First Ride: 2014 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS SE Review

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)

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