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Looks can be deceiving: Kawasaki's Ninja 400 is a surprise package in SA

2018-06-15 09:42

Dries van der Walt

Image: Dries Van der Walt/Instagram

Kawasaki’s baby Ninja has always been quick. Since its beginnings as the venerable GPX 250, which was capable of a top speed of over 150 km/h, the littlest Ninja has never been a slouch.

But now that it has increase to a 400cm³ engine capacity and a top speed claimed to be in excess of 190 km/h, the question is whether it can still qualify as a beginner’s bike.

Looks can be deceiving

When I was a teenager, back in the dark times when Poseidon was the Chief of the Navy and dinosaurs topped the favourite-pet lists, 400s were considered what we now call midsize bikes.

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For me to evaluate a 400 as a small bike was a bit odd, a task made no easier by the fact that the Ninja 400 – in terms of physical size – can easily be mistaken for a 650.

So it doesn’t look like a beginner’s bike, either. And it’s not just the apparent size – the little Ninja looks like a supersport, from its clip-on handlebars to the ZX-10 and H2-derived styling.

There is no risk that it will be mistaken for a delivery bike if you park it outside your local mall. And that, says Team Green, is exactly the point: the Ninja 400 is intended as a first bike that will not be outgrown quickly as the rider’s experience levels increase – a noble sentiment, but a tall order.

A Kawasaki success

Have Kawasaki succeeded in creating that elusive beginner/interim machine? My response is an unambiguous “yes”. This bike packs enough punch to be fun to ride irrespective of your level of experience, but power delivery is extremely even throughout the rev range, which means an inexperienced rider won’t be caught out by a sudden spike of power.

And that means that it is easy to ride, but it isn’t likely to become boring after the first six months. Pulling away gently at a traffic light gives you steady, predictable acceleration, while pinning the throttle means you leave just about anything on four wheels behind.

On the highway it more than holds its own. It accelerates willingly in top gear at 120 km/h with a twist of the throttle, and it maintains highway speed up any of the hills I’ve come across in my daily commute between Pretoria and Joburg.

As a small-capacity commuter, the little Ninja ticks all the boxes: it is light, nimble and quick enough to accelerate out of tight spots. And it sports one of the smoothest gearboxes I’ve experienced. The clutch is light and gearshifts are effortless and error-free, another nod to beginners and one that will be no less welcome to experienced riders.

If it has a flaw in commuting, it is the width and position of the mirror stalks. The stalks are so far forward that the mirrors are difficult to adjust on the move, and while they give you an unencumbered view of what is happening behind you, they make it difficult to negotiate some of the tighter gaps in rush-hour traffic.

Not your average bike

On other bikes, I’ve had the opposite problem: mirrors that allowed me to take gaps almost as narrow as the bike’s body, but offering a very poor view of the area directly behind me. Though occasionally inconvenient, in the interest of safety I prefer the Kawasaki arrangement.

To answer the question in the opening paragraph, in my opinion it can still be considered a beginner’s bike.

The power delivery is so even that inexperienced riders will feel comfortable from day one, while its performance appreciably narrows the gap between it and midsize bikes.

As a result, it can serve for many years as your commuter bike if you can afford to upsize without selling the Ninja. And that, I think, is just the ticket when you consider buying your first bike.


Manufacturer: Kawasaki
Model: Ninja 400


Type: Liquid-cooled 4-stroke 8-valve DOHC parallel-twin
Displacement: 399cm³
Maximum Power: 34kW @ 10 000rpm 
Maximum Torque: 38Nm @ 8 000rpm
Fuel supply system: Electronic fuel injection
Fuel type: Premium Unleaded 95 Octane RON


Type: 6-speed sequential
Final drive: Chain


Overall length x width x height (mm): 1 990 X 710 X 1120
Kerb weight: 168 kg 


Passengers: 1+1
Fuel tank: 14 L


Front: Dual-piston caliper with single 310 mm disc
Rear: Single-piston caliper with single 220 mm disc


Front: 41 mm (1.6 in) non-adjustable telescopic fork
Rear: Bottom-Link Uni-Trak, gas-charged shock with adjustable preload

Wheels & Tyres:

Tyre, front: 110/70–17 tubeless
Tyre, rear: 150/60–17 tubeless

Price: R73 995


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