It's a crying shame that the 400cc class withered away. Imagine a modern-day Kawasaki ZXR400, bragging a 20,000rpm redline, weighing 140kg and handling that could not get better. Sounds like what the Moto3 class should have been. Oh well, some things weren't meant to be.
The Kawasaki ZXR400 may be one of the most common 400cc still doing the rounds, but there's a reason why the ZXR400 is doing them. Apart from other manufacturers giving up building the ZXR's rivals pre-millennium, it was and still is, simply the most talented pocket rocket on the market. The Kawasaki ZXR400 is also a stalwart of club racing paddock worldwide, with stacks of tried and tested performance tuning modifications and parts still available. They just work from the crate. Don't be afraid of getting involved with an older model, as development stopped in 1991.
65 horsepower has never been so involving. The Kawasaki ZXR400 may brag a redline at 14,000rpm, but there certainly isn't 14,000's worth of revs to play with. You have to work like a professional to keep the needle in the powerband between 12,000rpm and 14,000rpm, otherwise you're forever changing down gear – we're not sure the Royal Thai Police will believe you're only doing 100km/h at 14,000rpm. Usable revs are there for everyday accompaniment and things are very manageable out of the powerband, but the Kawasaki ZXR400 really is a thrash-a-thon. A heavy throttle and fluffy fueling at lower revs don't help the cause but when the engine isn't chasing revs, the Kawasaki ZXR400 pulls cleanly with verve. Some have extracted around 80 horsepower from the Kawasaki ZXR400 engine but don't expect any longevity with the engine tuned to this level.
If it's cornering that needs sharpening on your motorcycling CV you could do a lot worse than buying a secondhand Kawasaki ZXR400 as a training tool. The unintimidating manners reap massive rider benefits, and confidence in any bend and on any surface is guaranteed. It really is really under your control, changing line with a whiff of input. The Kawasaki ZXR400 doesn't require much physical exertion and truly betitles its 160 kilograms. It dances lightly on its springs, perched in symmetry ready for the next move. The standard set-up copes well with the Thai roads, and as long as the motorcycle hasn't been royally rodgered, you can expect a soft action with decent damping. Even with a modern-day shock fitted to this particular motorcycle the Kawasaki ZXR400's rear end is almost in the gutter, yet surprisingly this doesn't hamper the ZXR400's handling.
Corner-hungry weapons like the Kawasaki ZXR400 thrive off heaps of grip. This particular ZXR400 had Pirelli SC2s fitted and revelled in race-tire grip levels, and the mid-day heat. Aside from the initial few minutes of riding and tire warming, it felt uncrashable, and still feels robust. Despite the flat posture, steering is fast and neutral, with the chassis plush in response. Rarely are you left panicking by excessive corner entry speed. The Kawasaki ZXR400 just keeps wanting more and egging you into higher apex speeds.