What Do We Want? Light Bikes! When Do We Want Them? Now!

There’s no doubt that small capacity bikes aimed at new riders is the biggest growth segment in the motorcycle industry at the moment. In fact in places like Europe and Australia where new riders are restricted to such bikes, it’s probably the biggest slice of the current pie. One great thing about these bikes is that they’re light and nimble. But what about small capacity bikes aimed at experienced riders – why can’t that be a thing too?

Of course, there’s nothing stopping mature riders buying a Yamaha R3 or a KTM RC390. The’re fun bikes and great to ride, but there’s little doubt they’re lacking the horsepower that most people desire from a motorcycle. What would be great however is something weighing less than what the RC390 weighs (say 140kg wet) but with around 100 hp – giving it a power to weight ratio similar to that of a current day Yamaha R6.

The inspiration for this article has long been brewing, but two recent news items put things into focus. One was the extremely underwhelming Honda RC-213VS and the other bike is probably one you haven’t heard – a project bike by TYGA Performance based on the Honda NSR250R. Both bikes couldn’t be further apart in their mentality, but I know which I’d honestly prefer (and could afford).

TYGA Performance NCR250R

A Honda NSR250R brought into the 21st century.

The Honda NSR250R was first released back in 1985 and featured a 249cc 90° V-Twin Liquid Cooled Two-Stroke. It only weighed 132 kg dry and made 45hp but the bike is a great one to use as a base. TYGA bored the engine out to 300cc and along with other tweaks, improved output to 70hp. Using more modern materials, they managed to reduce the bikes weight to an incredible 115kg (253 lb) with all liquids. That gives a power to weight ratio of 0.60 – not too shabby at all. Given how coveted the NSR250R now is due to its mixture of fantastic handling and performance, this would be icing on the cake.

But how sad is it that the Honda and all the other Japanese manufactures have forgotten their legacy with bikes like the NSR250R, Kawasaki KR-1 and Yamaha TZR250. Sure, bikes like the Yamaha R1 and Ninja H2 would  smoke TYGA Performance’s project bike at the track, but it would probably be by a lot less than the specifications indicate. No matter how much horsepower you have, you can only go so fast around corners.

The Kawasaki KR-1 made 55hp yet weighed only 123kg dry - released in 1989.

The Kawasaki KR-1 made 55hp yet weighed only 123kg dry – released in 1989.

There’s no doubt that it’s cheaper (and easier) for motorcycle manufactures to increase horsepower rather than decrease weight. That’s why we keep seeing motorcycles with more and more power, but usually with increasing mass as well. Engines from 10 or even 20 years ago put out plenty of power for most real world applications, but using lighter weight materials still doesn’t come cheap.

And yet, you could buy bikes with decent power back in the late 80’s and 90’s that didn’t weigh over 450 pounds. Light bikes are not only better suited to tight twisty corners of a racetrack or mountain road, but they’re far more practical when it comes to riding in heavy traffic as well.

So please, motorcycle manufacturers. Less focus on ridiculous horsepower figures that are likely to grab the attention of politicians and more focus on putting modern day motorcycles on a diet. You did it before, let’s do it again.

Kawasaki Updates KLX150 Series for 2016

Kawasaki looks set to update the KLX150 series later this year according to Indonesian website TMCblog. They’ve gotten a hold of a whole bunch of official images showing off an updated 2016 model of the Kawasaki KLX150. While our Indonesian language abilities are non-existent (and Google translate is only a slight step up), we can make out a few changes from the images.

In addition to changes to the graphics, the front headlight and shroud has been completely changed, going for a flat instead of angular look – an odd design direction given the more angular nature of most Kawasaki bikes of late. The only other real design change we can see is the fairing cover the exhaust has been modified slightly.

On the mechanical front, the clearest change is in the disc rotors – changed from a standard design to a wave design for better heat dissipation – size remains the same at 240mm up front and 190mm at the rear.

It also appears that in addition the updated KLX150S and KLX150L models, there’s also a special edition which may be for Indonesia only – at least at this stage. That particular bike gets extras such as a skid plate, fatter handle bars, frame covers and interestingly, slightly larger front diameter upside down forks (36mm instead of the standard 33mm).

Ninja 300 Track Bike Project – May Update

It’s been around a month since our first post on our Ninja 300 project bike and we’ve been in the demolition phase so to speak. We’ve stripped the bike of all its fairings, lights, indicators and any other pieces that won’t be suitable/allowed on the racetrack. We’ve also discovered a few damaged pieces that will either need repairing or replacing.

Pictured below is everything that we’ve stripped from the bike that we won’t be putting back on – virtually everything we took off except the dash display and its surrounding plastics. We’ll be purchasing proper raceglass, a taller race windshield, adjustable levers as well as a full racing exhaust system. We’ll also be replacing the pegs with rearsets and the suspension with an aftermarket one, but at this stage they original parts remain on the bike. We’ve also kept the right rear passenger pegs as it doubles as the bracket for holding the rear brake fluid reservoir – a replacement bracket will need to be sought.

Ninja 300 Track Bike Project - May Update

Our intention is to sell all those left over parts on eBay or similar. Many of the parts that aren’t broken do have scratches on them however, so we’re not expecting a great deal in return.

As you can see from the next picture, our intention had been to strip all superfluous electricals from the bike completely. We ended up deciding however that the reward wasn’t worth the effort and have just cut off the connectors that we won’t need (which includes wiring for lights, indicators and the horn). We’ll seal those exposed wires shortly and tidy everything up thereafter.

Ninja 300 Track Bike Project - May Update

As we mentioned in our first post, the bike was in overall okay condition, but there are three pieces that we’ll need to replace or repair. The first one was clearly visible – a broken screw mount on the right fork cover. That mount allows a brace to be attached whereby the front fender rests on – that brace was also damaged. It’s not structural in anyway so in theory we could attempt to just repair it, but at the same time, we don’t like the idea of a repair job braking and bits flying off the bike while we’re at speed. For an OEM replacement part we’re looking at paying around $300 for the fork cover and about $40 for the brace – but we have a ideas on how to  reduce that cost so stay tuned.

Ninja 300 Track Bike Project - May Update

The other part that was damaged was unknown to us at purchase – the front cowling stay. Again, not a structural part, it merely gives something for the front cowling to be attached to. As you can see, it’s bent, not broken and therefore the cowling won’t sit properly on it. We’re going to take the front cowling stay to a metal fabrication shop and see if they can bend it back into shape. Otherwise, the replacement part will cost about $150.

In next months’ update, we’ll let you know how we went with selling our spare parts. We’ll also be installing a new race exhaust and update you on the cost of repair and/or replacement of the damaged parts.

Introducing Our Ninja 300 Project Track Bike

TheRideAdvice.com is going racing… eventually. Today we kick off our first project bike using the ever popular Kawasaki Ninja 300. Our ultimate goal is to convert our baby Ninja from its damaged (written-off by insurance) state that it is currently in and enter it into a national competition which is open only to the Ninja 300.

Our aim with this project is to tie things in together with our YouTube channel. Hence, not only will we take you through the project on this website, we’ll be filming detailed guides on various things that have application to modifying or maintaining any bike.

Some track bike specific articles will include:

  • Prepping, painting and installing race glass/race fairings
  • Safety wiring/lock wiring your bike for the track
  • Weight reduction
  • Gearing

Some of the articles that will be equally as applicable on the track as they would be for any bike include:

  • Replacing rear suspension
  • Replacing fork internals
  • Replacing break pads/bleeding the lines/installing braided lines
  • Installing a full exhaust system

Plus many, many other things. We’ll be keeping a record of all costs involved so you can get a good idea of budgets and provide tips and tricks along the way.

The great thing about racing the Ninja 300 is that not only is it one of the cheapest forms of competitive motorcycle racing around, it’s also a great way to learn the art of racing in a somewhat forgiving environment. So without further ado, let’s introduce our new baby.

Part 1 – The Purchase

We bought the bike at a local auction house that deals in written-off (total loss) motorcycles due to an insurance company deciding the cost to repair the motorcycle is too great.  The bike we bought was a 2013 model and had around 5,500 kilometres on the engine. Damage was mostly superficial (more on that shortly) and the purchase price was $1,500 plus another $100 for tansportation back to our garage.

Introducing Our Ninja 300 Project Track Bike

The key to bidding at an auction is to set yourself a price ceiling and stick with it. Know your budget and if you can, try and find out what sort of price range the bike you’re interested in tends to go for. Also, ensure you’re aware of what bikes sell for used that aren’t at auction. It’s stupid to buy a damaged bike from auction that doesn’t come with a warranty or any proof of its mechanical qualities for only a few hundred dollars less than what you can find at a dealership, but trust us, it does happen. People tend to go to auctions thinking they’re guaranteed to get a bargain only to find themselves in a bidding war with other clueless individuals.

Also, be patient. At the auction we were present at, there were 9 Ninja 300s for sale out of about 150 bikes in total. And guess what? The first Ninja that was auctioned went for the most money that day despite having the pretty serious issue of being water damaged from flooding. We bought later in the afternoon and walked away with $700 more that that first buyer.

Damage wise as you can see from the photos that things are mainly superficial. Most (but not all) of the fairings have received some sort of damage. There’s nothing obviously bent on the bike but there are a few parts that we will have to replace. Most importantly though is that the engine runs smoothly and the frame is straight.

In Part Two, our first work on the bike will be as follows:

  • Strip the bike of all fairings, lights and indicators
  • Sell any undamaged items to recoup some of our costs
  • Remove the wiring for the lights, indicators and horn which we won’t need
  • Assess any other parts on the bike that have to be either repaired or replaced

After that, the real work will begin on turning our Ninja 300 into a capable race machine. Check back in a couple of weeks with our first update.

2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 Road Test Review

The previous Kawasaki Versys 1000 wasn’t regarded as a pretty looking motorcycle, nor was it a compelling choice as a dual-sport for which Kawasaki originally intended it as. That’s all changed for 2015, with the 1,043 cc inline four powered bike getting not only a big cosmetic makeover but a host of other changes that make the Versys a real option for those looking at a comfortable, powerful and relatively nimble tourer.

Apart from its awkward looks, the previous Versys biggest issue was that Kawasaki designed and marketed it as an off road capable machine. Suspension was tuned to cater for both bitumen and dirt and the tires fitted attempted to cover both bases, too. The trouble was that it was far too heavy to take off road – coming in at 239 kg and with a high centre of gravity, the Versys was therefore a jack of all trades, master of nothing sort of bike.

In a sensible change, Kawasaki is now positioning the bike as a comfortable tourer with an upright riding position but with sporty characteristics. After spending some time of the updated Versys 1000, we’d say Kawasaki has got the bike right now.

As before, it uses the same 1,043cc inline four as featured in the Z1000 and Ninja 1000. Like so many engines in Kawasaki’s current lineup, it’s a fantastic unit that’s been designed for real world application.  Where the engine differs from those two other bikes is mainly where power is available. Peak power is down slightly but there is more torque in the low and mid-rpm range. Similarly, first gear has been shortened, second remains the same as before while 3rd through 6th have been lengthened.

It’s a potent engine but only if you want it to be. It’s quite happy to bubble along at 3-4,000 rpm, but there’s around 120 hp on tap at a moment’s notice. We found ourselves shifting at no higher than 6,000 rpm most of the time, just because there’s no need to wring its neck. At the same time, the bike has enough grunt to power wheelie even in third gear should your inner hooligan want to be let loose for a while. In fact, third gear proved to be the sweet spot for a lot of our riding, especially in twisty roads.  The engine sits on around 5,000 rpm at 80 kph in 3rd gear which allows the bike to launch into a sprint when existing the corners or needing to overtake.

Other than the cosmetic changes at the front of the Versys, the biggest modification is probably the bike’s suspension. No longer having to cater to such a wide variety of surfaces, the Versys 1000’s suspension is properly sorted for the road only. Brand new 43mm inverted forks are upfront and are 20 mm longer than before. Rebound and compression damping has been reduced by about 30 per cent. Front end feel is very good and confidence inspiring.

At the rear, the previous horizontal back-link suspension has been retained, though the spring has been stiffened slightly while there’s around 30 per cent less compression damping. The remote rear preload adjuster has been retained and both front and rear rebound damping is adjustable.

The suspension set up, along with the upright riding position and wide bars make for a very enjoyable ride. While not as quick as a sportsbike to flick from side to side, it’s all too easy to lean the bike into the corners thanks to the leverage provided by the one piece bar. In fact, the Versys 1000 has no right to be as enjoyable to ride as it is given its size and weight.

The weight of the Versys 1000 is both a positive and negative. As a tourer, there’s definitely some benefit to a heavier bike. It’s much more stable on the open road and less prone to buffeting from the wind. But with a curb mass of 250 kg, it’s not agile at low speed. Given the seat height of 840mm and it’s width, those of shorter stature will struggle to move the Versys 1000 around the car park.

Part of the increase in weight from before is due to the standard inclusion of a center stand which in our opinion is an excellent addition. Also standard is both an assist and slipper clutch. The front windshield is now adjustable vertically by 75 mm – more than double than before. Everywhere you look on this bike you can really see that Kawasaki has gone to great effort to make this machine as comfortable and easy to ride as possible.

Brakes have been slightly upgraded with 310 mm discs up front and a 250mm diameter unit at the rear. ABS is standard and has received an upgrade as well. Just like the engine, the brakes are of excellent quality and did a great job of slowing the bike – they provide good feel as well. There’s a three mode traction control system and two engine power modes, but the fueling and throttle response is so good that we’d surprised if you really needed to change any of the settings from standard.

Overall, we think Kawasaki is onto a real winner here. Ironically, the some of the biggest competitors to this bike are other Kawasaki’s – the Ninja 1000 is obviously another touring option, but while they both fit the same segment, the Versys probably offers more in comfort and ease of riding. It’s a motorcycle that is easy to ride, allowing you to enjoy the scenery but at the same time, can turn into a rocket when needed. What was once an ugly duckling that really didn’t fit into its segment is now an attractive motorcycle that excels at what it was designed for.

 

Kawasaki W800 Limited Edition But Only For Japan

The Kawasaki W800, a motorcycle you’ve probably never heard of but does actually exist, is getting the limited edition treatment but only in Japan. This retro styled machine has been available since 2011 but you’d hardly know about it, despite how popular the ‘retro’ segment is becoming.

The W800 replaced the W650 which was discontinued in 2007, and is a further throwback to the W models that Kawasaki produced from ’67 to ’75. It features an air-cooled and fuel injected 773 cc parallel twin that produces 35 KW (48 PS) @ 6,500 rpm and 60 N.m @ 2,500 rpm. Gearbox is 5 speed and wet weight is 217 kg.

The limited edition won’t feature any mechanical differences – it’s all visual. But those visual changes are quite gorgeous. The engine has been painted black with the fins polished in chrome. The paint scheme is a two tone one of chrome and metallic beige (looks better than it sounds). The rims also go from chrome to gold. It’s one very attractive looking machine.

In usual ‘limited edition’ style, special badges are placed on the motorcycle and the ribbed black seat also gets the two-tone treatment.

Only 300 of Kawasaki W800 Limited Editions are being made for the Japanese market and no word on whether they will be available elsewhere in the world.

Introducing TheRideAdvice.com Video Reviews

Today marks a further progression in the growth of TheRideAdvice.com with the release of our first motorcycle video review of the Kawasaki Vulcan S. Our aim with our video reviews is like all other aspects of this website – to offer something slightly different to the normal and to do so in an interesting and informative way.

Our goal with our video reviews is to be the following:

  • Be funny
  • Be quirky
  • Show the bike
  • Talk about how the bike actually is, not its specifications on a piece of paper
  • Never, ever have some middle aged bloke standing beside the bike and talking about it to the camera

Our first review of the Vulcan S has guess appearances from Rick Rocker, a stereotypical Harley-Davidson enthusiast. Subsequent reviews will also feature special guests or other interesting and different features to keep things fresh.

We hope you enjoy it and we’d welcome any feedback.

 

Kawasaki Vulcan S Review

We’re painting with broad brush strokes here but generally speaking, you’re either a fan of cruisers or not. While a sportsbike rider may enjoy a naked or even an adventure bike, there’s very little crossover between those kinds of bikes and cruisers. But what about a cruiser that blurs that gap somewhat and could potentially attract non-traditional customers? We think the Kawasaki Vulcan S may succeed where very few have done previously.

From the outset, Kawasaki has set about trying to develop a cruiser that didn’t conform to what a cruiser is expected to be. V-twin? No, thanks. Black only paint scheme with chrome everything? Uh ah. Only masculine men with beards need apply? Nope! Image above actual performance? No, sir. While it resembles a cruiser and the ergonomics of it mean you know what type of bike you’re sitting on, Kawasaki has ignored all other expectations of what a cruiser should be.

They’ve also put a lot of thought and research into making this bike as accessible as possible. Some of that went into how a motorcycle can possibly be a one size fits all machine and the answer obviously is that it can’t. Hence, the bike has been designed to have easy modifications made available to reposition the seat, handlebars and even the pegs to ensure this bike fits both shorter and taller people.

For those living in the United States, that customization comes under the umbrella of the ergo-fit system, whereby dealers can modify the bike at the point of sale for free. In other markets, it’s potentially an extra cost at the time of purchase though that will be up to the individual dealers.

When we first saw images of the Vulcan S last year, we were quite impressed at how Kawasaki had managed so well to make it instantly recognizable as a cruiser yet give it a nice injection of modern design. Part of that is probably to do with both the perimeter frame and the offset laydown single-shock which Kawasaki have kept on prominent display. Expect future editions of the bike to have these two items with contrasting colors to really standout like they do now on the some of the 2015 ER-6n’s.

Fit and finish is excellent and to us at least, there’s almost nothing visually wrong with the bike. The exhaust silencer might look a bit too ‘try hard’ for some but it’s in keeping with the overall look of the bike. Our only complaint would be the large plastic shroud over the front of the fuel tank that surrounds the ignition. It’s a lot of black plastic and hides much of the gorgeous tank – make it smaller next time, please.

On paper, the 649 cc parallel twin shouldn’t be anything to get excited over, but it’s a real gem of an engine. It’s been at home in the Ninja 650 and ER-6n for many years now and to huge success, especially in Europe. It provides plenty of grunt down low and it’s probably one of the best ‘real world’ engines (by that we mean performance on the street without risking your license) around. Power delivery is smooth and linear and has a great amount of bottom end grunt.

Despite being an already good motor, Kawasaki have put a lot of effort into making it as user friendly as possible. The crankshaft was resigned with a heavier flywheel to improve engine braking and also reducing the propensity to stall the bike at low speed. Modifications were made to the camshaft profiles and intake ports, which mean the engine delivers more horsepower at lower revs but at a slight cost to torque.

 

Despite all this focus on the bottom end, the bike sits quite happily around around 5,000 rpm when cruising on the highway, though no doubt a bit of top speed has been lost compared to the Ninja 650. We’re not expecting to see too many Vulcan S’ at the track to test that however. Throttle response isn’t perfect and there’s an ever so slight jerkiness when opening it up from low revs in first or second gear, but we’ve experienced a lot worse.

Where the engine is good, the biggest surprise  is the handling. While certainly lighter than many other cruisers, the Vulcan S still weighs a portly 226 kilograms. That’s a full 20 kilograms heaver than the aforementioned ER-6n and 15 kilograms more than the Ninja 650. And yet it feels lighter than either of them by quite a margin. That’s no doubt helped by the longer wheelbase of and lower center of gravity.

Low speed maneuvers were a doddle and the turning circle was excellent. If the bars weren’t so wide this bike would be almost perfect for filtering through city traffic. It’ll be a breeze to use in suburbia and provides yet another positive for the Vulcan S.  Until you start going for a spirited ride in the mountains you’d be hard pressed to believe you were on a cruiser.

Even in high speed corners, the Vulcan S rides far better and with more aplomb than a cruiser has any real right to. Peg height will always be a limiting factor on a cruiser but even so, I was able to take a fair bit of speed into the turns on the Vulcan before touching the pavement with either the front pegs or my boot.

 

Again in a very un-cruiser like way, suspension has been made more sporty than soft and provides a decent amount of feedback given the price bracket it’s playing in. You’ll feel the bumps but it’s not a harsh ride – just not marshmallowy soft like most in the category. Much of those bumps will be absorbed by the seat anyway which at nearly 2.5 inches thick will make many sportsbike riders weep with jealousy.

Kawasaki have also chosen performance over aesthetics in another key area – the wheels and tires. The fronts are 120/70R on 18 inch rims while the rear is 160/60R on a 17″ wheel. Those sizes are again more akin to a sportsbike than a cruiser, where the the front is usually larger and the rear is often much smaller

All of this goes directly to what Kawasaki was aiming for with this bike – making a cruiser accessible and easy to ride. Good power delivery, good road feel and handling, extremely easy cornering ability.

Unfortunately, the brakes detract from that goal slightly. The weakest point on the Vulcan S is the front brake. I was skeptical upon seeing that Kawasaki had only gone for a single disc setup on the Vulcan S, which seems a bit under cooked for a 226 kg bike and in actual riding – it feels it. Pulling in the front brake doesn’t offer much initial bite and you’ve really got to squeeze the adjustable lever hard to get feedback. Once that lever is fully pulled in, the twin-pistons do a good job of slowing you down, but again with little feedback. That said, the ABS system is quite good and especially so on the rear brake which only seemed to cut in when you tried your best to lock the rear up.

 

From a comparative perspective, the Vulcan S sits right between the Harley-Davidson Street 500 and 750 in engine displacement. Harley’s offerings are also bikes designed to attract a younger audience. But the Street 500 and 750 really don’t break the mold much in our opinion. They still look like traditional cruisers, painted in various shades of black (H-D charge extra for colored versions) and they still handle and perform like, well, a Harley-Davidson.

The Vulcan S doesn’t. It’s a mild sportsbike hiding as a cruiser. It has decent straight line performance, nice handling, good suspension. It’s really what cruisers should be – very comfortable and relaxed but with quality components and good dynamics.

From our perspective, we think the Vulcan S is the far better looking machine but that will come down to individual tastes. But from a build quality perspective the Vulcan S is streets ahead. Little things like the quality of the plastics is just far superior on the Japanese cruiser and we have little doubt that the bike would perform just as well as it did on our test ride as it would after clocking up thousands of miles.

What we’re saying is that the Vulcan S is fairly cheap, but it in no way feels like it and that’s a sign of quality.

 

From a sportsbike riders perspective, there’s nothing new or groundbreaking about the Vulcan S. It’s just a simple and enjoyable motorcycle, but it has no pretensions about being anything else. It’s a bike designed for newer riders but we think it would be just as suitable for more seasoned riders too who are looking for something different.

Price wise, the Vulcan S is either an absolute steal or just okay, depending on where you live. In Australia, Kawasaki has priced it at $9,999, undercutting the Yamaha Star Bolt by $2,000 and right in line with the HD Street 500 (though HD doesn’t come with ABS which is standard in Australia). In the UK it’s just as good a bargain, where the Vulcan S is £5,949 compared to the Yamaha at £7,199. In the US however, it’s priced right between the HD Street 500 and 750 and despite (in our opinion) being a far better bike than either of them, that cost will no doubt cause a few people to reconsider.

In the UK, Kawasaki is also offering an A2 version which decreases horsepower and torque by restricting the throttle play. In Australia, the restricted LAMS version is the only one on offer at this stage, but having ridden in in restricted mode, it would still make a great bike for a first time rider.

But Kawasaki is selling this machine short as a learner only motorcycle. With full power available, this is a wonderful bike that would make many HD owners realize what they’ve been missing out on all these years – if they could only look past the badge.

Special thanks to Wayne and the team at Team Moto Kawasaki Bowen Hills for the use of their bike.