Review – Kawasaki J300

The Kawasaki J300, the first scooter from the japanese maker. Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki, the other three big Japanese makers, have long had presence in this market with numerous products, and Kawasaki did not want to be left out of such a lucrative market as Europe. Nevertheless, the launch of this supposedly sporty scooter has come under some criticism.

Whoa… wait a second. A scooter? Isn’t this supposed to be a blog about bikes? Or at least adventure travel?

Well, yes, it is. The thing is that my V-Strom needed a new chain and steering bearings, so I had to leave in the workshop. Since I need it daily, I dropped by Hamamatsu motor one morning to see whether I could arrange a day in advance so I could get the job done on the same day, but Fabio, the owner, helpful as usual, told me to bring the bike anytime I wanted because they could lend me a replacement bike. Great. We arranged it for a couple of days later.

On the agreed day, I leave the bike in the hands of their mechanic and they lend me a Burgman 125, but with my work bag already under the seat (it fit perfectly, plus points for that model) we realize that the seat won’t lock in place. After fiddling with the key and trying to adjust the mounting points of the seat to make it fit better, the mechanic concludes that I can’t ride around a bike that can’t be locked and they roll out another one – the Kawasaki J300 they use as demo bike.

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Well, look at that, an extra 175cc to run all the errand I have to run this morning, and on top of that, a new model. Take the chance and write something for the blog, I though.

So, let’s see what all this scooter craze is all about (they sell like hot cakes in Barcelona). As this is a bit of an improvised test I do not have the right gear for it: no Bikkembergs shoes, no down jacket with a hood and zero crash protection, no open helmet with a loosely fastened strap, no iPhone 6 to check my social media at each set of lights. Well nevermind, I’ll have to make do with a pair of motorbike boots and a motorbike jacket.

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After realizing that the space under the seat is much smaller than in the Burgman, I sling my bag over my shoulder, sat on the thing and hit the start button. The 300cc single-cylinder engine fires up instantly and I join the flow of Barcelona traffic passing by the dealer’s gate. The first impression is that it brakes a lot, but when you put it in perspective, even a good mountain bike with hydraulic brakes is more efficient than my old V…

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I gradually get acquainted with the brakes, I was making the ABS system work constantly on the back wheel as I am used to grabbing without hesitation a lever that to me is the clutch, and with the forward position, with the handlebars much closer. The mirrors don’t help to make me feel comfortable in traffic, either, too small and too close together. A bit more familiar with the bike when I reach Meridiana Avenue, I stop ahead of the cars at a set of lights ready to go for a usual scooter start. Around me, other similar weaponry, most of them with smaller engines. The lights turn green and, to my surprise, I am left behind by all the scooters waiting with me behind the zebra crossing. What is wrong with this? It’s a 300, it should easily have all those mopeds for breakfast…. At the next set of lights I find out what the problem is – I am riding this things as if it were a motorbike. Bit of gas, release the clutch, accelerate progressively once on the move and ride the torque. It seems that is not the way to go with a scooter, it is much more dual. Lights turn green, twist the throttle all the way with zero sympathy for the oily bits and brake hard 20 meters down the street at the next set of lights. Ridden like this, it makes its way more than swiftly among the traffic, but I would never, ever buy one of these things secondhand. What hard life they have…

Once outside Barcelona, on the motorway, it is time to test how it rides on fast roads. Now that I don’t have to put my foot down at every set of lights, I get myself comfortable and examine the riding position. Leg protection is clearly better than on a bike, but the screen is too low and offers little wind protection for the upper body and head, it is impossible to ride with the visor up. There is no foot rest behind the front bodywork to stretch your legs à la T-Max, and with the feet on the platform my toes point slightly inwards, making the position a bit uncomfortable.

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Aside from these gripes, the J300 reaches 140km/h without difficulty and feels quite stable. To go back to the criticism mentioned at the beginning, aside from the obvious complaints about Kawasaki, a brand known for its sports bikes, received for launching a scooter, it also came under harsh criticism for launching what is essentially a restyled Kymco 300. While it is true that it enters a very competitive market and they did not want to run the risk of investing lots of money and time designing a product from scratch and risk getting it wrong, it does not help the brand’s sporty image. The suspension settings are supposed to be different to give it its own personality, and it really does corner well, but then you pay the price in city, where it will mostly be used, with a damping that is a bit on the hard side.

Once in Sabadell I park to run an errand and realize that the helmet doesn’t fit under the seat either… OK, it is a dual sports Shoei, the ones with sun visor, maybe a regular full-face helmet might fit, but it looked a bit tight. I have to drag the bag and the helmet with me. When I lock the seat, I notice a small fit and finish problem – it has two hooks, but only one locks. For both to lock properly, I have to slam the seat decisively. On a more positive side, the J300 is incredibly easy to get on and off the centerstand and to maneuver when stopped.

Next stint – back home for lunch; after a bit of city and motorway, it is now time to take it to a winding road to get a final opinion. Here the suspensions work great again, the scooter behaves well, it is agile and the engine has enough power to even have a bit of fun. The main problem for me is that at the end of the day, it is still a scooter, with everything that implies regarding dynamics. The CVT has a bit of lag before sending the power I’m dialing with my hand to the floor; when leaning into a corner or a roundabout that slight power gap is not very confidence-inspiring. The other big problem is the riding position. On spirited riding or motorway speed, sitting in the same position as if I were on the toilet gives me zero feeling of control. I can’t use the feet or the legs to help steer the thing, and I keep having the feeling that I am going to fly off the side of the seat at any moment.

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Before riding back to the city again I stop to take a few pictures and assess the looks of the scooter. With sharp and edgy lines and a front headlamp that reminds a bit of her Z bigger sisters, the J300 does live up to its sporty pretensions, although this is a highly subjective matter, so look at the pictures and form your own opinion.

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Back in Barcelona the advantages of not having to constantly shift gears are clear, but I am still not used to some things, like not being able to hold the brake with my foot and have both hands free without rolling back or forward.

After getting my bike back the following morning, the most honest verdict I can return is that I did not miss the scooter for one second. It is a great machine, with a good engine, nice, comfortable, agile and well built, and to ride around exclusively in the city, it might be a very good option, but I did not like it on the road compared to a proper motorbike, which leads me to wonder: to get around in the city, 125cc are more than enough, and to ride on the open road, any motorbike is better than a scooter. Then, why do people buy big scooters? Especially when for the same money they could get a good motorbike? Unless you can afford to keep more than one machine in your garage and you really, really want a scooter, I still don’t get big scooters.

More pictures here

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