It was meant to be curtains for Jacqui Madelin, until she found herself pondering the merits of the Kawasaki Ninja 250R with a soft-furnishings salesman.
It's not often you get a soft-furnishings salesman round only to find he spends more time talking bikes than blinds. But that's what happened to me.
For this chap's teenage son was mad-keen on Kawasaki's Ninja 250, which, by coincidence, was parked in my garage at the time. So we stood in the chilly garage, discussing learner bikes, riding gear, and misspent youth instead of thermal liners and the merits of blinds and curtains, and I hope I put his mind at rest about his son's choice of mount.
For the Ninja 250 is one of those rarities; a machine that will suit a wide range of body types, and is tractable enough for a learner - yet manic enough to brush the ragged edge when you're ready for it.
The first sight of the Ninja behind Kawasaki's high fencing was of an eyeball-searing green meanie promising hell and hoonery as surely as the name suggests it. But then I clambered aboard, and suffered an immediate wibble of the space-time continuum. For the riding position is not as extreme as either the bodywork or the model name suggests, and neither, it transpires, is the engine.
The Ninja 250R, 650R and 500R are powered by in-line twins. It's the more radical speed-demons - the ZZR600 and Z1000 - that get the fours.
There's a family resemblance Kawasaki plays on - as do buyers of the less radical machines - but it's barely more than skin deep.
Which is good, in this case. I could pull away without worrying the thing would flip over backwards, or wheelspin to hell and back. So I rode home in a relaxed manner, a little disappointed in the bike's laid-back approach, perhaps, but happy to find the raised bars impart a rather comfy riding position that suits open-road speeds. And relieved that their width offers better control than the expected extreme clip-ons, especially appreciated as I headed into the bush, and surfaces grew more slippery. If that skinny rear tyre slid, a twitch of the bars corrected matters. It cut neatly into loose gravel too, and I had a relaxed and pleasurable ride.
But later I discovered this bike's racier side. The 249cc parallel twin is very happy to rev, the 12,500rpm redline not just there for show. Power peaks at 23kW at 11,000rpm, with 22Nm of torque at 10,000rpm. Keep the revs low and you potter. Thwack that throttle open and the bike's relatively light, 161kg wet weight means it gets along quite nicely - albeit with a rather frantic soundtrack.
You can hit 100kmh from zero in under six seconds - achingly slow compared to this machine's big brothers, but not bad for a bike that's in legal learner territory.
Forget acceleration records and point this Ninja down a winding road, and you can have a lot of fun too. At 80kmh in third you're at 9000rpm, approaching peak torque; touching 11,500rpm at 100kmh as you change to fourth, 9500 and again surfing that torque. Play around 100kmh with the revs up and you're sitting where this bike performs at its best.
Meanwhile the slightly upright riding geometry with those wide bars makes this bike a delight to throw around, flicking joyfully from bend to bend with the sort of joie de vivre lost to its harder-core siblings.
Combine that with the fact that Ninja 250R is small and limber enough to thread through gridlock; comfy enough to cruise; and practical enough to live with and you have a machine as capable of appealing to those seeking an affordably fun commuter as it is of suiting learner riders.
Want some tech? There's not much to say. The bike's been redesigned to increase its resemblance to sportier Ninjas. The engine and drivetrain are considerably redeveloped to boost the mid-range. I rode the twin-carb model - Europe gets fuel injection - with petal-shaped brake rotors.
Kawasaki claims 3.2 to 4.2l/100km. That makes this bike an affordable commuter, as well as a weekend warrior. And it reassured my curtains man that his son was buying a bike he could use every day. One he could learn on without it biting him at every turn, while offering enough fun to keep him happy while he gains the skills to stay rubber-side down.
Not to mention one his friends can admire - for it looks like the screaming meanie it does a good job of imitating, while effectively hiding its boy-next-door appeal.
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