They’re sleek, powerful, have wide tyres, stratospheric red lines and digital speedometers that reach 300 km/h. Superbikes are the pinnacle of the motorcycle industry and so capture the imagination and attention of petrolheads. However, most riders can’t unleash these bikes’ full potential on public roads, or often do not know where to start learning how to ride one of these monsters. Kawasaki has put forward a possible solution… Following in the footsteps of its 250 cm3 sports bike, the Japanese brand has released the 300 Ninja. As the name suggests, the parallel-twin engine size has increased in size to 296 cm3. Power is up from 22 to 29 kW and torque from 22 to 27 N.m. These are still small numbers, but keep in mind that the bike weighs only 173 kg when fuelled.
The black colour of our test machine is perhaps too understated because it hides some design detailing; we’d rather opt for the shoutier black-andgreen combo. In appearance, the frame looks a lot smaller than those of a ZX-10R or ZX-6R, but it differs by just a few millimetres here and there. That also translates to the seating position. Once seated, the Ninja feels narrower, but overall you could have been on a larger-capacity bike. Press the starter button and the two cylinders reveal that you are dealing with a unit that should be easy to master (not that the exhaust tone is too weedy). On pull-away, you sense the light clutch, which ties in with the easy gear change. Let the rev needle run to 6 000 or 7 000 r/min before you change gears and this Ninja will keep up with most traffic.
Although the bike is relatively well suited to commuting, the stiff suspension and nimble feel is wasted in traffic. Head to a Broad, where the bike comes alive. As the rev needle passes 8 000 r/min, the engine note hardens and the pace of acceleration quickens to the 13 000 r/min redline. Owing to the gears (six of them) being stacked so close together, you need to go through four gears to get to the national speed limit. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The bike keeps your attention, heightening the sense of interaction in the process; it often feels 40 km/h faster than the actual speed. Dive into corners and the single front disc is mostly up to the task to lower your speed before entry, while the standard slipper clutch removes any worries about a rear wheel locking up during down changes. During enthusiastic cornering, the 300 is as capable and challenging as almost any other large-capacity superbike. Because it’s relatively lacking in pace, you rarely arrive at a corner carrying too much speed. It’s then easier to maintain momentum through bends.
In fact, such is its composure that the bike almost always feels like it could have braked later and gone faster. The similarities with Kawasaki’s more powerful bikes don’t end there. The 17-litre fuel tank is the same size as those of the ZX-10R and ZX-6R. This means you are able to ride for an estimated 300 km … depending on the frequency of 13 000 r/min gear changes. At R60 000, the Ninja costs R15 000 more than the smaller and less powerful Honda CBR250R, its most obvious rival. Is it worth the price premium? Well, as an introductory lesson on Superbike Handling 101, it justifies its price. It teaches you the art of superbike riding without the related risk of speeding fines or costly bloopers.