One’s been around as the only offering in its class since before some of its aspiring buyers were even born, and the other is an upstart that was practically born yesterday.
One makes a strong case for its racer-boy potential and over-the-top aesthetic appeal, and the other makes the case as an all-rounder that happens to be a capable sportbike too.
In case you’re new to this, the made-in Japan Ninja is the one that’s well known, versatile and long had a lock-hold on the 250 sportbike class in America. The made-in-China Megelli is new for this year, and assumes an even more aggressive posture than its more aggressively-named rival.
Or are they rivals at all? The Megelli’s Texas-based importer says he’s not trying to go head-to-head with Japan, Inc.
We understand, but given that the two 250Rs’ are otherwise remarkably similar, and the Bennche is priced only $600 less, we see a valid match-up.
Cap-gun fight at the O.K. Corral
Claiming design creds from the U.K., Italian-inspired looks and a seemingly Italianesque name as well, the Megelli has some audacity walking onto the Ninja’s turf.
But on its turf, it is. Its single-cylinder engine is carbureted and liquid-cooled, as is the Ninja’s parallel-Twin engine. It has a full fairing like the Ninja does, similar design dimensions, and targets the same potential buyers.
Not only is the Megelli’s price competitive, if its claimed weight of 248 lbs dry and 286 lbs wet are accurate even to within 5% – and it feels like it is – it is a shredded back-alley scrapper compared to the claimed 333-lb dry (374 lbs wet) Ninja.
Having had little else but its own shadow to spar with for years, the Ninja has enjoyed year after year of top-seller status, and has gotten away with this despite weighing an estimated 25% more than the more reasonably-weighing Megelli.
Could this be a good fight after all?
Kawasaki didn’t mess with its formula for success from 1988 until comprehensively updating the Ninja 250R in 2008, and the 2010 model is unchanged. Its engine is built for reliability, its chassis, suspension and brakes are good quality, and its electrical system, plastic bodywork and other components are acceptably robust.
The U.K. design company and Chinese factory that created the Megelli say its engine, and hardware are good, but the bike lacks a track record. It certainly looks tidy, but we observed inexpensive features including a tiny tachometer with a needle indicator that bounced around like that of a Geiger counter and never steadily displayed rpm, and plastic bodywork that was brittle and easily cracked.
“The Megelli vibrates and rattles, and the more time spent aboard the machine reveals an inexhaustible amount of quirks,” observed MO tester, Tom Roderick.
Whoever was in charge of Megelli’s R&D also passed another issue we immediately learned about the hard way – the right upper fairing delivers a painful pinch to the index and/or middle finger and knuckles while maneuvering at full steering lock, and a rider’s left thumb may be pinched against the fuel tank on opposite lock.
In the looks department, most agree the Megelli takes no prisoners in trying to resemble a pint-sized repli-racer. Likewise, the Ninja – with styling cues borrowed from the ZX-6R and ZX-10R, and no “250” label to be found on its bodywork – also looks reasonably tough. Kawasaki could have made it look tougher if it had wanted to, but reserves the sharpest looks for the sharpest swords in its arsenal. As for Bennche, this is the meanest street weapon in its limited production line.
Here’s where things get more interesting in the Bennche’s favor. Observing the dyno charts reveals the characteristic bottom-end advantage of the Megelli’s thumper. At 4,000 rpm, brand B is already delivering 10.4 hp, and 13.7 ft-lbs torque. In contrast, brand K lugs along at a lowly 7.3 hp, and 9.6 ft-lbs.
That’s 30% more oomph for the much lighter Bennche. Comparing peak horsepower figures and over-estimating its curb (wet) weight at 291 lbs, the Megelli’s unladen horsepower-to-weight ratio would be 14:2:1, or 14.2 pounds for every one horsepower to push. This compares favorably to the Ninja’s 14.7 pounds pound for every one horsepower. The scales do tip in the Ninja’s favor with a 175-lb rider on board, however, at 21.6:1 vs 22.7:1 – a slight difference that increases as rider weight increases.
It should be further noted that our Megelli 250R was rush-shipped to us in a terrible state of tune. The Ninja 250R also suffers from less than optimal tuning, as its EPA-satisfying lean carburetion can’t fulfill the engine’s maximum potential.
Despite our Megelli’s carburetion issues, it retained an edge over the Ninja until 8,500 rpm when its output flattens out on the way to its rev limiter 1,000 revs later. It generates its 20.5 horsepower peak at 8,250 rpm.
However, sprint and top speed honors go to the high-revving Ninja. Horsepower numbers are about equal at 8,300 revs, but from there the Kawi is just beginning to hit its stride and takes advantage of its higher-revving powerplant. Spool up all of its 25-plus ponies, and it consistently runs away.
Acceleration out of corners is another story. Here, we found the sprint king’s track shoes suddenly on the other foot, and to the Megelli’s advantage. Combined with significantly less mass to get moving, its superior midrange power can give it better drive out of tight corners unless the Ninja stays in its power zone.
The historical secret of human Ninja assassins may have been stealth, but in order to win speed contests, the way of the 2010 Kawasaki Ninja 250R must be to scream its head off.
This it does, because it can. The Megelli may bellow louder, but the Ninja’s 13,000 rpm redline is a mechanical never-never land that the mystery mono-cylinder from China can’t dream of, and its rev-limiter stops it at 9,500 rpm.
On the road
Both ride on basic suspension; non-adjustable in front, preload adjustable in rear. The Bennche’s is a bit crude and more jouncy. Not only does it lack external rebound adjustment, the fork seems to lack any rebound damping at all, feeling like an un-damped spring in operation, and the rear is set firm and is not very compliant. The importer says this bike’s suspenders were originally too soft when set up for lightweight Asian riders, so he spec’d the U.S. version with springs meant to handle riders upwards of 220 lbs or more.
For these reasons, the Kawasaki does a better job damping irregularities in low- or high-speed corners. While not so tunable either, its suspension delivers an acceptable engineered compromise to make it controllable in a wider variety of conditions. Overall, it manages its comparative bulk well, and steers quickly – but the Bennche steers quicker still, and its lighter weight is undeniable.
Oh how things could be different if the Megelli had better suspension. Rigidity aside, its geometry is dialed. On smooth pavement it falls neutrally into line, and its ergos make it feel like it was all meant to be. With true clip-ons and rearset pegs, its fit is not for the uncommitted, but the upside is rider positioning purely functional for sportriding.
The Kawasaki is a true sportbike too. It’s true that its handlebars are a few inches higher, and its neutral pegs aren’t as hardcore, but rider positioning is sufficient to maintain control during spirited riding. Bend your arms a little to assume a tucked or purposeful posture, and the upside here is rest of the time, your back and wrists will thank you.
It is therefore certain more riders will find the Ninja all-around friendlier. Further, its larger instruments are easier to see, include a fuel gauge, and function well – although the tach does read 1,500 rpm too high at redline.
Both bikes come with serviceable tires sized at 110/70-17 front, and 130/70-17 rear. The IRC RX-01s spec’d as front and rear-specific versions on our Ninja are known to strike a balance between acceptable traction and durability, and true enough they never let us down. The Cheng Shin Magsports on the Megelli initially made us think twice. We’d never ridden them before, but they proved grippy enough. We didn’t do enough miles to test their durability however, and another issue prevented fully testing them in some corners.
This issue is that the Megelli only corners to the right – effectively speaking, anyway. You see, its low-hanging kickstand limits clearance to maybe half the lean angle on the left side compared to what is possible on the right.
This alone kills it for us as a sportbike. It would have to be removed or repaired before full exploration is possible. As delivered, it is a safety risk to anyone wanting to play racer, and nearly caused veteran testers to lever the rear wheel off the ground and crash. We soon lost the confidence to dive into the left, opting instead to scrub off speed and lose momentum.
Fortunately, its brakes do work. The Megelli’s lever feel is solid, but its binders’ whoa-power is only adequate. As you might guess, the Ninja has none of these issues. Its brakes work well, and provide enough feedback and control. They too could be made better via the aftermarket, of course, but it’s not imperative.
We give credit to Bennche for a decent first try. Everyone who sees it says its looks are fantastic. It has a competitive power-to-weight ratio, and assuming the powertrain and other components prove durable – and its shortcomings are remedied – it has real potential to shake things up in the entry-level sportbike segment.
“Based on your opinion, we are making improvements to the Megelli,” says Bennche’s Johnny Tai. Improved sidestand clearance is in the works, and a new fuel-injection system should solve the Megelli’s inconsistent throttle response. We’re anxious to see the progress this hungry little company makes as it refines a solid platform
With huge manufacturing capability and low costs as they are in China, and considering the high value of the Japanese Yen, it is conceivable that established powersports manufacturers may one day see a serious threat.
But at this juncture, although the Ninja weighs like a Sumo wrestler next to the lithe Megelli, it utterly had its way in most meaningful performance parameters – acceleration, cornering and braking. Likewise, its build quality is better, its dealer support is established, and its reliability is known.
We’re big fans of this motorcycle class, and believe new riders would benefit from learning on bikes like these for a couple of years or longer and would love to see more choices. So while we commend Kawasaki for being the only Japanese OEM with a bike in this class, we’re gratified it’s being challenged for the sake of the greater good of motorcycling. On this note, we regret that a Hyosung GT250R wasn’t available to round out a trio. Its torquey and fuel-injected V-Twin would have made things less easy for Kawasaki, as it did in our 250cc Shootout from 2009.
The Megelli’s European styling is very appealing, and its reasonable price could make it an excellent foundation for a project bike. But until its shortcomings are resolved, our money would be invested in the Ninja.
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2010 Bennche Megelli 250R Review
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