To that end, we revved up three of these bikes for evaluation. Two are the best-known in the class (one is all-new for 2013) and the third is a lesser known bargain brand, thrown to the wolves to see how it stacks up against the class leaders.
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For years, Kawasaki ruled the quarter-liter streetbike world with its sporty Ninja 250 – mainly because of a dearth of competition. In 2011, however, Honda shook up the class when it released the CBR250R with electronic fuel injection (EFI) and available anti-lock brakes (ABS). Kawi’s hold on the 250 market became suddenly and noticeably tenuous. With women riders budding, gas prices on the rise and motorcycle manufacturers across the board desperate to attract new riders, it was clear that Kawasaki’s outdated, outmoded and carb-fed Ninjette was due for (at least) a makeover.
Kawi did far more than that when it completely blew up the class in 2013 with the Ninja 300. As our Troy Siahaan noted in his review, the 300’s larger displacement comes mainly from a longer stroke. Troy went into full technical detail in his piece, so there’s no need to revisit all the specs here when you can just click the link above.
But suffice to say that, with the addition of EFI (eliminating EPA-mandated, super-lean carb settings) and the optional ABS, it was clear the new Ninjette was gunning to reclaim its perch atop the entry-level peak.
So, despite the difference in displacement, the single-barrel CBR250R and the parallel-Twin Ninja 300 are obvious competitors. While we expected to see the Ninja outperform its smaller counterpart in performance metrics, we were curious with how these bikes sized up in other areas: handling, ease of use, rider comfort, instrumentation, et al.
Would the extra displacement put the sporty Ninja head and shoulders above the Honda? Or could the CBR’s more standard set-up negate the Kawasaki’s obvious performance advantage?
Another factor we wanted to consider was value. Consumers are voting with their pocketbooks, as the CBR250R and Ninja 250 were the best-selling streetbikes for their respective manufacturers last year. But with MSRPs in this class inching their way upward, some beginners might instead be attracted to a scooter or used car.
The outlier in this trio is the less-well-known Hyosung (by the way, it’s pronounced “YO-sung”) GT250R. Our man Tom Roderick recently reviewed the mighty Yo on its own merits. But if you’re interested to see how a cut-rate, bargain-brand bike compares to models from the big boys, we’ve got a comparo for you.
Tale of the Tape
According to the manufacturer’s own spec sheet, the GT250R’s wheelbase, seat height and overall length are exactly the same as its big brother, the GT650R – making it evident this is less a beginner bike than just a smaller-displacement V-Twin engine bolted into the chassis of a much larger motorcycle. Naturally, this bulk affects its performance.
“The Hyosung feels 10% bigger than the other bikes,” notes Editor-in-Chief Kevin Duke, “and the long stretch to the bars is nigh on ridiculous for a bike with this kind of power – it’s the most radical seating position of the trio.”
The handlebar demands the Hyosung’s rider to crouch over the (also 650-sized) fuel tank in a sporty riding position. Compared to the more upright, rider-friendly position the Ninja and CBR share, this incongruous posture – belly scraping the tank, chin over the filler cap – borders on the absurd. The rider is positioned for an acceleration rush that never materializes.
“The racy seating position of the Hyosung is aggressive but uncomfortable,” Content Editor Tom Roderick noted. “It might be great for canyon or track riding but otherwise it’s a slow-torture device. The combination of the clip-ons below the triple clamp and the high seat puts pressure on your wrists and on the inner bend of your elbows.”
Meanwhile, both Japanese bikes perch the rider in a more natural, vertical posture than the Hyosung. The Kawi’s rider’s knees feel slightly more bent that the CBR rider’s, but it’s not at all uncomfortable; it just lends to the Ninja’s sportier profile. It’s fair to say all three provide decent wind protection up high and fine heat deflection down low.
|By the Numbers|
|Model||Seat Height||Curb Weight||Wheelbase|
|Honda CBR250R||30.5 in.||357 lbs||53.9 in.|
|Hyosung GT250R||32.7 in.||416 lbs||56.5 in.|
|Kawasaki Ninja 300||30.9 in.||379 lbs||55.3 in.|
Because the Ninja 300 and CBR250R feature purpose-built chassis, both are smaller and lighter than the next-larger bikes in their respective lines. As expected, the 300 is slightly longer and heavier than Honda’s 250, but its seat height is less than half an inch higher, so both bikes should capably accommodate women, shorter riders and newbies. The GT’s 32.7-inch seat height will annoy shorter riders.
Building steppingstone bikes is Branding 101, folks. By designing fun and dependable entry-level motorcycles that are ladders up the chain to larger models, OEMs strive to build brand loyalty. Any entry-level rider who outgrows the small-displacement class on display here should be more than ready to step up to a Ninja 650 or CBR500R without trepidation. In the case of the Hyosung, though, the next level up is nothing more than the same motorcycle with a bigger engine.
But in keeping with the theme of this comparo, the old adage “You get what you pay for” applies, right? Well, more on that later.
Hyosung’s 249cc engine more than holds its own on the dynamometer. In fact, except for a slight hiccup near 6K rpm, the 75-degree V-Twin outpaces Honda’s one-lung thumper all the way up the chart. While both achieve peak torque at around 6500 rpm, in the end the Hyosung reached 700 revs further up the dial and rounded up nearly three more ponies (25.5) than the Honda’s 22.5, a bit short of the 24.0 horses our 2011 CBR delivered.
Hyosung’s Twin also bested Honda’s Single in the torque department. The Honda didn’t crank up its torque output until about the 5000-rpm mark, while the Hyosung started lower, reached max output quicker, and held that peak longer than did the Honda. Admirable qualities all.
And yet, on the blacktop the GT250R couldn’t measure up. Its big-boned chassis comes with a 59-pound weight penalty that dramatically cuts into its power-to-weight ratio. We’d love to see how this Hyosung engine performs in a chassis more suited to its displacement.
The CBR’s mill, by comparison, doesn’t disappoint in any way. On the dynamometer it naturally loses to the twin-cylinder bikes, but the friendly 249cc Single excels in any urban environment, doing it confidently, eagerly and precisely.
“It pulls well from just 3000 rpm,” says our Editor-in-Cheese. “The bottom-heavy powerband makes the CBR more noob-friendly than the others in this group.”
Roderick concurs: “The Honda’s thumper is incredibly smooth, even at freeway speeds, and produces a respectable amount of low-end torque.”
The Ninja’s 296cc parallel-Twin assuredly realizes Kawasaki’s desire to put this new Ninjette into a class all its own. The baby Ninja uses those 7.8mm of added stroke on each cylinder to pump foot-pounds and ponies to the rear tire clear beyond 10,000 rpm, achieving a peak torque rating 20% higher than the CBR – at 3K rpm higher on the tach. On pavement, those numbers translate as you’d expect they would.
According to quarter-mile times published in Cycle World, both 250s hit 1320 feet in about 16 seconds flat, which shows that they can keep up with most traffic. However, the Ninja 300 is able to do the deed in a relatively blazing 14.4 seconds, quite a bit quicker than the vast majority of automotive pylons.
“While its rivals are nearly tapped out at 80 mph,” Duke notes, “the Ninja loafs along at perhaps just one-third of its throttle travel, registering 8800 rpm and having 4000 revs additional headroom before hitting redline. The added displacement expands its powerband into something exciting even for vet riders.”
And that’s important, because this is where the “class all its own” thing becomes glaring. Seasoned riders know it’s sometimes easier to accelerate away from potential trouble than to hit the brakes. On the highway, the 250cc rider won’t have that “out,” because he’s likely near top speed. The Ninja 300 rider, on the other hand, probably has enough throttle left to push beyond merging trucks, budding traffic knots and flying tire treads.
In the end, it’s safe to assume the Ninja 300 owner likely won’t be as quick to outgrow his motorcycle. The beginner who starts off with the Ninja 300 should get at least another year out of his first bike than the newbie aboard the Honda CBR250R or the Hyosung GT250R. That translates into extra value.
“Where the CBR can be viewed as more of a beginner’s bike, the Ninja 300 is docile enough for a beginner and exciting enough to entertain an experienced rider,” Tom says, adding he wouldn’t mind having the little Ninja in his own garage.
As for transferring power to the rear wheel, both the Honda and Kawi’s six-speed transmissions were grand, with different actuation but equally satisfying performance. The Ninja’s in particular was nicely suited for the bike’s sporty demeanor, and the inclusion of a slipper clutch is particularly pleasing, especially on such a high-revving sports bike. Comparatively, Hyosung’s 250 has a somewhat clunky tranny that annoyingly popped out of second gear on more than one occasion on our test rides, and it comes up one gear short to its rivals.
Handle The Ride
When Editor Duke notes that CBR250R was more “noob-friendly” than the Ninja 300 or the GT250R, he was referring to more than just the Honda’s powerband. With a wheelbase nearly 1.5 inches shorter than the Kawi and a full 2.2 inches shorter than the Hyosung, Honda’s entry-level CBR is by far the most nimble bike in this comparison. On our ScoreCard, only Editor Duke held back from giving the CBR 10 out of 10 in the handling category. He gave it a 9.5.
“The CBR’s agility is unrivalled in this class, whether slicing up low-speed traffic or bending into a canyon hairpin,” Duke gushes. “The direct feeling through the handlebars offers gigabytes of feedback.” Roderick agrees, likening its flickable nature to an enduro bike.
But the Kawasaki isn’t far behind. “While nothing in this class is as agile as the CBR, the Ninja is only marginally less responsive to handlebar inputs,” Duke admits. The 300’s larger and heavier stance combines with its enhanced power to give it a more assured track than the other two bikes.
The Hyosung performed fairly well in this category, scoring 7s across the board on our ScoreCard. But it was still not up to the level of the Japanese bikes, likely due to its full-size heft. But again, you get what you pay for, right? Hold that thought, Tiger…
Styles For Miles
All three bikes in this comparo are sportily styled, with pointed noses, aerodynamic fairings and spritely tail sections that give each a knife-in-the-water deportment. As for which bike comes out superior in this department depends on your perspective.
Kawasaki wasted no expense on the Ninja 300’s looks, and the Motorcyle.com ScoreCard proves its package is our favorite of the three. In fact, parked next to its big brother, the new 636, a layman would likely have a tough task distinguishing between them.
“Kudos to Kawasaki for delivering a package that looks way more expensive than it is,” Duke raves. “The 300’s new styling gives the impression of a more substantial and striking motorcycle that can hang its headlights high even among more expensive machinery. Its integrated flush-mount front turnsignals and titanium-colored footpeg hangers are just two of several reasons I judged the Ninja’s finish details best in class.”
“While the CBR might not peg our lust meter, don’t tell that to the postman we rode past who yelled, ‘That’s exactly the bike I want!’” Duke laughs. “Perhaps he liked it because it matched his USPS truck.”
The Hyosung won’t be outdone in the looks department. Available in red, black, white and two-tone, it looks sharp on the street, save for, perhaps, that chrome muffler hanging off its right side. Closer inspection reveals a couple of sloppy frame welds and comparatively shabby plastics, plus a disappointingly weak headlight. But hey, a hiccup or two is expected when you purchase a budget brand, right?
In the cockpit, all three bikes feature an analog tach with digital LCD speedo readout. Instrumentation is fleshed out with a clock, fuel gauge, and dual tripmeters (except for the Honda, which curiously offers only one tripmeter). The Hyosung features a novel adjustable backlight, and the Ninja boasts a peculiar-looking icon on its digital inset called an Economical Riding Indicator, which points out maximum fuel economy.
All three offer integrated passenger grab handles (the Ninja with unobtrusive hand holds integrated into its tailsection) and diminutive underseat storage compartments with helmet holds. The Kawi has bungee hooks under the passenger seat; the Honda sneaks a couple of molded bungee nooks into the plastic under the tail; and the Hyosung makes no specific concessions for strap-on cargo.
It’s little wonder all three motorcycles in this comparison are ranked among the very best in fuel economy (among freeway legal vehicles, of course). The CBR250R boasts the highest manufacturer claim of the three, and our results prove Honda’s claims.
In a mix of city and freeway riding Honda’s single-cylinder thumper achieved a mind-blowing 74.4 miles per gallon, not far off Honda’s claimed rating of 77. This was followed by the Ninja 300’s impressive 59.6 mpg and the Hyosung V-Twin’s underwhelming 50.6 – which wouldn’t have been such a letdown had the Hyosung spec sheet not pledged a far higher number of 78. It’s worth noting that both the Ninja and the Hyosung feature 4.5-gallon fuel tanks, while the Honda holds only 3.4 gallons of fuel.
The Grand Conclusion
So which one should you buy? For our money, it’s clearly a toss-up between the Kawasaki and the Honda. The 2013 Ninja 300 starts at $4799 for solid black or white, with the Special Edition and its sporty graphics costing $200 more. The ABS version lists for $5499, but you’ll also get that green/black graphics package (whether you want it or not).
The athletic Ninjette has the visual and technological panache combined with superior performance to make it something truly special – a class-busting marvel that’s more than just a beginner bike or economical commuter.
“The Ninja 300 transforms the entry-level sportbike class,” Duke raves. “It costs more, but it also offers a greatly expanded performance envelope that will keep novices on their first bike longer and with bigger smiles.”
Roderick agrees. “The Ninja is pricier than its competition but it’s the only bike in this category with a slipper clutch,” he says. “That’s awesome technology for this caliber of motorcycle.”
While the CBR’s single-cylinder motor and willowy footprint don’t instill an overabundance of confidence at the speeds typical on Southern California freeways, the Honda’s powerplant is refreshingly appropriate for its chassis, shine especially in and around town. And combined with its superb handling and superior rider comfort, the CBR250R wins the trophy as the best entry-level motorcycle of the bunch.
The base model CBR250R runs just $4199, and for that price you can get it in solid red or black, or the red, white and blue pictured here. Race fans will dig the $4599 Repsol package with its distinctive graphics and orange wheels. The ABS-equipped version (in any color scheme but Repsol) is $4699, and at that price it’s a safety option an entry-level rider simply can’t afford to pass up.
It’s worth noting here that Kawasaki and Honda are building their smallest Ninjas and CBRs in Thailand, where cheaper labor costs enable aggressive pricing. Both are designed and R&D’d in Japan, but production takes place in Thailand.
Which brings us to the Hyosung. Ahh, the little Korean model simply couldn’t keep up in this comparo. Savvy shoppers know: even at the grocery store, the bargain brand is sometimes the better value. So we wanted to see for ourselves: is the bargain brand motorcycle worth it?
|So What Does It Cost?|
|Model||Base MSRP||Paint Options||ABS|
|Honda CBR250R||$4199||$4599 (Repsol)||$4699|
|Kawasaki Ninja 300||$4799||$4999||$5499|
Well, in our estimation, no. The GT250R would be a viable option as a beginner or commuter, but with a base MSRP just $100 less than the CBR’s base model, Hyosung has curiously priced itself right out of the cut-rate aisle. And that’s a shame, because while it ultimately couldn’t measure up to its Japanese counterparts, it held its own in a lot of key areas, thanks mostly to its V-Twin mill.
On our Motorcycle.com ScoreCard, the Ninja 300 came out on top – but just barely. Out of a possible 420, the Kawi tallied 383 points and the Honda 379.5. That’s darn close. It was hard for us to deny the CBR250R’s all-around amiability. The Hyosung came in with 295 points – registering about a C-plus. Passable, but a significantly lower price point would have given the Korean contender a much higher grade.
So if you’re a newbie who’s looking to expand beyond the scooter, we suggest you start your motorcycle search with the Honda CBR250R. If you’ve got a bit of experience and feel confident in your potential as a motorcyclist, Kawasaki’s Ninja 300 might be a more suitable place to start.
Hyosung has established itself overseas, but if the Korean manufacturer wants to make a dent in the North American market, it’s going to have to make its entry-level motorcycle more appealing on the showroom floor – and that starts with the tag dangling from the handlebar.
2013 Hyosung GT250R Review
2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 Review
2011 250cc Beginner Bike Shootout
2011 Honda CBR250R Review
Motorcycle Beginner: I Want to Ride
Motorcycle Beginner: Buying Your First Motorcycle