Kawasaki Ninja 400: Streets ahead
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Off the specs sheet alone, the other Japanese manufacturers have a lot to worry about with the introduction of the hot new Ninja 400 to the LAMS sports-bike class.
The little warrior of the class makes a comeback this year with a lot more than just an increased cubic capacity.
Let’s put it this way: the New Zealand (and Australian) Ninja 400 had to be de-tuned to comply with our LAMS limit of 150kw per tonne. De-tuned.
Normally that sets off alarm bells but we’re talking a learner-approved machine here, so instead of shouting from the rooftops that we’re getting short-changed, we know there is even more left in the Ninja 400 for the bike to grow with your riding skills.
It’s been 10 years since the Ninja 250 officially joined the New Zealand Kawasaki family with a total redesign of the GPX250.
In that time, we’ve seen capacity grow to 399cc, and a new chassis and ABS braking was also worked in over the years.
After last year’s Ninja 300 — which was a sprightly ride but falling behind in a class that is seeing large investment as the superbike/supersport classes fade in popularity — the new Ninja 400 has raised the bar, to the point that it could be an entirely new bike. In fact, it practically is.
Kawasaki introduced a new engine design that saved 9kg over the 300cc unit, all while gaining more power with a peak of 32.8kW at 10,000rpm and backed by 38Nm of torque.
Add to that better handling, in part thanks to the new Ninja H2-inspired trellis frame — a popular trait in modern Kawasakis and shared with the 2017 650 range — plus new suspension and brakes and a new fairing, and youhave a huge upgrade on the old bike.
It’s noticeable as soon as you set off, that the Ninja 400 is a much more serious machine.
You’d expect all this upgrading would up the price, but Kawasaki has kept the base price down to a cool $7995 plus on-roads for the non-Kawasaki Racing Team coloured bike.
If you want the racy Kawasaki Racing Team graphics, add $500 to the ride-away price.
So how does it feel out on the track at Pukekohe?
To steal John Campbell’s line: “Marvellous.”
From the moment you let out the slip-assist clutch to when you close the throttle and drop down a couple of gears, the new Ninja 400 is an incredibly fun little package. How much fun?
Well, with access to much of the Kawasaki road range to play on later in the day, the fact we kept grabbing the 400s instead of the bigger 600+ cc machines speaks volumes.
Although Pukekohe isn’t the most bike-focused track out there, you can make the most of it on a bike like the Ninja 400, and as much as car drivers lament the back straight chicane, this is where some of the day’s best fun was had.
After exiting turn 4 and pinning the little Kawasaki through the back straight to the speed-limiting extra chicane (which the fun police demanded were in place) clicking up and down the six-speed gearbox was as fun as it was easy.
Grabbing a handful of front brake just before hitting the real chicane did create some chatter from the petal brake discs as the pads bit down hard, which I’ll admit to confusing for the horn activating, but this was just a sign of how hard and late I was entering the chicane. It wouldn’t show up on your daily ride unless you were riding like a proper idiot.
One thing that was apparent from the first turn was the step-up in terms of handling between the Ninja 300 to the Ninja 400. After starting the day on the 300 and progressing to the completely new 400, I accused Kawasaki NZ’s general manager Mike Cotter of purposely tampering with the tyres and brakes on the 300 because the improvement was that blatant.
Cotter assured me that the bikes were bog stock and no funny business had gone on to make the outgoing bike seem so outclassed by its replacement.
In every way imaginable, the Ninja 400 is streets ahead of the outgoing Ninja 300. The 300 was by no means a bad bike on which to start your riding career but the upgrade to the 400 sticker is well worth the sticker price.
Yes, it’s a LAMS class bike. And yes, it has technically been detuned. But when you swing a leg over the Ninja 400 you really couldn’t care less. Fun is fun after all and to some that is all that matters.
2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400
Price: $7995 + ORC
Engine: 399cc liquid-cooled parallel twin
Pros: Sharp performance, sharper price,
Cons: Might not be at the top for long