Everyone says it, so it must be true: We’re about to see a high-performance Kawasaki ZX-4R sportbike in the near future.
Well, uh, maybe it isn’t true. However, we have been seeing consistent rumours of such a bike from the Japanese moto-press over the past few months (all the way back to 2020, really), and in recent weeks, the gossip has really heated up. Young Machine, a veritable prophet of Japan’s motorcycle magazine industry, says the new 400 is almost here.
Supposedly, the new ZX-4R will be based on the previous ZX-25R sportbike, which is itself a high-performance machine. Sort of. The ZX-25R only has a 250cc engine, but that little four-cylinder engine revs to 17,000 rpm and makes a claimed 50 hp with the help of ram air effect.
Sadly, the ZX-25R is unavailable in Canada, probably because it’s an expensive bike, at least for a 250. When it debuted in Asia before COVID-19 messed up world markets, the price tag would have translated to roughly $8,500 CAD, considerably more than a Ninja 400—and most consumers would be much happier to buy the cheaper bike with the larger engine, since that’s how North Americans think. The ZX-25R makes way more sense in Asia, where locals are often restricted to 250-class bikes and don’t mind paying extra for a quarter-litre machine that makes more power.
However, the European and US/Canadian Motorcycle Press Corps expressed a lot of interest in the ZX-25R upon its debut in 2020, and we’d guess that’s the idea behind the new ZX-4R. Supposedly, this is pretty much the exact same bike as the ZX-25R, with a sky-high redline, decently high-spec suspension and overall high level of fit and finish.
The engine may see bore and stroke both increased, but it seems sensible expect more increase to stroke than bore, as the ZX-25R is pretty low on torque, around 17 lb-ft. Adding a bit of stroke should help muscle up the engine’s low rpm range. Due to the diminishing returns of increasing engine volume, it seems silly to expect the new four-cylinder to make 80 hp; although that’s possible, we’d expect output somewhere in the 70+hp range. Expect a safety electronics suite (ride modes, ABS, traction control) and weight around the 180 kg mark, same as the 250.
If the only real changes are the engine’s top end, this is a bike that Kawasaki could get to market quickly, possibly even by this fall’s show circuit.
Would it come to Canada, if that happened? Um, maybe. For a long time, Quebec was a hot market for sportbikes in the 400 class, due to insurance woes. That’s why they had a downsized version of the old Ninja 650, with its twin-cylinder engine reduced to a 400. However, the reality is that North America in general has always been more in love with 600s than 400s or even 500s, and the CBR600 et. al. outsold the Bandit 400 and other smaller four-cyls by a great margin.
However, there’s also the 250-400 roadracing series in CSBK and other organizations, with growing interest in a Pro class, allowing significant modifications and power upgrades. You can bet that, if a ZX-4R makes it to western markets, 400-class racers in those countries will go mad trying to buy these machines. That’s a ready-built market right there.