Much before KTM, Bajaj had a long, long partnership with Kawasaki. Bajaj’s first motorcycles, the sweet KB 100 2-stroke and the 4-stroke 4S were Kawasakis and went on to spawn a whole range of Kawasaki-Bajaj bikes – Caliber, Wind, Eliminator, and more. Even today the Japanese genes carry on in the Boxer, Avenger et al and it’s safe to say that Kawasaki taught Bajaj, till then a scooter manufacturer, a hell of a lot about how to make motorcycles. And then in 2009 came the first Kawasaki, the Ninja 250r marking a big, big step up from anything Bajaj or anybody else had offered to us in India.
It was the first fully-faired quarter-litre motorcycle in India. After the RD 350 it was the first parallel-twin; in fact it was the first ever 4-stroke parallel-twin we could buy without using the grey route. It was the first motorcycle to rev till almost 14,000rpm. It was the first motorcycle you could buy in that luridly green shade. And to differentiate the Ninja from (much!) lesser Kawasaki-Bajajs, it only sold through the new (and very thinly spread) Probiking showrooms where KTM would soon elbow out the Pulsars and eventually push out Kawasaki themselves.
The Ninja 250R was ahead of its time – its closest competitors were the Karizma and R15 that had half as many cylinders, were half as powerful and half as expensive (actually you could get two Karizmas and one R15 for the price of one Kawasaki Ninja 250R). Remember, those were the days when fuel injection was super-exotic and liquid cooling was unheard of. At that time it was the only bike to be assembled from CKD kits. Heck, the Ninja even got imported tyres though the IRC’s weren’t great to be honest.
Needless to say it swept all the motorcycle awards. It won the Indian Motorcycle of the Year, the second and I think last time we did the IMOTY jury round at the Chennai race track. Those were days when track days were rarer than knee downs and a day at the track meant all us jury members were limping and hobbling about at the awards ceremony, having exercised previously unidentified muscles in our legs. The Kawasaki Ninja 250R was also launched in the you-drop-it-you-pay-for-it era of motorcycle journalism. At the awards jury round for the magazine I was editing back then, we dropped it and received a bill for a new tank and fairing. And then we dropped it again, this time as it was being ridden on to the stage to receive the bike of the year award! With one hand on the bike of the year trophy Rajiv Bajaj announced he’d be sending us the bill for any damage – fortunately nothing broke the second time round otherwise they’d have taken one trophy and two cheques.