2018 Lightweight Sportbikes Shootout

It’s getting to be a bit silly what’s passing for a lightweight sportbike these days. In the beginning, it made sense: You had the Kawasaki Ninja 250. And, well, that was it. It only took twenty-odd years, but the other manufacturers eventually took notice that building small bikes to entice new or returning riders was probably a good thing for the industry, and hence, started building little bikes of their own. Honda came around with the CBR250R…just as the competition upped the ante again. Kawasaki pushed the bar with the Ninja 300, then Honda made a weak attempt to follow suit with the 286cc CBR300R. Yamaha then jumped in the game, shoving displacement rules out the window with its 321cc R3 – but not to be outdone, the brash Austrians (via India) at KTM one-upped all of them with the 373cc RC390.

Today, Kawasaki is throwing convention out the window yet again, shelving the Ninja 300 (at least in the U.S.) and giving us the all-new Ninja 400. So it’s only right we at Motorcycle.com put it up against some worthy contenders. If this idea sounds vaguely familiar to you, it’s because we last put the crop of little bikes (not to be confused with liter bikes – very different) together in 2015 in our Beginner-ish Sportbike Shootout. There we had the CBR300, Ninja 300, RC390, and R3 fighting it out, with the Kawasaki narrowly beating the Yamaha for the top spot.

This time around there’s a CBR and an RC390 to go against the Ninja 400; however, considering the beating the CBR300R took in 2015, we’re bringing in its bigger brother – the CBR500R – to take on Kawi’s 400. As for the KTM, the RC390 has received some updates since we last tested one three years ago. Bigger brakes, revised suspension, and some chassis tweaks have made it a sharper scalpel compared to 2015. KTM says nothing was changed with the engine, but we find this hard to believe. Our 2018 tester makes three more ponies to the wheel than our 2015 model, reaching that point 1,000 revs higher (granted, these were different dynos, but the difference in power and engine speed seems significant). This was reason enough to include it in this test. If you take racing into account, then the KTM vs. Kawasaki comparison becomes even stronger, as the two brands are fighting it out in the World Supersport 300 category, as well as the MotoAmerica Junior Cup series.

Read the full shootout at: http://www.motorcycle.com/shoot-outs/2018-lightweight-sportbikes-shootout


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Cameron R. Frew Esq. says:

Please add in your reviews, information about respective dealer service intervals, as these may also influence the purchase of bikes.

vkp08 says:

Honda cbr500r is the best

Leonidas Saber says:

why are you comparing 2 twin big displacement bikes to a smaller single? usually a bike with half the cylinders gets a displacement advantage. this review was unfair to the ktm

Hydden N. Plainsyght says:

You have three guys and three bikes; I would have liked to see 3-Lap intervals, in three races for each guy on each bike in a race competition with clearly displayed Stats… meh, we got opinions instead. Also, when hemming and hawing over the issues pros-and-cons between the KTM and Kawasaki over over-all performance on and off the race track; that KTM ‘May’ be the better track bike, it is also important that when they mentioned heads and valves popping and needing adjusting, to also think of costs — the costs of maintenance per bike. It is likely that despite the mechanical issues you’d get with KTM, the cost to repair will most likely be significantly higher than it would be for the Kawasaki to maintain…. so, dollar-for-dollar, you are most likely to get the most mechanical issues and mileage out of a Kawasaki 400 than you will with a KTM RC 390; this is to say, some of the best track features the KTM RC390 may offer won’t compare to the Kawasaki 400 in over-all street and track performance and costs. Just think of the KTM RC 390 as your Super Hot ‘High Maintenance’ Girl Friend; nice to show off to the boys, but a pain in the as when it comes to long-term dependable and reliable relationships.

Horizon Rider says:

people don’t say ktm will explode or unreliable its very simple if u give care to ur bike then bike will also take care of you at each harsh movement u face nd if u ride rash then no engine will last longer ya ktm singles have high compression that’s why on red line gaskets may blow off oil leakage may happen in japanese engines there is low compression plus twin which makes a relaxed powerfull engine I mean japnese engines are not in a hurry but ktms engines r so they need special handeling n care that’s it so u just cant say its not a reliable in india ktm improved 100% and they r giving smooth vibration less fast rc and duke I wish we also have rc16 or duke 1290

Kumar Irani says:

What is the height of ktm rc 390 can a 5.4 person can ride it

wanda hutto says:

The r3 is smaller than those bikes of course ur gonna blow by it retard

benjamin cyril says:

Should have tried the cbr 250rr on the track , it may lack the torque but definetly lite !

Waqar Ahmad says:

Ofcourse Kawasaki,My Hot Favourite.

Xfcgfgg GT says:

Do a drag bw 3

Arvind Andrew Das says:

Overall CBR500 sucks the most

Imshan Khan says:

CBR 500 is awesome looking bike
Then Yamaha Then Kawasaki

Waqar Ahmad says:

Do a Drag race between three,you will find out.

Mike Zagar says:

I have a 2013 cbr 500r and I put a lot of upgrades it in and I love it now. Stock sucked so I can see where you guys come from

Sumi Deka says:

ktm rc 390 and kawasaki 400 headlights are the best

Russ H says:

CBR500 RA ABS is only $300AUD more than the 400 Ninja atm in Aus. The Honda’s top speed is disappointing though, not that i’d use often, but the Ninja goes 20km/h faster!

SDSS91 MotoChannel. says:

I don’t understand, WSS 300 consisted of 400cc Kawasaki this year.
Would of been a great comparison if had of brought in the YZF-R3 CBR300R Ninja300,
Also adding ninja 400 RC-390 CBR500R it is what it is.

Jesse Grey says:

I just bought a ninja 400 and it’s fun listening to them complementing my bike

Propane and propane accessories says:

Out of the bunch I’d buy the cbr500 if it was 1k less new. Otherwise I like the ninja

Mototzigane says:

RIP Motorcycle.com

R3 makes 42bhp lol you’ve made up a nice excuses to not include lighter motorcycle on a light weight shootout xD

JinBu Though says:

Bro you guys need a pop filter. Feels like you’re breathing into my ears… Great vid otherwise


Kawasaki is #1 rank for less engine problems. Ducati is rank #1 for most engine breakdowns. Kawasaki keeps putting out amazing bikes

touko virtanen says:

Why not r3, cbr 250rr, rc390 and whatever kawasaki has

ARIF says:

First of all how many people buy these bike to ride in the track? 90% of customers buy bike to ride every day and they want to cool sports looking bike .. no one wants to get speed ticket every day and average populations height is 5.5 to 5.9 so why the se big companies make these bikes super powerful and only design for tall riders ? How big market segment they are losing just being ignorant to understand they also need to design bike that looks super sports and comfy and design for general height people..

demon6937 says:

🙁 sad r3

Kriss Daigle says:


Nonja Ninja says:

The KTM needs a different front light. Thing is uggo af.

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