Kawasaki ZZ-R250: Future classic

Date 03.8.2015

Presented by
  • Motorcycle Trader

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Kawasaki ZZ-R250

The Kawasaki GPX250R landed in 1986 with an aluring price tag of around $4000. Timing is everything when it comes to selling motorcycles and the market of the time had been hungering for a small-capacity machine that stood out from the crowd.

The sporty look of the GPX was instantly acclaimed as a welcome alternative to some of the run-of-the-mill Japanese four-stroke 250s in showrooms at the time.

It made use of the 248cc, DOHC, eight-valve, liquid-cooled, four-stroke, vertical twin powerplant that had featured in the GPz250R.

A major feature was the engine’s ability to rev to numbers normally associated with two-stroke technology.

Redline was at a stratospheric 14,000rpm and 15,500rpm was possible. This gave those restricted to a 250 the opportunity to own a day-to-day machine, one that served them for their period on L- and P-plates without making them look like total novices, and anything that bolsters a newbie’s street status will always do well. So it was with the GPX.

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Further, Kawasaki had embarked on a clever corporate identity program for its range of road-going hardware at the time. The bike bore more than a passing resemblance to its GPz500S and GPX750R brothers.

Also consider that, by the time the learner was ready to step up to a larger machine, he/she had established a relationship with the lime green brand. In short, Kawasaki’s thinking was remarkably sound.

So that’s how all this got started, but we are here to talk about the GPX’s younger – and equally successful – brother, the ZZ-R250.

EVOLUTION

In 1990 Kawasaki released the better-appointed ZZ-R. For an extra $500, the buyer got the same basic engine as that of the GPX – carbs were reduced to 32mm, compression ratio was increased from 12.0:1 to 12.4:1, and ignition timing advance was increased. This allowed the bike to rev more quickly, and gave it slightly more top-end. It was six kilograms heavier than the GPX, negating much of the performance gain.

Other changes included a perimeter aluminium frame, more sophisticated suspension and 17-inch wheels. The more modern look was universally appreciated – the GPX was starting to look a little slabby and staid. This was a recipe for instant sales success and the Kawasaki should kneel at the altar of the little ZZ-R every day, such was its influence on buyers.

In what must have seemed an odd move at the time, Kawasaki chose not to phase out the GPX, instead running it alongside the ZZ-R right up until the Ninja release in 2008.

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Even then, for some time, you could buy all three new! Hard to fathom was the fact that you’d pay around $500 more for a ZZ-R than you would for the newer Ninja. Perhaps Kawasaki was wary that the ZZ-R might remain a little too loved and, as a consequence, rob the new bike of ‘showroom fizz’.

Output figures for the ZZ-R are 29.2kW (40hp) at 12,500rpm and 22Nm at 9000rpm. Top speed is a very respectable 170km/h and fuel consumption around 4.7L/100km (21km per litre).

The six-speed gearbox features the usual ‘Kwaka crunch’, but the ratios are good. There’s a very happy tale in those performance numbers for someone looking to sprint about on the weekend and frugally commute during the week. The ZZ-R is a remarkable all-rounder, if a little underwhelming on the adrenalin front.

NIMBLE NATURE

Front suspension is a non-adjustable 37mm fork and the rear features Kawasaki’s Uni-Trak monoshock with five-way preload adjustment.

You’ll be using that adjustment too if you plan on any two-up work – the rear suspension should be fine-tuned as weights are increased on any bike, but this is especially true of one of smaller capacity. In fact, we suggest those looking to carry a pillion opt for something with a little more power than that of the ZZ-R – it really is a smidgeon underpowered for serious passenger duties. What is really nice about the ZZ-R is its nimble nature.

At 146kg dry, you don’t have to be Hercules to deal with it at low speeds (yes, we’ve all toppled over at a service station at least once, have we not?) This and the low seat height of 760mm will suit smaller species.

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This is an area that is often overlooked in the slaverish excitement of first bike purchasing. It’s all-important to ‘measure up’, rather than marvel at the lovely colour, but you can’t put a calm head on excited shoulders. Take the time to sit on the thing, please. The ZZ-R is a pretty robust thing, its model longevity stands testament to that, but there are a few areas that warrant investigation for the used buyer.

ZZ-R header pipes have been known to corrode and new ones are spookily expensive. Wreckers report that second-hand ones are hard to get.

If there is a tapping from the top end of the engine over 3000rpm you will need to have valve clearances done. That’ll cost you around $300. Remember, this is a four-valve engine.

If the sound is more of a rattle, the camchain is either in need of tensioning, or it’s knackered (anything with more than 35,000km will need a good check).

SUMMING UP

The ZZ-R has a lot to like about it. Good news is that they are far less in demand with new LAMS laws offering riders a much wider choice than the old restriction of 250cc allowed. This makes the ZZ-R a cheap proposition.

It has to be said that performance is not hair-raising and the ZZ-R was often seen as a ‘transition bike’.

This notwithstanding, it’s a near-perfect example of its period in history and if you think its value isn’t going to appreciate, check out current prices for the 250 two-strokes of the ’70s and early ’80s which were also great representatives of their time.


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