Common Tread

2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400 first look

Oct 25, 2017

While Honda was busy debuting the new Gold Wing, Kawasaki launched a highly anticipated bike of its own at the other end of the weight spectrum.

Unveiled at the 45th Tokyo Motor Show, the Ninja 400 is official after months of speculation and some spy shots from a Milwaukee photo shoot. Yes, we’re getting it in America, and yes, it comes in green.

Presented with the tagline “Street Born, Track Inspired,” the EX400 features heavy Ninja family design language, especially at the tail and headlights. An all-new trellis frame uses the engine as a stressed member, just like its bigger brothers. Kawasaki claims the new 399 cc parallel twin makes 45 horsepower at 10,000 rpm. No doubt Kawasaki is looking to leapfrog Yamaha’s YZF-R3, as well as silence competitors like the KTM RC390 on the street as well as the track.

For years, the Ninja 250 had this class to itself, and as a result Kawasaki never had to change it. Now that there’s fierce competition among small sport bikes, updates are coming much faster and the EX400 represents the next generation in the Ninjette legacy. The whole package is lighter and more powerful than the outgoing Ninja 300, while retaining the slipper clutch and ABS. Riders will also appreciate the LED lighting all around, plus a gear indicator. Seat height is an accessible 30.9 inches. Accessories from Kawasaki cover popular aftermarket items like frame sliders and an Akrapovic exhaust.

A short video featuring sugar-high World Superbike racers Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea captures Kawasaki’s vision for the “Street Born, Track Inspired” Ninja 400, which raises questions about the bike’s place in the World Supersport 300 class.

With World Supersport 300 already accommodating motorcycles ranging from 300 cc to 500 cc, with limits on weight and rpm range, we expect the rules-makers to find a way to slot in the new Ninja 400.

The one part of this launch that isn’t new is that this isn’t the first time Kawasaki built a 399 cc parallel twin to compete with 300s. Frustrated by the wildly successful Honda CB350s and 360s, Kawasaki built the KZ400 in 1974 to out-Honda Honda in the middleweight class. The small KZ’s specs beat its CB competitors in almost everything, but you’ll never see one on a track. They were destined to be commuters and not much more. Think “Gas Crisis Born, Honda Inspired.” Trust me, I own one, and I love it anyway.

I’ll be sure to ride it to the showroom as soon as the Ninja 400s come in to make sure Kawasaki got it right this time.