Riding the 250 after the 600
It has been a long time since I last rode a 250 Ninja. I've since been riding an XJ650, a ZX600r, and now a CBR600 F4. So I felt that "going back" might feel a bit odd...
I sat on Ithaca's bike and had forgotten just how low it feels. I think half of that feeling is that the tank is a good 2" narrower on either side than the Honda's. Apparently I've become bow-legged for life as a result. Despite feeling like I was sitting lower, I felt just as tall on the bike. The bars were where I had left them - nice and high and back.
So, I thumbed the starter and it came to life nicely, the twin's idle sounding a lot different than the Honda's characteristic whine and purr. I gave the throttle a few blips and was grinning ear to ear. This was going to be fun.
I heard Ithaca fire up my bike and it was easily audible above the 250. What does that matter? Not a bit.
Pulling out of the driveway I remembered the easy pull - no snatching, no rudeness... just off we go. I noticed a bit less torque, but once I was into first properly I was off with no second thoughts. I found myself shifting in places I hadn't shifted before - between stop signs and along long stretches. I was having a hoot just clicking through the gears. It shifted nicely with no hesitation, no lurching or lash... this was easy, and plenty fast.
The seat is very different. My 600's seat is flat and long. The bars are further forward and the tank is very wide. As a result, the seat feels long. On the 250 the pegs are further forward and the bars further back, and as a result I sat bolt upright. The seat felt like it was cupping my butt, and the rounded part felt like it was pushing against my tailbone. I wasn't keen on the angle, as it put more weight on my tailbone than my legs. Ithaca felt the opposite way - he liked the seat on the 250 better. I have to admit I am a good deal larger in the seat - so perhaps that's the issue. If I had a 250 I'd be interested in moving the seat further back and building up the sides and front to spread the weight more. Add lowered bars and some lowered rear sets and it would feel like home again.
The seat also made me feel a bit more constrained, so I felt a bit limited in my ability to move around on the bike. It would take some practice to get off of it.
The suspension is a hard one to comment on. The CBR is cranked as hard as I can get it, and I plan on having major work done to it for track use. So how does the 250 stack up on the street to the 600? Well, it is softer. I wouldn't say the bumps were invisible, as they did affect the bike more than the 600, but it was a lot gentler. The 600 feels like it is kicking you in the ass. The EX250 felt like it was being absorbed by the bumps more, then coming out of them a little more springily. It was comfortable, and I didn't really care that it wasn't as brutally harsh on the street. Actually, I know Ithaca didn't like my torture machine's suspension.
The steering is also hard to explain. The bike is very light, and responds very quickly to a bit of body position. A bit of counter steer and she is in the corner - very quickly. The steering head felt really smooth and light. At the speeds we were going it felt great, but as the tempo increased I missed my own bike. My mind might be playing tricks on me, but it interprets the 600's heavier front end feel as texture and feedback, and confidence. Don't get me wrong - I was comfortable on the 250, but I would need to spend a week getting reacquainted with it. It was far easier to ride than the 600; it did what you said. I suppose that's part of why it is such a fantastic beginner bike - it really takes a lot of the guesswork out of the steering.
From 0 to 60 mph the bike felt like a joy. I was perfectly happy with the acceleration. The only time I noticed any real difference was how long I could keep the throttle open through the twisty sections. It didn't pick up speed as quickly, but I didn't have to back off either, so eventually I was going the same speed. It is simply a game of corner speeds. That said, you'd be hard-pressed to find a road or track that had few enough high-speed corners or straights so the 600 wouldn't win. While the 250 handled 60 mph very well, I know the suspension was being tested, and I know the 600's suspension was barely working. Hardly a fair comparison, as one is set up for a trans-continental road trip and cost $3500 new, and the other is set up for the track and cost >$7000.
Pulling away from stop lights I was having too much fun; the front end did get a little light at one point when I was trying to launch it hard. Even when tested the bike complied well.
I'm not sure I'm as adventurous when it comes to long distance 250 touring as others. I saw a Honda Blackbird a while back with hard bags and thought that would make a fantastic long-distance bike. Not interested in the speed capabilities, but rather the ability to idle down the highway with really low revs.
So, at the end of the day? I loved it. I know that it isn't as sporty as the 600. I know that it doesn't have the top end passing power, but I also know I don't need the top end passing power. Day-to-day driving you'd hardly miss the extra punch. In city riding the 250 hands-down destroys the 600. Quicker steering, lighter, and far better mileage.
What the EX250 lacked in expensive parts and top end power it made up for in an easy riding position, quick handling, and easy controls. Rowing through the gears was a blast. A lot of roads that had become boring I'm sure would be fun again. It is easy to ride quickly, but it takes a lot more skill to ride it fast. The 600 suspension soaks up high speed bumps and rider input; the 250's is a bit more worked and would require even more precise body position and smoothness at speed.