Battle Of The Dirt Cheap Ninja Network Stars


It’s a (very bad) habit of mine to look through my local Craiglist to see what kind of interesting motorcycles are for sale. We’re now more than half-way through the traditional Ohio riding season of April to October, so people are starting to think about getting rid of bikes. This is particularly true for “starter bikes” or casual-use motorcycles.

The Ninja 250 is a perennial Craiglist bargain. It was more or less the same bike from 1988 to 2007, receiving a refresh in 2008 and another major rework in 2013. It will run a 15-second quarter-mile but most motorcycles, including Danger Girl’s 2015 Yamaha R3, will leave it in the dust. Still, they’re dirt cheap and they get 80mpg and you could do worse for a commuter bike.

I decided to see what was out there. My rules: had to be under $2000, couldn’t have any visible damage, and had to be in ready-to-ride condition or close to it. These were the contenders… but just to keep things interesting, I also threw in a Ninja 500 that almost met the same criteria.

This 2005 Ninja, shown above, is listed for $1500. The killer feature: Under 1,000 miles! A brand-new old bike for fifteen stacks. But how much of a tune-up does it need?


This one is definitely the right color: a 2001 model for just $800 with 14,000 miles. I paid that much for my son’s TTR-90. They say that all it needs is a new battery. That might really mean new battery, or it might also mean new alternator/generator. But IT’S GREEN.


I actually emailed this guy last night. A 2011 Ninja 250 for $1,136? With just one photo, and that photo looking suspiciously like a cropped version of someone else’s photo, this is definitely the caveat emptor entry into the segment.


This 1999 model has the old graphics and quite a bit of wear. At $1,800 it’s the worst deal of the bunch, unless you really want the old-style Ninja look.


The same money would get you this 2007 Ninja with kist over 1,000 miles. It’s the wrong color, that’s the problem. But if you don’t need the spiritual power of Kwacker Lime Green in your life, I’d have to argue for this one.

Those are the top Ninja 250 contenders. But wait, as they say… there’s more.


If the Ninja 250 is good, then the Ninja 500R is twice as good. This bike has been around since the Stone Age; it was on the showroom floor next to my ’86 Ninja 600R as the EX-500. In super-capable hands, it will just barely break into a 12.98-second quarter-mile thanks for fifty-nine rippin’ horsepower. (The Ninja 250 has 27; the R3, 37 at the rear wheels.) I think that if you showed up in Zanesville with twenty crisp one-hundred-dollar bills, you’d take this one home.

I’m pretty spoiled by my current commuter, which as you all (probably don’t) know is a 2014 Honda CB1100. We are about to roll over the 7,000-mile mark in just thirteen months of ownership. No reason to get, or ride, anything else. Still, you can’t underestimate the power of Lime Green to twist a man’s mind all up. Watch this space.

26 Replies to “Battle Of The Dirt Cheap Ninja Network Stars”

  1. Josh Howard

    The Ninja 250 was a great bike. Wife and I had 2. But, after working on the one forever to get the carb right, I realized one thing…. carbs suck. I highly recommend the EFI version of this bike in the update. The frame and suspension is good enough for about anything. However, I always preferred my GS500 over the Ninja. Why? Torque. It didn’t wind up as fast or as far, but it was so easy to gas it out of trouble if the need arose. The Ninja? Sound and fury signifying not a lot. They’re a great bargain on craigslist but so is a geo metro…. doesn’t mean you should buy one.

    (And I’ve owned one of those too. )

    • jz78817

      “carbs suck”

      yes, yes they do. Even though the Japanese were the only ones to truly get them “right,” they still suck.

  2. Robert

    Kawasaki is the only Japanese marque I haven’t personally owned. In the mid-90s my girlfriend had a KX-80 that she rode for the year that I stopped enjoying motocross followed her around the track idling in 2nd gear trying to keep her from getting killed. The small amount I did wrench on it, I noticed that the quality of the metal seemed to be lower than Honda, etc. Things rusted faster, bolts stripped and snapped the heads off more easily. But parts were slightly cheaper, and as you can see Ninja 205s are cheap and abundant. Whatever you buy one for, you can probably sell it for about the same this time next year. Good luck!

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      When I was younger and riding a Ninja, my pals and I all understood the “quality order” to be

      1. Honda
      (small gap)
      2. Yamaha
      (large gap)
      3. Kawasaki
      (Grand Canyon)
      4. Suzuki

      • Robert

        I have personally witnessed at least 3 Suzuki motocross bikes BREAK IN HALF after coming up short on big double jumps. The triple clamps holding the front forks sheared upon impact.

        I have personally experienced snapping a footpeg off of my YZ 250s on 3 separate occasions, but that has more to do with my being at least one or two standard deviations heavier than the average motocrosser, even as a relatively fit teenager. There’s no way to look cool while you’re getting simultaneously cleaned off of and run over by your own motorcycle as your boot gets sucked into the rear wheel at speed.

  3. Jeff Madson

    I had one just like the red with the purple wheels. These bikes are the Miata of motorcycles, more fun than they have any right to be for the small amout of HP they bring to the table. As already mentioned the carbs are so small it really does seem to just take a spec of dust to make them not quite run right, they can be very frustrating. If you don’t like to dick around every spring trying to get the carbs clean, spend a little more and get a later EFI. (or an R3 like Danger Girl)

  4. Mental

    Bought a brand new 250 Ninja in 1989 just before my projected graduation from high school. It was the red white version. Commuted all over Atlanta on it, and rode it to Mississippi when I was stationed in Biloxi. The state of Alabama was under tornado watch so it was an interesting trip.

    I wadded it up riding like an idiot and found another one to fix all my broken bits. Sold it on good faith to another airman in Mississippi and when I came to collect the money, he met me at the door on crutches, bruised and battered. The fate of my Ninjette was to rot in a junkyard.

    The 500 is cool, but the neat thing about the 250 was that redline. Yes, the 500 will go to 11 (literally), but the 250 would wind out to 14,000.

    In 1989 this was simply unheard of for piston engines. I remember my roomate had been a SBC guy his whole life. 5500 RPM was a limit as solid as any law of physics to him. He could not bring himself to redline the bike, no matter how many times he saw me do it.

    The only person I have ever met who actually kept their first motorcycle was a 1991 250. He still has it. Tags are horribly out of date. It sits on a trickle charger in his garage and every few weeks it makes a few laps around his neighborhood. It makes him happy to know its still there, but when he goes riding, his Guzzi handles actual travelling duties.

    Even with a bigger rider, in their element, 250s are crazy fun on a track. Momentum racing at its peak. You can even run it on the local karting track.

    Get the green one.

  5. Economist

    On a slightly different note, I sprang for a 2014 VFR800 after reading your advice. One day into ownership and I can’t keep the smile off of my face.

    I was really considering a 300 or 500 since I haven’t ridden in so long, but I figured that this might be my only chance to buy the bike I really want. Thanks for giving me the final push I needed.

  6. zzr

    I’ve been doing this with the Honda VTR1000 – cheapest way to get one of the best exhaust notes out there. Last week I hesitated on a mint example with low miles for $1,900 because it was teal. An hour later I’d decided to buy and the ad was gone. But maybe a GSXR750 is what I really need…

      • Dirty Dingus McGee

        Two things pop into my mind on the video at Laguna;

        1) The rider has a lot of laps there, judging by the lines he uses versus most of the other riders
        2) The rider knows his bike well, what it will, and won’t, do.

        CSB; In 1992 I took a 1990 BMW R100GS and modified it. Bike was lowered 2 inches via a Works Performance rear shock and a 17 inch front wheel and the engine was modified (ported twin plug heads from San Jose BMW, Luftmiester cam, 40mm Mikuni carbs, SuperTrapp exhaust, etc). Metzler “street legal” race tires turned it into a fun back roader. I would go up into the north GA mountains and have fun with the sport bikes. As with the guy on the 250 in the video, they could pull me in the straights, but then they would see me right back with them in the twisties. The fact that I took it to many a track day at Road Atlanta helped my riding ability far more than most of the casual street riders out for a weekend ride. Quit doing it when a guy I knew casually wrecked hard, trying to keep up with me.He was in the hospital for about 3 months IIRC with some serious head and internal injuries. Just wasn’t as much fun after that and I ended up selling the bike a year or so later.

  7. -Nate

    “1. Honda
    (small gap)
    2. Yamaha
    (large gap)
    3. Kawasaki
    (Grand Canyon)
    4. Suzuki”

    _Perfect_ and true .

    If someone could find an old magazine article called ” ‘ The Little Ninja That Could ‘ and post a link to it here m it’d go a long ways to buttressing Jack’s point .

    I too have to bad habit of looking in craigslist , impound auctions and junkyards for those sweet cheap deals I really don’t need to drag home .

    Do you due diligance and GO LOOK at the 250’s , even the expen$ive ones , have cha$h in your pocket and grind the living hell out of the seller when you see the inevitable bald tires , worn out chain and sprockets plus expired or close to it license tags , those are the desperate sellers and if you know *exactly* how much these basics are , you can always leverage a great Moto ‘ On The Cheap ‘.

    Plan on these plus a new battery , fuel hoses and some decent fuel filters , paper elements , not screens , modern carbys choke easily but never if they have clean fuel and remember : carbys NEVER GO OUT OF ADJUSTMENT ~ fools touch them and screw everything up but they don’t self mis-adjust .


  8. Hank Chinaski

    “It’s a (very bad) habit to look through my local Craiglist to see what kind of interesting *any damn thing you already have one of at home* are for sale.”

  9. Felis Concolor

    I forget which motorcycle magazine touted it in the late 80s, but the Ninja 250 was heralded as “the best handling motorcycle you can get.” Apparently while it wasn’t the quickest or fastest motorcycle out there, its light weight allowed for much less lifting of the throttle and, as one writer put it, after a few minutes on your favorite canyon road you’d sneak a backward glance and think “hey fellas, isn’t this – fellas? Fellas?! Where are you!?”

  10. Disinterested-Observer

    Had a yellow one. I know it is the wrong color but I like yellow and it was cheap. Bought for 1600, sold 18 months later for 1700. The guy I bought it from lived basically across the street from me, in the country mind you, so probably about a mile away, and they guy I sold it to was probably about a mile further.

  11. DirtRoads

    First bike was a Honda 90 step-thru, good bike but literally worn out.

    Second bike was a Suzuki TC90 with the quick-change dual range gearbox, For me it was a “kick-change” gearbox which sort of made it a 6 speed. Good little bike actually (this was in the early 70s)

    Third was an SL350 Honda, another fun bike. Had my first hard motorcycle crash on that thing when a dog ran in front of me and I got tossed over the handlebars at 60+mph. And I had just put brand new JC Whitney chrome megaphone exhausts on it. Always wear a helmet, boys and girls, or I wouldn’t be here to tell you the story.

    They blur together after that. Lots of bikes through the years from dirt bikes to cruisers.

    I’ve never owned a Kawasucki, most likely because of the green (Mr. Yuck) and the bad rep for reliability they got back in the 70s and 80. Although I always did want to try the H3.


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