The Indian motorcycle industry is evolving at a rapid pace since the past couple of years. Previously where the Bajaj Pulsar 150 & TVS Apache were considered too fast for the streets, youth in India now wants as many horses he can get in his budget. All major two-wheeler manufacturers from around the world have now entered one of the largest motorcycle markets here in India, and are looking closely at the performance motorcycle sector. Previously, the customer taste for high performance motorcycle was directly linked to a fully-faired motorcycle. If it ‘LOOKED’ fast, it should be fast. A naked street fighter motorcycle was written-off as ordinary. But later, the market derived the taste for these non-faired motorcycles. Right from the Duke 200 all the way up to 1,000cc, naked performance motorcycles are now equally fast moving in the sales department compared to their fully-faired siblings.
The ‘Z’ series of Kawasaki motorcycles came to India sometime back. But did you know, that Kawasaki manufactured these Z series bikes starting from 1970s? The Japanese manufacturer produced the Z series of bikes in the range of 200cc, 250cc, 305cc and many more all the way up to 1,300cc back in the day. But if you compare the current generation of Z series with those sold before, the words ‘Design Revolution’ are aptly justified. Have a look…
The Indian two-wheeler segment particularly in the 200-400cc is dominated by KTM. By dominated, it might not be directly linked to sales, but performance. When KTM launched the Duke 390 at ~ Rs 2 lakh on-road, the motorcycle industry was completely shaken up & the competition – blown away. Although slightly low on quality, the Duke 390 has become the segment benchmark when it comes to power-to-price ratio. Kawasaki on the other hand has a different philosophy. They believe quality does sell, and do not mind pricing their products higher up the scale. Does this bring more volumes? Definitely not. But that’s not the prime focus for the brand anyway. Kawasaki launched the Z250 in India in October ’14 at a price of ~ Rs. 3 lakh (ex-showroom). This saw a plenty of bad comments right on the day of launch and the bike being instantly categorised as overpriced (which it is). Ideally, customers would have loved to pay this price if the Z250 was rather a Z300 with the engine lifted off from the Ninja 300. However, the smallest Z motorcycle uses the Ninja 250’s older 250cc motor, but tuned differently. So we took the Z250 for a spin in and around Pune & Lonavala to find out what good is the entry-level motorcycle from Kawasaki, and this is what we have to say…
The Z250 carries forward the sharp and striking front end design from the bigger Z800 & Z1000. Overall design is a a good mix of the Z800 and the Ninja 300. The naked motorcycle looks substantial and looks much bigger for the 250cc-class. A few approached us asking is this was the new paint scheme on the Z800 and we had to clear the air that this is the smallest offering from the manufacturer, the Z250. Kawasaki offers it only in a green paint option.
Look at the bike from the front, and the similarities with the Z800 are clearly visible. Not just similarities, the headlamp is identical on both the bikes set apart by almost over 5 lakh rupees. Even the part number of the headlamp lens on the Z250 and Z800 is the same. The headlamp gets a twin pot layout in a wicked looking design, pulled upwards from either ends. The bikini fairing gets small green panels on either side and black plastic cladding elsewhere. Number plate mount is located above the headlamp, along with the small wind deflector. Front mudguard is seen in black to break the monotony. Conventional telescopic front fork holds the front alloy wheel painted in black, which is identical to the Ninja 300. The front suspension fork also get a small protector seen placed over the rubber seal. At the front, you have a single 300mm petal disc brake.
The bike is good to look at from all angles. The side profile of the Z250 reveals the low seating position and hence, differentiating it from the bigger Z800. The sculpted tank has enough room to accommodate your knees while having some fun around your favourite twisties. The tank gets a Z250 decal just behind the conventional fuel filler cap. The floating side cowls on the Z250 get a green + black dual tone colour combination. These cowls add quite a bit of bulk to the motorcycle making it look and pose like a bigger machine than it actually is. Primarily built for better aero performance, these Z-shaped side cowls even look good. When seen from the riding position, you can see them protrude quite a bit ahead of the fuel tank. These side cowls also get some tear-like graphics along with the ‘Z’ decal. Underneath, you get a green engine underbelly. Although made of plastic, it will surely protect the engine & exhaust pipes if the rider takes a nasty bump. It is also designed to direct wind upwards, on the engine. Engine is seen painted in black and the diamond frame is also exposed a bit.
At the back, things are reminiscent of the Ninja 300, almost identical. Everything at the back including the tail lamp, number plate mount + mudguard, seat, exhaust, etc. is identical to the Ninja 300. There isn’t a problem with this since the Z250 looks proportionate even from the back, and the raised pillion seat adds to the sporty appeal. Pillion also gets a small recess under the seat which serves as a grab-support while on the go. Exhaust pipe is the same black & silver unit like the Ninja 300. Rear wheel gets a 220mm single petal disc brake. Saree guard is mounted on the LHS and does not look too ugly. One can actually let this one stay. Chain gets a half cover, making it easy to lubricate. While most of the people won’t have a problem with the current equipment, we wish Kawasaki had offered an LED tail lamp setup at this price, similar to the Z800 which looks absolutely stunning.
To wrap up the styling, the Z250 is much like a sheep in wolfs clothing. The bike looks mean and angry from the front and has more than enough going for it in the looks department. But at this price, are people considering to buy it?
Instrumentation & ergonomics:
While the motorcycle looks smashing, the instrumentation department is a little weak. The bike probably borrows the switchgear from the bigger Z800, but Kawasaki opted not to offer the hazard light switch on the Z250. How much of a difference would it make to simply offer it here? Headlamp remains on by default with the only setting available for high / low beam. Rest of the control switches are placed fine and work well. Plastic quality is average and nothing to write home about. Rear view mirrors offer decent viewing range and angle. Forged brake levers are not adjustable.
The Z250 shares the instrument cluster with the Ninja 300, but has a couple of changes to it. Firstly, it gets a Z logo in the centre and the colour and font has been changed as well. The LCD screen at the bottom right displays the speed, two trip meters, odometer, clock, fuel indicator and an ‘ECO’ mode indicator when riding with the throttle at ease.
Hop on the Z250 and you instantly feel at home. The riding posture is the right balance between sporty & upright to allow you tour for longer. The conventional straight handlebar is wide as well, making it a stress free riding position. Foot pegs are slightly rear set giving you a sporty stance. Seat compound is reasonably soft, while one can always opt for a more comfortable seat cover. The step-up pillion seat is not very roomy. The pillion gets a strap to hold on along with a recess below the seat to grab while on the go. Taller riders, for example close to 6-feet will however find the Z250 a bit small. With a seat height of 785mm, the shorter riders however will be extremely happy.
Kawasaki also offers bungee hooks to help you tie your luggage in place while touring long distances.
Engine, performance and handling:
Powering the Kawasaki Z250 is the 250cc engine from the previous generation Ninja 250, albeit in a different state of tune. The bike is powered by a 249cc, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, parallel-twin engine producing 31 BHP of power @ 11,000 RPM and 21 Nm of torque @ 10,000 RPM. Engine is mated to a 6-speed gearbox. In one word, the engine is SMOOTH. As one would expect, the quarter-litre block from Kawasaki delivers in a very refined manner and there is nothing not to like about the engine. However, if you compare it directly to the KTM Duke 390, the madness on the street isn’t delivered in comparable quantity.
Slot it in first and the bike pulls clean without too much drama. Within the city, the engine is happy doing city speeds. There are absolutely no signs of engine knocking while riding on low speeds at higher gears. For example, we could counter speed breakers even in the third gear with speed dropping well below 25-30 kmph. NVH levels are well controlled, and the rider footpegs as well as the handlebar does no shake-dance at all. Torque availability lower down the range is adequate to keep you moving without the need to constantly downshift. Instant punch however is a little tamed. If you want to overtake someone in a jiffy, we recommend you shift a cog or two lower to do so. Wringing the throttle would only make you wait longer as the revvs build up closed to the peak power band. Heating issue is also well controlled. The bike stays calm and cool within the city, and rarely did the radiator fans come into play during our 200 km test ride.
If you’re looking for fun, bring the Z250 on the highways. Right from the 1st gear, the engines revvs clean all the way up to the redline. The exhaust although very mild on lower RPMs, gets quite throaty when past the 6,000-7,000 RPM mark. While accelerating hard, you can even feel the engine come into play and starts pushing harder when around 8,000 RPM. With the redline coming at 13,000 RPM, there’s ample room to have fun on the highways. Triple digit speeds are easily achieved in the 3rd gear and you can do that in well under 10 seconds. Impressive isn’t it? Windblast on the highways however is a big negative, as is the case with all naked bikes. Above 80 kmph, the windblast is slightly pleasant, but above 120 kmph, it just hits you hard. Riding on high speeds for long distances will surely get you tired.
Gearbox is slick and shifts well. Not once did with mis-shift on the Z250. The clutch also is light enough to allow you to ride long distances without have your fingers sore. Kawasaki has decided to offer a slipper clutch in the Z250 from 2015 and things will only get better.
Handling department of the Kawasaki Z250 is a mix bag. Built around a diamond type steel chassis with a box section swingarm, the behaviour of the motorcycle is very nimble while in the city or on the highway. But all this when riding sedately. While in the ensthusiastic mode, the Z250 will act very eager to enter the corners at speeds, but the IRC tyres are a big, big let down. They take very long to heat up and stick to the ground. These tyres are simply no match to the Metzelers offered on the Duke 390. The suspension setting on the Z250 is soft and complaint for the city. However, while carrying speeds in the corner, a small bump can throw in some surprises. In a straight line though, the bike remains stable and can sustain moderate levels of crosswind. If you’re of the sedate riding style, the ride quality will surely please you. It is much better than the Duke 390 to perform commuting tasks, but shines a little less if you want to get your knee down in a corner. Ground clearance is also adequate even with two up.
Braking performance comes with a single petal disc brake at the front and back. While the bikes stops without too much drama, an ABS would sweeten the deal. Kawasaki is planning to introduce ABS with the 2015 model year Kawasaki Z250s. The tyres however hamper the braking performance as well. Hit the brakes hard and the not-so-sticky IRC tyres would like to give away and lock-up. We recommend getting used to the tyres & brakes before hitting your favourite ghat section.
So, if you want a 250cc, naked street fighter motorcycle and budget is not an issue, the Kawasaki Z250 is the best out there. It looks big, works in a refined manner, gives you the pleasure of a twin-cylinder motor and that Kawasaki halo of reliability. Build quality and paint finish is also top notch. Apart from the tyres, which can be easily replaced, there’s nothing going against the Z250. It is the cheapest twin-cylinder motorcycle money can buy in the Indian market, since the Inazuma is on its way out. If you’re open to it, we would also suggest giving the Ninja 300 a try. At almost Rs. 50,000 – 60,000 more (on-road), you get a full fairing saving you from the windblast, more power & torque along with the slipper clutch. But if you want a wicked looking bike, the Z250 is the only one out there under Rs. 5 lakh waiting and wanting to make a statement.