First Ride: 2014 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS SE Review

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By

kawa-top

What’s Good
The slipper clutch boosts confidence in-town while down-shifting quickly on uncertain surfaces and aids corner entry speed by smoothing downshifts.

The Ninja 300 feels much lighter than its 384 lbs curb weight would suggest, aiding confidence in new riders and outright enjoyment in experienced ones.

The 30.9 inch seat height is a good compromise between accessibility for short riders and comfort for tall ones. Despite its sport bike looks, even my long legs aren’t very cramped.

The aggressive looks bring the Ninja 300 up to date.

The optional ABS brakes are strong, delivering both good feel and complete confidence. Crucial points for a new rider.

Performance is strong enough to keep you ahead of traffic in town and it can keep up on the highway too. We had no problems staying in the fast lane.

The fairly high bars and not-too-high pegs deliver ergonomics that facilitate both sport riding and comfort. Even tall riders can achieve good body position, something that doesn’t always apply even to liter bikes.

The analog tachometer/digital speedometer clocks are clear, immediate and comprehensive and include a fuel gauge.

At 68 mpg, the Ninja 300’s fuel economy is excellent. Running it will cost you pennies.

Fueling is smooth and predictable, a nice surprise in the switch from the 250’s carbs to the 300’s fuel-injection.

A hinged fuel cap? Thank you, Kawasaki for not scrimping here.

2014 Kawasaki Ninja 300 Review

What’s Bad
Despite its impressive performance, the engine’s power delivery feels flat and the engine is harsh and vibey. This is the one area — aside from the tires — where you feel the bike’s age.

The suspension is relatively stiffly sprung, but under damped. This leads to a harsh, bouncy ride, particularly on the freeway. Potholes can upset the chassis and direct you off course.

Otherwise ideal ergonomics are spoiled by a hard, unsupportive seat and the significant engine vibrations that carry through to bars and pegs unchecked. This limits the Ninja’s outright usability over distances exceeding 40 or 50 miles.

More mature, city-based riders may find the Ninja’s in-your-face styling to be too aggressive.

Stock tires — IRC Road Winner bias plys — aren’t up to the Ninja’s performance, and are artificially limiting its true potential.

2014 Kawasaki Ninja 300 Review

What Others Say
“Find the right environment and the Ninja will offer nonstop thrills.” — Motorcyclist

“We encountered some rather rough stretches of road on our ride, and I’m happy to report that the suspension proved up to the task.” — CycleWorld

“…the new bike is noticeably smoother than its predecessor thanks to rubber engine mounts keeping vibes at bay.” — Motorcycle.com

The Price
For 2014, the Ninja 300’s base price increases to $4,999. ABS adds $300 and the “SE” sticker kit $200 more. As tested, this Ninja 300 ABS SE costs $5,499.

The considerably slower Honda CBR250R would make an equally good beginner bike and is now considerably cheaper at $4,199 without ABS or costs $4,699 with.

The real trouble for the Ninja arrives in the form of the 2013 Honda CB500F, which equals the $5,499 SE’s price. The Honda is equally accessible to the Ninja, but offers considerably more versatility from its larger, more relaxed motor and superior comfort (day-long trips on the highway are a cinch). The CB’s ride quality is higher thanks to plusher suspension and its handling and outright sporting ability are also better thanks to the standard fitment of radial tires. Knee down no problem.

2014 Kawasaki Ninja 300 Review

The Verdict
The 2014 Kawasaki Ninja 300 brings the styling of its big brothers to a small, affordable, beginner-friendly package that’s engaging and sporty. Features like the standard slipper clutch and optional ABS boost that capability, while adding safety and peace of mind.

Fast enough to keep up in town, on the highway or to tackle a mountain road, the Ninja provides more performance than its capacity would suggest.

Unfortunately, its practicality is limited by compromised comfort and reduced ride quality, while its sporting ability is limited by outdated stock tires. With the price increase for 2014, other motorcycles now match its MSRP while offering more comfort, more speed, more versatility and equal ease of use.

RideApart Rating: 7/10

Gear:
Helmet: Icon Airmada Rubatone ($190, Highly Recommended)
Boots: Alpinestars Supertech R ($450, Highly Recommended)
Gloves: Racer Sicuro ($240, Highly Recommended)
Leathers: Custom Icon One-Piece (N/A)
Back Protector: Dainese Manis ($210, Highly Recommended)
Underoos: Alpinestars Summer Tech T-Shirt ($90, Recommended), Alpinestars Summer Tech Pants ($60, Recommended)
Hydration: Kriega Hydro-3 ($140, Awesome)

  • Josh

    It’d be nice if the cruiser reviews showed vaguely the level of gear that the sporty reviews do… Onesy optional, some sort of boots and pants, not.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      I think we wear more gear than is typically shown on any given type of bike in most other publications. I know we’re one of the few to show street riding in full race leathers and you’ll see Tim (our cruiser editor) riding big, heavy, slow, uncomfortable bikes in a full-face helmet, boots, gloves, and a jacket with full armor including a back protector.

      • Josh

        You’re absolutely right. I really like the list of gear at the end of the article. I guess it’s the jeans that bug me. Get that man a set of the new Rev-It Jeans, or Maple, or… something!

  • VagrantCoyote

    Having owned both Kawasakis and Hondas in the past and loved all of them, smart money is the CB500F for the money, no question. Great review Wes!

  • appliance5000

    The 500f is $6000 with abs – but point taken. I went from the ninja 250 to the 500f and it’s 2 different worlds.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Thanks, brain fart.

  • Stephen Mears

    I didn’t know bias ply tires on new bikes was still a thing! Shame!

    • Mark Vizcarra

      Yeah they are on mostly harleys

  • BillW

    So, tires, suspension and seat can all be fixed by the aftermarket. Vibration, not so much.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      At what point does the ROI become a problem on a $5k bike though?

      Tires: $240
      Seat: $350
      Suspension: $500-$1k
      Total: minimum spend of $1k, or 1/5 the price of the bike or a downpayment on any other bike of your choosing.

      • runnermatt

        I’ve decided that if I were to win the lottery I would go all in on my CBR250R. Ohlins suspension, good brakes, engine work, etc. Why would I do that you say. Because I would have the money and I could make people say “Why?” lol

      • Justin McClintock

        Wes, that’s true….assuming you leave whatever other bike stock as well. But chances are you won’t. So that argument pretty much gets thrown out.

  • Dan

    Still waiting for the KTM to (finally) arrive and spank this class. Price won’t be comparable to the cb500 but who cares – I think there’s demand for a higher spec sportbike below 600cc. Any idea if the RC390 is actually coming stateside?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      KTM doesn’t care enough about you to answer those questions, sorry.

      • Brett Lewis

        I have an authorized Motus dealer (1 of like 6 that exist) in my locale, but would have to travel hundreds of miles to visit a KTM dealer that sold/serviced street bikes. I could drive a few miles and stroke a check for any of the Italian bikes, or a Triumph or BMW. It’s the same issue that turned me off with Husqvarna.

      • Reid

        The dealer 20 miles from my house in the middle of po-dunk nowhere will definitely have a few RC390s when they come out. You guys should make a trip to beautiful Walton County, Fla!

  • taba

    I’ve two CBR250Rs and put the Diablo Rosso IIs on the bike I took to CSS. Transformational.

  • kawatwo

    I don’t know why Kawasaki continues to keep IRC in business :) And you get used to 9000 RPM on the freeway. Tough choice between the 300 and 500!

  • Joe Bielski

    This may be a dumb question (my school teacher said there are no stupid questions, just stupid people), but I read somewhere (on the internet, so it MUST be true) that a chassis that uses bias ply tires was designed to use those tires and putting radials can negatively affect the handling. I’ve got Bridgestone BT-45 tires on my ninja 500 poop mobile and thought about slapping radials on it….

    • Stephen Miller

      Put the radials on and don’t look back.

      • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

        Yeah, just run the good stuff.

    • Mark D

      The Diablos mentioned above aren’t made in the 130 size needed for the EX500. A 140 will technically fit, but its not ideal. Given that my beloved 500 is a bucket of bolts, I think adding radials (especially with the stock suspension) is polishing a turd. I run Pirelli Sport Demons, and they are much improved over the BT-45s I used to have.
      If you do decide to slap some on, I’d be curious to hear what you think. What the bike really needs to handle is new springs and emulators on the front; its sprung for a 135 lb. person.

  • mustangGT90210

    Minor nitpick to a great article. The cover photo for the article doesn’t have Kawasaki spelled right. It says Kawsaki lol

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      D’oh. We had a ton of technical issues getting this article up and I guess that got overlooked. Thanks for pointing it out, fixed now.

      • mustangGT90210

        No problem bud, keep up the good work!

  • JohnnyWaffles

    I like all the feel-good g’yuk! comments quoted from the other reviewers, the reason I started going to RideApart for real reviews and other publications for bathroom reading.

  • Piglet2010

    What others say – I am surprised you did not mention that all three reviewers over at MotoUSA preferred the CBR500R over both the Ninja 300 and Ninja 650: http://www.motorcycle-usa.com/114/17108/Motorcycle-Article/2013-Honda-CBR500R-Comparison.aspx

    But it might be worth picking up a used Ninja 300 in a couple of years to make into a track day bike.

  • DavidyArica Freire

    While I agree with some of the points made in the article, I must say why does ride apart have so much hate for the N300?

    In your other article you gave it a 6/10, citing “5/10 is average. The Ninja is a 30 year old platform that needs better brakes, better suspension, a modern frame and a modern engine.

    Well it does have decent brakes, the frame has been made stronger and suspension updated, all points from your article just now!

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Sure, and the addition of ABS takes it up to 7/10.

      Sorry, but we’re just being honest here. It’s decent learner/budget fodder, but not much more.

      • DavidyArica Freire

        Well I certainly respect that, and your opinion has more weight of course.

        But as the owner of a 300 myself, it has amazing potential for just about anything you throw at it.

        I just want people to judge it based on its class not what is lacking based on other classes, that’s all.

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          Sure, and for about the same money, you can now get a much more capable motorcycle. That has to be reflected in the review and the rating number, which is basically just a numerical summary of the review.

          We’re tough graders. 5 is average, at 7/10, the Ninja 300 is not only above average, it’s very good. Just far from the best option at that price.

  • DavidyArica Freire

    Also while the stock IRC are not the best anybody with some decent cornering skills can take it more than 20 degrees of lean, don’t believe me look at the link below for someone racing with stock IRC and doing well above your “20″ degree limit.
    http://youtu.be/cyYY7J7MzxI
    Just so much hate for no appropriate reason, let’s not forget this is meant as an entry level bike, not a repli racer, they do make those btw.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      You suggesting I don’t have riding skills?

      • DavidyArica Freire

        No, but if I a mere motorcycle enthusiast can go further than 20 degrees, than you should too.

        It is how you described the limitations on your review that may lead people astray. I was simply pointing out that 20 degrees is not only possible but very likely, even with IRC on. ;)

      • JerseyRider

        Hey Wes, I’ve got a newbie question. When you’re downshifting are you supposed to go down one gear at a time and let out the clutch after each successive gear change? Or can you downshift more gears then one while the clutch is in? I’ve been doing the latter when I approach a full stop but I read an article suggesting this might be the wrong technique.

      • IAmAConservativeICannotBeWrong

        hey if it’s good enough for Giacomo Agostini to race, it should be good enough for you ;)

    • Zach

      This is a good point, I’ve ridden both EX250 and EX300 stock rubber hard enough to drag knees plenty of times. They’re aren’t the best tires, to be sure, but the bike is not that hard to ride fast.

    • beefstuinit

      Irrational hate? Bias ply tires on a bike with sporting intent are a joke. I’ve ridden one of these myself and it needs some love before it can be pushed like a sporting machine.

      Is it more likely that they irrationally hate this one motorcycle or that you bought one so you get butt hurt when you read a negative review?

  • imprezive

    I rode my 2008 Ninja 250R from OC to Carson City, NV and did over an hour in the stock saddle multiple times. I don’t know if the 300 is just worse but I can’t imagine that much. It’s not an ideal highway cruiser but it’s not as bad as people make it out to be.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Sure, and I once road a bicycle 100 miles in a single day, but that doesn’t make it competitive with a good motorcycle. It’s our job to tell you how a bike works in relation to the rest of the market. Try a Honda 500 in comparison to your Ninja, I think you’ll be astounded at how much more motorcycle it gives you.

  • Von

    so it CAN’T smoke or out-handle a CB500F? lol Darin

  • Harve Mil

    Bias ply tires and a slipper clutch? Isn’t that like having breast augmentation on only one breast?

  • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

    No, the 300 is definitely an improvement over the 250 in every area. Remember that our reviews are written from the perspective of experts with experience across virtually every bike on sale.

  • Terry Davey

    Ebony Ninja 300, NoN ABS owner here, I like the review. This is my first bike have been riding for about 6 months now and I am ready to upgrade. All the points made in the review have merit, I don’t have a lot of experience but I agree with this assessment. I would say for someone who dose not have the skill set yet to push the bike to the limit it has been a great learning tool.

  • LaCrika De TuMai

    Getting mine on Saturday!