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MD Bike of the Year: Kawasaki Ninja 400

We rode lots of interesting new motorcycles this year. Among them was Honda’s incredible, redesigned Gold Wing – a bike we carefully considered in evaluating our BOTY. In the end, we decided a more significant introduction, at a dramatically lower price-point, should take the win.

Light, relatively simple and inexpensive motorcycles have grown in popularity in the U.S. market, and make both excellent beginner bikes and intriguing second (or third) motorcycles to park in the garage of an experienced rider.

The problem, if there was one, was the lack of performance. The 250/300s were/are fun, but limiting in the sense that new riders could outgrow them relatively quickly, and experienced riders might think they are just too darn slow. Kawasaki had an answer.

Jumping all the way to a 399cc twin-cylinder engine, taking off weight (versus the Ninja 300) and utilizing tighter, more nimble steering geometry, the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400 moved the “lightweight sport bike” category to a whole new level. Starting at $4,999 (non-ABS model), it also represented excellent value.

In our testing, Dirck largely agreed with Adam’s first impressions at the press launch. This bike is an absolute blast to ride, with handling that seems to read your mind, and a big increase in performance versus the 250/300s that essentially creates a new category (dyno charts show rear wheel horsepower exceeds Honda 500cc twins).

Take a look back at our earlier articles for all the details, but trust us, this is quite a motorcycle. Kawasaki could easily charge more, but pricing remains unchanged for 2019.


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100 Comments

  1. tall dude says:

    I’m 9’4″ 375 lbs and this bike fit me fine

  2. Joe Lewis says:

    I test rode this in Daytona TY. Very nice beginner bike with nice fit and finish. I’m a big guy, 6’4 250, and it was rideable. It’s on the scale of a full sized sport bike. It does have a sportbike riding stance. Power was good enough and kept up with all bikes in my group.

  3. skortch says:

    Cool choice and probably a tough one. It’s been a great couple of years for the industry with excellent new bikes popping up every year. We seem to have passed through the doldrums…

    This is the bike I’d choose in this market segment and the reason I’d actually be looking in the first place. Bumping the displacement up to 400 cc’s and actually dropping the weight a few pounds is a great move on Kawi’s part. With some new brake pads and some upgrades to the suspension (like springs) it would be great on small tracks, in the mountains, and as a light weekend sport-tourer.

    Between this and the 650, each has its appeal. However, while the 400 fits its niche perfectly I think I’d end up skipping over the latter for the full-bore z900.

  4. todd says:

    I’m 6’3”, 190 pounds. I think the bike is a great size, very comfortable in the showroom. I’ve ridden the 250 and 300 Ninjas, those are also a nice comfortable size. It would be nice to try one of these out on the road. I don’t like large, heavy bikes.

    • Anonymous says:

      The way I look at it is that it is easier for a tall rider to ride a short bike than for a short rider to ride a tall bike. Like Jeremy said, the small Ninjas have always been big sellers. I haven’t bought a new bike in a while, but this would be my choice right now.

      • Reginald Van Blunt says:

        There is a Big difference between being too tall, therefore uncomfortable, and distracted while riding, and being too short and therefore incapable of operating a bike at all. FLAT seats and footpegs near the clutch cover/crankshaft allows 98.255 % of motorcyclists to fit a bike. The only bike with those conditions I could not fit and safely operate was a serious dual purpose BMW about 12 years ago with a number 4 in its’ ID because my feet were always airborne at a stop. KILL ALL STEPPED SEATS, manufactures ! Allow the butt to adjust the legs and pegs ratio. Geez Louise it is simple.

  5. mickey says:

    I have no personal interest in bikes of this class or style, but it’s nice to see that Kawasaki is continuing to improve a bike that made a big statement in the small bore class of motorcycles.

  6. Lewis says:

    I remember a time when 400’s were quite a bit more exciting and aesthetically pleasing than what is out there now. Bandit 400,CB-1, FZR 400 and, if you lived in Canada, several more tasty options. I had a chance to sample the CB-1,FZR 400 and the Bandit. Awesome bikes, but close to or more expensive than the ever popular 600’s of the day. I wonder if Kawasaki will do an RS version of the 400 or 650? Might work out.

    • Pacer says:

      Small sportbikes are coming back. The Husky 701 Vitpilen, and the new Aprilia 650 concept are going to forge the way. At least I hope they do.

  7. Provologna says:

    A new Ninja 650 w/o ABS has $7400 SRP, 32.4% more than this lovely new Ninja 400 @ only $5k. Do readers agree the difference in cost to KHI is likely less than 32.4%? Labor wise I can hardly see a difference except for making and installing one less front brake hose, rotor, and caliper. Material wise of course the 650 requires more, but only 55# greater curb weight equals only 15% difference, less than half the SRP difference.

    • Butch says:

      The difference in labor probably lies in the fact that the 650 is built in Japan, while the 400 is assembled in India.

      • Selecter says:

        The Ninja 400 is built in Thailand for the world markets in general, US included. Only India gets them “built” in India, from CKDs to avoid the rather punishing tariffs there. And even then, since it’s a CKD and not completely built in India, they’re still subject to markups that make them far more expensive than the (actually) Indian-built KTMs and such.

      • skortch says:

        Pretty sure the 650s are also built in Thailand. Pricing probably has more to do with what the competition is charging in each particular market segment.

        Both bikes seem like good deals.

        • Provologna says:

          Ditto your last sentence.

          Thanks for all the comments.

          I searched hard for 1/4 mile ET and terminal speed, and the best I could find was unofficial mid 13s in the mid-high 90mph range.

          Of many bikes I owned I probably had the most pure fun on an ’83 Yamaha Vision sans its moderately heavy full fairing with adjustable warm/cool leg air vents. It’s motor is a vertically split V-Max but more highly tuned. That shaft-drive dual-front disc bike’s curb weight was 465# with a full tank (again, sans fairing). 1/4 mile was high 12s @ a few clicks over 100mph. Noteworthy is that its roll on torque ruled the middleweight class by huge margin; in top gear it would walk away from a GPz550 and/or VFR500.

          Not really a criticism, but does anyone else expect a 35 year newer, 100# lighter “sport” bike to more closely approximate the Vision’s straight line performance? I suspect the Vision’s brakes, greater torque, and straight line power would outweigh the 400s advantage in apex speed.

          • Dave says:

            The only performance numbers I could find put the Vision @ 13sec./96mph for the 1/4 mile so with 150 fewer cc’s, it does very much approximate the Vision’s straight line speed, and It’ll almost certainly out stop it with its single front disc too (100lbs less!), definitely with ABS included.

  8. RCV says:

    Not a good value for the price. No inverted forks and single disc brake.Ill pass to much $ to make it right!

    • Dave says:

      At the necessary cost levels, neither of those things would result in improved performance on a budget priced motorcycle. It’d just be a heavier bike that worked no better for it, might have even cost a more meaningful feature somewhere else on the bike in the end.

  9. Al T says:

    Just waiting for the 400 upgrade to the Versys.

  10. WJF says:

    My wife and I sat on this bike at the showroom. It was not too comfortable in the groin area for either of us

  11. motocephalic says:

    Great Choice, now if we can have it with the plastic removed (including the dumb tail pieces that are now standard), handlebars canted to standard, it is the winner.

  12. bmbktmracer says:

    I ran some numbers regarding the physical size of the 400, which many folks believe is too small. The average American male is 5’9.5″ tall. The average female is 5’4″ tall. If Kawasaki expects 40% of buyers to be female, then the average size of the 400’s rider would be 5’6.5″.

    If one keeps that in mind, the bike is most likely sized perfectly.

    • Scott says:

      It’s hard to see how something too tall for the average female and too short for the average male is sized perfectly.

    • Provologna says:

      Your error IMO is the term “average” height. IMO the better qualifier is “nominal” describing a height above and below which are half the riders. If the gender ratio is 40/60 F/M, then I suspect the nominal height is a larger value than average height, but not sure. A person better with numbers than me can maybe enlighten us. The nominal figure dilutes the extreme marginal height riders.

      On a related subject if my budget would not allow a new Ninja 650, I’d shop for a little used ’17 or later, which I presume would cost about the same as this new 400.

      • bmbktmracer says:

        The petty attempt to prove me wrong is silly. You’re talking “median”, which is the point where half are above and half are below a value. So what? Median is useful when a limited set of data is available, but when it comes to people there are 7.7 billion of them in the world and the outliers on either end pretty much cancel out.

        The people that design these things are a lot smarter than us and didn’t choose the bike’s physical size by accident. All the naysaying aside, I’d be willing to bet that a 5’6″ rider would find the 400 perfectly sized.

        • Provologna says:

          Did you miss your meds? From whence did you get my intent was “to prove” you “wrong?” Your mind reading attempt failed. It was a comment dunderhead.

          I suspect the demographic for potential buyers of this 400 is somewhat less than earth’s total population you mentioned.

      • Chris says:

        I don’t think the word “nominal” means what you think it means.

    • mickey says:

      well the funny thing here is todd at 6’3″ thinks its a good size physically and I at 5’6″ thinks it’s way too small. Ironic huh?

      • Regan says:

        Mickey and it doesn’t fit you because of width or height .

        • mickey says:

          Regan, generally all of the above. I prefer a larger, heavier, more powerful bike.

          Not saying I couldn’t sit on it, and ergonomically (other than being a sport bike with too much bend in back knees and pressure on the wrists) I would fit on it ok, I’d just wonder where the rest of the bike went, and where the power went, particularly the torque, so in essence it is too small for me.

          may be fine for someone else my size though.

          In 1973 I rode an RD 350 Yamaha, even toured on it 2 up with wife. Had the opportunity to sit on a restored one recently and good night it was like sitting on a mini bike. there was nothing to it. These days,I prefer something more “substantial” under me.

          • regan says:

            I get it regarding the Ninja 650 not fitting your riding style.

            That’s hard core Mickey, touring 2up on a RD350, ouch! Back in the day I took the passenger pegs off my RD400.

  13. southbound says:

    Like others, I can’t wait for the Z or other more standard version. Hope it still weighs below 375.

  14. Sportourpa says:

    It’d be nice if the Ninja 636 had the ergonomics like the 400.

  15. Reginald Van Blunt says:

    Wouldn’t it be swell if all the manufactures made these neat sub mid size motorcycles just 10 % bigger for full scale adults. Look at the pictured riders right boot heel nestled in the domain of the muffler. Bet he isn’t a size 12.

    • bmbktmracer says:

      Smaller people like motorcycles too.

      • Dave says:

        .. and the global markets where these smaller platforms sell in the greatest numbers have lower average heights than Americans.

    • Mike says:

      I agree with rvb.
      They are making an entry level bike but some of the entry level people are tall, and some experienced riders with more disposable income who may want a second low displacement bike are tall also.

  16. gpokluda says:

    A good choice I suppose. Doesn’t really do much for me but I’m an old crotchety fart. I vote it most likely to appear on Craigslist within three months of purchase.

      • gpokluda says:

        We’ve been down this road before. Remember all of those Honda CB-1s and Bandit 400s that sat languishing on showroom floors? No matter how many great articles the magazines wrote about them, no one bought them. Most of this who did buy those cool little bikes, got rid of them no long after they bought them. History repeats itself.

        • Dave says:

          Except it’s not the same road as before. *That* road was littered with cheap, capable 600cc super sports that people wanted. Now those bikes are really expensive and narrow focused. Many people are buying these small bikes now. Nice CB-1’s are very valuable on the used market today.

        • todd says:

          Those bikes sold really well over here on the left coast. They’re still popular now and fetch better money than the bigger bikes.

        • Jeremy in TX says:

          The small Ninja bikes have always been big sellers for Kawasaki. I don’t see any reason for that to change now.

        • gpokluda says:

          I guess time will tell. The motorcycle market is a fickle beast and aside from retros and adventures, everything else is a crap shoot. This humble opinion from a former bike shop owner.

  17. George Krpan says:

    Gosh, wouldn’t a Versys X 400 be nice?

  18. Mike says:

    Claimed wet weight is 460 lbs or thereabouts.
    Measured wet weight is 480 pounds. This done by Roadracing World.

    • Dirck Edge says:

      Claimed wet weight is 362(non-ABS) or 366 pounds. You are off by nearly 100 pounds.

      • Mike says:

        DOH!
        Sad thing for me is I can’t even blame AutoCorrect. I was thinking of another bike altogether but these numbers are good according to Roadracing World.
        Claimed wet is 366 but measured wet 380 pounds. Not bad still.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Bike of the year. Yeah, why not. Sad that this was the best of 2018. Let’s ignore the DVT inducing PPP riding position. Like most of the current Kawasaki sport bikes and naked bikes it probably has a wonderful motor, a fantastic clutch, piss poor gearing, a mushy front suspension and too stiff harsh rear suspension. Hopefully, with use, this one won’t break the rear suspension mounts like the bargain basement Z900. I’m not convinced. There had to have been better in 2018.

  20. Jeremy in TX says:

    Nice choice. Seems like it offers a big fun factor for the money. I think this bike has interested experienced riders as much as new ones. And it’s pretty versatile… I imagine there is a host of aftermarket support for your weekend racer or track day guy, makes a great commuter, canyon carver, and has just enough power to tour even if one were so inclined.

    • Harold Kumbaya says:

      tl;dr: “I’ve never ridden one, but I hate it because of these reasons I just made up”.

      • TimC says:

        I think the comment system is on the fritz again? Or the crack for that matter? This can’t be related to Jeremy’s post here.

        • Harold Kumbaya says:

          Correct! I goofed! Not sure how, but there it is.

          I was trying to reply to the Anonymous guy who said “Sad that this was the best of 2018.”

          • TimC says:

            LOL I replied to something, my comment showed up not there but in the main feed, so I deleted that (successfully) and got my reply to work. Then the original came back and is still there!

            It’s really kind of fun in the same way that a newspaper swapped the captions for the Family Circus and the Far Side a couple of times.

          • Anonymous says:

            I hate to respond to personal attacks, I, like so many others, voice their opinions about bikes posted here. We’re all entitled to do that. I never said I hated the bike and I didn’t “make up” reasons. I’ve ridden and owned several of the 400’s siblings and found them all to have the similar characteristics I stated and I don’t expect the 400 to be any different, displacement aside. I’m not buying into the hype about this bike and I do think there had to be better candidates for MOTY 2018.

          • @Anonymous,

            You haven’t ridden one. That’s not a personal attack, it’s something you said.

            But OK, you’re basing your assumption on the fact that its siblings (EX250 and EX300, i guess?) were lousy, unsuccessful bikes. Fair enough.

  21. takehikes says:

    Ok nice choice based on performance. Style? Zero. Even little guys look like a monkey f***ing a football on it. Pass……

    • Anonymous says:

      If it’s fun to ride, who cares what it looks like?

      • paul says:

        Who cares what it looks like?… insecure people, that is who.

      • Ken Howard says:

        More than just “looks,” the photo of Dirck, at 5’11”, indicates this bike is physically very small, and will possibly end up, after a while, feeling cramped for riders of this height or taller. It’s just something to consider.

        • TimC says:

          I had a 250 and loved it/was used to it. I’m 6’2″. But it was my first bike, and when I left CA I sold it, and kept my FZ6. My ex-GF, who moved out with me, kept her 250. I rode it a couple times once NOT used to it and it is VERY small.

          I realize that’s part of the appeal but 400 is moving a little beyond beginner-bike – it would be nice to see it sized as such.

          • mickey says:

            When I started riding in the mid 60’s beginner bikes ranged from 50cc to 250cc, intermediate bikes from 300cc to 550cc and bikes for really experienced riders from 650cc to 1000cc.

            Now when I test ride a Ninja 300 or Honda CB250 or R3 Yamaha I think ” this would really have been neat to own at 17 years old.” So now I sort of see this class of bikes as beginner bikes.

            The only way I see an experienced rider choosing a 400 twin is if he is too old and weak to hold up a bigger bike. That’s what happened to my father as he got older.The older he got the smaller the bikes he bought, going down from a full dress Harley down to a 200cc Honda at the end of his riding career in his late 70’s.

      • there’s a “so’s your mom” joke in there somewhere

    • takehikes says:

      I rode a Honda 450 for years all over the west. I’m 6’2″ and 235 and it was fairly comfortable as you sat in a more standard position. I go in to look at bikes and time after time I try to imagine anything over an hour on any of these bikes and its not something I wish to contemplate. I have a big ass cruiser now and it sucks too though for the opposite reason….too stretched out, poor handlebar and seat position in relationship to the pegs. Truly a more standard or UJM seating position is the very best compromise for a variety of sizes. All I know is the longer the manufacturers have chased this look the more their sales have fallen……

      • Reginald Van Blunt says:

        Try a Triumph Scrambler. Much more expensive than 10 years ago, but a normal fit and ride satisfaction. Bought mine for the same reasons, and kept till my last ride. Am 6’2″ and 220 lbs. The side pipes were never an issue, and made chain maintaince easy peasy. I also owned a CB and CL 450 and rode the South West both street and dirt for 30 years.

  22. steveinsandiego says:

    following 12 yrs on three cruisers i bought a new 09 ninja 650, a freakingly fun and reliable scoot. shortly before i exited the world of mc’ing in 2017 i seriously considered the 400. unexpected turns in my health have left me motorcycless but not completely out of the game…electric contrivances are myriad.

  23. Bruce R says:

    Great choice and for all the best reasons. I love the perspective of this site, usually spot on, and often for reasons that I had not thought of.

  24. I love the way Kawi keeps on winning these things! Great job!

  25. bmbktmracer says:

    The only other bike I’d have considered would have been the Kawasaki Z900. But I have to agree with your selection, as the Z400 significantly raised the bar for the class.

  26. joe b says:

    Does anyone know what ° crank this has? 180, 360, or 270? and how many balancers? i looked and cant seem to find that information.

    • Butch says:

      I’m pretty sure the 300 was a 180 w/ twin counter balancers.
      The 400 should be the same.

    • John A. Kuzmenko says:

      Internet parts catalogs and an interview I read of one of the Ninja 400 “project leaders” says it’s a typical 180-degree crankshaft.
      Project leader says it’s less costly and revs higher and is more in character of the Ninja name and performance reputation.

  27. Gary says:

    I agree with this choice wholeheartedly. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Z400 makes it to the top of the 2019 list as well.

  28. Gene says:

    Excellent choice. I’m waiting for the z400 to hit the show room.

  29. TimC says:

    Dirck, how tall is the tester in the picture (is that you)?

  30. TimC says:

    Bingo, I think the firm seat will come into its own on the kind of longer rides where after awhile on the 250 you’d realize the pan isn’t as soft as you thought.

  31. Jeff says:

    I’m waiting till spring to test ride a new Z400. Might just be a neat little play bike..

  32. paul246 says:

    Way to go MD, this is a brilliant choice. It would have been mine as well. The Ninja 400 is an excellent ride. This is what motorcycling really is all about.

  33. matt says:

    I wonder how long it’ll be till Yam follows with the R4 and leaves the Y25 to the east/central-asian and LAMS markets. But I sure wish *somebody* would bring back the I4 screamers.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’d like an SV400.

      • Dave says:

        While not an SV, this will also be offered in a naked version in the US.

        A V-twin would cost more to make and a sleeved down 650 (kawasaki did a 400cc version of the Ninja650 this way for Canada) winds up being unacceptably heavy.

  34. Chris says:

    Cool. I bought a red 2019 with abs about 3 weeks ago. I am still breaking it in, but I am impressed with it so far. The seat is a bit firm, but otherwise it is very comfortable. The engine is peppy enough to hole shot most traffic without really trying. The handling is telepathic. I have a big grin on my face every time I ride it. I’m super happy with my purchase. If this bike appeals to you I’d recommend it.

    This is my 4th bike. Started on a 250. Rode that for 5 years. Got a 600 and rode that for 10 years. Got a liter bike. Rode that for 11 years…. Went bike less for 3 years. Got the itch to ride again….

    • Anonymous says:

      I had a Ninja 250 and bought a Corbin seat. Worth every penny. A seat for the 400 is about $350 (rider only).

      • TimC says:

        Bingo, I think the firm seat will come into its own on the kind of longer rides where after awhile on the 250 you’d realize the pan isn’t as soft as you thought.

      • Chris says:

        I had Corbin seats on my 600. They were very good. Not sure if I plan to do anything with the 400s seat yet. Maybe I’ll get used to it or maybe it’ll soften up with more miles…. At some point soon I’m going to get a tank pad to protect the paint from getting scratched up from jacket buttons and zippers. Also thinking about getting a tail tidy or fender eliminator to clean up the back end. Otherwise I’m probably going to leave it largely stock.