This is a Japanese fight on Indian tarmac. A Ninja, a CBR and an R – you like the sound of that, don’t you? However, these three motorcycles represent the accessible (read cheapest) end of their respective nomenclature spectrum. Three extremely enticing real-world motorcycles in the real world. A little GSX would’ve made things perfect, no? Anyway, let’s throw the small ’un to the wolves first, shall we?
It’s David against two Goliaths. Let me make one thing very clear – the R15 is here only because it is the handling benchmark in the country today. It is also here because it is the flagship Yamaha in India. For now.
The R15’s got no chance against the 250cc duo in a straight line. But come cornering time, the 250s would have to resort to kamikaze manoeuvres to get the better of the Yammie. If you can somehow convince the 250 riders to not go above 80-90 kph on straight roads, you’ll easily keep up with them. On a twisty road though, you can sail ahead and frustrate them as their extra power seems suddenly inadequate. The R15 can outbrake the heavier bikes at will or, given the right kind of corner, not brake at all! The R15’s chassis is worth more than the 250s’ extra horsepower in the twisties. Downhill, it’s a no contest – the other two will never see the R15 until the flat lands begin.
The R15 seeks out corners and demolishes them with a devastating turn of speed that the bigger bikes fail to manage. Only the Ninja has a slight chance of showing the R15 up in wide sweeping high-speed corners. Other than that, the R15 pretty much teaches the CBR and the Ninja how it’s done.
After riding the R15 back to back with these bigger bikes, I have new-found respect for the little Yamaha. That, I think, sums it up just perfectly. If you love being the underdog, taking it to the big dogs, the R15 is still a viable option. I, for one, am waiting for the new bike to come out. Soon please, Yamaha. Right. Now let’s move on to...
THE MAIN EVENT: CBR250R vs Ninja 250R
It took the Honda CBR250R to come in and make everyone sit up and take notice – especially the Ninja 250R. To make a short story shorter, Indian motorcyclists have already started bleeding either red or green. So, is it too close to call? Or is there a clear winner? Read on.
LOOKS: Sophistication or Charm?
What’s most obvious about the CBR250R is its mini-VFR1200R styling, 1:0.5 scale, to be precise. However, the toned-down layered styling does a good job of making the CBR250R look stylish and friendly, and not almost hostile alien-like, like the VFR. I suppose the less intimidating size helps too – the CBR250R will fit most riders like a glove. It feels big and chunky without feeling unwieldy – just right, I say. The level of quality is what you’d expect from a premium Honda, though a few welds on the exposed part of the chassis and some iffy plastics could’ve been avoided.
The CBR250R’s fairing, smart tail section and fat tyres give it a planted and sporty stance. Details like the raked triangular exhaust and more rounded fuel tank add to that effect. These elements, combined with smart colour co-ordination, give the CBR250R an air of sporty sophistication. I certainly like it. But what happens when you see green?
The Ninja 250R wears one of the most evocative shades in the history of motorcycling. Where the CBR features smooth surfaces, the Ninja is all about being rakish, and it carries it off very well indeed. That lip in the headlight looks like a lower canine tooth that sticks out on one of those mad-looking dogs. The Ninja looks the part and is certainly more solidly built than the CBR.
The difference between the CBR and the Ninja is as clear as day and night – the Honda looks futuristic, the Ninja looks more old school. What’s your poison?
PERFORMANCE: Two against one!
Here too, the difference between the chalk and cheese... er, the CBR and the Ninja is obvious. Both feature 250cc motors, but the Ninja’s got one more cylinder than the CBR. The Ninja makes more power – 32.5 bhp@11000 rpm compared to the CBR’s 25bhp@8500 rpm. The CBR makes more torque – 2.33 kgm@7000 rpm to the Ninja’s 2.24 kgm@8200 rpm. However, the CBR’s numbers on paper are deceptive. It feels far more powerful than the 20-odd extra cubes and 5 bhp more that you get over, say, a Pulsar 220.
The CBR, thankfully, is not ultra-smooth like other Hondas and feels gruff, with a pleasing hooligan-tool feel to it. However, launch it, and if you don’t have enough revs on board, all you’ll do is bog down – never was there a more underwhelming feeling, trust me. For a perfect getaway, you will have to nail the 7000 rpm mark. More than that, and the clutch complains rather loudly at being excessively slipped. However, the motor’s got excellent response and power delivery, ensuring that accelerating the CBR is a thrill.
The Honda’s low-end power is nothing to speak of, but the mid-range is stonking. There’s not many bikes that will live with the CBR on a fast flowing road with that motor on the boil – it simply loves being flogged. Exiting corners in the higher gears, you can nail the throttle to the stop and listen to that motor scream its head off as you pretend to be little Dani (God, bless him. Please.) hanging off his much faster RCV.
The slightly more torque at lower revs allows the CBR to keep up with the Ninja in any situation you can think of in the real world. The problem (or the boon, depending on your tastes) is that the Ninja is one rev-hound of a motorcycle. It’s a twin-cylinder wind-up toy that goes faster the more you twist it. And in a straight line, it will howl away from the CBR – imperceptibly at first, but the more the CBR tries to keep up with the Ninja, the more ground it loses.
There’s not much between the two in terms of numbers – the Ninja does 0-60 kph in 3.4 secs and 0-100 kph in 8.6 secs, while the CBR is right up its exhaust pipe with 3.5 secs and 8.9 secs respectively. But the Ninja features twice the number of pots and feels twice as relaxed as the CBR, and post-100 kph, the Ninja simpy becomes a green speck in the distance. What I love about the Ninja’s motor is its flexibility – you might have to rev it to get going, but around town, you can plonk it into sixth gear and whir around at 25 kph! That’s just amazing! On the taller-geared Honda, you’d better be closer to 50 kph or the drivetrain will judder and clunk. Any decrease of speed on the Honda, and you’d better be prepared to drop gears faster than the US drops bombs on the Middle East.
The Honda is clearly more efficient than the Kawasaki. But the fact that the single is more stressed is even more apparent in the efficiency numbers. The Honda varies wildly from 45 kpl on the highway at a steady 80-90 kph to a stupid 23 kpl on twisty mountain roads, averaging 34 kpl. The Ninja, being less stressed, offers a consistent 35/28 kpl in the same cycle, averaging 31.5. At constant speeds though, the Honda is more wallet friendly than the green bike.
In the end, both the CBR and the Ninja feature sweet motors, but the Ninja is certainly easier to live with in terms of rideability, while the Honda is more efficient.
HANDLING: Nimble or Stable?
Out on these well-surfaced twisty mountain roads, it’s fairly neck-and-neck between these two Japs. While we never got into an all-out dogfight on public roads, it was too close to call. But there’s no question that on a track, the Ninja would rule.
The Honda has a less roomy riding position than the Ninja, but I found the CBR more comfortable. Which is surprising considering that I’d been cursing the Honda’s rather hard seat on every long ride. Turns out, the Ninja’s seat rivals stone slabs in terms of consistency and makes the CBR’s seat seem like the softest thing on earth. Also, you sit more upright on the Ninja than the sportier but comfortable CBR.
One thing that struck me about the CBR is the amount of road noise those Continental Go! tyres generate – I’ve never heard tyre roar on a motorcycle before! But I can’t say that it detracts from the riding experience, to be honest. On the move, the CBR feels light on its feet and dances over every undulation with its excellent ride quality.
Once you get going though, the CBR feels more like a VFR. It is light and nimble, but you can’t get a heavy feeling off your mind – oh hang on, that’s the too-fat rear tyre! The 140/70 17-incher makes its presence felt every time you enter a corner, especially faster ones – it feels like you’re dragging extra weight around bends. The Ninja, by contrast, feels like one unit into and out of corners with its 130/70 17-inch IRC rear hoop. However, the Kawasaki doesn’t feel as flickable as the Honda, though it is more stable at high speed. A smaller section rear tyre for the CBR would improve things dramatically, I imagine.
However, the overweight tyre notwithstanding, the CBR is a great handler on the road, even though its suspension is a bit soft, a trade-off for more comfort no doubt. Choose your line and keep the throttle plugged, and the CBR will roar through corners without wallowing. Mid-corner corrections or braking do make the CBR unhappy, though – a track tool, this is not. It is possible to take bumpy corners flat out, but expect either wheel (or both, as it happened on more than one occasion) to become airborne for an instant. And then it goes on as if nothing has happened. And when the time comes to stop, the CBR impresses even more.
The CBR’s 296 mm front rotor is arrested by the Honda Combined Anti-lock Braking System that is simply brilliant. Picture this: a dirt road, road tyres and a handful of front brake. Normally, that would end in an ugly heap, but not on the CBR. Whether it’s on rough roads or perfect tarmac, the system just plain works, no fuss or drama. The Ninja’s brakes are excellent too, but the added reassurance of ABS gives the CBR a definite edge for sure.
Overall, the CBR is a great handling motorcycle, even though the chassis and suspension lag behind the ever-willing motor. If we were at a race track, the Ninja would’ve run rings around the CBR, thanks to its more sorted handling and that bonkers rev-happy motor. But in the real world, the CBR keeps the Ninja honest.
PLAYING CATCH UP: Big Red vs Team Green
The best way I can put it is, the CBR feels like a bigger small bike, while the Ninja feels like a smaller big bike. No matter how you compare them, the Honda looks and feels more modern than the older Kawasaki. The Ninja offers a different feel than the singles we’re used to and is still the fastest 250. But there is one drawback that hammers all nails into the Ninja’s coffin at once. In the rest of the world, the CBR250R and the Ninja 250R are on par when it comes to pricing. In India, thanks to the unfairness of our highly esteemed duty structure, the Ninja costs a whopping Rs 96,000 more than the CBR – the CBR is made here, while the Ninja arrives as a CKD unit. Bajaj has got to do something to make the Ninja more competitively priced.
But, if it’s outright performance that you want, wrapped in that shade of green, the Kawasaki is still the one for you. It’s a comforting yet tragic thing, like the king who could never be king – but at least he was still alive, right? The CBR, on the other hand, gets most things right in the first go and will take quite some doing to beat. With its on-par performance, superior efficiency, fun-to-ride character and C-ABS option, all for a whole lot less money, the CBR250R is exactly what the Ninja couldn’t be – the right bike at the right price at the right time.
TWICE AS COOL: Less money, double the cubes!
There’s no substitute for displacement, they say. In that case, 500 is definitely better than 250. Or is it?
We think the Classic 500 is the one of the most beautiful motorcycles sold anywhere in the world. Its timeless lines are totally at odds with the CBR’s new-age design. The Classic 500 might look like it belongs to the past, but it’s certainly not behind the times. Fuel-injection, a new-age thumping motor that doesn’t leak oil and... hmm, that’s about it. How does 0-60 kph in 3.6 seconds sound? Or perhaps 0-100 kph in 10 seconds? Mind you, we’re talking about a 187 kg machine here, while the CBR is 20 kg lighter. We’re also talking about 4.21 kgm@4000 rpm with which you could probably defeat the CBR and Ninja combined in a two-wheeled tug of war. Yes, people who ride Bullets end up doing that sort of thing at some point or the other, usually at Rider Manias. Anway, these are two very different animals, but if you’re considering the CBR as a touring steed, the Classic 500 is one option you should certainly consider. Long rides will never be the same again.
If you’ve got around Rs 1.44 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai, with the optional upswept exhaust), you could get your |very own piece of neo-British iron that’s made in India, that’s cheaper than the base model CBR250R. Being partial to Bullets, I’d take the Classic 500 for sure and strip it down. Cafe racer, anyone?