For over 30 years, lightweight Kawasaki Ninjas have given a platform for newly minted riders to take their first steps into the world of motorcycling. Above all, these lower displacement are forgiving, accessible and agile, creating a perfect environment for new motorcyclists to build their skill-sets. The 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400 aims to deliver just that, and more, much more.
The 2018 all-new Kawasaki Ninja 400 expands on what we know a lightweight machine to be. Bolt for bolt - the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja is a completely new bike, showing marked improvements in handling, braking and engine performance, not to mention its appearance.
New and seasoned riders will surely appreciate the 399cc parallel twin engine, which is accommodating to virtually all skill levels. It's smooth, predictable and tractable power is delivered through crisp throttle response, making it a powerplant that many will quickly begin to explore. Unlike the Ninja 300 that this model replaces, the power is less likely to seem inadequate after a short period of time, as Kawasaki has seemingly hit on a sweet spot when it comes to the amount of horsepower on tap - it's great on the street and when push comes to shove on the track, the '18 Ninja 400 is more than ready to wring it out to the bitter end.
Dramatic changes were made to the lightweight Ninja's geometry, creating a stable and impressively sporty machine. With a short 53.9 inch wheelbase and steep 24.7 degree rake, one might think that this lower displacement machine would edge on the nervous side - let us assure you that is doesn't. The Ninja is an extremely intuitive machine, allowing riders to explore the mechanics of riding and giving them a stable, yet agile bike to find their footing on. Most importantly, the chassis has increased in rigidity, making the Ninja comfortable while on the edge of the tire - something that became quite apparent while tackling the long sweeping corners of Sonoma Raceway.
Traditionally, the lightweight class has always been equipped with softly sprung and softly damped suspension, mainly in consideration of newer riders who do not have the skill-set to operate machines with stiff suspension and also want a comfortable ride. While the '18 Ninja is equipped with what we'd consider as softly sprung suspension, the 41mm Showa fork and spring-preload adjustable KYB shock hold their own quite well. Good damping characteristics help the intuitive Ninja stay in line and do a great job of absorbing impacts.
Braking has also improved, and we are now seeing the single front rotor grow to 310mm, accompanied by a dual-piston caliper. Feel at the lever is good, allowing for adequate modulation and provides more than enough stopping power for the speeds you'll be achieving. Should you have some track riding in your veins, a quick upgrade to steel-braided brake lines, high-performance brake pads and high-performance brake fluid will pay off when it comes to braking performance.
While all of these upgrades sound like something from the world of the mighty Supersport machines, when it comes to ergonomics, the 30.9 inch seat height remains the same. Better yet, Kawasaki saw it fit to narrow the front portion of the seat and double the amount of padding. Additionally, the clip-on style handlebars have been moved back slightly, as well as the foot controls. The Ninja 400 has a comfortable and neutral riding position that doesn't encourage a lot of weight distributed to the wrists, but allows a great deal of movement in the cockpit - it strikes a wonderful balance.
Aesthetically, Kawasaki has moved closer in the direction of the Ninja 400's bigger siblings; the ZX-6R, ZX-10R and H2. Styling cues from each of the Supersport and Hypersport models have been integrated into the wee-ninja, creating a much more mature and engaging look overall.
Senior Editor Nic de Sena spent two days out in California's wine country, exploring superb roads and ended up with a full day at the rolling hills of Sonoma Raceway, a circuit that will put any machine to the test.
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Photography and Videography by: Kevin Wing, Brian J. Nelson and Joseph Agustin.