I have a 1986-1987 model. What's different?

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So, you have a 1986-1987 Ninja 250. What’s the difference?

The Body

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 then 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 that 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. I prefer fiberglass for my plastic repairs but there are many options available. I use fiberglass because its cheap, does not require any special tools and it’s easy to use. The Cons of fiberglass are that it is heavy and will not flex like plastic, generally this is not a big deal unless you are using a massive amount of fiberglass. The pro’s use a technique called plastic welding, which is expensive and requires special tools and not as strong as fiberglass. However plastic welding is just as light as plastic and requires no drying time so it can be done at the track between races


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 is available, it’s made by Targa. I purchased mine for like $60 bucks and overall I am happy with it. Because of the longer windshield and the angle that it points some riders may find that when pointing the wheel all the way to the right, depending on how they have the clutch lever set up the windshield may obstruct movement. It’s really only a problem when backing up and turning, like when you back out of the driveway and on to the street. Here is a link to that discussion



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 mirrors 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 found on the 88 and up model. If you have the seat at all I suggest that you just get it reupholstered and re-padded. I took both of my seats and the knee grips down to a custom upholstery shop in town and had them all re-foamed and reupholstered with black marine vinyl for $200. It makes a big difference and is a lot more comfortable then stock. One thing I had done differently was to cover the screw holes on the knee grips. This makes the panels completely smooth. To properly secure the panels simply attach some heavy duty Velcro to both sides of the mounting points and stick it on. Because of the bikes aerodynamics the panels will not get blown off, even at speeds over 100mph. The panel is also a lot easier to remove so troubleshooting on the side of the road is possible without using any tools.

Instrument cluster

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 then the 88 and up models. DANGER the handlebar part number is the same for 1986-87 as 1988 and up bikes but they are NOT interchangeable. If you order handlebar risers make sure that the vendor knows its for a 1986-87 model and that the part numbers are the same. The actual handlebar is interchangeable

The Brakes


This was one of the hardest things to deal with so far but now that I have done all the leg work it should be easier from now on. 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. I mailed my rotor off to England and 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 -USE FRONT ROTOR EBC MODEL NUMBER MD4002LS INSTEAD OF MD4031LS FOR YOUR 1986 OR 1987 NINJA 250R

Brake Pads

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. Personally I went the Galfer green brake pads on my bike. They are a composite of Kevlar and regular braking material. Kevlar has excellent abrasion resistance and cools quickly. This gives increased braking power as well as longer rotor life, and the pads are not terribly expensive. They are the same price as sintered HH pads, are a lot more “streetable”. Sintered pads provide the ultimate in stopping power but eat rotors for breakfast and do not provide a gradual feeling when stopping. They are ideal for racing but I do not recommend their use on street bikes.

Calipers, lines and Master Cylinder

I suggest that when re-doing your brakes purchase a rebuild kit for your Caliper and master Cylinder. Rebuilding will make your brake parts perform like they did when they were new without “overbuilding” your breaks to the point that you loose gradual stopping power. The lines can be replaced but I have yet to find a source for pre-made hoses other then the stock originals. However there are many sources that will gladly build you some custom lines for not much more then off the shelf lines if you let them copy your old ones.


The 86-87 models came geared more suitable for freeway cruising. The rear sprocket was a 42 tooth instead of the 45 tooth that came stock 88 and up. With this gearing a stock 1987 ninja 250 would have an estimated top speed of 112MPH and cruise the freeway at 70MPH running about 9500RPM. 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 gears 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, that’s right the adjustable one that everyone buys and installs as an upgrade. the 86-87 model came with it stock

The Motor


The 1986-87 models came equipped stock with 32mm carbs vs. the 30mm that came stock with 88 and up 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 mid range. My bike feels like it really starts pulling at 9k RPM, pulls all the way to 14k and that’s a blast; 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 mid range power. They seem to be better suited for in town driving. 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 its not practical to attempt adjusting it


The valves as far as I can tell are the same length and size but this is unconfirmed. I do know that the valves and valve seats are softer and run out of clearance faster on the 1986-87 then later models. I find myself adjusting valves every season or 3000 miles. It would probably go longer but I always find at least one valve out of spec at 3k


The stator cover (left motor cover)has different pick up 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 a 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 models but when buying a Muzzys exhaust for earlier models it’s a different part number. I haven’t confirmed it but I believe there is a difference in one of the mounting points.

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Note: This is my compilation of data that I have accumulated over the years of owning my 1987 ninja 250. Most of it wouldn’t have been possible without the www.ninja250.org forum and its resident experts such as Wes, Motorman, Iron Craig and Jim race. If you know someone with a 1986-87 ex250 please forward this to them, I promise it will save a few headaches.