Honda CBR300R ABS Vs. Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS | Comparison Review
In the market for a small displacement motorcycle? I spent quite a bit of time time on the Honda CBR300R ABS and Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS, and I give enthusiastic thumbs up to both. They each have their own take on the 300cc market, and are the most mature bikes in the class (and the last of the true 300s). Depending on where you’re riding, as well as personal preference on how you like your power delivered, one or the other will put a big smile on under your helmet.
The Honda CBR300R is the torquey personality, overflowing with pull just about everywhere in the rev range. It really hits its sweet spot at 8000 rpm--you will spend a lot of time here when riding aggressively--and it pulls all the way through to the 10,500 rpm soft redline.
The flipside of all that torque is gobs of engine braking from the 286cc single cylinder. You could easily handle most of your acceleration/deceleration with throttle alone, unless you’re truly pushing the pace--maybe chasing your buddy through the canyons.
At this point, you will find the single front disc does a convincing job of slowing the bike, unless you are trying to haul the 357-pound CBR300R (claimed wet) down from freeway speeds before the next descending radius turn--there are limitations that come with a single disc and 110mm front tire.
Fortunately, both bikes have a nice soft initial bite that will not intimidate or surprise a new rider who still needs to develop the right braking touch. Opting for the ABS on both bikes seems a no-brainer, especially if you’re likely to ever ride in wet weather.
The IRC Road Winner tires do an admirable job sticking to the road and allowing you to lean into turns with full confidence. Given the CBR’s light weight and comfortable, almost upright, seating position, it almost begs you to toss it around in the canyons and have your way with it.
A big part of the Honda CBR300R’s canyon prowess on the most technical roads comes from its compact chassis. Being lighter and shorter than the Ninja 300, along with noticeably steeper forks, the CBR is right at home in tight quarters.
On a smooth bit of twisty tarmac, the Honda CBR300R is truly a blast to ride hard, and the smaller 37mm forks feel stable in turns. On the bumpier sections of road, the bike’s budget suspension and compact chassis is more noticeable. You won’t be thrown off line, but you’re far from being insulated from the ripples and dips.
If you’ve pushed past the posted speed limit on the freeway, the ride is harsh over pavement transitions. There’s just not enough compression damping to soak up the bumps and it’s unsettling enough to make you back off the throttle…well almost.
What’s more likely to make me relax my throttle hand on the CBR300R is the sound coming from that single 76mm piston. After searching for a higher gear a couple of times on my initial ride, I realized I was already at the top of the box. It may be stout enough to run all day just below red line, but it is distractingly loud when pushed high in the rev range for an extended period.
With 10cc more than the CBR, and split between two pistons, the fleet-of-foot Kawasaki Ninja 300 is sportier and sleeker looking than the Honda and, if you tuck in and rev hard to get the most out of the twin cylinders, it is faster off the line. Despite spotting the CBR about 25 pounds, the Ninja doesn’t feel heavier as the extra weight from the parallel configuration is centralized and low.
At 290mm, the Ninja’s front disc is minimally smaller than the Honda’s, but it is well matched to the bike’s weight. Action at the front lever is strong but measured, and optional ABS adds that extra confidence for all riders, not just novices.
The clutch pull is extremely light, and aggressive downshifters will appreciate the FCC brand clutch with ‘slipper’ action, which decreases the chance of breaking traction at the rear. As a fan of downshifting into turns instead of getting hard on the brakes, I like this added peace of mind.
I ran the two bikes extensively over a favorite 14-mile test loop through the Santa Monica Mountains in both directions, a route that has plenty of elevation changes, fast sweepers, first-gear hairpins, flat-out straightaways, and pavement of mixed heritage.
As expected, the torquey Honda CBR300R was quicker in the tighter, twisty sections, and the Kawasaki Ninja 300 was faster on the more open sections, though the difference wasn’t as great as expected. What was clear, though, was that the CBR300R was easier to ride fast than the Ninja 300. You have work the gearbox and brakes on the Ninja to squeeze the most out of it. After countless miles, it was becoming a toss up as to which was preferable.
Interestingly, the ergonomics on the two 300s are slightly different, but it’s enough to change the tone of how you ride. The Ninja feels more aggressive; there’s a tad more forward lean in the body position and that tilts your psyche into competitive race mode.
I was disappointed to find that riding on the balls of my feet meant my right heel bumps up against the Ninja’s exhaust canister, though I scraped a peg feeler on the Ninja, not the Honda. On the CBR, the torquey response encourages more of a spirited romp, not a race. That is, unless you find yourself alongside the Ninja; then it’s game on.
Both bikes make terrific around-town and commuting partners. I particularly enjoyed the Honda CBR300R as a lane splitter on my daily commute to work across one of Los Angeles’ most congested freeways. The torquey motor allowed me to move through the concertina traffic without touching the brake or changing gears; engine braking and clutch action cover 90-percent of the commute.
The Kawasaki was the preferred bike on Friday-light days. The Ninja 300 will happily speed along in top gear without a noisy fuss, even right below the 13,000 rpm redline. With a wheelbase an inch longer than the Honda, and forks kicked out 1.7 degrees farther, the Ninja 300 is nice and stable at any speed it will attain.
The Ninja ergonomics give me plenty of room to push back into the seat, which tucks my head a bit lower behind the sporty windscreen and keeps the turbulence to a minimum. It’s a smooth, stealthy ride and the nimble handling makes even a commute seem like a play date.
The small displacement bikes are thrifty rides at a claimed 71 mpg. With a 3.4-gallon tank the CBR will get you well over 200 miles between fill ups, and the Ninja’s larger 4.5-gallon capacity will take you over the 300-mile mark, as long as you aren’t flogging it mercilessly (which I tend to do).
I spend most of my time on midsize bikes with occasional forays into the literbike category, so I was surprised how satisfying it was riding the two 300s. We usually have a handful of bikes in the UMC garage for testing and more times than not I opted for one of the ‘little’ bikes instead of a sexier bigger engine for commuting.
The Honda CBR300R and Kawasaki Ninja 300 are undemanding, easy-going rides in small packages that won’t physically overwhelm you. Yet, they can be ramped up to provide totally fun, exhilarating rides if you choose to ride hard in the upper rpm range.
The Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS and the Honda CBR300R ABS are excellent options for novice riders. The low seat heights, easy handling, and light weight provide friendly environments for developing one’s skills, and there’s enough power to grow into as one becomes more proficient. Seasoned riders will immediately appreciate the bikes’ capabilities and will enjoy testing their limits.
When choosing between these two excellent bikes, it ultimately comes down to one’s preference in power delivery, styling, and ergonomics. If you love to rev and do quite a bit of freeway riding, the Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS is well suited to your needs. For great pull off-idle, which is essential around town, and plenty of capability on the tightest canyon roads, plus a price $400 lower, look to the Honda CBR300R ABS.
- Helmet: Arai Vector 2
- Jacket: Dainese G. Cage Pelle Lady
- Gloves: Dainese Veloce
- Jeans: Dainese P. Belleville Slim
- Boots: Dainese Avante Race Lady
Photography by Don Williams
|2015 Honda CBR300R ABS
|2015 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS
|DOHC parallel twin
|Bore x stroke
|76mm x 63mm
|62 x 49mm
|EFI w/ 38mm throttle body
|EFI w/ dual 32mm throttle bodies
|37mm forks; 4.7” of travel
|37mm forks; 4.7” of travel
|Linkage-assisted shock with spring-preload adjustment; 4.1” of travel
|Linkage-assisted shock with spring preload adjustment; 5.2” of travel
|296mm disc w/ 4-piston caliper
|290mm petal-type disc w/ 4-piston caliper
|220mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper
|220mm petal-type disc w/ 2-piston caliper
|110/70 x 17 IRC Road Winner
|110/70 x 17 IRC Road Winner
|140/70 x 17 IRC Road Winner
|140/70 x 17 IRC Road Winner
|$4899 ($4399, non-ABS)
|$5299 ($4999, non-ABS)