Common Tread

You needed to know: Kawasaki Ninja 400

Dec 07, 2018

Craig O'Brien: 👎 What you need to know is ... this video is click bait.

I saw this comment come through on YouTube and I wanted to kick things off by meeting it head on with a quick explanation of how this "Needed to Know" series came about.

Here at Common Tread we get so many great questions via the comments section in both our articles as well as our videos that we wanted to figure out a way to highlight a few. Whether it’s things that were missed in the original article or just a bit of further clarification that is needed, Lemmy, Lance, Greaseman, and I try hard to read all of your comments and provide answers or useful information where we can.  

That being said, we recognize that not everyone reads the comments section. Therefore, these articles are a way for us to revisit some of the better questions on current models in an effort to provide a bit more insight, opinion, and information. I maintain very strongly that this series is not now, nor was it ever intended to be clickbait. 

Kawasaki Ninja 400
We had more questions come through on Kawasaki's new Ninja 400 than any other "You Needed to Know" article to date. Photo by Kevin Wing.

Sorry it took me so long to get around to everyone’s questions on the Ninja 400. This bike had the largest volume of responses we’ve seen to date. Let's dive in. 


Noah Khor: What would be the top 3 mods for this particular bike?

It depends on what you want to do. For me, wanting to use this as a track bike, I would invest in these three mods in this order:

Stompgrip Tank Pads
Suspension (see the Öhlins setup I added to our Ninja)
Tires - Dunlop Q3 Plus

Kawasaki Ninja 400 Ohlins
Modifying the Ninja 400's stock suspension is one of my top three picks for regular track use. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

However, Casatony asked, “Can I "comfortably" do a roadtrip with this bike?”

I would easily take a road trip with this bike. In fact, I’d like to tackle just that this coming spring. To that end, I would restructure the importance of my mods:

Luggage (probably a tank bag and some Kriega US bags on the back)
Stompgrip Tank Pads
Kaoko Throttle Lock

Dominic Edsall: How bearable is the riding position for someone 6’4 with size 13 boots?

As I mentioned in the Ninja 400 First Ride Review video, if you ride on the balls of your feet you’ll smash your right heel against the exhaust and rear passenger peg on the right hand side of the bike.

Kawasaki Ninja 400
By swapping out the stock exhaust and removing the passenger pegs, I was able to free up plenty of room for my size 13 flipper. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

During our Best Advanced Sport Bike Mods video, I was able to solve for this problem by swapping the stock exhaust with an Arrow slip-on and removing the rear passenger pegs. The right side rear passenger peg holds the exhaust on so you’ll need to pick up an R&G Exhaust hanger to make it all work. And if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a new exhaust, you can actually just start with the hanger. Getting that rear p-peg out of the way opens up a lot of room all on its own.

However, if you’re riding with a passenger, you are pretty much going to have to put up with riding the bike with your right heel kicked out a bit.

Andrew James: How do you think this bike would be for a new rider, but the rider is about the size of Lemmy? I am a big guy, but a new rider.  Trying to figure out a couple of different bikes.  Thanks!

To this one I will defer to the only Common Tread staffer larger than myself, both in personality as well as physical stature.

“I fit on the Ninja 400 just fine,” Lemmy told me. “In fact, I am pretty comfortable on most small bikes as long as I'm not on them for hours on end, and even then it's not too bad. Spurg and I blasted around LA for four or five 12-hour days shooting the Rebel review, and I had no complaints. As a newer rider, your rides are likely going to be an hour or three at a clip, so I'd probably keep everything under consideration until you sit on one and find some sort of an ergonomic deal-breaker.

“Larger bikes are great for eating up high-speed miles and packing lots of gear, but you likely won't be doing a lot of that as a beginner rider. Instead, a bike with a lower weight will help you learn good body position and allow you to stay on the bike for longer without getting hurt. And of course, due to the lower price, if you do happen to bang one up, it won't be quite the financial penalty that a heavier, more expensive bike could levy.

“I think most of the current class of 300s I have ridden are great fun. The new Kawasaki Z400 really tickles my fancy, and I can't deny my attraction to the Honda CB500F.”

Kawasaki Ninja 400
Everyone has their own opinions for what makes for a comfortable ride. I would recommend sitting on a Ninja 400 at a dealer and seeing if it feels right to you. Photo by Kevin Wing.

Donaldson Cole: I visited a local dealership yesterday and I have useful insight. My height is 5 ft , 11.5 in, with a 31 in inseam. Upon sitting on the bike, I did not fit. This model is wonderful for 5.5 ft person or smaller. Sharp bike but just not for me. Ninja 650 is a better bargain and fit for the average size biker.

Before I even had a chance to respond to this, I saw this reply come in from Smibru:

“Spurg is 6'2" or 6'3" and he did a track day on the bike.  Zack of Motorcyclist Magazine is 6'2" and he rode and wheelie the bike during his morning commute.  I'm 6'2" at 210 lbs and I fit on the bike.  Your comment is not accurate!”

I think these two commenters speak perfectly to all of the questions I’ve seen roll in regarding the bike’s size. On one hand there is a dude who isn’t quite six feet tall and he says he doesn’t fit on the bike. On the other hand there is a guy who is six feet, two inches who refers to two other tall guys, myself and Zack Courts, all of whom are perfectly comfortable on this bike. I mean, would I like a taller seat, especially for track use? Absolutely. But truth be told, I feel like I fit pretty damn comfortably on this bike.

Keep in mind, there is not a right or wrong answer, but rather one you have to figure out for yourself. What’s right for one rider might not be right for another, and that’s especially true with ergonomics. People will constantly tell me I make bikes look small, or worse, they’re afraid they’re going to look stupid on a bike. I’ve never understood that. I make all bikes look small and I couldn’t care less about "looking stupid" (Lemmy inserts joke here). 

Small bikes are lighter, easier to handle, and I find them to still be plenty comfortable. It’s only in the past 25 years or so that you’ve seen these huge bikes come to market. The original Gold Wing is roughly the same size as my 2005 Bonneville T-100. So my answer to all of you asking about the size is to sit on it. Try to secure a test ride if you can, but honestly, you can learn a lot about a bike by just sitting on one for 15 minutes in the showroom.  

Kawasaki Ninja 400
Maintenance costs will depend on whether you feel comfortable doing some of the wrenching yourself or if you plan on taking it back to the dealership for all of its scheduled work. Photo by Roy Kim.

Sadman Chowdhury: How much does this bike cost to maintain per year?

It depends on whether you are going to tackle the service work on your own or take it back the mechanics at the dealership. Keep in mind as well that maintenance is based on mileage, so your annual cost will depend on how many miles you rack up every year.

To get an idea on the maintenance costs at the dealership level, I deferred to the good folks at Montgomeryville Cycle Center. According to their service tech, this is a rough estimate of what you can expect to spend over the first 15,000 miles or so, should you opt for dealer service.

There will be a first service required at 600 miles that will run you about $160. After that, the next service occurs at 7,500 miles. This will run you around $450. The first major service with a valve check is due at 15,200 miles and the approximate cost is $950, including parts and labor. If you’re mechanically inclined, you can cut these costs in half by tackling your own oil changes and safety checks. On my new bikes, I do all of my maintenance work short of the valve checks. It all boils down to your level of mechanical knowledge and ability.

Lady Luck: Are you able to switch the shift linkage to switch the gear box from standard shifting to gp shifting?

Yep! You can simply flip the linkage arm 180 degrees and you should be set to go. Shouldn’t take you more than five minutes.

Kawasaki Ninja 400
Even in its stock form, the Ninja 400 is a lot of fun on the track. Photo by Dustin Carpio.

A K: How would you turn it into a track bike? Bought one in April and have taken it to MSR Houston twice. It’s amazing!

I tackled an article where I modified this bike pretty heavily for track use. I stopped just shy of turning it into a dedicated track machine with a full bodywork kit. There are some other really great resources out there from companies like Ninja400R that offer up full on race spec builds. It all depends on how far you want to go!

Kawasaki Ninja 400
It's possible that Lance "Lightning" Oliver has ridden more bikes and attended more track days than anyone else on Common Tread's staff. Even experienced riders like Mr. Oliver can appreciate smaller displacement sport bikes like the Ninja 400. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Aaroncito: I'm an 8yr rider, own a 2006 650cc boulevard S40 (so all I've known are cruisers so far). Would you recommend this as my 1st sport bike? Will i grow out of it fast or not? Should I go bigger? I'm 5'6, weigh 176 lbs.

It really depends on how comfortable you are on your current ride. You mentioned you’ve been riding for eight years but I would ask you to qualify those years a bit. How many miles do you typically ride per year? Have you taken any type of advanced rider training? How comfortable are you with your current Suzuki?

If you are putting down 10K miles a year, scraping pegs, and you’ve attended some rider training courses than maybe the Ninja 400 isn’t right for you. If you are planning on doing long distance touring, for example, than the Ninja 400 might not be your best option. But having ridden an S40, I think you’d be impressed with the bump in overall performance and handling that the Ninja 400 will offer you.


Jeff Leggieri: How much better then the 300 is the 400. And would it be worth upgrading to one?

I am going to defer to James Norwood who offered a pretty thoughtful post of his own:

I bought a 300 to commute on in CA. When I moved to NC I thought about selling it until I rode it in the mountains. Then I spent $1500 on the suspension and ran away from everybody. The motor remained stock. I had to buy the 400. 10 more HP and 17 lb lighter - who could resist? It’s not quite broken in yet, but here are my impressions: The extra power is great. I can’t really feel the weight difference. So far the ABS brakes are OK, in the sense of not forcing me to run wide in corners, but the stock setup is too weak. It will be getting steel lines and better pads. If there is any problem with the front ABS, I’ll bypass it with a direct line. I like rear ABS. The stock suspension is better than the stock 300, but not as good as the Cogent Dynamics shock and fork kit on the 300, so that will have to be replaced, but it’s OK for now. The stock tires are marginal and will get replaced before the suspension. Finally, I will do what I did not do with the 300 - Power Commander and full exhaust. It doesn’t need it, but why not? I’m happy with my choice to upgrade to the 400. Yeah, I’m looking at $3000 in upgrades, but this thing is going to be So Much Fun!

Kawasaki Ninja 400
Bearded Joe removing the Ninja 400's fairings to install a variety of parts, including the Shogun frame sliders. Photo by Roy Kim.

Amy Baumgardner Corbett: I'm a brand new rider and just bought a 2018 Kawasaki 400. I'm 5'1" and this is the only bike that would even let me feet somewhat touch. Love it! However the 1 issue I've found along with some other people. Getting into Neutral from 2nd is really hard. I'm having to get to 1st and go to Neutral. 2ndly, let's talk frame sliders. The site I found, you basically have to take the whole body apart. Got any suggestions that would make it easier?

Hey Amy. I had a long talk with our in-house mechanical wizard, Mr. Joe Zito, regarding your clutch issue. Check the adjustment on the clutch cable. Make sure it’s adjusted correctly. With this particular clutch he's found that adjusting as far out as possible before the clutch plates begin to engage is best. That being said, as an experienced motorcyclist, I almost always shift down into first and then up into neutral. Very rarely am I trying to get into neutral from second gear.

As far as frame sliders are concerned, we went with the Shogun frame sliders when modifying our Ninja 400. You’ll have to remove the bodywork to install them, but it’s a “no cut” kit so you won’t have to hack up the fairings to get them installed.

Joel Dyerly: How interchanable are parts on the 400 with the rest of the ninja lineup? Are plastics/headlights/turn signals interchanable or is this a completely different chassis?

To my knowledge, the majority of parts for the Ninja 400 are specific to this bike. The possible overlap could be the turn signals. But everything else should be unique to this bike.

Steven Pacheco: How is the ninja 400 on longer rides? Are you only riding it in hopes that Ari will show up? :P

Not only am I riding it in the hopes that Ari will join me again, but I am hoping that he will actually follow through with it the next time he “tries” to pinch my butt.

Kawasaki Ninja 400
The stock Ninja 400 suspension does feature adjustment for preload on the rear shock. Photo by Kevin Wing.

Ranger Ringor: The suspension is non adjustable on these right?

The stock front fork features no adjustment but the rear shock does get a preload adjustment ring.

Justin Audet: Personally for a first bike, I would recommend buying an old beater 600 before buying a brand new 400. Then buy a newer bike you actually want to keep for a long time. Cause chances are as a first bike, there's a good chance you will lay it down at one point

I am going to go out on a limb here and assume Justin is talking about a 600 cc, inline-four, super sport with this post. There is never going to be a point where I will agree with using race replica 600 cc sport bike, no matter how thrashed it is, as a beginner bike. 

Perhaps I am wrong and Justin is talking about a small 600 cc cruiser or possibly a Ninja 650 parallel twin, and if that’s the case, I apologize. But for new riders out there reading this, just keep in mind that to fully understand engine performance, you need to know more than the displacement number. A Ninja 636 makes nearly double the power of a Ninja 650 and about three times the power as a Ninja 400.

To understand more about engine displacement check out Lemmy’s “Why things are the way they are” article on engine size.

Kawasaki Ninja 400
The Ninja 400 provides plenty of bike for new riders to grow into. Photo by Kevin Wing.


vvoltz: Do you think it would be a good long term sport bike?

Depends on what you mean by “long term.” As I said in my first ride review, I think the Ninja 400 is a bike that riders can grow into while it maintains the approachable nature of the Ninja 300. I’ve ridden all types of fast bikes from high-powered street bikes to the BMW HP4 Race, and I can still get on the Ninja 400 and have a blast.

Personally, I hate this whole “growing out of a bike” mentality. I know plenty of riders who are super quick who can ride a Ninja 400 faster than folks on bigger, more powerful machines. Most riders will never hit the real capabilities of most of the high-powered motorcycles out there, myself included. I think there is a lot of life in the Ninja 400. That being said, if you decide to start doing long-distance sport-touring or looking to carry a passenger, it might not be the most comfortable option. But that holds true for pretty much all sport bikes. Is it ideal for 80mph interstate cruising for 4+ hours?

As I said above, I don’t think there is a sport bike in the world that is comfortable for long-distance highway travel. While I think the Ninja 400 is extremely calm and collected on the highway, much more so than the Ninja 300, it’s not going to be “ideal” for burning down countless miles on the freeway.

Kawasaki Ninja 400
Adding Stompgrip pads to the Ninja 400 was the only modification we made to the bike prior to Alessandra using it for her first track day. Photo by Roy Kim.

carterartist: Just needs some #stompgrips ;)

I couldn’t agree more. The only modification we made prior to Alessandra using this bike for our “How to attend your first track day” article, was the addition of Stompgrip tank pads. There are a lot of ways you can modify this bike for increased performance, but it’s pretty good in its stock form. Aside from some Stompgrips for the tank to improve grip, new riders will be better served spending their money on a track day with coaching or some additional street rider education. Think of improving your riding ability as a self modification, and that will stick with you regardless of what bike you choose to ride.