While styles and technologies might change, one constant in the motorcycle world is competition. Whether it be weight, horsepower, or milliseconds, motorcycle manufacturers are always competing for your hard-earned dollars and garage space by inching out other brands by a myriad of measurements.
The small sportbike market has become massively competitive as more manufacturers have joined the fray and improved the value of their offerings. The bikes in the class are affordable and make for great daily riders, but they also can be great trackbikes. And with more race series offering 250cc–400cc race classes, these bikes are nearly as important as the superbikes they're styled after.
It's competition that brought us the new 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400, and Kawasaki has just the video to prove my point:
A major redesign of the current Ninja 300, the 2018 Ninja 400 features an all-new 399cc parallel twin that Kawasaki claims will produce 45 hp at 10,000 rpm and 28 pound-feet of torque at 8,000 rpm. For those of you keeping score, Yamaha quotes 42 hp for its R3 and KTM claims 40 for the RC390.
Despite the larger engine, Kawasaki says weight is down for the new unit—dropping a little over 2 pounds from the outgoing 300. The slipper clutch and ABS are standard, as is LED lighting all around.
Kawasaki claims a new chassis helped the Ninja 400 lose weight while improving stability and maneuverability, and that a stiffer and beefier fork (41mm versus 37mm) delivers better action through the stroke. Additional weight savings were found through new five-spoke wheels, which Kawasaki claims have improved lateral rigidity and should help make for sharper handling and more stability when cornering.
Seat height remains the same at just a hair under 31 inches, though the seat has been reshaped and is now 30mm narrower, making it easier to get a foot on the ground. There is also now a gear-position indicator, which I find incredibly handy on any motorcycle.
The wee Ninja gets some fresh styling with cues from the H2 and ZX-10R. There's a new chin spoiler and the tail has been reshaped for a sportier appearance.
For many years, Kawasaki enjoyed this class of bikes mostly all to itself with the Ninja 250. But then Honda launched a more streetable CBR300 and both KTM and Yamaha released bikes (the RC390 and R3, respectively) that were great on the street and track.
Some of the old farts in the building pointed out this isn't the first time Kawasaki has tried to one-up its competition by increasing displacement to 400cc. In the early '70s, it released the KZ400 as an answer to Honda's popular CB350 and CB360 in what was then considered a "middleweight" class.
Only this time, the manufacturers aren't only competing for bike sales. With the World Supersport 300 series allowing bikes between 300cc–500cc, the Ninja 400 (the Ninja 300 was already a popular track tool for the way it delivered power in the top of the revs) could be a force to be reckoned with.
The 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400 will be released with a selection of accessories including a larger windscreen, Ergo-Fit high (+30mm) seat, power outlet, frame sliders, tank bag, pillion seat cover, helmet lock, and wheel tape. No word yet on MSRP, but we'll be sure to keep an eye out.