Anyone who was there when one of the good old Formula 1 racing cars with naturally aspirated engines pulled out of the pit lane will never forget this sound experience. It started out with a deep bubbling, then the noise kept building up, and when it reached frequencies where you thought it had to be the end of it or everything would fall apart, there were another 3,000 revs. Now I’m experiencing something like that again. The tachometer needle twitches across the dial, the screeching below me is getting louder and louder, the small four-cylinder is getting bigger and bigger. The limiter only kicks in at 18,000 rpm. The little engine has a total of 250 cc, but over 50 horsepower, and it just sparkles with joie de vivre. The green powerhouse is called the Kawasaki ZX-25R and looks like Jonathan Rea’s factory ninja when she was in school. Kawasaki had been offering the four-cylinder ZXR 250 with all the attributes of the ZXR 750 superbike for the domestic market since the 1990s, but few examples had ever left Japan. This legendary sports motorcycle and high-tech epoch is long history. But now the Greens have dared to build a four-cylinder 250 again. Unfortunately again not for us, but for Indonesia.
We at PS had been delighted with this technical gem for a long time. Because I had to go to Indonesia for the Mandalika GP, I contacted the management of Kawasaki Indonesia and asked if I could test one. I sent some PS articles with the request and the answer was a short and sweet “yes”. Because a full set of gear besides what you need for a three-week MotoGP trip would have exceeded the weight limit of any economy-class luggage, my wife advised me to source the gear from local importers. Good thing she’s from Indonesia and knows pretty much everyone in the scene there. When I picked up the things, I was amazed. At Prime Gear, importer of Arai helmets and Taichi suits, the manager immediately began to rave about PS. “A really great magazine! A few sports-oriented drivers brought magazines with them from Germany, and since then we’ve been copying the online stories into the translator. It’s really great what the guys can do there. It’s an honor for me to make the stuff available.” I experienced the same enthusiasm at Kawasaki Indonesia. So that I don’t faint in the huge traffic jams of Jakarta until I arrive at the Sentul race track, two mechanics brought the motorcycle to the paddock with the van and did everything from filling the petrol to lubricating the chain and checking the air pressure. Alpinestars importer De Ride also brought the boots to the paddock for me, I felt like a factory driver.
dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
First of all, the ZX-25R drives completely unobtrusively. It pulls in even from idle speed, you can drive with it just as low revs as with a larger four-cylinder. Everything works easily and precisely, the small engine runs silky smooth and almost completely vibration-free. If you roll with him in traffic, he is very quiet. The seating position is only moderately sporty, you don’t get sore wrists at the first traffic light. That was completely different with the old ZXR 250. The handlebars were hardly higher than the bench seat, and even in city traffic you had to drive over 10,000 rpm if you didn’t want to miss the green wave. And if you didn’t want to starve while overtaking on the country road, two or three downshifts and speeds of over 12,000 rpm were the order of the day. She was a canter, while the ZX-25R is a tame dressage horse.
But alas, she is let loose by the reins. With the gas turned to the stop, the typical ninja experience comes, as you know it from the larger ZX-R – only much livelier and with much more speed. First, a slurp from the airbox mixes with the sound of the exhaust, then it starts to get brighter and brighter, and the mannered Dr. Jekyll turns into a screaming Mr. Hyde. The rather narrowly graded transmission with its crisp, short shift travel is supported by a quickshifter. You can shift up with the throttle fully open and without the clutch. When shifting down, you have to use the clutch, but the electronics increase the idle speed via the shift sensor and thus prevent the rear wheel from rattling.
First, the Sentul racetrack was occupied for an event, we had to switch to the go-kart track of the same name. But there the ZX-25R could be felt all the more to the tooth when it came to handling. At first, one tends to over-steer them a bit. Once you get used to its ingenious handiness, it drives razor-sharp wherever the driver is looking. The front single-disc brake with radially mounted four-piston calipers is very easy to dose, requires little manual force and decelerates the light motorcycle brutally. At my request, Kawasaki had shut down the ABS so that we could brake across the corners on the track. But it was already noticeable on the kart track: the non-adjustable spring elements are no match for the other qualities of the chassis. Before the front tire reaches its grip limit, the front becomes spongy and the rear begins to pump after driving over bumps.
When I drove out for a pit stop, a prominent visitor was waiting for me. Petrus Canisius, who was Indonesia’s first GP rider in 1996 and now runs a large Kawasaki shop, had stopped by. Officially, to ask how Manfred Fischer, who he befriended in the 1990s when he was escaping the German winter with Peter Rubatto and racing in Southeast Asia, is doing. As my wife put it to me, this was Kawasaki’s subtle way of checking to see if I was in control of the track with her little four-cylinder. Canisius was satisfied and said straight away: “This isn’t the real thing yet, you can’t even get into fourth gear. Let’s go to Sentul next Tuesday, I’ll bring my own with me too.”
250er drives 190 km/h
Said and done. On the right race track, the little ninja was able to show what she’s really made of. Everything she showed on the kart track was now also possible in the upper gears. These connect cleanly, if you turn the engine up to the shift light, it always stays in the most efficient range. But the former GP track is now full of patches and bumps that showed the limits of the suspension elements even more. According to the speedometer, the 250 reached almost 190 km/h on the home straight. Canisius’ bike was retrofitted with a racing exhaust, and from fourth gear he pulled away from me on the straight, even when I accelerated earlier out of the finish corner and bumped into him first.
But to stay on the ground: A Yamaha R6, which was also on the track, literally flew by on the straight and made it clear that the ZX-25R is only a 250cc with just over 50 hp. But she has her territory where she can pick the big ones: on the mountain roads, her suspension elements are enough for the grip that the road offers, and down the hill she is pretty much unrivaled. But with us, the owners of larger bikes don’t have to fear it for the time being.
They were long overdue. This makes the class interesting again.
You should have stayed with the 600s.
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