2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS Review: My Beautiful Ninjette

01
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Introduction: The Littlest Ninja Gets Punchier

2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS
The 2013 Kawasaki Ninja wears new bodywork but, more importantly, extensively upgraded underpinnings. Photo © Kevin Wing

The beginner bike wars have heated up.

Since Honda's CBR250R debuted in 2010, the high-revving Kawasaki Ninja 250R has lagged behind the techy Japanese newbie which boasts the advantages of fuel-injection, ABS, and a modernized chassis.

Now that the 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 has been introduced, Honda has serious reason for concern: Not only does it offer a seriously re-worked engine with 47cc more displacement, the new Ninjette also claims 50 percent more power than the Honda, only 6 percent more weight… and to stay competitive, the Ninja 300 is finally now equipped with anti-lock brakes and fuel injection, the latter which helps make a significant boost to fuel economy. Beneath the restyled bodywork which more closely resembles the ZX-10R and ZX-6R 636, Kawasaki's new contender packs a stiffer frame, reworked suspension settings, a slipper clutch, and a transmission with a shorter first gear and a taller sixth gear. A 10mm wider rear tire (bumped to 140mm) also lends the Ninja a more substantial look.

The Ninja 300's starting price has grown to $4,799, or $5,499 with ABS. For comparison, the 2012 CBR250R starts at $4,099 or $4,599 with ABS (which is $700 and $1,000 cheaper, respectively); pricing for the 2013 CBR250R has not yet been announced.

Does the new Ninja have what it takes to unseat the Honda CBR 250R? I spent a day and a half aboard the Ninja 300 riding through the backroads of Sonoma County, California to find out.

Related: 10 Fuel Sipping Motorcycles

02
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In the Saddle: Meaner Looks, Friendlier Ergonomics

2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS
A cockpit view of the 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS. Photo © Kawasaki
With a seat height of 30.9 inches, the Ninja 300's saddle is a half inch higher than the bike it replaces. Though it sits slightly taller, the seat has been sculpted to maximize the rider's pavement reach, and its steep angle has been leveled for greater comfort; I've got a 31-inch inseam, and was able to flat-foot the bike at a standstill with bent knees, though I still found the angle somewhat canted. The bike's updated cockpit feels considerably more contemporary than the outgoing Ninja, though more than one of my fellow moto scribes reported that the plastic fairing components on their test bikes popped out of place near the fuel tank.

The Ninja's instrumentation has morphed from an all-analog setup to a more typical sportbike arrangement, with a traditional tachometer dial flanked by a digital speedometer, gas gauge, and odometer. The bike's mirrors now project further away from the body and have a bigger surface area for better visibility; also aiding comfort is a new "Kawasaki Air Management System," which uses a fan to redirect hot air away from the rider and onto the ground. A revised clutch reduces lever effort up to 35 percent, and adds a slipper function that offers greater clamping effort. Rubber padded footpegs have been replaced by knurled aluminum pegs for better feel, and the addition of a "flash to pass" high beam button further suggests this bike's higher speed intentions.

How does she ride? Click "Next" to find out.

03
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The Ride: Should We Still Call This Thing a "Ninjette"?

2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS
The 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS tackles a northern California canyon road. Photo © Adam Campbell

The differences between the newest Ninja and its predecessor become apparent the moment you flip up the kickstand, click into first gear, and pull away from a standstill: the Ninja 300's power bump becomes immediately noticeable, producing perceptibly quicker acceleration and a huskier engine response, along with the help of a lower first gear. Jerky low-end throttle response has also been replaced with smooth fueling, and the powerband feels long and buttery.

There's plenty here to satisfy newbies: clutch effort is light, neutral is easy to find, and the shifter clicks through the gears with positive, easy engagement. But equally notably, the fuel-injected engine fires up easily with a tap of the pushbutton starter, and doesn't require warmup time before you're on your way down the road. The anti-lock stoppers on my test bike worked effectively, and while you'll never confuse the relatively soft brake feel with the binders of more focused sportbikes like its ZX-10R big brother, the available ABS unit-- which Kawasaki says weighs only 1.4 pounds-- brings a layer of security to the brakes that should encourage more aggressive riding from beginners and advanced riders alike. Unlike the Honda CBR250R's system which works with astonishing levels of seamlessness, the Kawasaki's anti-lock stoppers betray their electronics with a noticeable pulsing sensation at the lever and pedal.

Though the weather on my ride day wasn't quite warm enough to reveal the effectiveness of the Ninja's new heat dissipation feature, the roads were twisty enough to yield plenty of observations on the bike's acceleration, handling dynamics, and braking. While it's certainly not menacing or dangerously sharp-edged, the Ninja 300 now packs enough punch to distance itself from its prior iteration (not to mention its arch-enemy, the Honda CBR250R.) It scoots with enough zeal to make for entertaining blasts down the road, with a noticeably more robust torque curve as it winds up to the its 13,000 rpm indicated redline. The 296cc parallel-twin engine's vibrations feel well isolated from the chassis (thanks in part to new engine mounts), and the smooth spinning mill doesn't reveal any perceptible buzziness until past the mid-point of its powerband; incidentally, that's where you'll find the most gratifying crescendo of power. While it's perfectly feasible to short shift and maintain reasonable levels of acceleration, the Ninja really gets going if you peg the throttle and make use of its expansive range of engine rpms.

Thanks to its 379 pound curb weight (383 with ABS), the Ninja also changes direction with ease, offering quick but stable entry, and a well-balanced chassis that enables easy mid-corner corrections. Bump absorption could be better-- let's not forget, the Ninja's non-adjustable 37mm fork and preload adjustable Uni-Trak rear suspension are low end units-- and to that effect, my quicker, more leaned-over corners were met with some flustered suspension responses due to road irregularities. In other words, where a more premium suspension setup would offer more compliance and, ultimately, better grip, the Ninja sometimes has trouble articulating over bumpy surfaces while cornering. Brakes are strong, and though they verge on feeling spongy at times, there's always enough stopping power on hand.

After a day's worth of riding through Skaggs Spring Road which twists and tumbles its way to Pacific Coast Highway, the Ninja 300 impressed with its flickable handling, eager engine, and generally accommodating ergonomics; though it proved somewhat unhappy on bumpier stretches of tarmac and its thinly padded seat produced some saddle soreness after a full day aboard*, the Ninja's overall persona proved that this is a considerably evolved and significantly more satisfying iteration of Kawasaki's high-revving, entry level motorcycle. It's also thrifty on gas: I achieved 138 mpg during a hypermiling contest in which I resorted to unreasonable fuel saving techniques like hitting the kill switch on downhills and lugging the engine, but my peers who rode normally averaged around 75 mpg-- still impressive, and one editor who will remain nameless burned out of the parking lot and held revs at redline in first during the entire route. His fuel economy? A still respectable 50 mpg.

* Ninja 300 buyers who ride for any extended length of time will want to consider investing in a gel seat; Kawasaki says they'll offer one soon

04
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Bottom Line, Specifications, Who Should Buy the 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300?

2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS
I'm five foot, eleven inches-- this is how I fit on the 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS. Photo © Adam Campbell

Bottom Line

The 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300's chassis improvements, bolstered power, and copious hardware updates help this compact sportbike achieve considerably higher levels of performance and efficiency than its 47cc advantage suggests. The changes also give the Honda CBR250R a serious run for its money, though the Ninja does command a significant premium.

But does the enlarged engine make the Ninjette any less of a beginner bike? While you can certainly accelerate more quickly with the Ninja 300 (not great for beginners, especially speed hungry newbies), power comes on with smooth, predictable ease (which is, on the other hand, advantageous for less experienced riders.) This smallest Ninja is approachable and doesn't bite back, and its ABS further reinforces the rider's confidence levels. But its greater capacity for speed ultimately puts more responsibility into the hands of the its pilot: its acceleration can be alluring, and the robustness of its powerplant certainly takes this bike up a notch from its previous, quarter-liter incarnation.

Ultimately, the choice of whether or not to indulge in a Ninja 300 should be based on where the buyer is in his or her riding career: absolute beginners may find it easier to be corrupted by the added power, while newbies with tiny bits of experience will enjoy the benefit of a bike that gives them room to grow. Either way, Kawasaki has created an entry level sportbike with plenty to offer beginner and many intermediate riders alike; heck, even advanced riders should have a hard time wiping the grin off their faces after they've enjoyed everything the Ninja 300 has to offer.

Specifications

  • Price: $4,700 or $4,999 (SE version with special edition graphics); $5,499 (ABS)
  • Engine: 296cc liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, four-stroke parallel-twin
  • Transmission: 6-speed with slipper clutch
  • Final Drive: Chain
  • Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gallons
  • Seat Height: 30.9 inches
  • Frame: Semi-double cradle, high-tensile steel
  • Front Suspension: 37mm telescopic (4.7 inches travel)
  • Rear Suspension: Uni-Trak with 5-way adjustable preload (5.2 inches travel)
  • Rake/Trail: 27 degrees / 3.7 inches
  • Curb Weight: 379.3 lbs (383.7 lbs with ABS)
  • Warranty: 12 months

Who Should Buy the 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300?

First time riders with outstanding levels of self-control, somewhat experienced beginners, and more advanced riders looking for a mild mannered, lightweight bike to fling around corners.

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