.25 Caliber Shootout

Three Japanese Fighters Whip Out Their Little Guns

Page 2

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1. Billy Bartels, Associate Editor
It's easy to become jaded when every bike you ride is practically brand new and usually purpose-built for the ride you have in mind. It's hard to remember what a bike needed to be when your choice was not which bike to ride, but whether to ride the bike or not. Each one of these bikes was designed with a specific task in mind, but they all need to be a daily ride too, and (according to the parameters of this test) a mount to learn on.

That said, I pick the Virago, despite the price, as the best beginner bike here; followed by the Ninja. The Virago will teach a beginner how to ride a cruiser better than the Ninja will teach sportbike riding. It's a well put together motorcycle, and shouldn't be ignored.

2. Mark Hammond, Managing Editor
These binders provided the best braking of the three bikes. In my mind the Ninja was the clear winner. The Virago was cool; I enjoyed it much more than I believed I would. However, I would have picked the Ninja over the Virago even if the prices were the same. The reason: I would not outgrow this motorcycle as fast as the others. Tach, centerstand, front and rear disc brakes, full fairing, 100+ mph top speeds, and good handing make the Ninja a bike you may never want to trade in when you decide to go bigger, badder, faster. I'd keep it as a rainy day commuter. As for the Virago, well, there's something about a 250cc cruiser that just doesn't give me the right vibes. And the Nighthawk? A competent Motorcycle Safety Foundation course trainer but not much more.
3. Greg McClure, Assistant Editor
If you have an unreasonably titanic stack of papers, $3,400 that you have no idea how to spend, and no ordinary paperweight will do, buy the Nighthawk. It's light enough to move easily but heavy enough to hold down almost any pile of correspondence, documents, etc.

A nice shot of the Ninja's rear end. The suspension is soft though, so forget any two-up adventures. If you want a motorcycle, however, then it comes down to the Virago or the Ninja. And the Virago is definitely an enticing buy. For a 250, the power rolled off my wrist as smooth as the tanned skin on the naked back of my lithe girlfriend that one time when we... well, I digress. Suffice to say that with the linear torque curve, the fine fit and finish, and its real dedication to its cruiser role, I wouldn't be ashamed to own it. Until some half-helmeted heavyweight pulled up next to me at a stoplight aboard a Fat Boy. A 250 cruiser? Yipes. Give me the Ninja, thank you. It's got problems, but for a $1,000 less than the Virago I choose to call its shortcomings "character". I had just as much fun astride the Ninja, its got real sportbike features and as long as you don't fool yourself into believing that it can keep up with, well, any other sportbike made, you'll have a great time learning on it. Kawasaki Ninja 250R Billy Bartels pretending that he is a 250 GP contender. The Ninja likes to do this. Not bad, for a little bike.

1997 Ninja 250R

Manufacturer:           Kawasaki
Model:                  1997 Ninja 250R
Price:                  $2,999.00
Engine:                 dohc, 8-valve, inline-Twin
Bore and Stroke:        62.0mm x 41.2mm
Displacement:           248cc
Carburetion:            (2) 30mm Keihin
Transmission:           6 speed 
Wheelbase:              55.1 in
Seat Height:            29.3 in
Fuel Capacity:          4.8 gal
Claimed Dry Weight:     304 lbs

What's this? A centerstand? On a budget 250? Who came up with that idea? Give him a little pat on the head. Get used to this view of those riders who hone their skills on a quality bike like this.
A modicum of wind protection, but a modicum is better 'n nuttin'. Pretend you're Max Biaggi, tuck in tight, and you'll find a nice little pocket there, free of nagging cold and noise. Rear drum brake worked with a front disc to deliver adequate stopping power. A cushy suspension, but still capable enough in the turns, for a cruiser...
If it looks like a cruiser, and it feels like a cruiser, then it must be a... well, close anyway... Hangin' out with the big boys at the Rock Garden. If it looks like a cruiser, and it feels like a cruiser...
The Virago sports nice metallic paint, the best o' the bunch. No cutting corners here. On the other hand, you pay for all those corners Yamaha didn't cut. Well, well, a 250 V-Twin. It works well with the lower gearing to provide decent torque. Kind of like a ride at Speedzone: Not the real thing, but an acceptable scaled-down facsimile.
The highest indicated speed we observed was 85 mph. A rear disc brake is a unique feature among the three bikes in this test.

Yamaha Virago 250

Manufacturer:           Yamaha
Model:                  1997 Virago 250
Price:                  $3,999.00
Engine:                 sohc, 2-valve, V-twin
Bore and Stroke:        49mm x 66mm
Displacement:           249cc
Carburetion:            (2) 26mm Mikuni
Transmission:           5 speed
Wheelbase:              58.7 in
Seat Height:            27 in
Fuel Capacity:          2.5 gal
Claimed Dry Weight:     301 lbs

These are springs. A thousand years from now, archaeologists will unearth this bike, ride it and wonder what these springs were supposed to do.   The weakest power of the gathering, with an indicated top speed of 75 mph, that we observed. Sputtery idle with a big roll-on lag.
Well, it doesn't cut too bad of a profile anyway... The Nighthawk 250, doing what it does best.
A front drum brake? Come on, guys. At least try to make it interesting... Definitely the nicest instrument cluster of the bunch--and the only one with a tach. Good mirrors, too, that stayed clear even at the 105 mph indicated top speed we observed.

Honda Nighthawk 250

Manufacturer:           Honda
Model:                  1997 Honda CB250 Nighthawk
Price:                  $3,399.00
Engine:                 sohc, 2-valve, vertical twin
Bore and Stroke:        53mm x 53mm
Displacement:           234cc
Carburetion:            26mm Keihin
Transmission:           5 speed 
Wheelbase:              55.3 in
Seat Height:            29.3 in
Fuel Capacity:          4.3 gal
Claimed Dry Weight:     286 lbs


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