I have a 1986-1987 model. What's different?
This compilation of data started by kurbycar32.
As of late 2009, it was still possible to get many of the parts for the EX250E at your local Kawasaki dealer. Should you have need for anything, that may be a good first place to look.
Fairings and Plastics
The fairings on the 1986 and 1987 Ninja are completely different from the 1988 and up models, including the fairing stay bracket that bolts from the frame and holds on the plastic panels. Fairings are not interchangeable and frankly, the 1986 and 87 model plastics look much better than the ’88 and up. Consider yourself lucky and stick with the original plastic. I do not know of any aftermarket source for 87 plastics.
Since this model was only released in the USA for two years a few decades ago, chances are your fairings are pretty jacked up. It gets better; I have never seen a good set of fairings that weren’t repaired for this model Ninja. You should plan on doing some body work if you want your Ninja to look its best. It’s not too hard, and if you do it yourself it’s not expensive, either.
The 1986-87 windshields are different from the 88 and up bikes, mostly because the fairings are different. It is also very small and largely ineffective as a windshield. A larger replacement windshield used to be available, made by Targa. SKU: 24-952S-TG. It seems that this screen is no longer being made.
Mirrors are usually one of the first things to go on a motorcycle because they stick out the farthest and are the first thing to hit the ground. On my 87 ninja I took some mirrors from an 88 and up bike and purchased some longer bolts from my local hardware store to make them fit. The 88 and up mirrors are a lot easier to adjust, and I prefer them to the 86-87 design. By just using longer bolts there is a gap between the fairing and the mirror base, so the look is not perfect. However, the mirror base can be trimmed to achieve a stock look and eliminate the gap.
The 1986-1987 ninja 250 uses two seats instead of one dual seat. If you have the seat at all I suggest that you just get it reupholstered and re-padded.
Since the 1986-87 model has a different fairing stay bracket and fairings, naturally a different instrument cluster is in order. It has all of the same gauges as the 88 and up model but is shaped differently to closer match the fairing lines.
The handlebar risers on a 1986-87 are not as tall and point more outwards than the 88 and up models. These have been discontinued. In some sources (not the Kawasaki parts diagram), the riser part number may be listed as the same for 1986-87 and 1988-07. This is incorrect. They are NOT interchangeable. If you try to order handlebar risers, make sure that the vendor (say on eBay) knows it's for a 1986-87 model. The actual handlebar is interchangeable from the newer bike.
Part numbers: 1986-1987
Left handlebar controls
You can graft an F-model blinker and highbeam control set onto your EX250E. The choke cable end and lever fit right into the newer control box. The electrical control assembly physically plugs into the wiring harness on the bike, but some of the wires don't go to the right places. The horn, clutch, and blinker wires all match, but the highbeam switch does not.
The newer highbeam control has three wires; the 1986-7 has four. The fourth wire is for the "Reserve Lighting Device", a box that automatically reverts to a working filament when one burns out.
It's possible to use a small paperclip to pop the pins out of the control wiring connector and match colors with the wiring harness on the bike. Since the new controls are missing the reserve lighting wire, a pin is left missing on the connector. As this is really not a necessary part of the bike, it doesn't hurt that you will lose it.
You will find that most major distributors have your rotor listed as EBC part number MD4031LS and they may even list it as available. THIS ROTOR DOES NOT EXIST.
EBC discontinued it years ago and never removed it from their catalog, so all the distributors think they can get it and list it and will even quote a price. I contacted EBC and they agreed to take my old rotor and re-produce it, and for my cooperation receive a free one. They found that it has the same specs as the left rotor on a GPZ550 for a few years around 1984. The model number is MD4002LS and this rotor is available for purchase. Since EBC is such a cool company they sent me a free rotor anyway. So, use front rotor EBC #MD4002LS. This is now listed in the 2008 EBC catalog pdf for the EX250 E1/E2 Ninja.
Pads are pretty easy to get for the 1986-1987 Ninja 250. The front pads are the same model that some larger bikes use for the rear brake, so there are still a lot of options. See this article for more information on brake pads.
Calipers, lines and master cylinder
You should be able to get stock rubber hoses from Kawasaki, but you'd be better off with stainless steel lines. You may have to find somewhere that will custom-make them for you.
The 86-87 models came geared more suitable for freeway cruising. The rear sprocket was a 42 tooth instead of the 45 tooth on the F series. In town the 87 feels sluggish compared to later models, but on the freeway it cruises right at the beginning of its power band (different cam and carbs; keep reading) so it’s got more room for acceleration. I have yet to confirm it, but I believe the same aftermarket sprockets bolt right on, so you have the same choices as everyone else if you decide to change the gear ratio.
The rear shock on a 1986-1987 is the exact same shock as on the Ninja 500.
The 1986-87 models came equipped stock with 32mm carbs vs. the 30mm on the 88 --> models. The larger carbs were downsized in 1988 to make the bike more friendly to drive around town. If you plan on getting K&N filter pods, make sure you get the correct size.
From the years 1986-1992 the cam has 280 degrees of duration, meaning that the valves are open longer. On this particular engine this provides more top end power, at the expense of midrange. My bike feels like it really starts pulling at 9000 rpm and pulls all the way to 14,000. It feels sluggish off the line unless you slip the clutch and keep the rpm high. 1993-later model cams have 272 degrees of duration. They have better low and midrange power. Cam timing is different as well, with the 1986-87 being timed at 38 degrees, compared to 42 degrees on later models. On all models the timing is static, and it's not practical to attempt adjusting it.
The valves seem to be the same length and size, but this is unconfirmed. The valve seats are softer and run out of clearance faster on the 1986-87. I find myself adjusting valves every season or 3000 miles. It could probably go longer, but I always find at least one valve out of spec at 3k.
The stator cover (left motor cover) has different pickup coils. If you want to use a newer CDI / wiring harness on a 1986-87 motor, you must change the stator cover to match. Also, the plug is the same for 88 to 94 model wiring harnesses, but they are wired differently, so you will have to reconfigure the plug for it to work. 1994 and up wiring harnesses have an anti-hotwire mechanism that will have to be bypassed in order for it to work on an early motor.
The stock exhaust is pretty close to the 88 and up model's, but when buying a Muzzys exhaust for earlier models it’s a different part number. The rear mounting point is different and the correct exhaust ships with a slightly different mounting strap, the can is the same. I had no problems ordering the correct can from Muzzy
This is pretty much beyond the scope of the FAQ, but we can give you some hints and point you in the right direction. We would normally tell you to consult the service manual, but it is not really much help when describing the flywheel removal/replacement, which is the complicated part.
You can swap any '88-07 (F series) engine into an '86-87 (E series) chassis by swapping the alternator cover and flywheel from the older engine to the newer engine. By swapping the alternator covers you swap out the wiring and ignition pickup coils.
Once you remove the alternator cover on the 250, the flywheel is one bolt and a few special tools away. But, it does require (on a 1 to 10 scale) a 7+ skill/confidence level. So, if you don't have the kind of experience needed for this, the simplest way may be to take both engines (with alternator covers removed) to any decent automotive or motorcycle mechanic and ask them to swap flywheels. It should cost less than 1/2 hour labor for this work, depending.
Here are some guidelines if you decide to go at this yourself: When the alternator cover is removed, the flywheel is exposed. In order to swap flywheels, you will need three 'special' tools, usually rentable at a local tools/equipment place:
1. A gear puller with (minimum) 8 inch jaws and 8 inches of reach. Example: Posi Lock model 108 or Kawasaki tool part #57001-1223
2. A tool for holding the flywheel while you apply torque to the flywheel bolt. Example: Vice-Grip model 20R or Kawasaki #57001-1222
3. A good torque wrench, capable of 51 ft-lbs (69 N-m) torque, for flywheel bolt replacement.
On a related note, the E series clutch cover (right side engine cover) is different than the cover on the F series, but it is not necessary to swap it. You can identify an -E series clutch cover because it is mostly flat, whereas the F series shows the outline of the clutch actuator (the one which pushes on the clutch push rod when you pull the clutch lever).
The functional differences between the two covers are that the the E series one will slightly rub your boot when using the brake lever and eventually wear the paint off. Additionally, the E series cover will leave an area of unpainted F engine showing about 1/5 the size of a dime near the oil sight glass, and the E series cover contains a noise dampener which the F series does not. That is why the cover on the E is a little bigger and has the flat area. One member has had an E series cover on his F14 for several years now.