2012 Kawasaki Ninja 250R | Commuter Test

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 250 R Review

First impressions are occassionally wrong, so I’m happy to report that despite initially thinking the Kawasaki Ninja 250R might not meet my power requirements for freeway riding, the spunky quarter liter and I have become fast friends.

Even with larger, more spirited choices in the garage, I find myself opting for the diminutive parallel twin when I’m heading off to work because it’s just so darned easy to ride.

Now don’t be thinking this little 250 is only for girls or new riders-in fact, the Kawasaki Ninja 250R is a blast to ride as long as you understand where to find its power. That would be from 8000 rpm up to (and sometimes beyond) the redline. I didn’t fully appreciate this when I headed off to work the first day I had custody of the bike.

I straddled the 250R–my 32-inch inseam making mockery of its 30.5-inch seat height–and activated the choke lever. The carbureted Ninja 250R needs a minute or so to warm up. After starting the bike, I settled onto the seat and checked out the dash (basic standard fare), adjusted Kawasaki’s octagonal mirrors (always difficult to get a decent view past your shoulders), and tested out the ergos. Despite its small size, I don’t feel cramped on the 250R.

Heading down the residential street I click up a gear, listening to the high pitch whine of the 249cc engine. I usually shift based on the sound of the engine, so I found myself shifting into third before I’ve even gotten to the larger road. There, I was surprised to see the speed monitor registering 28 mph, as I usually have to work hard to keep my speed close to the unrealistic 30 mph limit on this well-traveled avenue. At the stop sign I eased the choke switch off, gathered some throttle and joined the flow of cars heading to the freeway.

I ran through five of the six gears by the end of the ramp onto the freeway, looking for enough speed to join the fray. Instead of slicing my way over to the number one lane as I normally do, I stayed in the first lane I had merged in to. I felt slow, small and vulnerable. Wow, maybe this was not such a good idea! Wouldn’t it have been wiser to take a new bike to work on surface streets while getting acquainted with it, instead of diving right into the harried morning commute?

At that moment I was worried I was going to get run over by the faster moving vehicles that were zipping past me on my pint-sized mount I twisted the throttle and flicked the foot shifter, only to realize I was already in the top gear. As the sound of the Kawasaki parallel twin raced higher, I felt the torque kick in at 8000 rpm, pulling strongly, catching the aggressively moving traffic. I kept the throttle pinned and the Ninja 250R kept pulling all the way up to 11,000 rpm as I passed cars in the next lane. Aha, this is more like it!

Several miles later I exited the freeway as I had an errand to run. I was momentarily disappointed when I saw how congested the boulevard was, but quickly realized it wasn’t going to slow me down that much. The Ninja 250R is so small that maneuvering between the sludgy lanes of traffic was easy. In fact, I almost felt like I was cheating as I slipped between the stopped cars, moving up to the front of the line. Once the red light changed, I gave a big twist and let the engine rev high, shifting into second and then third, speeding ahead of the cars, going all of 35 mph. It’s amazing how you feel like you’re flying when the engine is screaming its heart out.

By the time I came home that first night, I had figured out how to run with the rest of the pack. No short shifting. There’s plenty of smooth power coming off the four-stroke, liquid-cooled DOHC engine as long as you rev it to the moon. Tomorrow, back to the number one lane.

It didn’t take long to get comfortable with the Ninja 250R. Riding home from work a couple of weeks later along the busy, but well-moving, freeway, I was hop scotching the laggard cars and moving along pretty quickly. I noticed the twin round headlights of what I thought might be a Triumph Street Triple about a quarter mile back in my rear view mirror.

The rider was two lanes over from me, moving briskly. I twisted the throttle and slipped through an opening to a clear lane ahead, noticing that I was flying just over 80. The sport bike didn’t keep pace initially, but several minutes later the twin round headlights were about to overtake me. I looked over my shoulder, about to give a nod of acknowledgment, and then realized the speedy rider was a CHP officer. Oops. However, he seemed not to be interested in this fast moving, Alpinestars-backpack laden commuter, and on past he went. Whew.

With just about a half-inch shorter wheelbase, and a one-inch more relaxed rake than its big brother, the Ninja 650, the 250R is completely stable on the freeway. It’s easy to ride the small bike confidently as it handles well. Its single 290mm disc up front is more than adequate to slow the 250’s featherweight–almost 86 pounds less than the 650–making me the master of this firefly.

Suspension is on the inexpensive side–don’t look for a plush or supple ride. Kawasaki had to save somewhere on production to keep the price tag on the Ninja 250R down, and this is where some of the savings happen. It’s not awful, but you will feel every nook and cranny of the aging freeways of Los Angeles. 

I didn’t stick purely to commuting on the 2012 Kawasaki Ninja 250R. I also took it up for some canyon riding. Thanks to its small size and light weight, the 250R can do pretty well, providing you’re willing to keep the throttle pinned and your corner speed up.

Long straights are its nemesis, and acceleration out of turns requires a serious commitment of revs.

The handling is much better than you might expect, particularly on well-paved roads. You can throw it around, and it does predictably well on the tightest turns. Even in faster sweepers, up to around 60mph or so, it will hang with the best of them. If the speeds get higher, the Ninja 250R will get quickly left behind. 

For an experienced rider, the 2012 Kawasaki Ninja 250R is a great little change of pace. It reminded you that an underpowered bike can be quite a bit of fun, as it challenges you to ride it as hard as you can to extract the maximum performance from what’s available.

The chassis and IRC Roadwinner tires aren’t the highest of tech items, but for the demands the little 250cc twin puts on them, it is hard to not be satisfied and ride with a huge smile on your face.

Beginners can hardly go wrong with the Ninja 250R. If they take quickly to the 250R, they can swap over to a Ninja 650 or the like. If they take the learning curve a bit more slowly, the 250R will nurse them along, giving them a safe, sane, and predictable platform for becoming a better motorcyclist.

Riding Style

  • Helmet: Shoei RF-1100 Sylvan TC-7
  • Eyewear: TAG Heuer Original Rimless
Jacket: Alpinestars Stella Paradise Air
  • Gloves: Alpinestars Stella SP-8
  • Jeans: Icon Hella Heartbreaker
Boots: Alpinestars Stella S-MX 5

Action photography by Don Williams