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Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400 ABS: MD Ride Review

Kawasaki’s new Ninja 400 represents one of the most important motorcycles introduced this year. We have already covered this model with an initial report, containing details and specifications, following with our report from the press launch. We’ve now had the bike in our garage for some time, and offer the following long-term review.

Kawasaki isn’t playing fair. After the establishment of the 250 / 300 class, which arguably included the Ninja 300 and the Yamaha R3 at the top, in terms of performance specifications, Kawasaki jumped to a full 400cc for 2018 (actually, 399cc).

The interesting thing is that, for many experienced riders, at least, the smaller displacement bikes that represented the “entry level” category in the United States were simply too slow. They worked awfully hard traveling at highway speeds, and generally required wide open throttle, almost everywhere, to make anything resembling rapid progress on the street. The Kawasaki Ninja 400 changes this.

The parallel-twin engine in this motorcycle offers, arguably, the perfect small displacement powerband for a street bike that doubles as a canyon carver and occasional track day weapon … but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

That broad powerband makes the Ninja 400 far more usable in city traffic, for instance, than any smaller displacement competition, including its predecessor. This is a bike that you can ride without feeling you have to wring its neck constantly. Although it redlines all the way up at 12,000 rpm, and makes good power up top, this motor will pull cleanly from as little as 3,000 rpm and make reasonable thrust anywhere above 5,000 rpm.

Despite the broad, flat torque curve, the Ninja 400 manages to make a relatively high peak horsepower number … even slightly higher than a Honda CBR500R on a dyno. Nevertheless, Kawasaki also managed to take close to 20 pounds off the new 400 versus the Ninja 300 predecessor.

At a claimed 366 pounds (the non-ABS version is even lighter) with the 3.7 gallon fuel tank topped off, this is a seriously light motorcycle. Dry weight is well below 350 pounds. At the same time, Kawasaki tightened up the geometry on the new steel trellis frame. A steep steering head angle and a short wheel base (53.9 inches) combined with the light weight hint at the amazing agility we found during testing.

It isn’t just the larger, remarkably efficient engine that is new, the surrounding chassis was essentially designed from scratch. The trellis frame utilizes the engine as a stressed member, and attaches a relatively long swingarm.

Several other detailed changes contribute to the light weight. New wheels, elimination of a fender brace (courtesy of the much beefier 41mm fork tubes), and even a redesigned seat contribute.

The 41mm fork tubes are a big step up, and undoubtedly make a huge difference when it comes to handling precision and control. The suspension is non-adjustable with the exception of spring preload on the rear shock.

Kawasaki also increased the size of the single front brake disc to 310mm, which Kawasaki describes as “largest in class”. A dual-piston caliper grips this larger disc with pressure fed through a master cylinder redesigned for this model. The rear, 220mm disc is also worked on by a dual-piston caliper. ABS models (including our test unit) feature the latest control unit from Nissin. The rear tire steps up to 150mm in width and is supplied by Dunlop (as is the front).

In keeping with the design brief, the Ninja 400 features relaxed, comfortable ergonomics with high placed clip-ons, and footpegs lower and further forward relative to a pure racer replica. The new bodywork is designed to provide good wind protection as well. Courtesy of a deeper seat pan, Kawasaki was able to fit a thicker seat pad (90mm) for improved rider comfort. We experienced no problems with seat comfort during our testing.

The new styling incorporates LED lights all around. Generously, and contributing to the practicality of the mount, the headlamps feature dual low beams and dual high beams (all four of which illuminate on high) resulting in good road illumination at night. The integrated instrument panel includes a large analog tach and a prominent gear position indicator. In addition to a digital speedometer, the following information is available: odometer, dual trip meters, remaining range, current and average fuel consumption, external temperature, coolant temperature, clock and the Economical Riding Indicator (alerting the rider that he is operating in a manner to maximize fuel economy).

The Ninja 400 has a low seat height that should allow most riders to easily touch down at stops and the clutch pull (courtesy of the Assist and Slipper design) is very light and progressive. Pulling away from a stop, it is immediately apparent that the Ninja 400 has abandoned its roots for a higher performance category completely.

Moderate rpm levels translate to good thrust on the streets and highways, with highway cruising speeds requiring remarkably low rpm levels in 6th gear. We would estimate top speed in the neighborhood of 120 mph. Vibration levels are low, as well.

It is on a tight, twisty canyon road where the Ninja 400 really shines, however. After adding a click of preload to the shock in order to balance the suspension for our 210 pound rider, handling was sublime.

Changing direction is as near effortless as we can recall, and the Ninja 400 seems to follow your eyes as you look through corners. It also holds a line well mid-corner, and the smooth, glitch-free throttle response means you can get on the gas early as you stand up the bike while exiting the turn.

Brake performance, particularly from the single front disc, is excellent on the street (we didn’t take the bike to the track). We were honestly surprised by the level of power and control on offer, and in our minds this is an important aspect of the Ninja 400. Single disc front brakes are not supposed to perform at this level.

With an MSRP that starts at $4,999, Kawasaki had to cut a few corners, of course. While the non-adjustable fork performs pretty well in stock condition, the shock runs out of damping (particularly rebound) when the bike is ridden hard over rough tarmac. Overall, the suspension performs well in most circumstances for this price category, but racers and aggressive street riders may be in for some tuning work.

As we said earlier, comfort is pretty good with a well-cushioned rider seat and decent wind protection from the new fairing and windscreen. Overall, the Ninja 400 offers surprising practicality for such a fun motorcycle. That extends to the fuel economy, which will allow even aggressive riders to achieve 50 mpg (close to 60 if you are light on the throttle) … offering pretty good range from the 3.7 gallon fuel tank.

We are tempted to label the Ninja 400 “the best handling street bike we have ever tested”. The amazing agility is combined with very good stability, both in a straight line and mid-corner. The chassis provides excellent feedback from the tires, and the high bar position gives the rider good leverage. The only bikes comparable, in terms of handling, are singles (such as small displacement KTM Dukes), but such bikes don’t have the kind of high speed stability available from the Ninja 400.

Perhaps, the most remarkable thing about the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400 is the price. At $4,999, the non-ABS model matches the price of the Ninja 300, while our ABS-equipped KRT edition retails for $5,499. Several color options are available. Take a look at Kawasaki’s web site for additional details and specifications.



  1. Gaius Gracchus says:

    We were worried about the vibration at higher speeds. Nice to hear it isn’t too bad.

    Also appreciated the comments comparing the 650 to this one. We’ve been going back and forth between them, but it is hard to find dealers who have bikes to test drive.

  2. Mindspin says:

    I think this bike is a watershed for small displacement sport bikes. This is better than the R3 and RC390 as a street bike and possibly only bested by the KTM on track. It’s not so much a beginner bike now as just a better more capable Ninja. I would take the Ninja 400 over the Ninja 650 any day. Best handling street bike? Perhaps. I have a Versys 650, and it still holds the title for best handling street bike IMO. That said, I haven’t ridden the Ninja 400 and I plan to. I think I have a non-ABS version in my future as a track day bike. Hopefully I find a lightly used one that someone has “grown out of” when the time is right.

    • billy says:

      “I have a Versys 650, and it still holds the title for easiest handling street bike IMO.”

      Fixed that for ya.

      • Mindspin says:

        OK. I guess that’s also true. I’ve owned many bikes, and maybe my Street Triple R was “better” handling, but this Versys still impresses and gives me great confidence.

  3. Tank says:

    More is too much, less is not enough. If Goldilocks rode a bike, this would be it. I can’t think of a better bike for a beginner. Most beginner bikes lose their appeal after a few months. I’ve been riding since the late 60’s, and I want one. If Dirck says it’s one of the best handling bikes he’s ever ridden, that’s all I need to know. As far as ABS goes, it’s like a gun, better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

  4. Kevin says:

    Great bike, But where is the Naked version?? Take another 20lbs off it, bump the HP a bit (screw the euro licensing regs) and I’m there!

  5. sherm says:

    Slightly off subject. Moving into motorcycling twilight I figured the Ninja 400 would be just right for the last ride especially since I prefer sportbikes. When I visited the local dealer to look at one, what really caught my eye was bunch of Vulcan 650’s. I’m nowhere close to being a cruise fan, but I think those little Vulcans are the best looking cruisers I’ve ever seen. If I bought a new bike, more than likely it would be the 400. But, to me, the Vulcan is the showgirl.

    • carl says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more!! I have owned many bikes, from pretty much every sportbike ending with ZX14 then moving to touring bikes. Everything from GL1800 to Victory Cross country tour. I’m older now and my touring days are over it seems, just not fun like it use to be, so now looking for something fun just to boot around the backroads and this little kawi fits the build, small, light and fast enough to make it stupid fun. Ideally looking for a older VFR400, FZR400 or ZXR400 4cylinder 4’s but if I can’t find one to my liking this one will do.

      • Scott says:

        What part of the country are you located in? I know of a decent FZR400 that might be available…

      • bmbktmracer says:

        You’re a perfect candidate for a Honda CB500R. Great motorcycle with more torque and less intensity than the 400.

    • Mindspin says:

      Vulcan S (650) is a very good looking and very fun bike. It’s more of a recumbent Ninja 650 than a cruiser and I wanted to buy one. The Versys 650 is still the best bike that Kawasaki makes with that engine. Have you tried one?

  6. Frank West says:

    Almost as fast and less economical than the old GPz (EX) 500 twin but still an interesting alternative for those who have rid themselves of the speed bug though it is always nice to have an excess of power to escape from potential crashes. My used street triple still wins though.

  7. Scott says:

    Oh, for the love of all things holy, Dirck, is there ANY way to get away from this MODERATION HELL when we try to post here??? This is honestly the only comment section or forum I’ve ever seen that has such an issue! It’s so frustrating trying to have a conversation here ! There’s got to be a better way… Do you need money to upgrade? I’d pitch in, and I’m sure many of the regulars would, too. Just say the word!

  8. Scott says:

    Just a few months ago, wasn’t everyone fawning all over the Versys 300, like it was the perfect “real world” bike that everybody should desire if they were honest with themselves?

    And now everyone is screaming for a Versys 400…

    I feel sorry for motorcycle product planners. They are never going to satisfy the public, because the only thing people seem to want is whatever isn’t currently produced.

    • Austin ZZR 1200 says:

      Scott, I think what we are seeing is a demand curve seeking the ideal power/weight, utility/ price based on available technology. I believe the ‘sweet spot’ will end up at around 500-550 ccs parallel twin on a modern steel frame that will become the new UJM standard around which adv/sport/retro offerings will be based. We’re about two years away from that. Around that time, electrics wills start directly competing on price/ performance with 200 mile range.

      You heard it here first

      • Pacer says:

        I think you are in the ball park, but the end result will be 650cc to 750cc. Oddly enough Suzuki seems to have known this all along. I agree, we will start to see mid size tourer/adventure (kind of the same thing) bikes flourish in the near future.

        • Jeremy in TX says:

          Solid bikes in that displacement category have been around since forever it seems. What do you mean by we will start seeing them?

          • Pacer says:

            Mid size adventure/tourers will flourish. The beginner/small displacement will hang in the 400 range.

        • Mark says:

          I agree about twins in the 650 range, but I’d like to see some 400cc inline 4 cylinder bikes, like the Honda CB400 SuperFour and Yamaha XJR400.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Like our friend from Austin, I think we are moving towards an ideal power-to-weight-price for today’s market. While it may indeed creep up even further to 500-550 cc’s as suggested, I suspect we’ll stop here for a while, though.

      The 300 was what the 250 wasn’t – workable on North American and European freeways. But it still wasn’t all that great for the job. For as long as I remember on this board and others , people have been clamoring for something in the 350 – 450 cc range weighing in the mid-300lbs for budget bike prices.

      Well, between this bike and the KTM 375s, we’re here. Let’s see if the wallets open.

      • TimC says:

        Mine sure would if I hadn’ta just bought a house. I mean this is absolutely what I’ve wanted for years, a 250 with just enough juice.

    • WSHart says:

      This is due to most people behvaing like children. They never want that which they need, i.e., a bike that they can actually use outside the realm of their mind/ego.

      Whatever. The new 400 is a very nice motorcycle. For those that want to know when the 400 Versys is coming out, I would say right after this newest Ninja actually sells to the public. In other words, once it is a sales success.

      • Dave says:

        This hinges entirely on the sales success of the Versys 300. The 300 engine cannot pass Euro standards, so there will either definitely be a Versys 400, or there will be no small Versys at all.

        • Mindspin says:

          Maybe by the time Euro5 takes over in 2021 the 300 engine won’t comply, but until then I don’t think we will get a Versys 400. The development cost on the 300 must have been low since it is heavily based on the Ninja 300 frame and the engine is slightly retuned. So I don’t think they’ll dump it just yet.

          • Dave says:

            The Ninja 300’s engine was developed from the ancient 250 engine. The 300 engine isn’t Euro4 compliant now (which was part of the impetus to make the new 400), so the Versys 300 is non-compliant as of Euro4 implementation. If it was successful, then I expect we’ll see a Versys 400 pretty soon.

    • mickey says:

      I think they had it right when they had 250’s ( beginners) 500’s (intermediates) 750’s ( experienced) and 1000’s ( experts if you will). A nice stepping stone of sizes and power. Unfortunately not enough choices for some people.

    • Mindspin says:

      A Versys 400 is inevitable, but not for a few years and likely for the Euro5 switchover. The Versys X-300 is I assume a test using the outgoing Ninja 300 engine and chassis to gauge the market for future small adv bikes. The 300 engine is a screamer and I think it’s hilarious fun to do that in what is essentially a street biased dual sport. The 400 engine has much more midrange punch and will suit future models well, but lets enjoy the 300 engine before it’s made totally obsolete. I’d love to see two Versys 400 models, a more off-road X version and a street biased S version with 17 inch wheels like the 650.

  9. Vrooom says:

    I’ll add my voice to the put this engine in the Versys group. New springs, a gold valve kit in the forks, and I’d bet I’d have a good/efficient commuter.

  10. billy says:

    We are tempted to label the Ninja 400 “the best handling street bike we have ever tested”.

    Umm, if all you’ve tested is a couple of dirt bikes and that Wing I’d understand. By reading your tests it seems that to you anything that changes directions quickly is good handling.

    Perhaps you like the inherent geometry? Perhaps with a fork revalve and an Ohlins in the rear it would be great?

    • TimC says:

      Uh, Dirck and MD have been around for more than a couple of days.

    • ADB says:

      Possible, but with all of the bikes Dirck has tested over the past years, I tend to take his evaluations to the bank. I bought a Moto Guzzi Norge after two of his in depth reviews, and haven’t looked back. He was spot on for the real world. I would think that if he refers to “agility, stability, feedback, handlebar position, leverage, and high speed stability”, you can probably count of it vs. the competitive models. I think what might be helping the new Kawi here is the Buell like wheelbase/rake/trail, regardless that it might have middle of the line forks and shock?

    • matt says:

      ‘revalve’? It’s damper rod forks – throw the whole thing away and put some cartridges in there for $600 (Matris F15K or Andreani). If a ‘click’ of preload was enough to get a 210lb rider to achieve sag values then either Kaw has found enlightenment that USA riders are 180-220lb and sprung it accordingly or it’s way over sprung to begin with. (I would put money on the latter)

      I’m willing to be surprised, but the Jap4 have spent the past 30 years consistently producing sh*t suspension so color me skeptical.

      • Dave says:

        He didn’t say he achieved correct sag, he said “balance”. He later points out that it’s under-damped for hard riding.

        This is an economical sport bike. Like most (all?) in it’s class, it has basic suspension to hit a price point. If you were to do the fork, you’d need to do the shock to make it worthwhile. That’ll cost over 20% of the new bike’s purchase price. The customers this bike is meant to reach aren’t interested in that. Those who are will more likely buy an altogether higher performance bike from the beginning.

  11. Al says:

    When is Kawasaki going to create a versys X-400?

  12. My2cents says:

    Kawasaki is just kicking butt. I’m guessing the old slogan win on Sunday sell on Monday still applies.

    • Grover says:

      Not really. If you judge interest in motorcycle racing by the number of comments on racing articles on this website you will quickly see that almost no posters care about motorcycle racing. There are more comments generated about the 2018 Goldwing than the last 10 articles on racing combined. Now, NASCAR might be a different story…

    • William says:

      Not sure what you mean with this bike. I have been thinking quite the opposite; that old slogan is outdated and does not apply anymore. These smaller bikes seem to meet the more practical side of riding in the real world, not racing. I don’t care at all about motorcycle racing. It does not influence my decision to purchase a bike. The actual bike influences my decision, the weight, handling, comfort, power, etc.

  13. Jon says:

    Encouraging that the big K have managed to release 2 bikes in a row with notably smooth FI – hopefully this bodes well for them sorting out the Z900RS fuel delivery too. They are definitely on a roll. And this would be another engine that would do well in an adventure bike.

    • Larry Kahn says:

      The Z900RS fueling seems to be a non-issue with the production bikes. At least according to myself and most others on the various Z900RS forums etc. Fake news! Sad!

      • Lewis says:

        I will add that I have found no issue with my Z900RS, not sure what all the noise is about.

      • jon says:

        Fake news? I’ll assume you’re joking but it’s difficult to tell online. Hopefully it is fixed on the production bikes but certainly was a pretty consistent report by journalists.

        • VLJ says:

          Journalists are not nearly as likely as owners are to overlook or sugarcoat issues in an effort to justify their new purchase. Journalists also ride many more bikes, so they’re more likely to notice issues and quirks that people who only ride their own bike will miss.

          • jon says:

            Totally agree. “Ownership effect/bias” I think it’s called. It’s actually refreshing when you talk to someone who’s actually willing to criticise what they own.

  14. Tank says:

    This bike might just be the all time ‘best bang for the buck’.

    • Mindspin says:

      I can see that. I certainly think it’s a better value than $7399 for a Ninja 650. The Versys 650 at $8099 is far better there, but yeah for $4999 it’s a TON of bike and a much better value than the 300 was. Let’s see if the price stays there in the coming years.

  15. steveinsandiego says:

    in my twilight years (70 in sept) i need a much lighter scoot. the ninja 400 is among my choices, but i wonder about those handlebars – my 09 ninja 650’s grips were situated well above the gas tank, availing supremely comfortable ergos (imhofwiw). i’m also eyeballing the yamaha yzf-r3, for which valve adjustments are every 26k miles, but those handlebars… i dunno.
    i haven’t been able to get out to test-sit either one. if the ergos don’t pan out, it could come down to the z650 🙂 🙂

    • My2cents says:

      Lucky for you the 400-600 cc range of motorcycles is being expanded rapidly so if 2018 isn’t your year , the 19’s will be introduced in 6-9 months. Cheers

    • stuki Moi says:

      Look at the Z650 as well (if you can stand the very much not 70 in sept looks….) It’s light, and feels lighter still.

    • kawatwo says:

      I always put a set of Genmar bar risers on my baby Ninjas:) That should make it a decent mid range tourer. Haven’t checked if any are available yet but someone will make some.

  16. Butch says:

    I would like to see this in a naked version.
    “Gladys, have you seen my sawzall ?

  17. todd says:

    I wonder if Kawasaki will start making a beginners bike again. I used to recommend the EX250 to start on, I would not recommend starting on something as quick and powerful as this.

    For experienced riders, this is a desirable bike, as will be the Versys 400.

    • bmbktmracer says:

      They make the Z125 Pro and the KLX 250. Best that the newbs start on a used bike anyhow, as they’re likely to drop it a time or two.

    • they can always buy the GSXR-250

    • Motoman says:

      “I would not recommend starting on something as quick and powerful as this.”

      Seriously? While I do think every new rider should be looked at individually for size, coordination, balance etc, I think you are being overly cautious. And, fwiw, I have been riding for 47 years and have helped many new riders learn the sport.

      • slipjoint says:

        Agreed they all come with a throttle and if the operator has a functioning brain then the power level can always be managed safely. Rider and machine’s intended use and relative size and weight are the choices to be made. If the rider doesn’t have the first two then there will be trouble no matter how long they ride or the power involved.

        • MGNorge says:

          I would add that training is key. Back in the day most I knew started riding in the dirt and on lower displacement bikes. Learning control of a bike off-road on lower power bikes helped build confidence in what you could and could not do safely while minimizing possible injury. To me, that went a long way toward giving respect for decreasing radius, off-camber turns on the street. While bikes do come with throttles that can be modulated let’s face it, as a young (especially male) rider.. it’s going to be used!

        • Jeremy in TX says:

          The bigger is better trend is common in off-road, too. In my area, one sees a lot of adults branching out into more dedicated dirt work, usually after getting a taste of mild dirt trails from the controls of their adventure bikes.

          When they make the transition to more dirt oriented machines, they all seem to have to have the gnarliest KTM/Husky dual sport or two-stroke. As a result, I’d say one of the most common errors I see off-road leading to dirt naps is whiskey throttle.

          It takes more than just a functioning brain and maturity to control a lot of power. Granted, while situations during street riding don’t typically cause one to grab too much throttle accidentally like off-road obstacles and terrain often do, I’ve nonetheless seen this a good bit with new street riders. While I suspect this 400 is probably still fine for a new rider (I haven’t ridden it), I think the 650s are a bit much for someone with no motorcycle experience, though plenty of rider pull it off. Just my opinion.

          • TimC says:

            I think “whiskey throttle” must be the opposite of “whiskey you know what” (though the latter wishes it was the former generally).

          • slipjoint says:

            Whisky throttle? Darwinism will eliminate that trait in a few generations.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            Natural selection has had plenty of generations to do so. Hmm, maybe that is why the industry is finding fewer buyers!

        • Chris says:

          So So true slipjoint well said!

    • RyYYZ says:

      Other than the fact that it would be a brand-new, plastic-covered bike, I think this bike is essentially ideal for beginners. Maybe not to do the initial learning to ride on (I still think small displacement dual purpose bikes are best for this, if one can reach the ground – and there are some relatively short DP bikes, too), but as a first “real” bike to learn and grow with, once they’ve learned the basics of bike control and not falling over, I think it’s perfect.

  18. bmbktmracer says:

    Great review and the comments from people who’ve ridden this bike were also appreciated. I wonder if Honda will be inspired to up their game with the CB500, a bike I truly want to love.

    • stuki Moi says:

      The 500 is built to European A2 regs. Hence power, and possibly power-to weight, limited. To get a Ninja 400 like rev ceiling, along with similarly extended top end, in non-restricted markets, it would need an entirely new, more oversquare engine. Also, Europeans tend to be on the tall side, which the Honda 500s accommodate better than the little Ninjettes.

      Since America is no-man’s land as far as small bikes go, we either get Euro focused ones, or Asia focused ones. The Honda is very much the former, the Ninja more of a riff on the latter. Honda plays in the latter markets as well, but with their 250 class bikes. A 400 coming to the US from that side, is more likely than a shrinking/specialization of their A2 500s, which are already great sellers. As well as some of the most genuinely general-purpose bikes for sale anywhere.

      • todd says:

        The littlest Ninja has been Kawasaki’s best selling bike in the US since they first came out. If it wasn’t for this tidbit, I doubt there would be so many 250-class bikes available here.

  19. Dave says:

    It sounds so great that one has to ask, is the Ninja 650 ABS worth $2,500 more?

    • Bob K says:

      That depends if you have an extra $2500.
      If you do, you not only get more torque everywhere and not have to rev it to the moon with that extra displacement, you get a physically larger bike that may be more comfortable for more than just a day of bike review. It is 60 lbs heavier and still has budget suspension and brakes, but the tire sizes are per larger bikes so there is a better choice of rubber. These are really the only things to consider, out side of maybe better passenger accommodations, if you like having one. But I think having that extra $2500 is really the main reason for the 650 to still be there.

    • Mike says:

      Depends on many variables, but for me I’d rather have the 400. In my jurisdiction, it’s the difference between paying ~$300/year for insurance (400cc or smaller) or ~$1500/year for insurance (401cc to 750cc) as it’s only based on displacement here.

    • Paul says:

      In my experience, No. I test-rode the Ninja 650 immediately after test-riding the Ninja 400, both on a 7.5 mile loop. Where the Ninja 400 feels torquey throughout the RPM band, the Ninja 650 stops pulling hard after 6500 RPM. The Ninja 400 makes you laugh out loud in your helmet. The Ninja 650 is competent, but not fun. The only advantage I can see with the Ninja 650 is better cross-wind behavior due to its higher weight. The Ninja 400 looks, feels, and performs a full generation (maybe two) ahead of the Ninja 650.

      • Dave says:

        Was the Ninja 650 you tested the new one? It was heavily updated this year.

        • Paul says:

          Yes, the Ninja 650 was a 2018 model from Kawasaki’s demo event at Daytona three weeks ago. The 650 was last updated in 2017.

        • matt says:

          updated? In all matters that DON’T relate to performance. Ownership/ergos yes. The suspension is still the aging crap from what ’06? The engine doesn’t appear to have moved the needle much either.

    • highspeedhamish says:

      Sure is, the 650 is made in Japan.

  20. kawatwo says:

    The 1986 EX250R was quoted in a couple magazines as possibly the best handling motorcycle of it’s time as well. It sounds like this 400 brings back that magic. Light is right! I suppose it could come full circle and Kawasaki make a new EX500 AND another EX250:). I am also waiting for Kawasaki or one of the other major players to make a cruiser version with one of these ~300-400 CC motors. The 300 Rebel is OK but having owned an Eliminator 250 I can only imagine how much fun a new 400 version would be.

    • billy says:

      A Ninja 250 as the best handling bike of it’s time? I laughed out loud. Have you seen the Ninja’s frame, tires, and forks?

      Have you ridden an FZR400, RC30, or FZ600?

      • Selecter says:

        Right – these are the same publications that claimed an EX250 could sprint to 60 in the 5.5 to 5.7 second rang – a statistic you still see bandied about to this day.

        Three words : “Not a chance.” I had an EX250F. If Ricky Gadson could hit 60MPH in under 8 seconds on it, I’d have been impressed.

        Old motorcycle publications were just as full of crap as old car publications. Whether by fudging, rigging, running a “ringer”, or “adjusting for altitude and atmospheric conditions”, they always ended up with some pretty hopelessly optimistic numbers and impressions of nearly everything they rode.

        As for the handling of the EX250… They do turn quickly and are fairly stable for what they are, mid-corner. But you would have had to transport one back to about 1975 to claim it was the best-handling motorcycle of its time. The suspension had almost no damping, the forks were flexible, and the chassis itself wasn’t particularly robust, either. Fun? Yes. Best-handling? Nope… never.

        • kawatwo says:

          I personally took my own 87 EX250 to the dragstrip and ran a sub 15 second quarter mile getting very close to what the magazines published. It IS the best handling bike I have ever ridden for sure. I was only about 115 pounds at the time probably so that might help:) When the bike only weighs 350 pounds full of gas you don’t need as sophisticated of a suspension setup as on a 500 pound GSXR from the day. Apparently you never rode an 86/87 EX25oR Ninja.

          • Selecter says:

            Nope. Mine was an ’01. Still nearly identical to the ’87, cosmetics and carburetors aside. Definitely nothing about the E model that’d magically make it the best-handling bike of all time.

            It bounced around mid-corner on anything other than smooth roads, and tires losing contact in a straight line over pavement cracks was a regular occurrence. It’s no secret, damper rods are garbage and should have been consigned to the scrapheap decades ago. But sadly, they’re cheap… so we’re stuck with them on anything that’s even remotely cost-conscious. The EX’s forks and shock compressed an unbelievable amount mid-turn, the brakes weren’t much better (pretty weak on feel and power), and it was slower than molasses. Again, that’s not to say it wasn’t fun, because they definitely are. But that’s mostly by virtue of them having been very cheap, faster than a Rebel 250 (though, so was my Hyundai Veloster… non-turbo), and being pretty light and maneuverable.

            I’ve ridden dozens of bikes that handle better – not an exaggeration. The RC390 I’d written about way below these comments is one, and swims in the same (inflation-adjusted) pond, price-wise. My garage has a (second) Triumph TT600 now… the second-best-handling bike I’ve owned, next only to a 2011 ZX-6R. They’ll both carry more speed mid-corner, exit corners faster, track more stably when encountering bumps, and actually both even RIDE significantly more smoothly than any EX250 ever has. Feel at the bars is HUGELY better with either than the EX with its Twizzler forks, and don’t blow through their entire travel simply while on the gas exiting a turn. The EX did.

            Saying otherwise would be really throwing on the rose-tinted glasses that I don’t have a prescription for.

      • guu says:

        A Whole bunch of early 90’s 125 race replicas (sold in Europe) would also be strong contenders.

        • kawatwo says:

          For sure, we are just talking best handling bike sold in America I’m sure at the time (remember this was summer 1986!). We did not get the two stroke 250s either.

  21. falcodoug says:

    Looks like a winner.

  22. Rapier says:

    I almost feel sorry for Honda with their 300’s. (Where is Honda in the US sales rankings now days?)

    Neither here nor there this thing is about the same weight and HP as a late 60’s Bonneville. (I had a 69. A connecting rod broke clean in half. Quite a racket. You don’t see that too much anymore)

    • Bob K says:

      Oh, for chrissakes, for the hundredth time on this site Mr. Broken Record, shut up about how you think you remember that your bikes in the late 60s had the same HP and less weight as “blah, blah, blah…” I was there man! And I had a gold/white Trident. The scales were optimistic as were the HP figures. They were dirty, inefficient, handled/braked poorly and not really that comfortable. Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.

    • stuki Moi says:

      The Honda 300s are awesome. The best of the small bike bunch, for those wanting a really small, light bike. In the US, mainly as a second bike, as the single is a bit overtaxed doing extended freeway. The twins, especially this one, are more general purpose. But their extra high speed usefulness does come at “some” cost to stupid-low speed, almost bicycle-like, demeanor.

  23. Tom R says:

    “At a claimed 366 pounds (the non-ABS version is even lighter)”…

    Here I am climbing onto my soapbox again: it is 2018 and yet many motorcycles are still available without ABS brakes, both large and small, with a disproportionately high number of “starter bikes” on dealer lots still ABS-less. Can one even buy any new car today without it? Even the cheapest, cheesiest Hyundai Accent comes with ABS.

    Watch a few reels of Motorcycle Crashes on You Tube and you’ll see that a high percentage of wipeouts come from wheels locking up under braking. But hey, I guess it’s good have the choice to save that $500 (up front at least), and 6-8 lbs. of unnoticeable weight .

    • Dave says:

      As long as the US market has been given the option to get ABS on our motorcycles, we have collectively declined. Dealers say most customers won’t pay $500 more for it on lower priced bikes.

      We weren’t really given the option on cars. Same with airbags (though SRS was legally mandated).

      • stuki Moi says:

        The dealer excuse often rings, if not entirely and in every case, a bit hollow. It is just much more profitable for the dealer, hence the commissioned salesman, to steer a payment limited buyer towards “they’re the same, you don’t need the ABS” model, while still keeping the payments just under the max the buyer can afford or qualify for. Putting the couple hundred dollar difference towards a more profitable financing option instead. In most cases, the dealer would have made the sale regardless, rather than having the customer walk. As is the case in Europe, after ABS was mandated.

        There are obviously counterexamples. Racers just wanting a track bike being a common one. People who do their own brake maintenance and don’t want the complexity another. Along with those who are just stingy, or perhaps unusually destitute for new-bike intenders. But more often as not, dealer appetite for non abs bikes has more to do with facilitating some quick profit taking in the financing game, rather than anything more substantial.

        • mickey says:

          I think it’s more a matter of peer pressure. 10 years ago the word was you didn’t need it, that people had ridden for years without it with no issue. The same with ATGATT. Guys had ridden for years in jeans, gym shoes and either no helmet or an open face with no problems. In the last five years people have started swinging toward ABS is a good thing, as well as ATGATT. Strictly by word of mouth peer pressure.

          I doubt if $500 ( for ABS) financed over 36 months would make much difference in a payment. What $15 buck a month maybe?

          • RyYYZ says:

            I’d be happy to have ABS, and think it should probably be standard. Having said that, I’ve ridden for 21 years straight now on a variety of bikes and several hundred thousand kilometers, and have yet to crash due to not having ABS. Then again, most of my riding is done in good weather, out in the countryside. If I was a regular all-weather urban commuter I think there’d be a better chance that I would have needed ABS by now.

        • Dave says:

          Re: “The dealer excuse often rings, if not entirely and in every case, a bit hollow.”

          The dealer carries both. They’re professional salespeople, motivated by commission to sell things at higher prices. They find the non-ABS sells better than the ABS. They tell the manufacturers that they aren’t interested in ABS on lower displacement/price bikes. That’s pretty much the beginning to end of it. The financing part of the discussion is semantics and insubstantial or not, the result is far fewer ABS bikes in the US market.

          FWIW, the new Honda PCX150 will have ABS, so the tide is definitely turning.

          • stuki Moi says:

            They’re motivated to sell things at higher total MARKUP. Not just to maximize transaction price. For a payment constrained buyer, the game becomes to sell him the lowest cost (to the dealer) bike, at the max price customer is able and willing to pay.

          • mickey says:

            Trust me, these days they are happy just to get a sale, any sale, and with internet pricing by low ball dealers, maximising profit is often selling a unit very close to cost, whether it has ABS or not. Sure they try and get maximum on each sale, but it’s not like the old days when people didn’t know what other people across the country were paying for bikes. Go to any forum for any model and you can find out what bikes are selling for. Shockingly low prices in some cases.

            I have a really good friend that owns a Honda Yamaha dealership and he will tell you it’s not the dealers who advise the mfg against ABS, it’s past sales history of models that had it available as an option that determines it. IF non ABS models sold 3 to 1 against ABS models in the past, they are not going to send us all models with ABS. Dealer input has nothing to do with it other than reporting sales.

      • Scott says:

        To be fair, the price for the ABS option is $300. It’s only $500 more if you get the “special” graphics package.

        So, broken down:

        – Anti-lock brake package that can save your life: $300

        – Stickers: $200

        Does that put things into perspective?

    • slipjoint says:

      Hard to scream safety to the public for motorcycles. They think all of us are loons for traveling on a machine where EVERY accident is an ejection. I’s a 10% bump up in price for this bike and some people don’t want it. If you want it buy it, if you don’t don’t. The government isn’t going to push it. It would be more likely to simply ban motorcycles altogether. They don’t because of fear of interrupting the supply of organs for transplant to the general public.

    • TimC says:

      Generally ABS doesn’t usually help in bike crashes. Either hit a car/the car hits you (left turns or car runs light) or overcook corner. And if you know how to use the brakes it’s hard to lock the front and it doesn’t matter if you lock the rear (unless let off/highside).

      • Dave says:

        Except for all of the times it, you know, prevents crashes.

      • Scott says:

        If you’re VERY skilled, then yes, you can probably stop just as hard as an ABS-equipped bike – on a clean, dry road or track, while straight up and down…

        However, ABS will outperform even the most skilled rider in the rain, or on greasy roads. Or on bumpy roads. Or on dirty roads. Or leaned over in a corner. Or when carrying a passenger. Or on cold tires. Or on gravel or dirt. Or crossing railroad tracks.

        But as long as you don’t encounter any of those conditions – and you have exceptional riding skills – you probably don’t need ABS.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        There was a recent study that studied fatal crashes comparing bikes of the same model optioned with and without ABS. There was a 31% reduction in fatal crashes.

        And that doesn’t take into account non-fatal crashes or crashes avoided altogether due to ABS.

  24. VLJ says:

    No other bike in recent memory seems to be less nit-pickable than this new Ninja 400. Everyone seems to love it, and deservedly so. There seems to be literally no naysayers, not even from the sundial-reliable curmudgeons here on this board.

    Of course, someone will now chime in with another inane “deal-breaker” issue.

    “The sidestand is too black! I’m sick of black sidestands! They’re so dark, how am I supposed to find them at night?”

    • falcodoug says:

      What no beak!

    • RyYYZ says:

      Just wait a year or two until somebody brings out something newer and better in this category, and then we’ll hear all about the shortcomings of the Ninja 400.

      • GearDrivenCam says:

        As much as I love the Ninja 400, I have to nominate RyYYZ’s comment for online motorcycle posting “submission of the year!” award…

  25. Bill says:

    This should be Bike Of The Year in everybody’s comparison. If I didn’t already have a “too much invested in to sell” Gold Wing and a “too much invested in to sell” Sportster, I would seriously consider buying one of these. And no, there is no room for a third bike.

  26. Paul says:

    Thanks Dirck for reviewing this bike. Your impressions match my recent experience. I attended the Daytona Bike Week festivities this year for the first time in 14 years, with a focus on test riding as many new models as possible. Kawasaki, Yamaha, Honda, Harley, and Indian all offered test rides, some had their full model range available (Yamaha, Indian, Harley), and Honda had just one model (the new Goldwing). After test riding at least 12 different models from 5 different brands, the one bike that sticks in my memory bank is the Ninja 400. I was fully prepared to be unimpressed with just 399cc of power, but was completely blown-away with how much fun this smallest Ninja is to ride. Torque to quickly accelerate in 6th gear? This Ninjas got that covered. All-day comfort for butt and wrists? Yes, I would have gladly ridden back to San Diego on this green-meanie. Power and sound to indulge your repli-racer fantasies? Double yes, the shriek from the twin cylinder engine approaching 12 grand is intoxicating. My garage is full of 1000CC plus power monsters, but I’m adding this Ninja 400 to my fleet. One ride, and you will be convinced too. And to the manafacturers: Offering test rides works! It allows consumers to make much more informed decisions.

  27. RD350 says:


  28. Selecter says:

    I find this quote interesting :
    “The interesting thing is that, for many experienced riders, at least, the smaller displacement bikes that represented the “entry level” category in the United States were simply too slow.”

    The very, very experienced folks I know that have returned to (or stayed with) small-displacement motorcycles seem to have very little issue with the slowness of these bikes. To a single rider, they all complain about the soft suspensions. Every single one. So if Kawasaki were fixing the bikes for *them*, fixing that issue would have probably made the folks mentioned much more happy than moving the engine from 300cc to 400cc. The ones most placated by the displacement bump, I believe, will invariably be the folks that believe they’ve “outgrown” a bike when they can stretch the throttle cable to its limit without coming off the back of the bike.

    I recently visited some friends in “riding during the winter” country. I borrowed their RC390 for a couple hundred miles of riding. I had an absolute blast on the thing, despite them being at over 6000′ altitude. More power was something I wasn’t really wanting for. However, a different seat and a worthwhile rear shock would have done wonders for me!

    • matt says:

      > To a single rider, they all complain about the soft suspensions. Every single one.

      Exactly! The R3 had much better suspension (relatively speaking) vs the K300. The 300 mill was very old design and needed to be tossed anyway. But thank heaven the K400 at least comes with 41mm forks like everybody else has had for what 35 years? All the suspension upgrades ironed out for the SV650/EX650/FZ07 et. al. are trivially adapted to the new Kaw.

  29. Hot Dog says:

    Let the “Displacement Creep” Wars commence. Can a 400cc Versys be far behind? I wonder if they’re testing a 500cc prototype, just in case somebody catches up.

    • Dave says:

      The early info that came out about this said that part of it’s impetus was that the 300 couldn’t be made to pass Euro 4 compliance. If the Versys 300 sells well in Europe, it’s almost a sure thing that we’ll see a Versys 400.

  30. DP says:

    It looks like a winner. Shame I am not in this kind of market any more. It also shows how cruel is the battle among Japanese brands.

    • bill engstrom says:

      really, i don’t see any other rising sun company making one of these!

      • Curly says:

        Really? Yamaha, I think, should be along any minute now. I’m glad Kawasaki finally reached this sweet spot of a motorcycle and hope the others follow suit.

  31. Austin ZZR 1200 says:

    Whoah! (in my best Keanu Reeves voice)

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