, strict Japanese quality controls ensured that while prices were low, the level of finish was remarkably high. And it is this fact that has seen their popularity soar, contrary to what many expected.

In fact, the Ninja was never intended to be sold in Europe at all. After being launched in America in 2007, it proved such a smash hit (selling 23,000 units in four years) that Kawasaki decided Europeans might also warm to its parallel twin charm, something that proved correct. And it was this success that prompted Honda to up the capacity of its popular CBR125R and launch the CBR250R in 2011.

The main selling point of the Ninja over the CBR250R is that Kawasaki used a parallel twin engine while Honda has stuck with a single. And although the Honda unit was all-new (the Ninja’s lump could trace its roots back to the 1986 GPX250) being a single cylinder meant it lacked some of the Ninja’s top-end power. This was reason enough for owner Connor Gwilliam of Portsmouth who’s now covered 16,000miles on his 2009 Ninja 250R.

“I considered the CBR250R but went for the Ninja as it has a twin cylinder motor,” he told MCN. “I also preferred the styling and it was cheaper in the used market.”
Honda claim 26bhp and 17.6ftlb of torque with the CBR while the Ninja boasts 33bhp and 16ftlb. But as the Honda is 8kg lighter it almost matches the Ninja’s performance. In 0-60mph runs the Ninja is marginally faster, but there isn’t much in it. Both are happy to cruise at 70mph and easily deliver fuel economy figures of over 70mpg.

“The engine is great,” Connor continued. “It’s really smooth and reliable and is easy on consumables.” But it’s still no sportster in the way forebears like the NSR and LC were. “The lack of power is frustrating and the bike doesn’t feel that sporty as the shock is bouncy with the seat low and bars high.”

And Connor’s top tip for getting the best from your Ninja: “Use the clutch when changing from first to second, then rag it to the redline, changing without the clutch from then on!”

Aside from the usual tyres and oil, the Ninja needs its valve clearances checking every 7500 miles, which is a bill of around £350. The Honda’s single runs until 16,000 miles before the valves need looking at, which is cheaper at £250. The Ninja has 4000 service intervals, the Honda 8000, but in truth minor services are fairly simple affairs and are unlikely to cost over £150.

Like its bigger Ninja brothers, the Ninja 250R is a bike that riders love to accessorise. Single seat cowls, race exhausts and rim tape add to its style while heated grips, crash bungs, taller screens and luggage offer a more practical aspect. Meanwhile, Honda also sell a range of CBR250R extras that include carbon infill panels and tank protectors, although far fewer used bikes come to market with those accessories fitted.

So, although these two bikes might lack the rip-snorting performance of some of their 250 ancestors, at least you can still look the part.

You can see the current Kawasaki Ninja's that are up for sale with MCN here

and the range of Honda CBR250R's as well of course!

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