Around August last year, Kawasaki Motorcycles Malaysia quietly introduced the Ninja 300 with none of the fanfare associated with product launches. It appeared on the price list and went on sale at dealers and has been quietly garnering a local following.
Why the lack of publicity? Blame a quirk in our licensing laws. If you look at the back of your license, you’ll notice three levels for bikes; B2, B1 and B. B1 is defunct so what we have left is B2 is for bikes up to 250cc and B for bikes with engines larger than 250cc. The cost difference between obtaining a B2 and B is on average, RM400 to RM500.
It may seem like a small amount but for the majority of new riders, it’s a premium they’re either unwilling or unable to bear. Why? Because even for owners of a KTM Duke 250, the premium of a B license amounts to 3 to 4 per cent of the purchase price, so there’s no sense in paying extra for a license.
That’s why the majority of bike license holders in Malaysia are B2 level, instantly making the Kawasaki Ninja 300 a non-factor due to its 296cc engine. At RM26,989, it’s also over RM4,000 pricier than the popular Ninja 250. If you already have a B license though, a healthier bank balance than a university student and are looking for a small sportbike to commute and have fun on, look no further.
Kawasaki are already the undoubted kings of the quarter-litre market in Malaysia with five different models to choose from, so the introduction of a 300cc bike to their Ninja and Z range was hardly going to cannibalise sales. Familiarity will also help market acceptance of the bikes.
Visually, the Ninja 300 looks like a Ninja 250 with different paintwork. It’s a sharp-looking machine using lots of Ninja styling cues found on the bigger ZX-6R and ZX-10R and at a distance almost looks like a middleweight. Both bikes may be visually identical, but there are differences to the engine internals, clutch and brakes.
To grow their parallel twin from 249cc to 296cc, Kawasaki used a longer stroke and installed bigger 32mm throttle bodies (the 250’s are 29mm). Power and torque are rated at 39hp at 11,000rpm and 27Nm at 10,000rpm, up from 32hp and 22Nm, while the final drive has been lengthened to increase top speed. There’s also a slipper clutch to smooth out down shifts and ABS brakes are now standard.
As the power and torque figures suggest, riding it is a frenetic experience. There’s not much below 3,000rpm but from about 4,000rpm to 6,000rpm there’s enough to run around packed city streets and keep up with delivery boys on scooters. The party starts at eight grand with a buzzy scream emanating through the pipes and egging you on. Your instinct is to shift up a gear but keep at it and the Ninja 300 does a great Moto3 bike impression. With peak power arriving only at 11,000rpm it’s worth the trouble to get as close as possible to the 13,000rpm rev limiter, and at that point the hairs on the back of your neck will be standing as the little engine hits high notes you never thought possible.
The speedometer won’t be showing really huge numbers. Maximum speed is probably a touch over 170km/h, so to really get the most of the riding experience, you need to sniff out some roads with corners and preferably few straight bits in between them. This is where the Ninja 300 excels. The 37mm front forks offer a good balance of comfort and cornering stiffness, while the preload adjustable single rear shock works well at helping the 140/70 rear wheel find grip to drive you out of the curves.
The slipper clutch is a great addition when riding hard. It makes matching revs to road speed less vital when dropping gears, which means attention can be devoted to braking and getting corner entry speeds right. Speaking of brakes, the ABS-equipped discs work very well and can withstand a lot of abuse, which they’ll undoubtedly be subjected to. It’s darn near impossible to not want to wring the neck of this bike every chance you get.
On those rare occasions when you do slow down, the economical fuel consumption will deliver well over 250km between fill-ups and despite the diminutive dimensions, there’s enough space to accommodate even tall riders. The dashboard is also easy to read at a glance, but the lack of a gear indicator is a bit of a nuisance. So yes, while touring isn’t its forte, the Kawasaki Ninja 300 is able to undertake long distance rides without too much bother or a visit to the chiropractor later.
Are the talents it possess enough to make this bike a worthwhile upgrade over the similarly talented Ninja 250? It really depends on what your priorities are. The extra power, slipper clutch and ABS brakes all make a palpable difference and add to the riding experience, but you need to be riding hard on a race track to really feel it. So if speed in a small bike is your thing, then yes get the 300.
Conversely, at lower speeds, the two are virtually identical save for a splash of paint. If all you want is to commute to and from work with the occasional fun ride thrown-in, then the cheaper Ninja 250 is more than capable of the job.
Either way, Kawasaki would still get a sale and ultimately it knows the Ninja 300 isn’t meant to steal sales from the 250, but rather be an option for those considering the KTM RC390 or BMW’s upcoming G 310R instead. In that context, it makes perfect sense and should see Team Green retain its lead in the small sportbike market.