2011 Kawasaki Ninja 400R: first bike perfection

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Kawasaki Ninja 650R too big? Ninja 250R too small? Then the
2011 Kawasaki Ninja 400R should be juuussst right. Mechanically
identical to the 650R with the exception of a smaller 399cc engine, the
second littlest Ninja brings a useful price and performance drop which
combines with the slick styling and reasonably high mechanical spec to
create exactly the sort of appealing, unintimidating, affordable,
broadly capable bike Michael Uhlarik called for in Motorcycling’s
missing link
. The only problem? It’s probably not coming to the US. >

The Ninja 400R is coming to Canada where it’s priced at $7,499 (CAD). That might sound a tad high, but it’s roughly 86 percent the price of the 650R. Applying that same math to the price of a 650R in the US ($7,099) gives us and estimated US MSRP of about $6,099 for the 400R. In comparison, the 250R’s US MSRP starts at $3,999. The 400 should also be cheaper to insure and slightly cheaper to operate than the 650R while adding some useful performance over the 250.

Looking at the specs, it actually appears that the 400R is simply a sleeved down Kawasaki Ninja 650R, every number but the bore, stroke and fuel-injector size is identical between the two bikes. The DOHC, eight-valve parallel-twin in the 400R makes 42bhp at 9,500rpm and 27lb/ft of torque at 7,500rpm. It weighs 203kg/447.5lbs (wet).

Let’s do any easy numbers comparison for all three bikes:
650R: 71bhp, 49lb/ft, 204kg/449.5lbs, .35bhp:kg, .24lb/ft:kg
400R: 42bhp, 27lb/ft, 203kg/447.5lbs, .20bhp:kg, .13lb/ft:kg
250R: 30.5bhp, 16lb/ft, 170kg/375lbs, .18bhp:kg, .09lb.ft:kg

Looking at those numbers, it’s the torque to weight ratio that most separates the 400 and Kawasaki Ninja 250R, the larger bike will be less work to ride and less high-strung as a result. It also comes with a higher level of mechanical specification, namely two petal front brake discs, nicer suspension and a GP-style underslung exhaust.

On Friday, the designer of the Yamaha MT-03 and 2003 Yamaha M1 MotoGP racer suggested that the main reason the US bike industry was unsuccessful at creating young motorcyclists was that there simply aren’t enough appealing, affordable, practical small to mid-size motorcycles for them. He called precisely for bikes like the Ninja 400R although he did suggest that manufacturing them outside of Japan could lead to usefully lower retail costs. To us, a $6,099 retail price is simply too close to the hoards of heavily discounted 600 and 1000cc supersports currently flooding the market place.

As of the time of writing (Sunday night), the 400R has been officially released in Canada, but there’s no word as to US availability. We’ll call Kawasaki tomorrow and ask, but it doesn’t look like this bike is US-bound.

  • JohnC

    That’s only $600 less than the er-6n. Too tempting to get the bigger bike.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Don’t forget that for younger riders especially, insurance plays a big part in the overall cost of ownership. For someone 18 or 20 years old, the 400 could be feasibly insurable where the 650 might not.

      • JohnC

        You’re thinking as a rational adult. That age group typically only insures if they’re forced to, so that’ll work in some instances.

        • Chris Y.

          Hey John, just wondering what your laws are in your area. In Ontario, Canada at least, we are required to get a new license plate renewal sticker every year, and when we get one we have to provide insurance information. Very soon police officers are going to have the power to check plates for valid insurance apparently. It doesn’t completely stop dumb kids from being uninsured but it sure makes it harder… if they still manage to kill or cripple themselves it cleans the gene pool shrug

          • JohnC

            Laws vary from state to state, but in FL where I live, bikes aren’t required to be insured. Cars are, but bikes aren’t. Some lending agencies will require proof of insurance before they let you take the bike, but my dealer didn’t require it when I bought my bike last year. Even if it is required, people can get it then cancel it. I work in insurance, so I’ve seen it all happen.

            • HootieWho

              Yet another reason not to live in Florida.

            • Chris Y.

              Wow, the US is really different then. Insurance is mandatory here (I’m guessing as a result of the fact that the government has to pay for your bills if you are a stupid squid and crash)… so are helmets for that matter.

      • Chris Y.

        Wes, that is exactly the reason it is being brought to Canada. The 400R fits right in with Quebec’s draconian licensing laws, in the small displacement category. That alone will save most kids under 25 like me over $1.3K per year (liability only). It is fairly expensive but then again so is the Ninja 250R in Canada, at $5K. The cheapest bike you can get in Canada so far is the Honda CBR125R, which is discounted to $2.3K for leftover 2008 models.

  • Alexandre Penna

    I guess if the 400R price it’s around 5,300 instead of 6,100 it will become a best-seller and THE missing link. But I’d imagine because it basically a 650R w/ a slightly different engine configuration the price of both is so close. It’s a shame :(

  • http://www.heng.jp Sen Heng

    I guess it does specifically target young riders. With the 3 tiered classes here in Japan and kids only being allowed to get the mid class 400cc license, this is exactly their target market. The unlimited class license isn’t hard to get but you can’t defeat urban myths that easily and most kids that age will be in university and probably can’t afford the cash/time to get it.

    I’m just not sure the timing of it, the Ninja 250 is already a huge hit with this crowd.

    *16~20 years of old, only mid class 400cc license is allowed.

  • http://www.ninja250blog.com/ Mark Ryan Sallee

    I bet it’s a neat engine, but the bike’s overweight.

    • robotribe

      Where’s all the fat hiding? Yikes.

  • Oleg

    With the price similar to 650 it’s a no-brainer, they wouldn’t sell. It will be perceived (and rightly so) as getting less of the same bike for the same money, and with our unrestricted license system why would anyone buy a lesser bike? Suzuki also has an equivalent SV 400 which you can bet will never make it to US of A other than as a gray import. What they should do is take something like a ninja 250 platform built cheaply, beef it up a bit to handle extra hp and throw one of those smaller mills in it. Sure, it won’t be as fancy as it’s bigger brother, but that would knock a big chunk of the price off and cut some of that excess flab off to bring it more inline with what a small bike should weight. It also will give it a separate identity rather than make it look like a stunted twin brother of the bigger model which is a very unflattering way to market them.

  • Oleg

    Another thought is that perhaps with the advent of electrics this niche will be effectively filled due to market forces since power will shift from engine (same price regardless of displacement) to batteries (power directly tied to quaility/amount – effectively “volume”). Hardly a lot of people will be able to afford an equivalent of Motoczysz for streetriding due to price of power packs on it required for that level of performance, but something like Enertia that doesn’t pack as much punch is bound to cost much less. Unless of course the electrics as a whole will remain only a niche, but that remains to be seen.

  • http://www.justzeros.com Brandon Glanville

    I really want to build a super single off a 2010 RMZ450. I think that would be about as much fun as you can have on two wheels.

    Any specs on what the Kawi revs. to?

  • Ian

    It’s a good start, but it still suffers the same problem as the 250 that it looks a bit tame. I want a sportsbike and the shape of the bike has as much to do with that as the performance.

    This still looks like a commuter with the bench seat and high bars. Ok its slightly more aggressive but it’s not a huge difference to a faired CBF500.

    To call this and the 250 by the Ninja name is a bit of an insult if you ask me. Where are the real race-rep style ZXR400s that we had in the 90s? If Yamaha can manage something that looks like the R125 for the kids then why not something similar with 400cc?

  • http://www.txsbr.com Ben Wipperman

    Price is a big problem across the board – this isn’t limited to the idea of the 400R. Most any of the “starter bikes” available are priced too close to their more powerful super sport counterparts. The only exception I know of is the Suzuki GS500F at around $4500. While supersports will go on tremendous clearances – down close to $7500 – the more friendly 600s and 650s don’t budge much from their $6000-$7000 costs. At that point, the rationalization begins.

    That’s ignoring the desire to be perceived a certain way or peer pressure to get that much more “respectable” bike.

  • chris

    zzz… the suzuki sv400 has been around for about 10 years in japan, as have lots of other cool toys. small countries have displacement limits, hence the variety of <500cc bikes. like it or not, it’s the crappy (sorry) chinese scooters that will lead to future motorcyclists, because small displacement motorcycles will never sell here.

  • Doug

    Like Chris Y says, the engine capacity is a big advantage for motorcyclists in British Columbia. We have rate tiers based on engine sizes and there’s a big difference when you get shuffled into the next tier.

    The 400R would fall in the <400cc range and with the maximum safe driving/riding bonus, it would cost me about $65 a month to insure. My GS500 (at 487cc) falls in the 401-749cc range and it costs me $130 per month to insure. Kinda sad, but my 40hp GS500 costs the same to insure as a 130hp GSXR750.

  • pepi

    Bring SuperSingles!!!!!!

    bored 1000cc SBK user

  • Sparq

    This is going to make my friend insane with rage – she was hoping for a visual update to the 500 instead so that she should buy the fairings and slap them on her old ’95 model.

  • Roman

    What I want to see is an updated version of the 400 class race reps from late 1980s, early 1990s. I’m talking about FZR400, RVF400, CBR400, Kawi ZXR400, Bandit 400, etc… Revving the bike out on the streets while still staying (relatively) close to the speed limit has got to be great fun!

  • Tom

    Have to agree with a lot of the comments. It’s purely laws that make this bike possible. They take a 650R, put thicker sleeves and a crankshaft with shorter throws and call it a 400R. It weighs the same as the 650R so it’s power-to-weight is about that of a 250R, just slightly better. NOBODY would buy this bike if it were not for graded license laws or draconian insurance premiums.

  • fearnow

    all I can think of is ‘wait a couple of years and get a cheap trackbike’. w00t!

  • Patrick from Astoria

    This is somehow hugely frustrating. I want this to be right, but it’s not. Yeah, on paper it’s perfect: manageable power, modern handling, well-balanced. With a bit of the real world wrapped around it, it’s not there. It’s not a new Ninja 500, it’s not any of the old glorious 400 screamers, it’s not the mythical Super-single. It’s a relatively big bike with three-eighths of the engine left behind, which is going to feel patronizing to someone walking into the showroom and realizing what’s going on.

    In the US, where we don’t have graduated licensing or official displacement categories, a “perfect” beginner bike has to sell on its serious merits – light, quick, good-looking, affordable to buy and keep, and fun enough to convince the timid and the naysayers. Maybe that means a clean sheet, maybe it means a bit of inspired parts-bin searching, but it means something other than this. Sorry, guys.

  • GeddyT

    +1million to Patrick

    Small-displacement bikes don’t HAVE to suck! Power/weight ratio doesn’t have to be worse. Chassis don’t have to be spindly and weak. Brakes don’t have to be from the Reagan era. It’s not about making money off your parts from the early ’90s that didn’t sell. It’s about competing on MERIT.

    Why WOULD anyone buy this over a 650R were it not for insurance premiums? It’s not smaller, it’s not lighter, it won’t be easier to handle, it won’t stop more quickly, it’ll buzz more at freeway speeds (assuming gearing is changed to get it there in a reasonable amount of time). There is absolutely zero advantage to this motorcycle.

    Kawasaki, wanna sell a shedload of bikes in the U.S.? Take this bike, add a sixth gear and electric start, shorten the suspension, enlarge the front brake rotor, and make it look like this or this. I see no reason for it to weigh more than 325 pounds and no reason for it to cost more than the ER-6n already does.

    Or, hell, just look to your Austrian counterparts who have already seemed to figure it out. 250-450cc engine in one of these, please!

  • pdub

    or look at this.

    http://www.autoblog.com/2010/06/22/video-motorweek-talks-with-dan-fischer-american-sportbike-make/

    THIS IS THE PERFECT FIRST SPORTBIKE!

    Sorry for yelling but I wanted to get your attention. Again this is where the direction of that gap as mentioned in an older blog entry about entry level performance bikes should go. No it isn’t perfect but it has right what a sportbike really needs to fill the role. An awesome frame and swingarm that look straight off of the Moto2 grid, very decent if not downright superlative suspension and brake components. What could be said against it? Ok it has a carburated Korean copy of the SV650 engine and the styling looks a bit dated. On the first point they throw out the figure of 80hp. That would be great at the rear wheel but you can probably bet that’s at the crank and count on the low to mid 60′s at the pavement. Still that doesn’t suck when you consider that this is not intended to dice it up with the bleeding edge of the supersport market. It’s a first timer’s sportbike and I can imagine maybe a new bully in the lightweight twins racing circuit. On the second point of styling; yeah it looks like concept bike drawings of the late 90′s. Dated and a little transformer ungainly angular looking. Reminds me of Triumph’s 2003 Daytona in awkward new/outdated styling. Still better looking than anything Buell shat out. Those two minor gripes of a primitive engine and dubious looks are minor when considering it’s an almost perfect first sportbike. Competitive price 60-80hp? L-twin, 350lbs, great chassis, suspension, and brakes. I’m intrigued. If bike makers large and small competed as fiercely at this market segment as they do at the top this could get interesting.

  • Chris Kuznik

    I hope it comes to US it will sell! So many people I know have been waiting for something in between the 250 and 600, And face it the 500 is just ugly.

  • billyedtimmy

    Keep in mind that not only insurance, but fuel costs factor into the ‘pros’ category for this bike. Assuming it probably gets at least 60mpg (since it’s fuel-injected), getting that instead of a 650r (or ER-6n, etc..) probably saves at least 10mpg in fuel. Adding up over the lifetime of a bike, that’s…

    10mpg (60mpg vs 50mpg) savings x 100,000 miles x $3.00 per gallon = $1000

  • Russ

    I’ve had my 250R since 2008 and still loving it! The power to weight ratio is great in terms of the “power” of the 400, but you are forgetting the “weight” part of the equation if you leave out the all important “feel” of the bike. There is no comparison to tossing a 375lb bike into tight corners. The flickability of the Ninja 250R is hard to describe, but definitely the best part of the bike. Just don’t expect to take it on any trip over a couple of hours!