As you age, some feelings or ways of looking at things do a 180, while others become even more deeply ingrained. If you’re lucky, you’ll continue to feel imposter syndrome throughout your life. Because that’ll mean you’re still pushing.

Imposter syndrome rears its head for me every time I try to go outside of my comfort zone to experience and do well at something new. Now, you don’t want this feeling to last forever—you want to conquer the emotion and move on to the next challenge that brings it back up.

But back in April, I came face to face with the biggest case of imposter syndrome I’d had in years: my first on-road motorcycle launch as a journalist. A milestone I’d basically worked my whole life to get to, and then I felt like I shouldn’t have even been there. 

There were journalists I grew up watching, others that’d been in the business before I even could watch them, and some that I’d find out run their own wheelie school and were sponsored Baja 1000 riders. I was out of my depth. At least, that’s how it felt. 

Even with two decades in the saddle, being in the midst of a motorcycle racing camp, and a degree in journalism under my belt, I couldn’t see through the fog to remind myself that my experience is as valid as any of theirs. 

Thankfully, the Ninja 500 SE did.

Mounting Malibu 

On a sunny Wednesday morning in Malibu, my tensions mounted as I got ready to do the same with the 2024 Ninja 500 SE. 

Swinging a leg over couldn’t have been easier for my relatively average 6-foot-tall frame, thanks to Kawasaki keeping the Ninja’s 30.9-inch seat height. There was no messing around with rider or ABS modes or even traction control settings because it has none. To be clear, it has ABS, but it’s not adjustable. Just fewer things for me and you to worry about. 


As I pulled away with nervous energy, my anxiety was interrupted by, “Oh my God, is this what Kawasaki’s assisted clutch is!?” roaring through my head. The leaver was so light, and the bike so willing to pull away, it felt intuitive. The first time you engage the clutch on any motorcycle, there’s always a bit of “will they, won’t they” in your head as you worry about learning the biting point and trying not to stall. I’m not going to say you can’t stall the Ninja 500, but man, you’d have to try hard.

My nerves, however, kept creeping up, “Am I keeping good formation? Am I too close? Am I too far?" But it was all on me, as the Ninja didn’t add to them one bit—the opposite, in fact. Any alteration I needed to make around the city streets, the bike was more than happy to do. It’s like it wanted to help me.

Soon, I was confident enough to stand up and stretch my legs at traffic light stops, balance the bike, and even give it a little side-to-side shimmy. Finally, my confidence was back—just before I hit Malibu’s canyon roads with some fantastically capable motorcycle journalists. 

Carving Canyons

A 90-degree right-hand turn leading up to the canyons was the first time I was able to hit the Ninja’s 10,700 RPM redline. As I whisked up through the gears, the power was smooth, predictable, and punchy from the 451cc stroker parallel twin. It’d give an experienced rider an audible giggle as they blasted from redline to redline and is more than enough for a beginner to feel like they’re atop a little beast.


You can go everywhere flat out, but you don’t have to, which is an important distinction to make with bikes in this category.

As the roads got curvy and the pace of the pack picked up, so did mine. Then I remembered, “Oh yeah, I race bikes like this. Of course, I can feckin’ hang with this lot!” But it was the Ninja that allowed me to come to this realization because it didn’t get in my way. It did exactly what was asked of it on those roads at ample speeds and let me breathe enough to overcome my imposter syndrome.

For basic non-adjustable 41mm front forks and a 5-way preload adjustable shock, the suspension handled everything I threw at it remarkably well. In particular, the rear felt far more planted than a bike coming in at $6,399 has any right to. “Leaned in, locked in” was something I murmured to myself while trying to figure out how Kawasaki made the back end transmit so much confidence to the rider.

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And when it comes to the forks, they soaked up every undulation and, combined with the Dunlop Sportmax GPR300s, relayed what was happening mid-corner relatively well. Kawasaki’s engineers have done a great job in keeping the front so plush when wanted and supportive and sharp when needed, like under heavy braking—another area the little Ninja is better than it has any right to be.

The Nissin brakes shine both in terms of stopping power and feedback and outperformed any other bike I’ve ridden in this class so far. Usually, you’re lucky to have a bike that’s good in just one of those areas, and then the ABS lets you use the brakes to their potential. As long as you’re smooth and progressive, you can dig the front tire into the pavement without feeling that unsettling ABS pulsation run through your right fingers.


But as flickable, planted, and verging on suspiciously good at braking as the Ninja 500 is, it still had one area left to prove itself—pulling up to freeway speeds in a hurry. Because there’s nothing that’ll make you second guess yourself more than not feeling like you have the agility to pull out onto a fast road. And after lunch, I had the chance to test this and leave my imposter syndrome behind once and for all.

The group took a left onto a fast road with traffic coming in both directions. I was riding mid-pack and wasn’t going to make a risky maneuver. But I didn’t want to be the guy that held up the second half of the riders. But, after playing with the bike’s power in the canyons, I pulled out with a semi-truck to my left and a Dodge Ram to my right without fear.

Not recklessly or hurriedly, but with confidence.

And that confidence comes down to the bike’s 51 horsepower and 31.7 lb-ft of torque. I love that Kawasaki has broken away from the European horsepower and torque A2 restrictions from which the little Ninja was born but just enough to ensure freeway merging isn’t anxiety-inducing.

Start as You Mean To Go On

New riders often find themselves suffering from imposter syndrome or just feeling like they’re in the wrong—especially if you’ve got some asshole on his fifth Starbucks honking and driving like he wants to sniff your rear tire.


It took me less than an hour to shake this feeling amongst my journalist peers, but it can take months or years for beginners. And the bike you learn on plays a significant role in determining how long you’ll ride with this hanging over you. The Kawasaki Ninja 500 may just help reduce the amount of time you’re left with that feeling.

If I were starting over with a wicked case of imposter syndrome, the Ninja 500 would be at the top of my list. Because I haven’t felt like that again on press rides, and it’s largely thanks to this little bike.

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