2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS vs. 2013 Ninja ZX-14R TestHaving never ridden a sport bike, my colleagues at Ultimate MotorCycling concurrently threw me in the deep- and shallow-end at the same time. I was taken out to ride the 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS and 2013 Ninja ZX-14R on the same day on some of Southern California’s storied state highways.
According to anecdotal stories, first time sportbike riders tend to buy a small engine bike such as the Ninja 300, or go straight to a superbike model like the ZX-14R. With this reference point in mind, we set out to discover which one would be a better choice.For background, my own riding experience has been various competition dirt bikes, my commuter bike (a Kawasaki KLR650), and a day’s ride on a couple of Harley-Davidson cruisers.2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS ImpressionsAs a rider who prefers footpegs to be directly beneath his feet and sitting in an upright position, I was more concerned with how I would fit on the Ninja 300 ABS, and not so much on its power and handling characteristics.But, like any Type A personality I went ahead and researched the bike’s specifications to see if I potentially could be getting in over my head or how fast I could get into trouble. After reviewing the numbers, I concluded that the chances of me rapidly getting into trouble were pretty slim.I started the day by riding the Ninja 300 to make sure I was comfortable with the riding style and techniques that this type of model requires. My first pleasant surprise was that my slightly over six-foot frame comfortably fit the bike’s seating design.In other words, I did not feel crammed in the cockpit and my thigh muscles were still relaxed. Although the seating position does put the rider low to the ground, and lower than what I’m used to, I never felt off balance due to a top-heavy ride position.Thus, controlling the bike through tight turns on Ortega Highway (California Highway 74) was only limited by own lack of experience and not quite trusting the tire grip early on in the ride. Once I did get more comfortable with handling the Ninja 300 through tight turns, I still did not develop a solid confidence in corners because the bike’s rear tire didn’t feel as solidly planted as I would like it to be for aggressive cornering.Admittedly, this is a subjective observation based on seat-of-the-pants feel rather than noting the cornering speed and angle that causes this uneasy feel. Thus, another rider may feel like the bike’s rear tire is adequately planted for aggressive cornering.I was also surprised how well the bike accelerated from a feet-planted stop given my near-200 pound weight. The DOHC twin-cylinder powerplant has a nice, fluid feel in low- to mid-range at a moderate acceleration rate, and does not bog down when up shifting gears at fewer than 8000 rpm.One operational note is that the rider does more shifting up and down than on a larger engine bike. This observation is not a criticism, but merely a comment that pretty much applies to most small engine bikes. What pleasantly was missing was the annoying buzzing noise at highway speeds that most small engine bikes tend to have.Slowing down only requires proper knowledge of motorcycle brakes. Even with only a single disc in the front, the Ninja 300 ABS slows down quickly and predictably. I never was aggressive enough to need the ABS portion of the braking system; the brakes are that easy to use properly.The dashboard is well thought out with the analog tachometer dominating, but not overwhelming, the area. The digital-based speedometer/odometer/fuel level is nicely placed just below and to the right of the tachometer and easy to read in bright, direct sunlight.What I found interesting on the digital display was a symbol indicating economic fuel consumption, which I gather is based on the rpm and speed combination; I’m not sure why Kawasaki felt it necessary to show this status on a sports bike, except that they do tout 68 mpg! Ultimate MotorCycling Editor Don Williams later told me that he managed to get 100 mpg out of the Ninja 300 on one occasion.My main criticism of the Ninja 300 is that the side mirrors are too narrow in height, which caused me to move my elbows and shoulders into an awkward position to monitor following traffic. The position and length cannot be changed too much without compromising the bike’s overall narrow profile. Increasing the vertical width, similar to what the ZX-14R mirrors are like, would be a definite improvement for rider safety.Labeling the Ninja 300 ABS as a “toy” bike is highly insulting to this machine’s capabilities and handling characteristics. Obviously, the Ninja 300 won’t hang with the bigger engine bikes on long straight stretches but it definitely is capable of staying with any bike in winding, curve-filled roads.2013 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R ABS ImpressionsAs I did for the Ninja 300 ABS, I reviewed the Ninja ZX-14R specifications before the ride and was simultaneously impressed with the operating features mixed with a healthy dose of “What have I signed up for?” trepidation.I intellectually concluded the ZX-14R was in some ways safer than my KLR-650 due to the available power and traction control modes along with the ABS but I still was concerned with two other aspects about riding this bike – struggling to handle the bike’s rated power and being cramped in more traditional sport bike position (though not as extreme as a ZX-10R or ZX-6R).Visually, the ZX-14R looks like a muscular sprinter, effortlessly able to rapidly and powerfully rip along a straight road. The overall effect of the design lines and instrument layout reminded me of a Star Wars vehicle with wheels. I reminded myself that this bike was not the creation of a science fiction writer, but a technological marvel that really makes riding this bike surprisingly effortless.To start with, the ZX-14R has a slipper clutch that prevents the rear wheel from locking up and hopping when rapidly downshifting. Additionally, the digital fuel injection (DFI) system allows for a very controllable acceleration no matter what rate the rider wants, along with the Dual-Mode ignition that allows the ride to tamp down the power by 50-percent. The effect is that there is a very solid, linear pull through the gears without experiencing a shoulder socket-ripping power hit.This was perhaps the biggest I opener for me. I had a natural trepidation about getting on a bike that puts out around 200 horsepower and will hit 186 mph. Fortunately, my mature throttle hand, along with the docile-if-you-want-it response of the Ninja ZX-14R’s 1441cc engine kept me on the rubber the entire ride.Certainly, the ZX-14R comes in wolf’s clothing, but how you ride it can reveal its wolf-like personality, or turn it into a sheep. I choose the latter for the most part, though I did go faster on the ZX-14R than I have on any other motorcycle. My top speed will remain a secret to protect my innocence.In spite of the bike’s bulky appearance and original design to be drag-strip oriented, the ZX-14R handled tight turns pretty well–perhaps not as well as a slightly smaller motorcycle such as the ZX-10 but well enough to easily hang with the more nimble bikes. While the Ninja 300 feels a bit skittish in the corners, the ZX-14R is solidly planted.The ABS brake system works well for both easy and fairly rapid slowing down – just like the engine, it’s easily modulated. The bike’s suspension settings were not changed for my body weight but I never felt the bike nose down when the front brakes were heavily and quickly applied before a tight turn. Consequently, my confidence in handling the ZX-14R became pretty solid early in the ride.The dashboard layout is well done and easy to read. The speedometer and tachometer are analog-based canisters mounted below the LCD panel, which is easy to read even in direct sunlight. The only issue I had was the ability to check the fuel level reading while riding in certain light conditions when the vertical bar was in the shadow of the fairing. Unlike the Ninja 300, the side mirrors are vertically large enough to easily monitor traffic behind the rider. A pleasant surprise was how comfortable I felt riding the bike after several hours. Between the two bikes, I rode the ZX-14R the longest through different road conditions, including going over Ortega Highway on the way back to Kawasaki’s headquarters. I had been offered the chance to switch back to the Ninja 300 ABS at one point, but I declined.Overall, riding the ZX-14R was nowhere near as scary as I originally expected. I still have a healthy respect for the bike’s capabilities but found that handling and power control were very refined, which makes riding the ZX-14R a blast.2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 vs. 2013 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R Ninja ConclusionMy opinion is that the Kawasaki Ninja 300 is the right choice for someone who has never ridden a motorcycle and wants to ride a sportbike as his first street bike. The Ninja 300 allows a beginning rider the opportunity to gain confidence in handling a sportbike without getting overwhelmed with over-bearing acceleration, yet even with a 200-pound rider the engine does not lags on the start line. Additionally, the price point for the ABS-equipped bike is at the right value for an entry-level motorcycle with good, solid technology and amazing fuel economy.As for the Ninja Kawasaki ZX-14R, my opinion is that this is a good choice for the “next” motorcycle. This is based on the fact that an experienced rider will enjoy this model more quickly than a novice rider, simply because the experienced rider will have established a base of confidence built from riding a less-powerful machine.Thus, the experienced rider will be able to quickly use the Ninja ZX-14R’s full potential of controllable power and technology without having the subtle fear of ruining their day with a crash.Still, for my first time out on sport bikes, the Ninja ZX-14R won my heart – it is an amazingly capable machine that still welcomed a sport bike novice.Photography by Don WilliamsRiding Style:
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This week, in the first segment Editor Don Williams talks to us about the new Kawasaki Versys 650 LT. It’s the middleweight ADV style machine that uses the same 650 parallel twin motor as the Ninja 650, so it’s an excellent performer in a user-friendly, good looking package.
In the second segment, I chat with one of my dearest industry friends—now retired Honda PR executive, Jon Seidel. Jon’s fascinating career spans some 30 years with Big Red, and gave him some great experiences with some incredible machines. I was fortunate enough to be invited on many of the press launches that he organized. His new project is documenting and saving many of the old archives from years gone by—and incidentally, if you have anything that may be of value to the project, please contact us by email at email@example.com and we’ll pass it all on to Jon.
So on that note, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!