Practical Sportsbikes (UK)
Once again, 250cc inline fours aren’t coming to the UK. The new ZX-25R is on sale 5000 miles away from your local dealer. Are we missing out on Far Eastern market gems? We got hold of one little emerald to find out
Old Farmer Chris makes the best of a holiday-rental bike
It often feels like we get the short straw in the UK. Over the years the Japanese have denied us all sorts of bikes (still do, in fact), and few have been more coveted than the 250-400cc race reps. True superbike technology, but scaled down in lightweight, high-revving packages with fantastic power to weight ratios, all delivered at speeds that aren’t totally outrageous. Bikes demanding total concentration and skill, rather than bottle or stupidity...
We took matters into our own hands from the early 1990s, grey importing many of these miniature works of wonder, only for them to be gradually phased out in their homeland by the new millennium.
That’s what made Kawasaki’s announcement of the all-new ZX-25R so intriguing – even if we’re being cut out of the action again. A liquid-cooled, inline-four sportsbike, making a claimed 59bhp, with USD forks, radial brakes… and even traction control. As a throttle-happy 18-year-old I only needed 30bhp to have my first highside, so maybe it’s not such a ludicrous idea after all.
It’s offered in Japan, and a number of other emerging Asian markets: parts of the world where the sportsbike is booming, at least in the smaller capacity brackets. Imagine 1980s UK, but instead of RDS, KR-1S and RGVS, the young delinquent motorcyclist is tooled up with a parallel twin four-stroke, chin on the tank (possibly very literally, open-face jet helmets are popular), and all riding like their arses are on fire. In regions where most motorcycles are step-thru, these kids are the top dogs, and loving it.
So you can imagine the appeal of an inline-four in that context. In fact, it appeals in any context – after all, it has the Ninja family look, arguably executed more successfully than on the 600 and 1000 we’ve been offered. But we’re not even close to getting it. However… we heard tell of one in the UK, and wangled a go: you’ve got to know what you’re missing out on.
First impressions are good: unlike the parallel twins, which look like they’re trying too hard to be a big bike, with oversized fairings around skeletal running gear, the four-pot girth fills its frame out. The finish is nice too – it’s basic, yes, and on a steel frame, but there’s a combo digital speedo/analogue tacho, big-piston forks (non-adjustable) and a rising-rate linkage shock.
There’s only one brake disc, but at least it has a radial four-pot caliper biting it.
Fire it up and it’s… an inline-four. A bit quieter and smoother than most, but it whirrs aways through its silenced, catalysed 4-1 in a very familiar way. Stands to reason, though perhaps unreasonably I expected something different from the unusual capacity/ configuration combo. It could just as easily be a ZX-6R.
You know exactly what it is when you go to move – dial in 3000rpm as you release the clutch, and you’ll remain stationary. 6000rpm at least is needed, just to get going.
But give it its due, once moving it’s a responsive little thing, though four-figure revs still feel like a waste of time: the redline is at 17,000rpm, so around 10,000rpm can be considered the midrange, when it pulls a bit, and you soon want a gear shift.
At this point, you get the luxury of a gadget not seen on any competitor – the quickshifter. It’s a good one, with no jerks and a nice quick change. You’re soon through the gears, running to 17k (or a bit more). It’ll happily rev 1000rpm into the redzone, feeling like you’re really hammering it.
Then you look at the dash (which I switched to mph with a simple button press), and you’re doing 64mph. Even if you hit top, legal A-road speed is still 10,000rpm. It’s comedy. Don’t laugh too much though, keep quiet and listen to it. What it lacks in velocity it makes up for with intake noise – lots of it. You wouldn’t think an engine with the same swept volume as a can of Red Bull could breathe so deeply. There appears to be some old-fashioned Kawasaki air intake engineering going on – the intake sound is superb.
The test was soaking wet and cold: I’d like to tell you about the micron-accurate steering, and relive moments of full-throttle, full-tuck cornering… but I can’t. You suspect it’s good in that regard rather than outstanding. The basic suspension parts ride firm – they need to, as it weighs 182kg fully-fuelled, one kilo less than the Aprilia RS660. Light, but not impressively so.
It doesn’t have the riding position of a race-rep – the handlebars are in a relaxed position (comfier than a ZX-10R, although that’s not much of a high-water mark), and the footpegs don’t stress your knees too much, despite it being produced for markets where the average customer is shorter than a typical European.
I haven’t mentioned the traction control again. That’ll be because it proved of no practical use. I found some patches of pooled silt and detritus on the airfield circuit we had to run the unregistered machine on, and abused the throttle in the interests of science. The little engine momentarily holds its breath, then continues accelerating as soon as you find grip. It’s not having to work that hard, but credit where it’s due, it seems to be a decent enough traction control system, should owners
“You wouldn’t think an engine with the same swept volume as a can of Red Bull could breathe so deeply”
ever manage to totally cock up the grip/power balance, and need its assistance.
In all, it’s good, in the way that nearly all modern bikes are, but not spectacular. Or even that memorable. Novel, yes. But noise and a big tacho reading don’t make for an experience, it doesn’t do anything that most 125 owners are likely to have stepped up from – it’s just quicker. And it costs £6500 in Japan: £300 less than much faster twin-cylinder Ninja 650 does in the UK. The almost comparable Ninja 400 is £5599.
What about the ZXR250R?
If you really desire a quarter-litre four, the easier option is one of the original 250 fours: despite being around 30 years old, and rare, they’re at least simple to register here (the ZX-25R is built to less stringent emissions regs than Europe: so it’s going to be a bit sticky getting it registered as a new bike).
In some ways, the old ones are higher spec: they rev harder (the ZXR’S tacho claims 19,000rpm, the FZR goes to 20K, and the CBR to an absurd 22,000rpm), they have aluminium beam frames and chunky swingarms, and even the motors display more race-developed touches: the ZXR has a forwardinclined block to allow the downdraught carbs to feed air/fuel on a straight, efficient run into the cylinders, whereas the ZX-25R’S cylinder sits upright.
PSPB reader Marcus Cooper kindly let us try his recently-acquired, tidy, original example. Why’d you buy it? “I’ve got an NSR250R and a CBR400RR – it completes the collection, doesn’t it?” Fair enough.
It’s way smaller than the new one, and grumpier too. The 30mm CV carbs take a few minutes to harmonise with the motor as it warms up. It’s even flatter low down than the new one, but at 11,000rpm there’s a little step and it howls its way up to the tacho’s high numbers. It doesn’t feel much slower than the new one either: the pair of twin-piston brakes are obviously mushier than a brand-new radial stopper, and it’s a bit softer all round. But there’s greater sense of occasion for sure – and a more balanced mix of exhaust and airbox noise. It feels like a proper little sportsbike.
The same drawbacks apply: not fast, not that light (though at 174.5kg on our scales, lighter than the new one) and more a novelty act than a serious performance motorcycle for anyone older than 20. But, as in Marcus’ case, it does have a certain appeal – a 400 is a better choice in any performance regard, but winding a 250-4 up to silly rpm within the speed limit is plenty enough amusement for a few Sundays a year.
Verdict: It’s no loss
There’s a good reason we’re not getting the 25R here: it’s not built for us, and it’s not suited to us, either. After the bike was returned, I looked them up on Youtube. One showed a young Indonesian lad having a race with a Yamaha R3 (public roads, loads of traffic, typical teenage thing), and the parallel twin got the win. And those aren’t even the quickest of the A2 licence lightweights: that’ll be a Ninja 400, which would comfortably drop the four-banger.
I’m no expert on the eastern markets, maybe the spec sheet alone is enough to get Asian buyers fisting over large piles of local currency. But it’d never cut it here. The old ZXR is a bit of inexpensive fun (they enjoyed a period of cult popularity in Eire too, where they suit the differing licence categories). But for young riders today, no 250-4 makes the most of novice licence categories. Still, if you’re ever on holiday out in the Far East, it’d make a cracking rental bike.