MOTORCYCLE: Kawasaki Ninja 400R the perfect-fit motorcycle – Winnipeg…

14 Jan 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on MOTORCYCLE: Kawasaki Ninja 400R the perfect-fit motorcycle – Winnipeg…
Kawasaki Ninja 400R

MOTORCYCLE: Kawasaki Ninja 400R the perfect-fit motorcycle

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WITH the nascence of a beginner bike boom underway — witness the phenomenal success of Honda’s CBR125R and Kawasaki’s Ninja 250 — it was only a matter of time before someone finally built a middleweight motorcycle for the novice who wants to move up.

Honda has aimed its new CB600F at that market, though more cautious newbies — perhaps that should read more prudent — are also angling toward Kawasaki’s Ninja 400R. Essentially a 650R with a downsized engine — smaller bore, shorter stroke, milder cam timing and smaller inlets — the 400 neatly splits the difference between big-bike features and intimidation.

For one thing, the amount of power and its delivery is almost ideal for the now more experienced novice looking for something more competent on the open road but not looking for the intimidating power of a 600-plus-cubic-centimetre four-cylinder.

The 399-cc DOHC in-line twin is nice and soft down low; this is not a motorcycle that is going to inadvertently pop a wheelie should the inexperienced get a little ham-fisted with the throttle at 4,000 rpm. Deliberate would be the term I would use for the engine’s response below five grand — stout enough that stalling is never a problem, but it’s still soft enough that the punishment for a miscue isn’t grievous.

On the other hand, spin it harder and the 400R easily winds up to 130 kilometres an hour. It’s not exactly as effortless as highway cruising on board a large four-cylinder, but its highway cruising ability is far beyond a CBR125R’s abilities — and it has much less of the neck-wringing revs that accompany the Ninja 250’s forays onto the super- slab. Indeed, if there’s anything surprising about the 400R, it is the relatively strong mid-range.


Both the maximum 44 horsepower and 27 pound-feet of torque seem conservatively rated considering the 400R’s performance. Mated with a surprisingly authoritative exhaust note (neighbours may not be so kind), especially at full chat, the Ninja will have those graduating from lesser bikes feeling, for the first time, as if they are riding a real motorcycle.

Considering that much of the running gear — frame, wheels, brakes, etc. — are identical to the larger 650’s, it’s hardly surprising the 400R weighs but a single, solitary kilogram less than its larger-displacement sibling.

That said, the 400R still feels lithe and nimble scooting around town with the ease of a Vespa, albeit with better suspension and brakes. Perhaps the surest sign Kawasaki sees the mid-sized Ninja as a real motorcycle is that the 400R still sports a dual-disc front brake, one of the first items that would have been dropped had price been the primary consideration in spec’ing out the Ninja. Instead, the 400R costs $7,499, a significant $1,200 less than the 650R but still $2,500 more than the Ninja 250.

Ninja’s 400R is exactly the type of motorcycle the North American market needs. Medium-displacement twins used to be the mainstay of motorcycle lineups — what veteran biker over the age of 50 didn’t ride a CB350? Yet, they were discontinued as motorcycle manufacturers fixated on feeding Boomer angst for ever more power.

Now, with the Yupsters aging, manufacturers looking to attract a younger clientele are rediscovering beginner bikes.

Yes, Kawasaki might have been better served designing an all-new bike specifically tailored to the 400-cc market. However, at the moment, the Ninja 400R is the best compromise for those looking to upgrade from their tiddlers without moving up to the full-sized middleweight segment.

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