Sunday, 29 April 2018
It was no good - the time for getting rid of the RG was ripe, because the longer I rode it the riper it became, ripening into a proper lemon. It obviously wasn't up to the 250 miles a week I had to commute and the cost in petrol, two stroke oil and spark plugs could have paid for a new bike on their own.
Then, one fateful sunny day, a friend mentioned that Kawasaki had just unveiled their latest offering, a baby ZZR250 and it just so happened that my local dealer had just received one. Well, what could I do, the union was obviously fated so I ignored my mother's advice (as usual) and a contract was drawn in blood - mine, with my soul on the dotted line.
As the clock struck the first minute of August 1st, I took delivery. Ah, the joys of a brand new motorcycle - being the envy of all your friends, the racing ego, the mad polishing, the paranoia about scratching it and 500 miles of motorcycling at 36mph. Yes, 36mph, the price of having a 250cc motorcycle combined with a 14000rpm ceiling.
There are two things that strike you as you first set eyes on Kawasaki’s new baby ZZR, one is the fact that the only people that can tell it apart from its older brother, the ZZR600, are the people that are lucky enough to own one and the second, in the case of the metallic two tone, red and candy pink version, is the colour.
The ZZR has the curious effect of acting like a magnet to the flat cap and 'I had a Rudge when l was your age' brigade. On several occasions I parked the bike only to find on my return a moist eyed old gent leaning over it, who goes on to recount how he courted his wife on an obscure British bike and wished he hadn’t sold it because now it would be worth as much as most houses.
The ZZR is composed of a beefy box section aluminium frame tastefully wrapped around a watercooled 250cc four stroke twin engine that's loosely based on the earlier GPX250, save that it develops slightly less power and weighs more. Add to this a 14000rpm red line, very little torque, a slightly dubious front end and massive back tyre, and dip in a vat of plastic bodywork, and just what do you get? Well, what first strikes you when you leap on is the tank - literally. The 250 feels more like a 600, reassuring on a long journey because there is plenty of bike to hide behind if the elements aren't smiling on you.
That's apart from your hands and feet, of course. Why is it that Kawasaki couldn't have added hand protection to a fairing that is otherwise all enveloping? As it is, the wind blast from the nose is directed over your hands rather than around them. Very silly. And water is still thrown from the front wheel over your feet. Nothing that an extra three inches of mudguard wouldn't fix, so why couldn't the factory? At least the sculptured riding position was comfortable and there was a tank protector to stop the zip of my jacket gouging large scratches in the paint.
Starting it up is not a very satisfying experience. Instead of the expected boom like thunder, what is emitted is more of an embarrassed flatulence, disappointing any kids that may have been lingering nearby to hear the great red beast cranked up. lnoffensive is a word that springs to mind. Well, at least it doesn’t wake the neighbours when you leave and return to the house at obscure hours of the day and night.
The inviting red line is only 14000 revs and a twist of the throttle away, but getting there can be so boring. If you're looking for any vestige of acceleration then forget the portion of the rev counter that sits below eight grand, because you'll find no favours down there, the amount of torque available feels non-existent.
There are some advantages to this lack of power - good fuel consumption and tyre wear. Front tyres go 9000 miles, rears 7000 miles (that's good? - Ed) whilst chain and sprockets were pretty knackered before 10000 miles.
A fast spin reveals an eagerness to corner, no doubt aided by the large rear tyre that's the same size as the rear end of a GPZ600. There was a rubbery feel above 90mph that turned into a wobble if you were silly enough to back off the throttle entering a bumpy corner. Not quite a full tank slapper but enough to lead you off your chosen line. There was also a tendency to deck the centrestand whilst two up, with little provocation, and, believe me. I’m no hero. Luckily, application of a C-spanner to the rear shock solved both problems.
One cold winter trip from deepest Wales to the industrial heartland, the ZZR had to cope with muddy mountain roads, wet A roads and flat out rush hour motorway traffic. I was also tired, lost, carrying a full load of gear and had someone else’s fat chick on the back. The bike managed all that with no great hassle, although the gearbox needed to be caned quite a lot. It seemed willing enough to cruise along at 90mph all day long on the motorway.
There are also nice touches, like the retractable bungee hooks and a little pouch in the fairing which is just right for carrying a padlock to put through the front disc to discourage Johnny Dishonesty from helping himself to your pride and joy. And the thumb nail adjusters on the brake and clutch lever that are dead flash, but probably triple the cost of replacement levers.
A good tip is that if you are going to carry soft throwover panniers then cover the tail of the bike in masking tape, it'll prevent a lot of paint being nicked and washes off easily in hot, soapy water. All in all, the standard of finish is unusually good for a bike of this size and it's always rewarding to take cheap and easy measures to keep it that way.
So, all in all, for your initial £3200 (admittedly expensive, but you pay your money and takes your choice) you get a machine that's dynamically beautiful to behold, revs like crazy while not actually getting you anywhere fast but won't drain your pocket substantially when you have to visit the petrol station and is generally cheap to run. An immensely big pose with the added advantage of cheap insurance and tax.
But one tip from someone who's not too proud to admit he got caught out when working out whether you can afford to buy a brand new bike - service costs. If you are a high mileage, all weather biker, as I am, and bearing in mind that all the services have to be done by a dealer to keep the warranty, it may add up to a large dent in the finances.
Estimate your average mileage - then double it, because you probably won’t be able to stay off your new toy. When you add up the cost of services with the cost of consumables you'll probably find you can't afford to eat,