I won’t get into the details of how my husband helped me decide on the Z400 for my first bike, but I wasn’t appalled by the looks, I trust his judgment (obviously, he married me), and I could sit on the bike with my feet touching the ground. Sold. Okay, bright green isn’t my jam, but, the bike is mostly black, so I could live with it.
Learning to ride, it seemed heavy, and handling a bike was a new experience. However, over the three times I ever dropped it, I didn’t break anything on myself or the bike (other than some grimace-inducing aesthetic damages, which have since been repaired), so it’s a pretty tough, well-built motorcycle.
Now, as a more seasoned rider with almost two years of experience, below are my thoughts regarding the Z400, from someone who knows absolutely nothing about the mechanics of said bike.
- It’s light and nimble, and easily zips around.
- It looks pretty great.
- Very beginner-friendly.
- Low seat. For a rider with shorter legs, it’s one of the few options (at least on the sport bike front) that allows for flat-footing.
- Comfortable for short rides.
- Bars are a comfortable distance and height.
- Not the most comfortable bike ever. After about 1.5 hours of riding, the tank sides begin to hurt my inner thighs (due to the ridges), and my lower back starts to hurt (this is not a seat designed for long-distance rides).
- Stock mirrors are a dumpster fire of uselessness. Immediately replaced them with some bar end mirrors.
- Stock levers weren’t comfortable or adjustable. Replaced those quickly, as well.
- After becoming a more experienced rider, I’ve began to outgrow the power and speed of the Z400. I could definitely do with more of both, now.
- It’s a pain in the ass to ride alongside a rider with a more powerful bike. When accelerating from a stop, with my husband and his Z900RS, I have to shift quickly through the gears to keep pace. Not a deal breaker, but I’ll choose something more powerful with my next upgrade.
As the more experienced and seasoned rider among us, I can take a bit more of a critical scalpel to the qualities of the Z400. To top it off, as I am writing this, I’ve been using the Z400 for my daily, 60+ mile commute this week, while the RS is getting it’s routine valve service.
For an entry-level machine priced under $5,000, the Z400 packs quite a punch. It sports the biggest engine amongst entry-level naked motorcycles from the Japanese brands. Low seat, accessible power, and just the right standard features, like a slip-assist clutch and ABS, without any unnecessary price inflating bells and whistles. The sharply aggressive Sugomi design language derived from its siblings give it a larger presence than its competitors, too.
The Z400 puts out more power than you might expect. This is a modern, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, 8 valve, dual overhead cam engine pulled straight out of the Ninja 400 sportbike, so it gets a lot of bang out of its 400cc buck. Stock, it puts out about 45hp (which is only a bit less than a Harley-Davidson Iron 883), while weighing only around 360lbs. Not a bad power-to-weight ratio, by any means. Of course, it behooves one to axe the chunky stock muffler to save weight, squeeze out a few more horsepowers, and improve aesthetics.
Power off the line is pretty soft, though. While top end horsepower is good, low to mid range torque is a bit lacking. 1st gear is so short that it barely exists, and the engine doesn’t really wake up until you’re revving it out to 8,000+ RPMs in 3rd gear or higher. That’s fine, though, and keeps it both accessible and easy to handle for new riders, but also makes it a lot of fun when you open it up and rip down some twisty backroads.
Handling is razor sharp, and the suspension, while only adjustable in the rear for preload, is surprisingly good. It keeps it planted and maneuverable even when riding aggressively. The spring rate in the front is a bit too soft, but doesn’t cause me any problems as long as I back off a bit when I feel it hitting its limit through hard cornering or braking.
Pull on the slip-assist clutch is light, but the friction zone is so small it’s essentially binary; it’s either on or off. It’s not a huge issue, since there isn’t a ton of low end grunt, and the machine never feels like it’s going to try to get out from under you, but it takes some getting used to.
Where it falters, not surprisingly, is in long-distance comfort. While fully capable of cruising down the highway at 80+ mph, a touring bike, this is not. You can’t demand too much out of it on that front, and after an hour or so, you’ll be ready for a break. For a smaller bike, it’s not even the ergonomics that are at fault here. They’re surprisingly good. The rider triangle is fairly comfortable for my 6′ frame. I’ve felt much more cramped on much larger and heavier bikes than the Z400. The seat is the main culprit when it comes to discomfort. It’s small, and inadequately padded for long rides.
It’s also easy to find aftermarket parts for. It shares at least 90% of its DNA with the Ninja 300 and 400, which in turn carry over a lot from the Ninja 250. This means the basic platform has been around for decades, is based on an extremely popular motorcycle, and there is a ton of stuff out there for it. Almost anything that will fit one of the smaller Ninjas will in turn work on the Z400, so your options are almost limitless.
Great bike to learn on. Fun, accessible, and wonderful for commuting and short rides. Won’t win any drag races, and will murder your body on a long road trip. It’s a great place to start your motorcycling journey, yet isn’t boring for the more experienced, either.