2011 Honda CBR250R vs. Kawasaki Ninja 250R – Comparison Test Review

photography by Rich Cox

2011 Kawasaki Ninja 250 and Honda CBR250R action
The Ninja (left) reigns in the canyons, the CBR rules in town, but their capabilities overlap so much that we’re still flipping a coin.

Reading the Honda CBR250R test, I’m sure you felt an elephant in the room, albeit a small one—Kawasaki ’s popular Ninja 250R. Introduced in 1986 and re-vamped in 2008, the smallest Ninja may be best known for its high-revving twin-cylinder motor and sportbike styling. While Honda didn’t go head-to-head with the Ninja in terms of engine design or performance, the two bikes do butt heads on their $3,999 base price. To see how they stack up, we borrowed the smallest Ninja and ran it fairing to fairing with the new CBR250R. For our impatient readers we offer this spoiler: One cylinder or two, four large buys you a barrel of two-wheel fun.

Before we rev ’em up and drop the clutches, here are the motors we’re dealing with. Both are four-valve, DOHC designs, the Kawasaki using a direct cam-to-valve stem connection to reduce reciprocating weight, while the CBR gets forked rocker arms. The Ninja’s tried-and-true twin spins to a 13,000-rpm redline, while Honda’s upstart single revs to 10,500. For its 2008 makeover, the twin got new heads, porting and valves, plus reshaped combustion chambers, all aimed at improving midrange giddy-up. As you can read in the CBR test, the Honda single is new from the valve cover down.

Both 250s have approachable seat heights of 30.5 inches and comfortable riding positions that welcome day-long rides like our 250-mile comparo romp in the California hinterlands. Our quarter-liter contenders were well matched on the initial 20 miles of freeway, with the nod to the Kawasaki for having more punch for passing. They both cruise at 70 mph or better, but you’ll need to watch traffic like a hawk since neither 250 has much in reserve for darting out of trouble. “When in doubt, gas it,” just doesn’t cut it for small motorcycles when an Escalade wants your lane. In downtown traffic, the Honda is easier to ride. Lighter by 15 pounds and with a shorter wheelbase by 1.2 inches, it’s more nimble than the Ninja, and requires less shifting to find the right cog. The Ninja’s midrange may be stronger, but its low end still needs work.

2011 Kawasaki Ninja 250 action
2011 Kawasaki Ninja 250

These 250s may not zoom like the big boys, but they stop every bit as well, using similar standard set-ups of two-piston calipers and single rotors up front (296mm for the Honda, 290 for the Kawi), and single 220mm rotors out back. Our CBR test bike had the Combined ABS option, so we couldn’t compare the braking systems directly, but both are strong, progressive and easy to modulate. Neither bike has lever reach adjustments, but small hands shouldn’t have trouble using the brakes, and they don’t take much hand strength to operate.

The real test didn’t start until we hit the legendary twisties of California 33. Blue skies, warm air, scarce traffic and two corner-happy motorcycles made it a day to remember. My corider was an old friend, Jarl Wathne, whose hobby is claiming 250cc four-stroke land-speed records. After a day of riding bikes and writing notes, we came to the same conclusion: If canyon riding is your priority, buy the Ninja. Kawasaki’s twin-cylinder mill puts more power to the pavement, and is rock steady in the faster turns. We expected the power advantage; the handling superiority was a surprise. Both motorcycles have 37mm forks, 17-inch rims and wear the same IRC tires, plus the Honda has more stability-inducing trail in its steering geometry. Still, the Ninja exudes confidence in the corners, and the faster, the better. The Honda performs well, but doesn’t reach the Ninja’s level of higher speed cornering.

2011 Honda CBR250R action
2011 Honda CBR250R

Out in the countryside, we figured a little casual drag racing would go unnoticed; luckily, that was true. Engines revving, clutches slipping, tires not spinning, we launched them three times to confirm our findings. The lowered geared Honda leapt ahead on each run, keeping a wheel in front through the first three gears before the Ninja motored past. Roll-ons came next. Opening the throttles from 60 mph in both fifth and six gears, we got the same results as the drags: the Honda lurched forward until the Kawi found its powerband and pulled ahead. The Ninja’s punch comes above 9,000 rpm, about 70 mph in sixth. The Honda is pulling 7,400 rpm at that speed and is still making power, but not enough to stay with the Kawasaki.

The Ninja 250 has been a staple of new and female riders since it was introduced, and a top seller for Kawasaki. But it hasn’t had a lot of competition along the way, either—Honda Rebels aren’t too exciting compared to the zippy Ninja. Will that change when the CBR hits the showroom? For the same price, Honda has a bike that burns regular unleaded fuel instead of the premium recommended for the Ninja, and gets much better mileage as well—64.3 mpg to the Ninja’s 49.7 in our testing. Fuel injection gives the CBR thumb-and-go simplicity, while the carbureted Ninja requires fiddling with an enrichener lever and waiting 20 seconds for it to warm up. Smaller riders may appreciate the Honda’s lighter weight and lighter clutch pull.

2011 Kawasaki Ninja 250 and Honda CBR250R static
And the winner is…anyone looking for a sporty, affordable motorcycle.

Trying to draw a conclusion here reminds me of modern-day soccer leagues for the young ’uns—no losers, only winners. Both machines get gold stars for a super mix of economy, utility and fun, but dang if I can pick a favorite. What gives me pause with the Ninja is its wide ratio transmission, its higher rpm powerband and the always revving, always shifting way it wants to be ridden. Tootling around town it’s spinning six or seven grand. The Honda is easier to ride, fun to ride everywhere and a better town bike. Just when I’m convinced it’s my top choice, by a margin no wider than the little nubs on its new tires, I take the Ninja out for a few corners.






2011 Honda CBR250R front wheel


2011 Honda CBR250R Specifications

Base Price: $3,999

Price as Tested: $4,499 (CBS/ABS)

Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles

Website: Honda


Type: Liquid-cooled, single-cylinder four-stroke

Displacement: 249.4cc

Bore x Stroke: 76.0 x 55.0mm

Compression Ratio: 10.7:1

Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.

Valve Adj. Interval: 600 miles, then every 16,000 miles

Fuel Delivery: PGM-FI w/ 38mm throttle body

Lubrication System: Wet sump, 1.6-qt. cap.

Transmission: Six-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch

Final Drive: O-ring chain


Ignition: Computer-controlled digital transistorized with electronic advance

Charging Output: 340 watts @ 5,000 rpm max.

Battery: 12V 6AH


Frame: Tubular-steel diamond double cradle

Wheelbase: 53.9 in.

Rake/Trail: 25.0 degrees/3.74 in.

Seat Height: 30.5 in.

Suspension, Front: 37mm stanchions, no adj., 4.65-in. travel

Rear: Single shock, adj. for spring preload, 4.07-in. travel

Brakes, Front: Single 296mm disc w/ 3-piston pin-slide caliper & CBS/ABS (as tested; 2-piston caliper standard)

Rear: Single 220mm disc w/ 1-piston pin-slide caliper & CBS/ABS (as tested)

Wheels, Front: Cast, 2.75 x 17 in.

Rear: Cast, 4.0 x 17 in.

Tires, Front: 110/70-SR17

Rear: 140/70-SR17

Wet Weight: 361 lbs.

Load Capacity: NA



Fuel Capacity: 3.4 gals., last 0.8 gal. warning light on

MPG: 87 PON min. (high/avg/low) 66.9/64.3/61.8

Estimated Range: 169 miles

Indicated rpm at 60 mph: 7,400




2011 Kawasaki Ninja 250R intruments


2011 Kawasaki Ninja 250R Specifications

Base Price: $3,999

Price as Tested: $4,249 (SE model)

Warranty: 1 yr, unltd. miles

Website: Kawasaki


Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse, parallel twin

Displacement: 249cc

Bore x Stroke: 62.0 x 41.2mm

Compression Ratio: 11.6:1

Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.

Valve Adj. Interval: 12,000 miles

Fuel Delivery: Keihin CVK30 carburetors x 2

Lubrication System: Wet sump, 1.7 qt. cap.

Transmission: Six-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch

Final Drive: O-ring chain


Ignition: TCBI with digital advance

Charging Output: 280 watts @ 5,000 rpm max.

Battery: 12V 8AH


Frame: Tubular-steel diamond double-cradle

Wheelbase: 55.1 in.

Rake/Trail: 26.0 degrees/3.2 in.

Seat Height: 30.5 in.

Suspension, Front: 37mm stanchions, non-adj., 4.7 in. travel

Rear: Single shock, adj. for spring preload, 5.1 in. travel

Brakes, Front: Single 290mm disc w/ 2-piston pin-slide caliper

Rear: Single 220mm disc w/ 2-piston pin-slide caliper

Wheels, Front: Cast, 2.75 x 17 in.

Rear: Cast, 3.5 x 17 in.

Tires, Front: 110/70-SR17

Rear: 130/70-SR17

Wet Weight: 376 lbs.

Load Capacity: 374 lbs.

GVWR: 750 lbs.


Fuel Capacity: 4.8 gals., last 0.3 gal. warning light on

MPG: 90 PON min. (high/avg/low) 51.4/49.7/47.9

Estimated Range: 239 miles

Indicated rpm at 60 mph: 7,500


If you’re interested in the Kawasaki Ninja 250R you might also be interested in:
2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 Road Test
2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R Road Test
2006 Kawasaki Ninja 650R Road Test
2006 Honda 599, Kawasaki Ninja 650R, Suzuki SV650S and Yamaha FZ6 Motorcycle Comparison


  1. I love big singles. That being said, a quarter litre with abs and light weight just begs for a cafe makeover. With modern electrics, fuel injection, brakes and suspension, don’t be surprised if the Rocker boys start fiddling with mods very soon.
    Both appear to be great stoplight commuters that are so nimble as to squeeze in and out of traffic with ease, BUT, even with a little twin and a bit more get up and go, the baby Ninja, in my opinion, doesn’t have the flair of its bigger brothers…..
    D. Oxford

  2. Thanks for the great review and test of the Honda CBR250R, and especially for the great pictures of a black one, easily my favorite.
    I am a long time licensed and experienced rider and do not feel that this is a too small or starter bike in any way. Luckily my self esteem is intact, and I prefer an eco-boost to an ego-boost.
    My order is in for a 2012 CBR250R in black and now it’s just a matter of waiting for Honda to make one for me.
    Cheers, Rick

  3. I am a “mature” Rider and currently own and ride the Pre-Gen Ninja, a 2007 EX250-H … known as the ZZ-R250 here in Canada … it is a fun, comfortable and entertaining motorcycle. I bought it as a stop-gap Bike to “get me thru” what otherwise would have been a Bike-less summer … but I was more than pleasantly surprized by this Bike, my first Sport-type motorcycle after owning several Cruisers over the years … so, I’m keeping it for at least another season! Have not ridden the CBR250R (yet), but as a fan of smaller motorcycles generally, I look forward to trying one out eventually and very much enjoyed your CBR vs Ninja comparo!


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