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  • January 28, 2011
  • Nico Van Praag
  • 4theRiders.com
  • 19 Comments

Ride Like a Pro with Feel Like a Pro: Renting a Race-Prepped 250 Ninja

Sampling Thunderhill's twists and turns on a lightweight, low-powered bike is a great way to really learn the technical roadcourse.

 Valentino Rossi pulls into his pits and confidently brings the Yamaha M1 to a stop. He loosens his grip from the bars and swings a leg over the front of the bike as a member of his crew grabs the front fairing in preparation to whisk the bike away for fine tuning. Vale saunters toward his hospitality suite, eager to recharge his energy and refine his focus for the next session. 

As a motorcycle enthusiast and long-time race fan there are various aspects of the Grade-A racer’s life I envy, not the least of which is the never-ending support and diminished personal responsibility they need to demonstrate toward the care and maintenance of their equipment. Not only does it make one feel like a big shot, but it allows for a pure focus on the task at hand: riding fast. 

Each Ninja gets race bodywork, suspension tuning and a full Leo Vince SBK exhaust system. Tire warmers are available.

Feel Like a Pro is a racebike-rental service that provides a whole lot more than a bike. The company provides track day and race day support, and I have to admit, that was the biggest  surprise I had during my day of sampling the service. For $250 a day you begin to feel the freedom and luxury before you even leave your house—no bike to load, no tools to bring, no trailer to drag. You, your riding gear and some good tunes for the car’s sound system is all you need in preparation for a pleasant drive to the track. The service includes the bike, fresh tires, gas, mechanical support throughout the day, and a luxurious pit area equipped with snacks, bottled water and comfortable seating. Leathers and other gear are also available for rental. It’s understandable that founder and principal Brian Bartlow’s primary customer is a racer looking to simplify the complexities of a race weekend. However, Feel Like a Pro is also a great alternative for a trackday enthusiast who can’t transport his own bike, doesn’t have a suitable bike or simply wants to sample a surprisingly good racetrack tool—Kawasaki’s Ninja 250R 

Upon our arrival at a regularly scheduled ZoomZoom trackday (following a quick rider’s meeting) we were greeted by a row of inviting race-prepped 2010 Ninja 250s. Brian, the founder and owner of Feel Like a Pro, showed us the facilities, explained the general ways they do things, and most importantly, introduced us to the thoroughbred steed with which we would be paired for the day. 

The bikes are the real deal. Brian leverages his vast experience racing and supporting racers in Northern California’s AFM racing club.  His fleet is designed, tuned and prepped to be race-ready for the 250 Production race series. Each numbered example sports race bodywork (complete with an array of cool sponsor stickers), a Leo Vince SBK full exhaust system, stainless brake lines, Pirelli DOT race rubber and a carefully tuned suspension. The bikes just look good too. All are traditional Kawasaki green with thoughtful extras like upgraded windscreens and grips. The net result is a modest, albeit effective package that puts out 31 horsepower. That’s enough to accomplish the primary objective of seeing how effectively one can maintain corner speed throughout the 14 turns of Thunderhill Raceway. Whether you are experienced on a Ninja 250 or not (like me), you will immediately appreciate the balance and overall good behavior demonstrated by the Feel Like a Pro bikes. 

Dicing with another rider on similar equipment is good fun.

The cold morning brought with it cold track temperatures and lessened promised grip for my still-chilly Pirellis. As well, this was my first experience on a 250 and it initially felt as though I was mounting an entirely different class of vehicle from the 1100cc Ducati I’m used to. I cautiously proceeded onto the track and slowly sliced my way through the first couple of laps. Little Number 5 gave accurate and immediate feedback that quickly led to increased confidence and increased speed. The Ninjette and I were becoming fast friends and it was clearly communicating to me that my modest requests were well within its range of capability, even on a cold day. By the second session my pace significantly quickened and soon I found myself doing what I previously thought impossible (okay, highly unlikely); I was passing bigger bikes. Not just 600s, no, I was passing liter bikes (typically at the entrance of corners and around the outside of long sweepers). I received quick glances of surprise as my confidence built and I began to keep the throttle twisted throughout most of the track. The more capability I discovered the more I realized was left to be found. Who needs 100-plus horsepower (or even 40…)? I’m riding a rail! A very fast bicycle of sorts. As I counted down the turns and collected laps I wondered to myself whether a stock Ninja would be anywhere near as sorted as this example of Feel Like a Pro equipment. I had to think not. 

I continued to gain speed and worked on perfecting my 250 tuck. I was dragging knees around every corner. Heck, I was close to dragging elbow, almost feeling like a pro. Then, Brian passed me on his personal mount (an almost-identical Ninja 250) at what seemed like twice my speed. He slowed a bit coming into the next corner and patted his tail section—“come play with me.” I  picked up the pace and followed. 

Now, as a side note, for those of you who have never had the chance to joust with a friend at a track day both fitted with identical equipment, you’re missing out. There’s simply nothing more fun.  Brian quickly demonstrated that while our equipment may have been plucked from the same green tree in Japan, our 250 riding skills were in vastly different stages of growth. He dove into the next corner with the back elegantly sliding, his foot hanging out in a way that made me immediately miss watching MotoGP, and carried the speed straight toward the apex and out the other side. I simply couldn’t hang. He was trying to make a point. And he did; these bikes are capable of much more than you’d think. 

Big man on a little bike! Bartlow shows us that a full-size rider on the little Ninja can still leave much bigger, faster bikes in the dust.

As I rolled into the pits I loosened my grip on the bars and confidently swung my leg over the bike. Brian’s mechanic quickly snapped it onto a rear stand and I began to peel off equipment and head toward one of the immaculate director’s chairs there to make the riders comfortable. Brian came over to me and we began to talk about the last session. He gave me tips on how I could improve my lap times and how I could safely begin to ask more of the small Ninja. I sipped water and listened, learned and felt my skills grow. My focus was not on the bike, but the riding. I wasn’t worried about gas, tire pressure, chain tension or any of the other concerns we need to keep within our focus when we babysit our own equipment. My job was to be the best rider I could be that day. I had the support, I had the bike and I had the pure focus needed for significant improvement. I am a better rider than I was before this day. And while I will never ride like Vale, I begin to understand what it may feel like to live in his world. For the first time in my 15-year riding career, I felt like a pro. 

Nico Van Praag rides and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can get more information about Feel Like a Pro at its websiteor by calling (559) 273-4429. FLAP provides its service at all AFM races, as well as 33 trackdays in the upcoming season at Infineon, Thunderhill and Buttonwillow raceways.

19 Comments

  1. Scott says:

    So at 6’5″, 235lbs (on a good day), do you really think this bike is an option? I’ve thought about this many times before and dreamed about how much fun it would be riding such a flickable bike. I just have concerns it’s not strong enough to pull my big a$$ around. I’ve never riden one, but I’m afraid I’ll get frustrated with the lack of power and regret the purchase. Previously I’ve owned bigger liter sized bikes simply because they fit me. I admit I never have or never will be able to ride them to their full potential. Would a 250 be a reasonable bike not only for the occasional track day, but for an around town/weekend mountain riding bike also? Anyone out there my size that has experience with this?

    Any thoughts/replies would be greatly appreciated!!

  2. Brian says:

    I hope to see you guys at the track. We have a great program that also allows riders to have full data on the 250 Kawasaki Ninja’s. It will allow the rider to know brake pressure, throttle postion, lean angle, GPS and more. Its very cool. Check out the website and if you are intrested, give me a call and I will explain more in detail. See you at the track

  3. Rob Blais says:

    Finally!!! I’m pleased to read stories of people passing bigger bikes on the Ninja 250s. I have raced a kid on a GSXR 1000 down a twisty road on one, and several 600s, and left them in the dust, so to speak. When I’ve told people that, they think I’m full of $h!t. I teach advanced riding clinics, and can assure you that it is true.
    Most squids on sport bikes have no clue of how to turn properly. Outrunning them on a road with something more than bends is easy. Plus, they’re just fun to ride. What else can you actually get close to riding to it’s limits? Don’t think I can do it on the 250. Can you?

    Remember……It’s always better to go fast on a slow bike than to go slow on a fast bike.

  4. brinskee says:

    At 6’6″ and 220 pounds, there is no way I could ride those bikes. And that makes me very sad.

    • TimC says:

      Believe me, I mean this constructively and not as a flame, but have you actually tried one of these bikes? My experience is, you may look silly but that’s about it (I am between 6’2″ and 6’3″ and pushing 200lbs with gear), and I rode a 250 for several years before selling it due to cross-country move. So my advice is to not make assumptions based on size or even on how bike feels when you sit on it/push it around.

      • Brinskee says:

        Fair enough. I’ve sat on them and feel more than silly. When I’m on my Aprilia (Mille) I can barely fit behind the windscreen. My KTM 950SM fits great as does my new Multistrada 1200. But anything resembling a racebike is so very very difficult for me to fit on. So I just assumed, based on sitting on the 250R, that there would be no way it would work. Maybe I’ll call those guys up and ask their recommendations. Cheers!

  5. Raj says:

    I used Brian’s motorcylcle at Laguna seca in march of 2010. Had a blast, I was used to my ninja 636, but quickly realized there is so much to track riding. The 250 cc just kicked my butt. It was extremely humbling to see Brian and another person in his team maintain a constant (ok it was increasing every lap) lead over me. Over the course of the day I managed to shave quite a few seconds off my lap times, thanks to Brian’s tips and also by trying to keep the rpm high. I probably would not have appreciated riding a 250 cc if not for feel like a pro. I also had fun overtaking some louder and bigger bikes in the B group (PTT) on the 250 cc and notice them lean over. If you haven’t yet, you owe it to yourself. $250 is completely worth it.

  6. b says:

    Did the $250 include the fee to actually use the track, or did that only cover the cost of the bikes/support?

    • b says:

      I checked out the website, turns out $250 is just the cost of the bike.I think I’ll bring my own 🙂

      • Gabe says:

        And how much will you spend on tires, gas, track-prepping it and getting it to the track?

        • 39 y.o says:

          Expense breakdown getting my 08 Ninja 250 on the back of my 4 cylinder compact pick-up from Los Angeles to Willowsprings Raceway, Rosamond, CA. Prices are for EACH trip to the track. I’ve done this 5 times in the last 4 month.

          1. Gas round trip $45-50
          2. Gas for Ninja $20
          3. Track Fee $120 average (Fontana would double that)
          4. Laundry $10
          5. Tire wear $30 each visit since a new set should last 6 to 7 track days (not racing, just track practice)
          6. General Maintenance $30 (oil, filter, etc)
          7. General Maintenance on the truck $50
          8. Sundry items like some food & drinks $20
          If motel is involved, add $100

          Indirect cost not paid for up-front: depreciation of bike & truck $250

          All cost not including acquisition monies spend on bike, helmet, leathers, gloves, etc.

          Cost of the exhilaration, existential bliss, the awareness of being on a racetrack, & knowing soon there will be a law against it, like anything fun in life: PRICELESS.

          • b says:

            So the actual expenses related bringing your own bike add up to $100, and those are all probably high numbers for most people ($30 in maintenance per trip for a 250R?).

    • 39 y.o says:

      That is right, tracking your bike is not VERY expensive, because I am not riding a Ducati or even a four cylinder bike. Getting all the gear, which fills 2 big boxes/bags on the back of my truck, & to overcome the initial fright, cresting the temerity of getting to the track, preparing for the worse (I have upped my life insurance & purchased injury supplemental insurance), is what I find to be the most daunting. I also have dirt bikes, they are the same way on a motocross track.

      The ONE QUESTION you have to ask yourself is, WHEN I crash on the track, which could be serious, medically, am I going to be OK? Will my family be OK with that? It is POSSIBLE to be bedridden for weeks, if not month, from injuries, Will my boss at work be OK with that? No one wants to crash, but on the track, as I have explained earlier, increases your chances to crashes exponentially. Not all costs tracking a bike is upfront, since we live complicated lives, & there are consequences to everything. There are people who track 1-2 times a year, incurring minimal cost, & there are those that not only track, but race, weekly. My advice: Don’t give in to fear; try a track day with your street bike, tape the lights, & see if you like it. If not, walk away with the satisfaction that you’ve scratched the itch & it was not all that itchy afterall. If you do like it, JUST DO IT.

  7. MG Norge says:

    $250 doesn’t really sound that bad. Maybe if the CBR250R takes a footing this firm can mix it up a little?

  8. 39 y.o says:

    I am riding an 08 Ninja 250 at big Willow & Fontana. Woodcraft clip-ons to lower the mini-ape hanger installed at the factory (highly recommended). Vortex rear-set this week, Leo Vince full system next month. Make do with 27HP. Must use Bridgestone BT-003RS to get away from the stock IRC bias-ply tires. You crash if you don’t use radial tires.

    Yes I catches up to liter bikes at entrance of corners & often also at the apex. Feels great since everyone else passes me like I am going backwards at the straightaways. Crying does no good. I’ve learned so much as compared to my GSXR750K7, which is tiring compared to my Ninjette, especially at Fontana since 21 turns gets to you, arm pump & chaffed hinie.

    Would recommend to someone if you want to start doing track days, but don’t want to get a big track bike (600cc+), yet. You learn the ropes, earn your stripes, then move on later. I see AT LEAST 6 crashes at big Willow or Fontana EVERY damn track meet (saddens me to see the advice given to naval aviator Lt. Mitchell “your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash” Top Gun, coming true every 20 minutes from crashes at tracks). Hurts a lot more on a big bike, both medically & financially, when you go down. Ninja 250 is the way to go.

    Future: Buy a bigger bike, perhaps Ducati 1198 or convert my GSXR750K7, once I graduate myself from the Ninjette (I decide when that happens), perhaps even compete in WSMC Ninja Cup. See you at the track.

  9. Tom says:

    Raced a Kawi EX500 Ninja a few years back. When everyone is racing the same class/bikes these cheap rides are incredibly fun. I found it to be motorcycling’s “crack cocaine”. Only I bet crack cocaine isn’t as addictive or as expensive as racing. Yet it was so much fun passing bigger bikes on tight tracks. I loved every second of it. Hello to all my turn 1 pit friends. Best thing I ever did.

  10. todd says:

    awesome, and amazing at $250/day. Maybe Kawasaki is footing the rest of the bill. I need to look into this.