MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: Ninja 250R Gets a Makeover

Kawasaki's top seller is even sexier

By Teri Conrad, Photography by Adam Campbell

The Kawasaki Ninja 250R gets a complete redesign after 20 years offering more features while keeping its price tag ultra-affordable at less than four grand. What makes this the top-selling model in the Kawasaki lineup? Affordability. Its inexpensive to maintain and insure, plus it has exceptional fuel economy. The 250R is not only an ideal beginner bike for those who like sportbikes, its the only 250cc sportbike on the market.

In 2007, the Ninja 250R was Kawasaki#39;s top-selling motorcycle with 62 percent of its buyers being first time motorcycle buyers. Read: great entry level bike.

According, to the latest Kawasaki Owners Survey, the Ninja 250 is a popular choice among new riders, and 33 percent of its sales are to women. Not surprisingly, one of the biggest considerations for buyers of the Ninja 250R is the price. Its just $3,499.

Not too long ago, I wouldnt have considered riding a bike like the 250R because a 250cc displacement usually means an underpowered engine meant for beginners. But when I heard that the 250R has been completely redesigned for 2008 with 70 percent of the engine updated and styling borrowed from the super sporty Ninja ZX-6R and ZX-10R bikes, I was curious.

I prefer an upright riding position as opposed to leaned over position because it is more forgiving on my lower back, and doesnt put added pressure on my wrists. The redesigned 250R really delivered in this area with user-friendly ergonomics that puts the rider in a natural riding position.

Friendly ergonomics: The handlebars are wider and higher to lessen the reach. The foot pegs sit a little higher than previously, meaning additional ground clearance so you can really lean the bike into the corners without fear of scraping.

Weighing just 335 pounds, the 250R is extremely light so its easy to lift off the kickstand a definite plus for beginners. The stepped two-piece seat has a forward-leaning slant to position the rider into the cockpit of the bike. Stepped means the passenger part is a little higher than the riders. Seat height is just 30.5 inches – low for a sportbike. (The pictures show the bike with the optional rear seat cowl installed that covers over the passenger seat.)

At 5-feet 6-inches tall and wearing relatively low-heeled riding boots, Teri plants her feet flat and firmly on the ground when stopped. The seat is also narrow allowing riders with shorter inseams more leg length to reach the ground.

Lots of Spunk
The funky downtown area and scenic back roads of San Diego provided a backdrop for my road test that included busy city streets, freeway riding and plenty of beautiful canyons and valleys for a good sampling of the 250Rs capabilities.

Earlier Ninja 250 models required higher revs (meaning you have it give it more throttle) just to shift out of first gear which can be challenging for entry-level riders still learning where the friction zone is. The new 250R has plenty of low and midrange torque for brisk acceleration and a smoother, more responsive take-off, so a rider doesnt need to crank the throttle a lot to get it going. Kawasaki specs indicate maximum torque is 16.2 foot-pounds at 9,500 rpm. At one point, I found myself taking off in second gear instead of first. In my experience, most bikes are forgiving allowing you to get away with this. You can crank the throttle to quickly rev up to second gear speeds without a lot of engine choking and sputtering. The 250R was not very forgiving taking off in second gear.

With one-third of previous Ninja 250R sales to women, Kawasaki expects this new and improved version will appeal to even more female riders.

You might wonder how a 250cc parallel-twin powered engine performs at freeway speeds. The bike felt stable and solid keeping up with 70 to 75 mph traffic. Shifting into sixth gear, the speedometer revealed an effortless 75 mph at roughly 8,000 rpm. The new windshield provided a decent amount of wind protection, and I didnt feel the wind pushing into me too much.

Something I was able to feel firsthand while riding along a badly pot-holed road in the city is the improved suspension. Approaching the nasty stretch of pavement, I thought for sure I was going to get knocked out of my seat, but the little Ninja took it all in stride. The new Showa front forks are a smidge fatter than on the previous 250R providing better stability and a more planted feeling. The rear shock features a 5-way adjustable preload, meaning you can loosen or tighten the shocks from the factory “pre-loaded” setting to adjust when carrying a passenger or bags.

A shorter rake angle set at 26 degrees makes steering and cornering easier. The shorter the rake, the easier it is to do tight U-turns. I noticed this on some of the narrow roads I traveled. U-turns were effortless so long as you look where you want to go, the key to a doing a U-turn without putting your feet down.

The new 250R features 6-spoke, 17-inch wheels (previous models had 16-inch wheels) that support lower profile tires to make the bike feel more planted.

Also new for 2008, is an improved braking system with an enhanced feel at the lever that makes two-finger braking easy. Two fingers means the lever is so sensitive it only takes two-fingers to pull it in. A larger 290mm petal shaped disc was put on the front (larger means it increases your stopping power). Its squeezed to a stop by new dual-piston calipers on both the front and rear. The petal disc is shaped like a flower petal (hence the name) instead of having a circular shape like most bikes. This curvey shape improves wear and tear on the disc.

A stylish, new upswept single-sided, 2-into-1 exhaust adds to the 250R#39;s sportier appearance. You can also see the petal-shaped brake rotor here just under the exhaust.

The all-analog instrument cluster includes a large-face, easy-to-read speedometer and separate tachometer. Its surprising to see an all analog dash these days (even the odometer features the old-fashioned individual numbers that rotate), but this is one way Kawasaki keeps the bikes price down. A fuel gauge was added for 2008 a convenient feature absent on most small displacement bikes.

The 4.8-gallon fuel tank keeps you in the saddle longer between fill-ups meaning fewer trips to the gas station. The 250R gets roughly 50 mpg (unofficially, some riders say they have been able to stretch that to almost 70 mpg), depending on the type of riding you do. To help keep the price low on the 250R, Kawasaki stuck with the carbureted engine. Fuel injection is found on the models shipped to Europe but they also come with a higher price tag.

My only real issue was with the new diamond shaped mirrors that are smaller than Im used to. They required several adjustments before getting them to a suitable angle where I could clearly see behind me.

The clutch is a little stiffer than I would expect on an entry-level bike, but it is certainly not a deal breaker. Once moving, the updated six-speed transmission shifted smoothly, and I never had a problem finding neutral. All Kawasaki motorcycles are equipped with a “positive neutral finder,” Kawasakis proprietary technology that makes finding neutral a cinch. The green indicator light on the instrument panel confirms when youre in neutral.

The Bottom Line
So, what do all of these improvements mean to someone interested in this bike? Simply stated, it translates to a more rider-friendly package in terms of comfort and improved ergonomics; better throttle response – important especially for beginners getting used to the feel of the throttle; more low and midrange torque so the oomph is felt as soon as you take off; improved braking – always a good place to make better; smoother shifting – who doesnt want to shift through the gears with ease; better cornering ability – Im all for riding a bike that helps me take the turns more efficiently; an updated instrument panel – everyone can appreciate a fuel gauge; and all-new bodywork that gives the 250 a cool, modern look.

Two of the four colors available for the Ninja. It also comes in black and red.

The best part is that even with all these improvements, the price is just $500 more than the previous years model. With so many upgrades on a bike that has been going strong for so long, I wouldnt be surprised if current 250 owners choose to upgrade to the 2008 version. Judging from its popularity and the number of enthusiasts waiting to demo this bike at Daytona Bike Week, you may have a hard time finding one on the showroom floor. No longer is this the little Ninja that could; it is the little Ninja that does!

For more information, visit

The Specs at a Glance: 2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R
Displacement: 249cc liquid-cooled, parallel twin
Seat Height: 30.5 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4.8 gallons
Dry Weight: 335 pounds
Colors: Lime Green, Candy Plasma Blue, Ebony, or Passion Red
Price: $3,499 (Matching Seat Cowl $99.95 – optional)

WRN Recommendation
Kawasaki has a winner with the Ninja 250R. This new and improved version has become hugely popular; dealerships are having a hard time keeping them in stock. It makes a great beginner bike for those preferring a sportbike style; it’s also a viable option for experienced riders who want a super commuter that can help save on gas prices.     

The majority of riders of the Ninja 250R (42 percent) have been riding six months or less. Many riders choose this bike as their first one. The next largest group of buyers of the 250R are those riding 30 years or more.

About the Author
Teri Conrad is the editor of Accelerate magazine, Kawasaki’s enthusiast publication for Riders of Kawasaki (ROK). She is also a contributing editor for Her work has appeared in Iron Horse, Ride Texas, Biker Ally, Friction Zone, Adventure Sports Outdoors, Portrait of Achievement, and Cycle Trader magazines. Teri grew up riding on the back of her mom’s motorcycle, and has been riding her own bike since 2003. She rides both cruisers and sportbikes, and has appeared on the Speed Channel in a segment about Kawasaki’s Ninja 650R. Visit   

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36 thoughts on MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: Ninja 250R Gets a Makeover

  1. I am 22 years old and been looking through some motorcycles and thinking of getting one but not sure which one fits me the best? Ive been driving a moped from ages 13 – 16 years-old, but in a different country. Now its been a while and I am wondering if the 250R will be a good choice as a beginner bike? I’m 5’2 – 5’3. I don’t know if its a good bike to start with?

  2. I’m wondering if older models of the Ninja 250 are also upright riding position? You said 2008 was improved in that area. Will I be disappointed with an older one if I want to sit upright?

    1. Both motorcycles have an upright seating position compared to a standard sportbike, which has the rider leaning down into the bars. Seating position is one of those things that so subjective per each rider. I encourage you to sit on the motorcycle you’re considering to purchase to be sure you are comfortable with that seating position.

  3. I am wanting to buy my first bike. I am 4 feet 11 inch and was wondering if I would still be able to ride this bike. If it is still too high, do you think I would be able to wear heels in order for it to fit better?

    1. The Ninja 250 may be a little high for you, especially if you’re a new to riding. If you are a complete newbie, I recommend getting some seat time on a motorcycle that’s a bit lower to the ground, one on which you can put both feet flat to the ground. Learn all you can on that motorcycle, and then trade up to Ninja.

  4. I am – feet-6 this is my first street bike. I have been riding a couple of weeks now and I love it. It has plenty of speed I am very pleased with the Ninja. Maybe after a year or so I will move up to a 600.

  5. I bought this bike, my first, and I love it. I am a small girl and I manage really well. It’s a sexy bike and feels really great to ride. I had no idea what I was doing when I got my licence so I was really happy with my decision. I recommend it!

  6. This bike really is perfect for anyone beginning. I love the way the bike looks and from all the people saying that is is very easy to ride. I’m still young but I’m proud that this will be my first bike. Can’t wait! It’s really something I look forward to.

  7. This article is great. It makes me feel more confident in my decision to buy a Ninja even though everyone says I am crazy for wanting to ride. I am barely 5 feet 4 inches so people assume I am not capable, but this bike is made for me. I cannot wait to start riding!

  8. I was wondering if someone could give me a few suggestions for my first bike. Im 19 and will be getting my license soon. Some say im crazy because bikes are very dangerous, but dangers is always around us whether we are driving a bike, driving a car, or just walking down the street. That being said, im extremely excited about getting my bike’s license and eventually my bike.

    1. We have an entire beginner’s guide on Women Riders Now to help answer some of those questions. You can also check out the Reader Stories section which has stories from readers just like you who experienced a lot of the same reservations before getting into motorcycling. Just start poking around the site. There is a wealth of information for people like you.

  9. I want to ride the bike long distance on the open road? How comfortable will this be? Anyone out there doing the open roads on this bike? Thanks, Tess.

  10. I have the 09 250 R in red and I love it. It is my first bike. I took the rider course and then got my bike. It rides exactly how this article describes. I had people tell me that it would be revved up really high on the highways but it does not. I have no trouble keeping up with my friends who have bigger bikes. It handles really well and I would recommend this bike to anyone.

  11. I'm 6-foot-4 and I'm thinking of buying the 2010 250R Ninja special edition and I'm wondering if I would be too tall for it. What do you think?

    1. A person's height when it comes a motorcycle has a more to do with leg inseam than overall height. I would recommend you sit on the model you want and see how it feels.g

  12. I have had a lot of questions about this bike I have been looking at it for a while. When I'm 15 and get my motorcycle license I want to buy the 09 Ninja 250 special edition paint. This article answered questions I needed and it was very good. Thank you for writing it.

  13. This is my first bike and I was scared to ride it when I first got it. I was going to get an GS500 and a sales person was worried that I would not be able to handle it since this was my first bike I was buying. He was right and showed me the 250R. I sat on it and felt really relaxed and was not so scared. When I got it home reality hit me and now I had to learn how to ride it. My friend taught me within a hour how to ride and I have been riding every chance I get. She is a good teacher and very concern about my safety and I own it all to her. Luv you “J.”

    However, I am taking a riding course in two weeks. The bike handles very well. Easy to shift gears. Seat little hard but will get a gell seat. This is a excellent bike for women and beginners. I would highly recommend this bike. It is an awesome bike to have and the price is great. Check it out.

  14. Thanks for this article, it really helped me learn a lot more about the bike I am about to purchase within the next coming months. New rider as well, and this bike caught my eye as having the style of the more expensive bikes but at the same time, seeming easier to use for a beginner at a great affordable starter price. Thanks!

  15. I know the term “beginner” means different things to different people. I just got my permit and am registered to take the safety course in a few weeks. I have been on the back of a bike for over 20 years but have never, ever driven one. I am 30 years old, 5 feet 7 inches 130 pounds. I just saw the '09 special edition and fell in love with it. Any thing else a “dead-beginner” should know about the bike?

  16. I am taking my motorcycle class in May. The review of the Ninja gave me a better understanding of what to expect if I decide to purchase it. I am not concerned with the top speed of 75mph because I wasn't going to be a speed demon on the road. Thanks a bunch.

  17. Just got on my 2009 Ninja 250 for the first time today! Watched all the safety videos on the Web and have a very patient and experienced husband guiding me through every step, and guess what, I was able to find my friction zone and get it to second gear. It's a little frustrating and I get impatient, but with practice every day I am confident I will be loving this bike.

    This is the perfect beginner bike. I am 57 and it is just the right size for me! Thank you for this Web site. I have bookmarked it to come visit it often.

    1. Kat,
      Thanks for bookmarking us, and congrats on the new motorcycle. Might I suggest, if you've not done so already, you sign up for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course before attempting any more riding on your new motorcycle. I'd hate to see you drop it.

      I can't imagine buying a bike and learning to ride it myself. It's like putting on scuba diving gear and jumping in the water expecting to know what to do. I'd drown! As with a motorcycle, there's a higher chance of making mistakes (deadly ones at that) having not gone through the training class. This is a known fact.

      Just some wisdom from little 'ole me.

  18. This little Ninja ain't just for beginners. I've been riding street bikes since 1992, and bought a 2008 last April. If you're doing a multi-day tour with luggage or are carrying a passenger, you might well want a bigger machine, but for day-trips or commuting this bike is perfect.

  19. Just purchased a black 2009 Ninja. I am 6-feet-2 and weight in at about 230. I have no problems with this bike. It's a thrill to ride.

  20. I recently just purchased a Thunder Blue Ninja 250 after reading your review back in May. I am loving every minute of riding and by the way, it's not a bad looking bike either. For a new rider it's a great beginner's bike if you want that sport bike feel and look.

  21. The timing was right. I saw this Ninja 250cc bike and I am now the proud owner. One problem, there is only two of these bikes on the island, mine being number 2. This bike is so user friendly and fun to ride. I am enjoying the extra attention/attraction here.

  22. I'm a new rider. I learned on a Kawasaki Ninja 250R, the older model though. It wasn't too bad. I know with all the new features it's going to be better.

    I took a class for three days and on the third day I had my license. Went to the dealership on the third day (yesterday). They're taking deposits. Sold out. I'm going back today and put in that deposit Great article. Never wanted to stop reading.

  23. Very good article. Glad Kawasaki finally updated the Ninja 250. I had one in the mid 1990s but the short handlebars and having to lean to grip them caused back problems go I sold it and haven't ridden since. Sounds like a winner that going to keep the factory hot for a while!

  24. I have been searching high and low for this bike.They are completely sold out everywhere. All the stores are taking deposits for the bike and not getting them till 09. This is crazy!

  25. Any thoughts as to how well and how long the 250 will perform as a commuter bike, 70 miles round trip five days/week with an average speed of 60 mph? I currently got back into riding after 20-something years and I have an 04 Suzuki GS 500 that feels a bit too big for me since I'm basically a new rider, so I've been tossing around the idea of getting an 2008 250.

    1. By all accounts, the bike seems to be able to hold up to what you expect of it. Commuting is what it seems to do best.

      If anyone has any experiences with this, yet please submit a comment.

  26. Wow, what a great looking bike. This review really answered most of my questions. Thank you Teri. I ride a cruiser now, but I've been planning on getting a fuel efficient little bike to commute on. This looks like it. I've got to get one of these! I'm sure I’ll turn a few heads on this bike too. 250cc, that's fine. Who will even know. I'll be cruising along in the carpool at the speed limit+ and I'll bet this bike will get 70 mpg. I want one of those little matching seat fairings, too.

  27. I had the chance (like fiive times out) to demo the 250 Ninja. It is an awsome little ride! I would love to have one for my second bike.

  28. Thanks for this review. I've been debating on getting a new, more powerful cruiser (I'm currently on my starter 600cc) or an entry-level sport bike. Since I started riding 2.5 years ago, I contemplated owning a cruiser and sportie simultaneously. With this pricing, it's totally possible. I love speed, though, so I'm afraid it won't feel fast enough.

    A little secret about me? Sometimes when I'm riding on my cruiser, I pretend I'm on a sport bike and knee-drag (in my mind). While 75 mph is not gonna outrun anyone, I hope it will still make me feel fast!

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