My first reaction upon hearing that the Kawasaki Ninja 250 was going to be launched in India was – “It’s about time.” But then, when I heard how much the bike was going to cost, my jaw dropped. After all, it was young chaps like me – college going loafers – who would’ve bought it, and asking for Rs.3.5 lakhs of my father’s money for something the parents consider to be a perfect suicide tool was a tall order! The fact of the matter is that the Ninja is – without a shadow of doubt – a fantastic bike, but under normal circumstances, you’re either a fool for paying Rs.3.5 lakh for a 250cc bike, or you’re just a die-hard fan of it. In India, however, you were neither, because that was the only 250cc sports bike you could come across, so I don’t blame you if you bought it ‘then’.
Between 2000 and 2010, putting aside the Yamaha R15 (which in itself was a 150cc, but performed like a 250, and then some) and the Bajaj Pulsar 220, there was nothing really exciting about the 200cc segment. Yes, Yamaha did bring in better-looking bikes, but they still stuck to the low-performance 150cc segment. The Hyosung Comet 250 was here for a brief stint, but it too failed, because of poor marketing, zero brand equity and its high price of Rs.3 lakh. But everything is different now and Honda has brought in something special that will change the face of the Indian biking playground forever. 2011 marks the beginning of a new decade and with it comes healthy change.
The CBR250R is Honda’s latest offering to the Indian biking enthusiast, and if the price tag of `1.6 lakh isn’t reason enough for you to sing ‘hallelujah,’ you might as well shoot yourself in the face, because you’re obviously unknown to something called emotions. You see, the CBR250R is not just another cheap, ugly, boring motorcycle being introduced for the masses – it’s something that the true Indian biking trooper has been waiting and longing for. It’s a sports bike that looks it; it’s got a moderately powerful engine for our crazy Indian roads and a suspension that will tackle any riding surface valiantly enough. It is a bike that will fight with the game changing R15 on twisties and make the ‘fastest Indian’ beg for mercy.
Before I go into the details of the bike I need to make it clear to you again, that this bike marks the new beginning of Indian motorcycling. With the introduction of this bike we will now see fierce competition for bragging rights between other motorbike makers. Very soon we will have more bikes and probably cheaper ones too, which will come into the game to challenge the CBR250R. Bajaj and Yamaha 250cc bikes are already on the cards. Just think of the vast range of affordable and very capable
sports bikes that will soon be offered to the Indian customer. It’s gonna be sweet!
Moving forward, to really see just what the CBR is capable of, and how exciting it can be, we took two of its closest competitors – speaking relatively – for an evaluative joy ride. We got our hands on a Kawasaki Ninja 250 (of course), but we also decided to get a Yamaha RD350. The RD is a legend in India, mainly because it was the first ever performance oriented bike brought to the country. The old bloke from Yamaha was going to allow us to recognize the progression in performance bikes from then to now. Coupled with its retro looks, the RD is as impressive as both the Ninja and the CBR.
Let’s get cracking. As soon as I sat on the CBR250R I felt engulfed. The handle bar is short and low, which means you have to lean forward to grab hold of it, which is a typical sports bike setup. The fuel tank is just the right size, not too big so your knees can hold you comfortably in place. The foot rests however should have been adjustable because for tall riders like me, it was not in the best position. I started the bike and anticipated a loud growl, but I was greeted by a typical 200cc motorbike sound. There was nothing interesting about the bikes rumble. It sounded tame, unlike the Ninja, which always sounds full throttle and the RD, which sounds
like a wild animal.
Once I pressed in the clutch and popped down the transmission into first gear I could slowly feel the 25 horses pulling me forward. A click up into second with the full smack down on the throttle and the CBR pelted itself down the road. The acceleration is remarkable, even if you are in third gear and the engine is revving low, the pick-up and throttle response is really good. It certainly is a technological marvel, especially with the electronically controlled fuel injection system. The brakes were also very responsive and with ABS it’s an even better scenario. Compared to the CBR’s smooth and linear pick up, the Ninja is a bit rougher and more powerful with its 33 horses. And the RD – well it uses 30 year old technology, but with its high torque engine with 30bhp of power it was neck and neck with the Ninja.
Next was some high speed maneuvering. This is where I really began to see just what the CBR was capable of. The CBR handles impeccably well and it can really blaze down the streets reaching a top speed of 145kmph. It is so easy to handle that it feels lighter than what it actually weighs. You can lean into curves, turn corners easily and dodge through traffic effortlessly. It was beautiful. And what added to that special moment was the monocross suspension. It works really well for the bike and makes the ride all that more comfortable. Though the Ninja is a lot more immediate and sharp in handling, it isn’t as comfortable as the CBR. The RD is no
comparison to either, on any front. It’s a rocket in a straight line. And that’s about it. I remember at one point I failed to see a speed breaker – which to my defense wasn’t marked – and instead of slamming on the brakes I just lifted my backside off the seat hoping to avoid a slam to my body, and to my surprise I couldn’t feel a thing. The bike simply glided over the speed bump without a flinch. Now that was impressive. The only negative experience I felt was that after long periods of riding the CBR – as well as the Ninja – I felt uncomfortable as the bike is not meant for long cross-country rides. This was something I was hoping against, because if I own a bike, I expect it to be able to comfortably take me on long trips. So this was a big disappointment.
Nevertheless, I can see the CBR250R being a fantastic commuter motorbike. It’s fast and powerful and uses a beautifully refined single cylinder liquid cooled 250cc engine. It looks rather impressive as well with a fat rear tyre, styled fairings, a triangular muffler and compact exhaust system, which take on global superbike styling cues from the VFR. It’s very easy to handle in our crowded city streets and comfortable enough to handle our bumpy roads. Overall it’s a good bargain, especially for the price. I just wish it wasn’t so damn small.
Overall the handling of the CBR was what got me. Riding stance is more comfortable than the Ninja and it’s easier to ride, plus it has better and more powerful brakes. The RD, although powerful, cannot take to a track like these modern beauties. I am vouching for the CBR while my colleague, Ashish, feels that the Ninja will hold its own around a track. How about a track day then with them, then? On a ‘bang for your buck’ note, the CBR is a much better offering than the Ninja. It costs half of what a Ninja will cost and it still provides you with a thrill and joy for riding it – plus I think it looks better too (again, Ashish favours the Ninja here). If it were
up to me I would choose the CBR any day, and although Ashish won’t agree with me, I really don’t care.
It was about time someone stood up and took the initiative to offer us exciting bikes and not the same old boring ones we have been use to for decades. But this is just another beginning, and at next year’s Auto Expo in Delhi, you can be rest assured that there will be some new mass segment and powerful bikes being readied for the Indian market. In the mean time the CBR250R is your best bet.