In the 1960s, a term emerged among American motorcyclists: UJM, short for Universal Japanese Motorcycle, a not very enthusiastic characterization of the CB, KZ, GS and XS models flooding our shores. As a style, UJMs also birthed the equally unenthusiastically named motorcycle type known as the “standard.”
Simple, functional and stylish–in a “tank, seat, engine” sort of way–standards became, well, the standard motorcycle type for decades, as increasingly specialized niches evolved around them such as performance sport, sport touring, touring, cruisers, dual-sport, ADV…and lately factory custom, supermoto and flat track. There is a bike out there for every taste, but through it all standards, now known as slightly sexier “naked” bikes, have existed as cost-effective, fun options for those of us who just enjoy getting out and riding.
Read our comprehensive list of the Best Bikes for Smaller Riders (and Budgets)
From 1974 to 1984, one of those UJM “standards” was the Kawasaki KZ400, built for the U.S. market in a new factory in Lincoln, Nebraska, the first foreign-owned motorcycle plant in the country. Thirty-five years later, Kawasaki is rounding out its modern-day “Z” lineup of naked bikes with the new 2019 Z400 ABS (made in Thailand, not Nebraska).
Based on past sales and research trends, Kawasaki expects the naked bike segment to continue to grow as buyers seek out the same magic balance of performance, comfort and price that drew riders to the standards of the ’60s, ’70s and beyond. In fact, its research has shown that naked bike buyers name cost as a major deciding factor when choosing a new bike. It’s not just the sticker price, but cost-of-ownership items like repairs, maintenance and insurance, all of which are typically less than that of a fully faired performance sportbike.
Naked bikes have often been described as de-tuned, dumbed-down versions of a given sportbike model, but the Z400 ABS defies that label. In fact, it’s fair and quite accurate to describe the Z400 as a Ninja 400 with a flat handlebar and no fairings. Its steel trellis frame, 399cc, liquid-cooled, parallel twin engine, six-speed gearbox with assist-and-slipper clutch, 30.9-inch seat, 5-spoke cast wheels, Dunlop GPR-300 tires, front and rear ABS-equipped brakes, comfortably rearset footpegs, LCD instrument and Showa front/KYB rear suspension are all the same as the Ninja’s, with one exception: the springs both front and rear are roughly 10 percent lighter for a more comfortable street-oriented ride.
Read our 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400 ABS first ride review
Helmet: Arai Signet-X
Jacket: AGV Sport Helen
Jeans: Spidi J&Racing Lady
Boots: Sidi Lady Gavia Gore-Tex
Otherwise, you’re riding a Ninja 400 ABS, and at an MSRP of $4,799 the Z400 ABS is $500 less expensive than its fully faired fraternal twin. Like the Ninja, my first impression upon swinging a leg over it at the press launch ride in the rolling terrain of Southern California was its impression of size. The Z400, despite weighing in at a claimed 364 pounds ready to ride, feels like a larger motorcycle, and with its wide, relaxed handlebar that’s 50mm higher than the Ninja’s I found it to be comfortable on our 120-mile ride. That said, if it were mine I would probably install Kawasaki’s accessory high seat ($199.95), which adds one inch to the seat height and would better fit my 34-inch-inseam legs.
Releasing the feather-light clutch lever (seriously, pull effort is so light we were warned not to rest our fingers on the lever for fear of unintentionally slipping the clutch as we rode), the 399cc parallel twin spools up quickly with plenty of torque down low and enough power at the higher end to make freeway cruising and high-speed passing a low-stress affair. I haven’t had an opportunity to do a long freeway slog yet, but on our initial ride I detected no annoying vibes in the grips, seat or pegs. Best of all, like the Ninja the Z400 gets the big 5.8-liter airbox designed to let the rider hear as much glorious intake noise as possible, part of what Kawasaki describes as the essential “rider experience.”
I was enjoying the heck out of my rider experience as we ascended famous Palomar Mountain, parallel twins howling. Staying at about 6,000 rpm seemed to keep me in the meat of the powerband, and chasing the pack up the mountain reminded me just how fun it is to ride in a group of smaller bikes. On the descent, it was the Z400’s brakes that shone; a two-piston Nissin caliper squeezes the big 310mm wave-style front disc, and the 220mm disc in the back also has a two-piston Nissin caliper. The combo, equipped as standard with Nissin ABS, worked quite well at our sporting pace.
Suspension comprises a 41mm non-adjustable Showa fork at the front and a 5-preload-position KYB shock at the rear (adjustable with the included spanner; the Z400 still comes with a decent on-board tool kit). It also handled our sport ride with competence. Using a design borrowed from the Ninja H2 models, the swingarm mounts directly to the back of the engine, shaving weight and increasing stability. As expected, extremely bumpy corners could rattle the Z’s composure but overall its short wheelbase/long swingarm/steep rake design kept it feeling flickable yet reassuringly stable.
As much fun as the Z400 is to ride, it’s the little things that tend to win me over, and in this case there are two. One is the inclusion of hooks on the license plate/turn signal holder that facilitate attaching a tail bag or simply strapping something to the rear seat. It’s amazing how often this gets overlooked on a bike meant for everyday riding. The second is the headlight, which contains six bright LEDs within its Sugomi-style housing. Even with their low beams on (with four of the six illuminated), quick glances into my mirrors at the other journalists behind me proved how visible the Z400’s headlight is, something any rider should value. I’ve yet to ride it at night, but have high hopes for illumination functionality.
The Z400 ABS fills in the final gap in Kawasaki’s naked bike lineup, and with its sub-$5,000 price tag it’s an attractive option for today’s value-conscious buyer. It’s available in dealerships now in two color options, Candy Lime Green/Metallic Spark Black or Candy Cardinal Red/Metallic Flat Spark Black, for $4,799.
2019 Kawasaki Z400 ABS Specs
Base Price: $4,799
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled parallel twin, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 70.0 x 51.8mm
Transmission: 6-speed w/positive neutral finder, cable-actuated assist-and-slipper clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 53.9 in.
Rake/Trail: 24.7 degrees/3.6 in.
Seat Height: 30.9 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 364 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gals.
Claimed MPG: NA
If I were a first time buyer who wanted to toss $6000 at a bike, I think I’d be held in a state of paralysis not knowing where to spend my money. When my nephew came to me asking my opinion about this new Z400 or a lovingly used Kawi 650 (twin) I basically flipped a coin. He picked the 650 twin but the experience raised a good question: In these times, when there are plenty of excellent preowned bikes, why buy new? If there’s an algorithm or set of considerations that helps to answer that question, I’d like to know.
Simple logic tells me that the only way you get a pre-owned market is to buy new. Not everybody likes the idea of dealing with a pre-owned bike and not necessarily knowing what’s wrong with it. It’s not like buying a car where there’s now Carfax you can just figure out what’s up with it.
Looking forward to the Versys edition, or even better, a proper ADV bike built on this puppy. According to Kawasaki’s specs, this is 100cc more and 20lbs less than the Z300.
It CAN be done, will Kawi do it? Cartridge forks (in a common size, say, 48mm tubes) with 7-8″ of travel front and back. The forks don’t have to be high spec, but they should be EASY (and relatively cheap) to convert to high spec. 18/21″ spoked tubeless wheels. Switchable ABS. Make the rear subframe so that it’s EASY to fit bags. Design it so that it becomes the preferred platform for building out a lightweight SOLO ADV bike without breaking the bank. Oh, and sell it with dirtbike plastics, not hard, shatter-y streetbike plastics.
It seems like another bike that no one needs. Why take the fairing (I know because some like it) off when it gives so many benefits. My first bike RD400 was a monster to ride with upswept expansion chambers, but it was horrible to ride at speed with no protection. There is nothing good about a naked.
Mid-size standards with a faring are currently limited to Ninja 650 and Honda CBR650-R. The industry is pushing nakeds, ignoring the necessity of faring and windscreen to make these machines freeway friendly. By the way, both of the aforementioned models can be turned into light sport tourers with the addition of luggage and perhaps taller windscreens. In contrast, touring luggage is available for popular naked models, but without adequate wind protection, they are not up to the task of highway work.
“The industry is pushing nakeds, ignoring the necessity of faring and windscreen to make these machines freeway friendly.”
Kawasaki first offered the 400 as a Ninja – with fairing. They are offering a choice – obviously – not “pushing nakeds.” A fairing is not a necessity, with many preferring the relative ease of maintenance and lack of expense for repair after the occasional tip-over provided by a naked. People wanted nakeds for years, with the industry mostly offering sport bikes and cruisers. Now, they offer nakeds, but some people are just never satisfied.
I had a 78 RD400 that I bought new in 80 for $1200. I solved that naked problem with a Vetter Quicksilver. Worked for me!
I’ve ridden about 70,000 miles on eleven different bikes, and none had a fairing. I did try a bikini fairing on a CB500T and took it right off. Doing without has never bothered me, on any road or at any speed limit. If I ever get a bike with a fairing, it’ll be because I can’t find a naked that does what I want for a good price. That might still happen, as all the bikes that were cheap when I started riding are turning into “classics.”
Biker dad, I agree with your comments 100%. I hope they make an adv bike with this engine!
Didn’t they just issue a recall on the rear brakes locking up on this bike?
Thanks for mentioning the optional accessory seat for those of us over 6 feet tall… (I’ll request one of those when I order mine)
Oh, and I’d gladly pay a couple hundred extra if these were manufactured in Lincoln, NE again… ahh, the good old days….
Every article that reviews a motorcycle uses the word “flickable”. There are so many other words available like agile or maneuverable. I have not read a single article that says the opposite i.e. it is easier to change the direction of herd of stampeding buffalo.
I don’t see any major issue on this bike. Just instal a fairing and some saddle bags and became a good light adventure bike. Why need more power when the top speed is rarely used.
More speed = fast death ! We Asians prefer smaller bikes as the fuel economy make sense as it is superior. The service cost is 5 X less. The tyres are 10 X cheaper. So are the sprocket and chains.
High performance bikes don’t last long because it is so stress reliability is a concern.
Anyway many have rode moped from South East Asia to London reach the top of the highest mountain road in the world with no issue. But modern moped is as fast as a 250 now
I had a couple fully fared bikes when they started to become popular but have since gone back to standard or naked because of maintenance. When I asked for the price to do a valve clearance check on my 2008 FZ1 I had to pick myself off the floor when he said $1200-1800. I decided to do it myself. Then when I got into it, I learned the first and last days in the job were to remove all the plastic and associated brackets and fasteners and put them back on after the “real” two days of checking and replacing was done. After the whole thing was done I appreciated why the dealer charged what he did. To add insult to injury, a full faring, except maybe on a full blown cruiser, doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of protection from weather. I know because I tour every summer and I hate rain when you’re on a motorcycle.
Now give us a Versys 400 , or I’m going to built one myself cannibalize an old klr for parts . Sub 400cc offering is a good thing not only in Eu . Here in Qc it’s 200 $ more to plated a motorcycle over 400 .
I’m a Deals Gap Dragon rider (live 14 minutes away) and this bike with some Q3+ tires will be a great twisty machine and no-doubt give liter bikes fits in the tight curves. Cheap horsepower, light weight and quick handling with Kawasaki reliability and dealer network. I’m in…!
👌🏼 😎 Interested !!
People commenting here think this is a bike without a market? LOL. And the comment about ignoring freeway needs for sportbike style when the Ninja 400 came out first – shame. Anyway, I entered the motorcycle world many years ago on the old 93/94 Suzuki Bandit 400, which was a wonderful naked bike with beautiful tube frame, inline 4 cyl and 15K rpm redline. Now that I’m thinking of buying another bike, guess what? I want the new version of that bike and the Z400 nails it, giving me fuel injection and ABS as well for not much more $ than I paid all those years ago (for a used bike). There are plenty of us out there – worldwide – that want that naked 400 bike and not a full fairing, not hunched over the gas tank, and also not leaning back in a easy chair on a chopper/cruiser. I never had a problem with riding my other 400 on the freeway, but I didn’t buy it for that either. I bought to have fun on the backroads while riding with my buddy (and he had a Katana)!
Going tomorrow to Seattle to buy a used Z400, will ride it back to Vegas (1100+miles) in two days. I am only 68, so this should be fun! Did almost the same ride last year on a Honda CB300R!