Test Drive: The Ninja 300 SE Raises Kawasaki's Floor

Test Drive: The Ninja 300 SE Raises Kawasaki's FloorPhotos by Tony Markovich with a Nokia Lumia 1020

When it comes to choosing which type of transportation you use when you’re living in New York City, it comes down to an exact science. Rating each category on a scale of 1-10, 10 being most important, you need to determine what factors you care about the most. Take convenience, subtract your need for personal space, multiply by cost, square that with ability to deal with smell and unsightly objects, double that with how much risk you’re willing to take, divide by patience, take the cosign of how much you enjoy being above ground and outdoors, subtract the importance of how closely you want to pay attention, find the derivative of how much of a douche you want to look like, and then add 24. That should give you exactly what mode of transportation you should be using.

Okay, maybe that was all just made up, but there’s a balance that you have to find, which will decide how you’ll be getting around every single day. So, which are you? Car? Subway? Bicycle? Pedicab?  Motorcycle? Razor scooter?

When I first realized that my stay in New York City would be going beyond an internship, I had an immediate sad realization: It was time to sell my car, a ‘98 Chevy Camaro sitting back in the driveway of the home I grew up in in Indiana. There was just no reason to have a car in New York, at that point, I sure as hell wasn’t going to bring such a beautiful car in this hostile environment, and well, the dinero was an added bonus, as well.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear or six.

Since then, I’ve become a frequenter of the MTA subway system. It’s relatively fast, efficient, and cheaper than gas. It’s also crowded, stinky and beneath the ground that I’m used to driving on. Even the cars I get to test drive are just an absolute waste when I have previous engagements that force me to stay in the city. NYC has the worst traffic I’ve ever experienced. Oh, and I’m like a little six-year-old at a haunted house when it comes to riding a bicycle in Manhattan. I’m too afraid. I’m not tryin’ to die.

That’s why, to me, a motorcycle seemed like the perfect option for a newly declared city kid looking to have some fun. I was able to test this theory with the brand new 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS Special Edition (SE).

When I say brand new, I’m not just talking about this specific motorcycle. This is the first year that a 300 has been offered in the Ninja line, jumping from 249cc with the 250R to 296cc. At first delivery, my eyes lit up, as they took in a streaky bright green Special Edition colorway that went perfectly with all the black accented stripes and body parts. Usually, the bottom-of-the-lineup bikes lose some of their flair and fire, but Kawasaki made sure the opposite was true. The two-wheeler before me was just as good-looking, if not better-looking, than every other motorcycle Kawasaki puts on the floor. Its stand-out coloring might not exactly fit the literal Ninja name, but its slicing lines, edgy vents, and sharp body style make it a stealthy attacker that everybody notices.

As I just said, the 300 has 296cc, thanks to an increased stroke from 41.2mm to 49, and it only has a curb weight of 387.7 lbs. It’s an ideal size for somebody who is just starting out, like me, and will mostly be moving around sardine-packed Manhattan roads. It also adds ABS, a slipper clutch (which will make sure you never lock up or overrev on downshifts), and even fuel-injection. Plus, if you’re shorter and are worried about the size and height, the 300’s 30.9-inch seat level is nothing.

Maybe a mistake, taking the bike in the middle of the week, my first four-five rides were simply going in and out of the city in the middle of stop and go traffic. Although not ideal for testing how quick and nimble it really is, the slower drives were a great chance to see how the bike would be as an everyday rider in a city environment. Shifting was extremely smooth and simple. It wasn’t jerky at low speeds, and if there were ever opportunities for me to dart into an opening, ahead of those treacherous buses, there was never any doubt in my mind that the throttle would instantly deliver; snap-of-the-finger torque. There was a problem, however, when I would be downshifting and coming to a stop, whether that be at a stoplight, stop sign, or random stop due to businessman on a cellphone cutting through the middle of the street.

Back in August, Kawasaki announced a recall of 11,097 300s, due to an issue with the bike stalling at times. I would be slowing down, downshifting, and all of a sudden, the bike would shut off. Then it would sometimes take a few tries to start it back up. I originally attributed this to me being a dumbass beginning rider, but upon further examination, I found that Kawasaki had announced that they tracked the problem back to the ECU.

It affected 300 and 300 ABS bikes made from July 16, 2012 and April 27, 2013. It might not seem like a huge problem, but when you’re in a place where you get honked at for a second of hesitation, it was pretty stressful when it happened. BUT, the great part is that Kawasaki recognized the problem, pointed it out, and made it clear that you can take the bike in for a free ECU replacement, making the issue a non-issue.

But will it highway?

The real fun came when I was finally able to get into some open space. From what I’ve read, the 250 was not exactly fit for really getting up to higher speeds for extended periods of time. The 300 has absolutely no trouble jumping out of the gate. It’s quite quick, though not so extremely fast that it ever felt dangerous for somebody who doesn’t have a lot of experience. You weren’t jolting up to 100 in five seconds. It's a fast but steady climb. 

After a few runs on the BQE, where I got pretty comfortable riding at 50, 60, it was time for a drive up to Hartford, Conn, which is usually about a two-hour drive. For such an entry-level motorcycle, the ride was pretty damn comfortable at 70-80 mph. It wasn’t wobbly at all, and I could still make moves without feeling unstable. The engine was definitely working hard at that speed, but I didn’t get the feeling that it was going to give out on me or suddenly combust. In that regard, yes, it could highway, especially if you’re only taking it on short drives in between destinations. But that two-hour drive slowly turned into three-and-a-half, even with me going in between traffic (yeah, not safe, I know).

That. Was rough.

Granted small-displacement sport bikes are obviously not meant for long trips, but thanks to a few accidents, idiot drivers, and construction, that trip quickly turned into a back and headache, literally. On more than a few occasions, I had to sit back, stretch out and extend my legs to make sure they weren't freezing up. If you’re going to be taking a lot of extended trips, you should be bumping up to a larger range.

Once I got back into the city, the bike and I felt like we were back where we were supposed to be. In NYC, a shallow city where looks are everything, all eyes were on me. I didn't mind if we were going at a little bit slower pace, as the aggressive styling on this bike is definitely a confidence booster. There was never a time where I felt like I was in any sort of trouble driving the 300, and it certainly had more than enough capability for anybody who wants to hit a windy road on the weekend, as well. Starting at $5,299 with ABS braking, this is an extremely attractive bike that is ideal for city and beginner riders. 

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