So as many of you may have noticed, there’s been a reignited interest in smaller cc displacement bikes lately. Where for the longest time ‘bigger is better” has ruled America, there seems to be a new trend shifting towards smaller machines which many manufactures have happily embraced.
Last year Kawasaki released their new Ninja400 which was surprisingly not only peppy but quite roomy for it’s small stature—I had the opportunity to test ride one at Laguna Seca and I was pleasantly surprised. Now Kawasaki has unveiled their all new Z400, a really well rounded machine that will appeal to those riders that aren’t interested in a full fairing sport bike. The Z400 fills a gap in the Z family lineup between the playful Z125 and middle-weight Z650; making it Kawaski’s feather-weight street fighter.
Being 5’8” the Z400 feels solid under me and more like a “big” bike. It’s got a crouching stance which is stylish and aggressive. A sharp looking nose and raised tail make it appear sleek and ferocious. Finished off with a beefier 150/60 tire it really does look great. The seating position is very comfortable yet the only thing that’s changed from the Ninja400 is the bar height (50mm higher)! Shorter riders will really appreciate it’s confidence inspiring seat height of 30.9”—it’s also narrow against the tank so that you really feel planted.
The Z’s ergonomics are pretty relaxed, making it super maneuverable in tight situations ranging from lane splitting to super tight canyon carving. It’s nimbleness can be attributed to the short-wheelbase/long-swingarm design with a steep caster angle, thus delivering very light and intuitive handling. I can attest to this as I felt really comfortable on our route as we took some tighter and technical roads that I’m not so sure I would have had as much fun on on my super sport. Even though the suspension was soft (as it should be for a street bike) I thought it felt great in the twisties. Front comes equipped with Showa 41mm telescopic forks which deliver solid feel and the rear has a KYB shock featuring 5 way preload adjustability. As I went over pot holes, gravel, sand, water, off cambers, construction grates—you name it—I can say the bike felt solid and capable of taking what the street had thrown at me.
The Z is also very light—coming in at just 363.8lb curb weight, even I could pick this thing up all day if I were to drop it. Plus it’s always nice to be able to move a bike around with ease when off of it. The Z’s balance is very even too, I felt I didn’t have to put my feet down rolling at 1mph which really surprised me…for a smaller bike with relatively narrow tires it just wants to stay upright.
OK so it handles great and looks attractive, but what about the power? Most of my riding was slower as we were on rolling country roads. However I did get to briefly test it’s acceleration and can tell you that I had absolutely no issues merging into highway traffic while banging through it’s gears. It made absolute short work of traffic as I could nimbly weave around everyone and it had enough pep to get out of harms way. The one thing that really impressed me was the sound and feel when you fully open up the throttle—Kawasaki engineered the airbox in such a way that eliminates much noise and all you get it this great intake sound under acceleration—yes it put a smile on my face.
The engine is optimized for low end torque which is definitely something you want when riding street, but what really impressed me was the clutch. This is probably the smoothest and easiest clutch I’ve operated to date…it’s almost impossible to stall it. And as we all know, when learning to ride there’s usually some staling at red lights. Nothing to be ashamed of because it’s all part of learning, but the Z’s friction zone is just so great in helping new riders overcome this. The clutch control along with a super smooth and responsive throttle truly creates a very rider friendly and pleasant experience. And to top all that off it actually has a slipper clutch!! Yup, downshifting is now even easier. As someone who comes from riding bikes with zero electronics I have to admit that it’s sometimes really nice not having to worry about things like timing—especially on the street. I recall being super careful the first time I was downshifting because I wanted more torque all of a sudden but I didn’t want to get squirly mid turn…and then I felt the slipper and my face lit up all over again lol!
So while some may feel the Z400 is an entry level bike, I have to tell you that even after riding quite a few different bikes for 7 years, I truly enjoyed every second on this machine. I have to admit that I’m not very good on technical roads and I certainly don’t ride fast on roads I don’t know. But on this Z I felt at ease and as if the bike was just encouraging me. I simply felt amazing on it! All this coupled with the bike’s great entry level price of just under $5k USD makes it a very attractive deal.
I could continue on and list all the other great features the Z400 has, but this is not a sales pitch. I simply want to convey the essence that this machine is intuitive, nimble, fun, exciting and a joy to ride for all experience levels. I think it has a lot to offer and doesn’t disappoint with Kawasaki’s attention to so many details.