Several months ago we wrote an article talking about how Kawasaki was doing something amazing – unfortunately, no they are not reviving the much loved Ninja 500R – and releasing a brand new motorcycle to the Canadian and Japanese markets (Kawasaki Gives Canada and Japan the Ninja 400R). We were excited for the Ninja 400R because it replaces a part of the lineup that the Ninja 500R filled so beautifully: that middle ground, where the 250cc is too small and 600cc or 650cc is too big.
Finally, after a fair bit of persistence and a random encounter with a rider on a 400R, we were able to hop on one and take it for a proper test ride.
Initial Impression of the 2011 Kawasaki Ninja 400R
At 6’2″ and 227lbs, I am not a light person. In fact I always feel a little ridiculous when I review smaller motorcycles like the 400R. Aside from looking like someone who just stepped out of a clown car when riding one, I find that many smaller motorcycles struggle to actually keep a larger rider like myself moving. Accelerating a big person when you have a small motor is a challenge, so of course I’m somewhat apprehensive when I hop on a motorcycle with less than 500cc’s.
I am happy to say that the Ninja 400R, with all 399cc’s of parallel-twin goodness, moves me pretty well. It makes roughly 44 horsepower, which is very close to what the departed Ninja 500R made, and 27 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers, while certainly not encroaching on superbike territory, are more than enough to move the common person around. It did do a pretty good job of moving my “husky” rump, that’s for certain.
The fairings give it a real sporty look, very similar to what Kawasaki has done with both the Ninja 650R and the Ninja 250R. Some may find the aggressive appearance a little off-putting, but I didn’t. In fact, I’m a real fan of the boy racer look.
Riding the 2011 Kawasaki Ninja 400R
The 400R has a great riding position if you’re a taller person; you sit upright, with a slight lean. If you have back problems, or just find super sports uncomfortable, the 400R might be right up your alley. If you are much taller than 6’2″ I don’t know how comfortable you’ll find the bike as the foot pegs may be a bit tight. Otherwise, as far as a smaller motorcycle goes, the 400R fares pretty well in the comfort arena.
The all-digital display lights up beautifully at night (as it was when I was riding it) and highlights the important information (RPM, speed) by drawing your attention to them quite effectively. If you’ve ever driven a Honda S2000 you may actually find the instrument panel quite similar: the speed is shown on top of a “swooping” rev meter. Very cool.
Given that’s fuel injected, the 400R starts right up and purrs wonderfully. Acceleration is brisk, though nothing that will cause you to pop your front tire off the ground (unless you’re really trying to do it). Like the 500R, the Ninja 400R has plenty of mid-range power; also like the 500R, the newest mid-range Ninja suffers down low and up top. This is perfect for city riding, where you’ll spend most of your time between 3,500 – 7,000 rpm, but may quickly become underwhelming if you’re used to the down-low torque of a larger v-twin or the up-top ridiculousness of 600cc+ sport bikes.
Personally, I loved it. Having ridden a Ninja 500R for a first bike, riding the 400R was as much nostalgia as it was invigorating. The 400R’s suspension is finely-tuned, and new riders (or anyone really) on the bike will quickly find themselves becoming more and more comfortable with throwing the little Ninja around. It’s light weight, combined with a somewhat-stiff suspension setup, really make this bike fun in the city. I can’t comment on highway riding as I was unable to take it to highway speeds for more than a few minutes.
Jam the brakes and you’ll find yourself coming to a stop rather quickly. My earlier comments about the light weight and fun in the twisties applies to braking: smaller, lighter motorcycles have less grunt to move around. When I lost most of my beer-belly I noticed it infinitely easier to run, climb, stop, and jump. Same concept, different vehicle 😉