Little gems (Kawasaki Ninja 300 vs Honda CBR500R)

Posted on December 19, 2013 at 10:06 am

THE EYE-CATCHING lime green Ninja is sharp and detailed. Everything about it whispers ‘mini-sports bike’.

The front end has a lower windscreen than its rival here, more angular mirrors neatly integrated into the fairing, and those pointed headlights are equally aggressive.

The Honda, on the other hand, has a maturity to both its styling and rideability. It’s still fresh and modern and its design is a little more understated. Wide, rubber-covered footpegs, sensible mirrors, a taller screen and a strip of pin-striping on the wheels convey an eminent sensibility.

This bike is aimed at young riders, but with its mid-size, torquier engine and ergonomics that seem quite spacious, it feels more substantial than the Ninja and better suited to commuters and B-road riders of any generation.

Both bikes are powered by a parallel twin engine, but the Kawasaki has slimmer bores, a shorter stroke and stacks its performance up higher in the rev range. The lower-revving, torque-laden CBR has 175cc, four horsepower and more mid-range muscle.

With the bikes side by side a healthy twist of their throttles sees the CBR surging ahead, leaving the Ninja to shrink in its mirrors like the white dot old TV screens had when you switched them off.

But the Kawasaki is rev-hungry and on a long stretch, assuming you’re immune to legal prosecution, the Ninja 300 could probably go at least as quickly. Unless you slip down the gearbox and keep the revs nice and high, the Kawasaki is caught off guard and it’s not until the revs hit 6,000rpm and rocket towards the 13,000 redline that you stop waiting for something to happen and start enjoying the buzz.

Strangely enough, the Ninja’s screen may be lower but its steeper angle means the wind protection is as effective, if not better than the CBR’s. The Kawa’s riding position is sportier, the seat tips you forward, you need to flap your elbows to get a good view in the mirrors and ride virtually side saddle to maintain the blood flow in your legs on a long straight ride – at least by comparison to the bigger-feeling, comfier Honda.

Neither bike has that much ground clearance, but with the Honda’s softly-damped suspension the pegs ground out sooner. The Kawasaki’s shorter gearing, higher revs and stiffer suspension all help, but the icing on the cake is how quickly the Ninja can change direction and flick down into a turn.

The mini-Ninja’s geometry and sportier tyre sizes makes it feels like it’s balancing on a knifepoint when it’s upright and it’s ready to dive to one side if so much as a feather lands on the handlebars.

The Honda’s brakes are firmer, but the Ninja works best with a fluid, momentum-maintaining ride so you rarely use them anyway. When you do need them, they’re adequate rather than exceptional.

Jumping from bike to bike, the Honda’s heavier steering is exaggerated, needing more input on the bars to provoke a reaction. But that is totally in keeping with the bike’s main charm; its low revving, torquey twin engine. The Honda chugs away with a refined smoothness, keeping up with the nimble Kawasaki with seemingly minimal effort.

Rather surpisingly, the Ninja has the larger tank, (by 1.3 litres) but the fuel economy figures are tipped slightly in the Honda’s favour; 55 mpg and 59 mpg respectively – and bearing in mind that these figures include significant time spent hammering around a go-kart track, they’re mighty impressive.

You wouldn’t lose face parking either of these bikes outside a café or college but my money would go to the Ninja 300. It oozes fun, it makes you want to improve your riding and it looks hot; way bigger than a 300. But, for longer journeys and commuting, the scales are tipped back towards the comfier Honda.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Honda CBR500R, £4,950 on the road.
Engine: 471cc liquid-cooled parallel twin producing 47bhp @ 8,500rpm and 32lb.ft @ 7,000rpm.
Transmission: six-speed sequential manual gearbox.
Dry weight: 194kg.
Seat height: 785mm.
Fuel capacity: 15.7 litres.
Contact: www.honda.co.uk

FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS, £4,799 on the road.
Engine: 296cc liquid-cooled parallel twin producing 39bhp @ 11,000rpm and 20lb.ft @ 10,000rpm.
Transmission: six-speed sequential manual gearbox.
Dry weight: 174kg.
Seat height: 785mm.
Fuel capacity: 17 litres.
Contact: www.kawasaki.co.uk

By Motor Trader Editorial Team

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