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55 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
A lot of folks are gushing over this bike. It's been 20 deg. F for the last few days in Colorado until today so here's my initial impression of 50 miles of under 4k riding per-manual break-in. Conditions were 50 deg. F and 30 mph wind. I'm 5'6" with a 30" inseam and a muscular, meaty build. Pass the gravy.

My history with bikes starts in 1987:
1972 Honda 450CB
1997 Suzuki Katana 600
2000 Kawasaki Ninja 250R
2004 Kawasaki Ninja 500R (handled poorly, sold quickly)
2005 Honda Superhawk 996
2007 Kawasaki Ninja 250R (this one was a lemon, sold back to dealership at-cost)
2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R-J
2009 Honda CBR600RR
2013 Can-Am Spyder RS (Cray-Cray)

Bike comes at position-2 for the rear shock. I found myself overly perched above the tank, and hitting even crack-seal in the road was jarring more than any other bike I've owned. I could barely reach the ground on both sides with 2" sole boots, though the standard one-toe-on-the-brake, one-foot-on-the-ground posture worked. After 20 miles I lowered it to the softest setting and the geometry felt right and bumps were significantly reduced and absorbed I could reach the ground straddling it. Suspension is very rudimentary and there are no other adjustments, ie. pre-load, etc. You get what you get aside from the rear adjust. Bike could benefit from the 650R shock (or any improvement) but is acceptable for lightly spirited riding.

The iron-hard seat is fairly punishing and the worst I've ever been on to-date, reminiscent of a 2012 Ducati 675R. A 100 mile trip might be tiring. Using a full tank of gas in a ride might be too much unless the road is supple and has fresh tar. It is livable, however, but it is the least comfortable I've owned. It might break-in a bit after a few hundred miles I suspect. The fabric quality is questionable and dismounting shows a wrinkle for a bit as the foam sloooowly bounces back. Seat removal is clunky for the rear; front removal is chitzy like a Lotus Elise with the wire-pull. Again, at the lowest setting, I could reach the ground pretty well, and there's likely to be some suspension sag in the next few hundred miles. I worry about shorter riders. I often see folks forced to resort to (gasp) Harley or other cruisers because of these seat heights, God forbid. I've ridden other bikes, Viragos, Harleys, etc. Yuck. If Kawi made a few "Low" editions, Harley would go out of business.

Surprisingly good up to 45mph (about 4k rpm). Breeze hits my head at about forehead level. Every bike I've owed I had to get a Zero Gravity Double Bubble (db) or equivalent but this bike might not need it.

Above average visibility and almost no vibration from the Jersey-Shore-raucous engine. Interestingly, like many cars, the mirrors have a break-away pull-in from the antenna which is nice for bike storage in tighter locations.

Oddly placed in a half "standard" half "sport" location, right heel against the muffler style-guard (doesn't get hot there). I suspect the muffler concern was well-engineered so your sole wouldn't catch fire, which is nice. A rubbered peg would have been a nicer touch.

They felt tiny. Vibration from the Snooki-engine is not overly transmitted but a noticeable "electric tingle" even through gel-padded gloves after 50 miles. New riders will be horrified. It's still better than the somewhat unbalanced Kawi 250R series. Weighted bar-ends could probably help. ProGrip Gel grips are likely a good and cheap modification. To do that, cut the original with a razor; peel off; spray hairspray into the new grip and slide it on. The hairspray becomes a fixative.

Slipper clutch is a breeze and well engineered and light.

Binary. It's surprise sudden on-off is not desirable. Some EFI programming for a more gradual 0-10% throttle response would be welcome. Clicks on and off at an exact point from freeplay. Reminds me of a '90s EFI in a car.

VERY good. Telegraphic. Responsive. Relaxed and crisp. Better than any bike I've owned. Well weighted and sure-footed. On-par with my 600RR.

Well above average for OEM. My guess is it would get a little squirmy when pushed to its limits but most people won't notice this and it's quite a livable, streetable tire. Well done, Kawi.

Vulgar. Rude. Obnoxious for a sportbike. Sounds like a lawnmower that was filled with kerosene. Throbs through the entire bike. Beastly sounding and disappointingly unrefined. Someone at Team Green engineering should try a Honda CBR F4i sometime. It reminds me of a Lamborgini Countach. It looks like it belongs in the movie Tron but it sounds like a dump truck. All the noise is coming from up-front. Could be a bit of break-in and whatever gas they poured down her throat from factory. I'll let the engine wear-in before final judgement. Pull is acceptable and reminds me of a Ninja 500R. I kept it under 4k RPMs, however so I'm more than certain its behavior will change over 8k where it will probably be happy shifting at. Re-gearing seems unnecessary on either sprocket and would likely upset the ABS anyway via the ECU. I suspect it'll get more buzzy as parallel twins are apt to.

Clanky and ratchet-y. Terrible. Where the 250R had a vague but buttery smooth shift, the 400 has a vague but gravel-clank-y, almost Ducati dry-clutch feel. Classic Kawasaki "mystery" gear between 5th and 6th as an unwanted "Neutral" if you don't mean it when you go there. Happened to me once on this very ride and I knew exactly what was going on; you have to shift with purpose between 5th and 6th as usual. By way of comparison, Honda and Suzuki shifers are like liquid glass. Shifting on this is metallic and crotchety. It doesn't have the classic 1st-gear-lurch-clunk, however, which the 500R had, which is nice (and some earlier 250s) thanks, I believe, to the slipper-clutch again to the rescue..'re never quite sure what gear you're in because you don't know if it took or not. It's not a question of clutch, it's a question of gear-toothing as if it needs to wear-in a bit. The foot-lever clicks were NOT smooth at ALL. You could hear it sort of trying to find where it should be. I'm not calling out operator error here. Granted, I was under 4k rpm so this can be a common issue on some bikes, but not the reassuring thunk of earlier Kawis or Hondas. Shifting without the clutch is do-able, however, and works with more confidence if you know the safe technique and is smooth.

Wind did not affect me. We had gusts over 45 mph and it was not an issue. Some '90s bikes like the Hurricane suffered as well as earlier Katanas from all the body-panel real-estate. Despite it's lightness, the 400 is weighted enough to not be thrown about like the 250 was. Very stable.

I have the Pearl-Solar-Yellow/Gray bike. My wife has the all-black one. Soft leather jacket rubbed on it enough to leave fine scratches after 1 hour of riding so a tank pad is a must (or ride nude like Lady Godiva). I was not monkey-ing on it like a track-day.

Unacceptable. I have the ABS version which works surprisingly well as I couldn't lock up the tires. After bedding them in the response was markedly better. New riders probably won't know to do this, however. Could really benefit from some braided brake lines. Mushy feel with zero feedback. Worst brakes I've ever known BUT the ABS is the BEST I've ever had on any other bike so.. 50/50 win.

Amazing! Range, MPG, 2 ODOs, fuel and temp gauges, clock, gear selection?! I remember the 250R didn't have any of this! Well done!

Final results

Overall, it's a good bike. Less refined than a Honda 600RR or 600F4i. This is not a beginner bike in my opinion. In Japan they make this bike with a 250 motor as well. On that version, the seat height is also too tall for the market buyer as Japanese are usually under 5'6" last time I worked there. I do like that Dark Angel Jessica Alba rode a variation of it. I'd like to point out that this is a good middleweight bike that reminds me a lot of my Ninja 500R in feel and behavior and pull. Looks are very cool and the LED bulbs are a plus. Is well weighted and light in the turns but stable. Could benefit from a different shock absorber, gel-grips, and braided brake lines and probably a DB windscreen from HotBodies or Zero Gravity. She's a keeper!


55 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
75 miles update:

Still keeping under 4k rpm... I had to hit 5k rpm twice for safety on the road.

Gear shifter is breaking in and is smoother and more Ninja 250R-like than the ratchet-y, clank-y mechanics from the first 50 miles. Clutch-play and slipper-clutch is so light it feels like a '90's Saturn car or Civic.
Engine is less raucous and more gravelly under load. Engine note is odd like a V6 car with a muffler-can by Maxwell House.
Wind definitely hits mid-chest at 45-50 mph. I'll have to get a double-bubble for any highway riding. Wind protection on the body is slightly better than a 250R but not amazing.
Some heat pours from the vents onto the thighs which is nice at below 50 deg. F.
There's an engine-buzz harmonic at various rpms that translates through the handlebars creating various sweet-spot "places to be".
Fan surprisingly doesn't come-on until 1-bar below maximum temp. reading. Fan is fairly loud and noticeable over the "engine gravel".
Bike handles very well and is balanced nicely at all speeds under 45 mph so far. Scrubbing-in tires is causing no surprises. A BT-003 or grippier tire might be a future option, however. No squirm yet though.
Engine braking reminds me of a Chevy Volt (or Cadillac ELR) in L-Gear. Deceleration by engine braking is noticeable.

107 Posts
Anything bike Jessica Alba rides on is automatically cooler in my books. Great review from an experienced rider!
I've only ever had a 300 before this so I can't pick out all the nuances like you, though the mention of the hard seat does make me smile. Never could break them in before they broke my butt in.
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