Vintage Sykles builds a firefighter a tough 250 Ninja…
In 2008, Kawasaki unveiled a completely new version of their best-selling sportbike, the Ninja 250R. The baby Ninja has long been a favorite of both new riders and track-day aficionados, and the next-gen version was even better:
“Since 1986, there’s been one bike that’s always on our short list of answers to the question, ‘What’s the best first bike?’ It’s Kawasaki’s Ninja 250R. And for 2008, the answer is even clearer with an improved model.” —Cycle World
The new 250R sported a liquid-cooled 249cc twin that made 27 rwhp, good for a 0-60 mph in 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 96 mph. It also brought superbike styling to the 250 class, looking like a much bigger machine from 20 paces. Then there was the handling:
Recently we heard from our friend Pete Sykes of Vintage Sykles Racing Seats, an avid flat track racer in the 1970s who found his way back to two wheels in 2009. We featured his Zephyr 550 “Problem Child” back in 2020, and he’s developed a side business fabricating custom aluminum seat pans.
While Pete’s been building custom motorcycles for more than a decade, he always had trouble selling them for any kind of profit — he built them simply out of his love for motorcycles. However, things changed with his build:
“Enter the Ninja 250 and a customer who was interested in selling it, but after talking with him, he decided to let me turn it into a scrambler.”
“People are very caught up in displacement size of motorcycles, and these 250’s seem to just go to the junkyard after a crash and aren’t looked at as worthy donors for a different style makeover. When I was young, a 250 was a medium-size bike and a 650 was a superbike — boy, have times changed.”
Pete got the bike back in shape mechanically, stiffened up the rear suspension, fabricated a custom subframe to mount a new tank and seat, worked up a pair of custom fenders, added a set of dual-sport tires, and more. His wife suggested the alloy side panels, and the tough little 250 earned the name “Lil Scrapper.”
“All in all, it was a fabulous first custom I did to a customer’s existing bike…. At 63 I’m trying to develop a skill that I can use in retirement to supplement our income and do something that I truly love. With some imagination and support from my wife, I look forward to many more builds in my future.”
Below, Pete gives us the full story on the build.
Ninja 250 Scrambler: In the Builder’s Words…
I’ve been building bikes as a hobby for 10 years now. Most of them were bikes I bought and customized with the intent to sell them. I always found it hard to sell them for even a small profit. I’ve done it mainly for my love of motorcycles.
Enter the Ninja 250 and a customer who was interested in selling it, but after talking with him, he decided to let me turn it into a scrambler. The first thing I did was to come up with a budget that would fit for both him and myself.
It was my first time I had the opportunity to build one for someone. After going over all the design details and the budget, I was ready to go. First I replaced all the damaged parts from a previous lowside crash the bike was involved in. This bike definitely deserved a second life in my mind. People are very caught up in displacement size of motorcycles, and these 250’s seem to just go to the junkyard after a crash and aren’t looked at as worthy donors for a different style makeover. When I was young, a 250 was a medium-size bike and a 650 was a superbike — boy, have times changed.
After getting the bike mechanically sound, I put on a nice set of dual sport tires and stiffened the rear suspension. I next found a fuel tank that would fit my overall design needs. The fuel tank presented a problem due to Kawasaki’s wide tunnel. This was fixed by making a subframe for the tank and seat so I could have a flat mounting point for both.
I fabricated the rear fender and loop as well as the rear fender mounts. I then fabricated the front fender and used the original mount.
The exhaust is a combination of the original headers and a joining pipe I welded to connect to the muffler. Since the customer didn’t want a two-up ride, I used the right side passenger peg mount as my muffler-mounting point. I welded a stainless tab to the muffler, which completed that part of the bike.
I wasn’t sure how to join the rest of the bike together until my wife, Lisa, suggested fabricating aluminum side panels, which gives it a nice finished look.
Other things that were done include all new cables, bars, mirrors, and LED lighting. The customer is a firefighter, so I incorporated his station logo on the side panels, as well as a firefighter logo on the fuel tank. I did the paint and stripping myself, and I’m getting more comfortable putting on paint.
All in all, it was a fabulous first custom I did to a customer’s existing bike.
This opportunity opened up a whole new marketplace for me to tap into. Along with doing customs, my main hobby business is fabricating custom aluminum seat pans. At 63 I’m trying to develop a skill that I can use in retirement to supplement our income and do something that I truly love. With some imagination and support from my wife, I look forward to many more builds in my future.
I am truly blessed.