If you are a learner, or P-plater, and live in NSW or ACT, you're in luck; you have a wide range of bikes that you are allowed to ride, thanks to the Learner Approved Motorcycle scheme. This approves bikes to be suitable for learners according to a formula based on power-to-weight ratio. It's a good idea; with perhaps a couple of exceptions (is a 600cc dual-purpose trailie really a good thing to learn on?). But if you have to have a 250, (or want one as a commuter etc) then I reckon you could do a lot worse than the Kawasaki GPX 250.
I once owned a Yamaha SR250; one of the early models (although the later ones weren't much different!). These were based on the old XT250, and while I actually liked the bike, it was in fact one of the slowest 250s around. Now, I mention this because the Kawasaki is almost the complete opposite of the dear old Yammie. Where the Yammie was pretty simple, and crude almost, the Kwaka is quite sophisticated and developed. Where the old Yammie was very lacking in performance, the GPX is surprisingly capable. As I said, I kind of liked the old Yamaha, but riding this Kawasaki was a revelation of just how good a 250 can be!
The bike looks quite good, which is always a good thing. With it's fairing it looks quite sporty; and it's reasonably sporty in performance too.
The motor is a twin-cylinder job with liquid-cooling and produces just over 20kw. (My old Yamaha churned out about 14). This gives it quite good acceleration, as well as allowing it to achieve a decent speed. I was quite surprised to find that I could cruise it fairly comfortably at 100 - 110 down the expressway. It was doing about 7,000rpm (or maybe a bit more) at that speed, but it was happy enough to maintain that. Where you notice the lack of power most is on hills. The old saying "there's no substitute for cubic-inches", has a certain amount of truth to it. And it's on hills where you really start to want more engine-capacity. But for a 250, it is still quite impressive!
I said it was "sporty" in performance, but don't get me wrong; this isn't a race-track replica (they don't let learners ride those!). And there are certainly higher-performance 250s around, but they wouldn't be as practical as this. You see, while it does deliver good performance, for a 250, it is still very tractable. You do need a few revs on board to get it going, but you aren't going to stall it if the revs drop a bit; it will pull away from low revs fairly well. And these are the sort of characteristics that make a good beginner's bike. And they also suit someone (even an old bloke!) who wants something to ride lazily to work on.
Also suiting this easy-to-ride commuter aspect is the comfort. This is quite a comfortable bike to sit on and ride.
I mentioned the liquid-cooling, and I suppose this can be both a good thing and a bad thing. It is certainly a more efficient way of keeping a motor cool (and also allows for finer tolerances in the engine; which in turn allows for more power), but it does mean that you have to keep a check on it and top it up as necessary. The more complex a bike is, the more there is to go wrong! And topping-up the radiator isn't the easiest job either, as the filler-cap is a bit tricky to get to. Something like the Honda CB250, which is air-cooled and not as technically complex, and which is a highly-respected machine in the 250 category that has been popular over many years, might be a more practical choice perhaps. And there are others to choose from as well.
But even if there are other bikes in the 250 category that are just as good, or maybe even better, as I said at the start, if you are in the market for a 250 you could do a lot worse!
Well, quite a lot has changed in the 5 years since I rode the GPX. But as the old saying goes, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Well, sort of. It's now called the Ninja 250; re-using that great old Kawasaki name. And it's got a whole new set of clothes. The fairing is all new and its styling is very sporty. The bike mightn't actually go any faster, but there's no harm in making it look as if it does! No harm at all, in fact, as this bike became the top-selling bike of 2009! That's quite an achievement; especially as some people were predicting that the 250s would die out now that the LAMS scheme is up and running in most states. Learners don't have to buy a 250 now, but it seems many of them are buying this one!
Underneath the new clothes though, it's apparently pretty much the same. So my comments above would still apply. And I was pretty impressed with the performance of this bike! My only reservation is that, due to the new style, I don't think the seat is as comfortable as the old one. But I've got a hunch that the people most likely to buy this wouldn't care too much about that.
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