Kawasaki Ninja celebrates 25th anniversary

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The 1984 Ninja GPz900R, the first Ninja produced 25 years ago, was
explosive when Kawasaki released it to the public. It won “Bike of the
Year” in nearly every magazine, was at the time the world’s fastest
production motorcycle, and immediately the stuff of legend. The shear naming of a motorcycle after shadowy Japanese assassins with cool throwing stars and funny split-toe shoes was enough to
send adolescent boys all over the world into raving fits of desire, us included. Needless to say the next decade saw the brand become one of the most powerful icons in the industry.

The first Ninjas were sleek, elegant, aggressive and fast,
perfectly carrying over the macho Kawasaki brand of the 1970s. The
formula worked so well that when I first saw the 1985 black and red
Ninja 250R as a 9 year old, I became so obsessed I gave my mother a
rational argument for why it would be okay to keep one in the barn
until I turned 16. Other models like the 600R, ZXR750R and ZX-11 also
proved to be massive successes.

For the Ninja’s 25th anniversary, we wish Kawasaki
could say the brand still had the same presence as those first machines. By 1995 however, the brand
reached its peak as the bikes began to bloat and elegant lines morphed
into bulbous excess. Although the company has sought to address these
issues in recent years with models like the current ZX-10R, the brand is still considerably weaker than
rival competition such as Suzuki’s GSX-R.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Ninja brand, we’ve put together a gallery of the bikes we dreamed about the most.


  • http://muthalovin.com the_doctor

    Ah, late 90′s, my dad let me ride his 250 Ninja (the Green Machine) around the block, as much as I wanted. I thought I was a badass. The old ladies, uh, not so much.

    Happy Birthday Ninja, and thanks for all the fun.

  • DoctorNine

    OK, I was riding back then, not a nine year old, and I can tell you that the current Ninja 250, the best current small engine size intro bike available, has the same kind of presence for kids, that these did back then. You may have changed, but Kawasaki is doing just fine, thank you very much. The bloat you bemoan, in fact affects the other major manufacturers more, and none of the other major Japanese brands make near the effort to bring low to intermediate displacement street bikes to North America. In general, I enjoy your imagery and evocative writing style, Grant, but I’m thinking that this may be a case of a bit of selective memory…

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Ridden the current 250R? It’s really boring. And I say that as a fan of small bikes.

      • DoctorNine

        Boring? To you and me, sure. We’re used to liter sport bikes, or towering dual purpose machines, and have grown into the performance we demand gradually. But when I took my 7 year old son with me into the cycle shop to get a new helmet a couple months ago, which bike do you think he went and tried to get on? A red Ninja 250R. The kids still love these things. For what they are though, they really do a good job filling the niche. IMO, of course.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          I don’t mind the pace, it’s adequate, it’s just that they don’t bother with that whole handling thing.

  • vj

    Happy Anniversary Ninja!

    I miss my little Ninja dearly. I should’ve never crashed it.

  • drjohndee

    I wasn’t old enough to ride 25 years ago, but I’m pretty sure the Ninja name wasn’t used in the UK. That word was virtually censored in the wake of a shuriken-injury-fuelled media storm. The original NES Ninja Gaiden game became Shadow Warriors, Turtles became ‘Hero’ Turtles etc.

    Great bikes. I was seriously tempted to buy an old GPz600R recently. It was well on its way to ratbike status.

  • ian

    The Ninja name was used in the UK, just on the ZXR line rather than the GPZ.

  • Motominded

    I don’t think the 250R is boring. The new 250R will be my next bike. I want a machine that won’t be scary to start with. Also, i feel these bikes teach the fundamentals of performance riding better to as exiting a corner on a race track will be safer.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      That’s totally correct, learning to ride on a slower bike will make you a better rider in the long run, that’s how Grant and I learned.

      Having said that, bikes like the Yamaha WR250X have similar power put actually go around corners, which helps a lot. Just a shame that Yam costs so much.

      It’s a shame that the 250R is the only entry-level offering in the sports market, I end up recommending that most people start on the street with a used SV650, but I wouldn’t need to if the 250R was a little more fun.

  • David

    I didn’t realize that the original Ninja was based on a GPz… my first bike was a GPz550. I loved that thing, digital fuel reader and all! Wish I hadn’t let her go…

    • Hiwatt Scott

      I wouldn’t say the original was “based” on a GPz, it was just called a GPz900R in most of the world except America and maybe Japan. Later on, they changed the little “z” in “GPz” to a larger Z to denote the water cooled aspect. The Ninja’s motor had very little in common with it’s aircooled brethren.

      The first Ninja doesn’t get a lot of credit these days. I own and ride one, and “dinosaur” is the term most people use to describe it. I’ve been to the Barber museum twice, and still haven’t seen one displayed. If it ain’t the new hotness or older than your grandpa, most folks couldn’t care less.

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        I could have sworn I’ve seen one at Barber. Maybe I’m just losing my mind.

        • Hiwatt Scott

          They have a black and red GPz750 Turbo on display at Barber, which looks close, but no GPz900r (that I’ve seen anyway). Yet they have an early ZX-10 on display. Now which one is more important historically? Oh well, at least the Guggenheim included it in their Famous “Art of the Motorcycle” show.

  • Isaac

    I wonder if they’ll release a special 25th anniversary ZX-6R and 10R?

  • Stonygut

    I had an ’84 and then an ’85 Ninja 900 and haven’t been the same since. Man-eating motor, scraped footpegs (and even the exhaust can once), high speed wobbles, road rash and eluding the police… A lot of bike for a 19 year old, but it was sick fun…