It’s good to be king. At least, that’s how anyone rides a Kawasaki Ninja 400. Narrowed down to a single area: the Ninja 400. Almost anywhere in the world with this class of small bikes will see a wing. Bronze is dominated by little green machines. Oops, we also named him the 2018 winner of our Light Motorcycle Class.
The reason is obvious: The Ninja 400 exceeds its weight while remaining accessible for pilots of all levels. For its class, the 399cc twin-twin engine is powerful and dynamic, with smooth power and excellent top-to-bottom delivery. In stock trim, its brake distribution, chassis, and suspension are also up to the task. But as we all know, “enough” isn’t good enough for riding or racing, and here the aftermarket comes to the rescue with parts to address virtually every Ninja’s shortcoming.
It may be hard to remember, but there was a brief period when the KTM RC390 was the bike in its class. With a mantra like “Ready to Race”, anyone who wants to do it can do it right by winning the Orange mini bike. However, over time, it became clear that the Ninja was simply an easier motorcycle to ride. Add to that reliability issues for the KTM (at least early models) and the writing on the wall for RC.
Or Was It?
Not one of those long-term challenges, KTM has updated the RC390 for 2022. Obviously, the changes come with the aim of complying with Euro5 standards, but they can also be seen as an attempt to roll back. his position in the face of Kawasaki. With a new lighter frame, lighter wheels, new airbox, enhanced ABS and traction control system IMU, automatic reducer, adjustable suspension, fuel tank, and redesigned bodywork. All in all, on paper, there seems to be a lot to like about the updated 390.
One thing you won’t see, however, is a new or updated tool. The 390 Single gets a different air intake because of the new airbox, but for the most part, remains the same as before. However, the combination of these changes has the MO team wondering if KTM has done enough to usurp Kawasaki in terms of track dominance. Only one way can we use to find out the answer.
Time For A Track Showdown!
No one could resist the chance to hit the track, we took the RC390 and Ninja 400 to the Buttonwillow Track with our friends at Trackdaz to settle the score once and for all. Along with replacing the tires with super-stick Bridgestone R11 rubber, we kept both bikes intact. For this experiment, we also wanted to get different opinions than my own, so we invited some special guests. Our best friend Mark Miller needs no introduction, but I’ll give him one anyway. A former AMA champion with around 50 TT starting on the Isle of Man to his name, ‘Thriller’ Miller is currently the fastest American on the island.
Joining us next is Aron Smetana, and while he may not be a household name to some of you, he is someone who has played a huge role in helping MO collect data for our 7 Bike Heavy Nude Shooter and Data Mining story.
Next, compare how three riders, on three different bikes, spin within one second of each other. A regular racer in his Triumph Daytona 765 and Street Triple (and even his BMW GS sometimes!), Smetana also owns a racing version of the Ninja 400 and has previously driven it. an RC390.
Last, but not least, we have Kate Afanasyeva. She and her brother Dennis run Beach Moto, a large motorcycle clothing retailer in Los Angeles. When she’s not at the store, you can often find her on the track on your Yamaha R6, getting ready or training new riders at various Let’s Ride events. Her first time on the track on the Kawasaki Ninja 300, the advantages of small displacement motorcycles as you level up won’t be lost on her and Kate brings a fresh perspective to this test.
The premise here is simple: four riders will swap back and forth on both bikes throughout our race day to gather their impressions of each in the track environment. At the end of the day, a discussion took place and the winner was chosen. Fortunately, not all of us agree.
Before we hit the track impressions, our first surprise came to the Rottweiler Performance dyno, where KTM put 40hp above the Kawasaki’s 43.4. Torque is almost identical – 24.6 lb-ft for the Ninja, 24.1 lb-ft for the KTM. The surprise came from the sloppy look of RC’s dyno chart. With more zigs and zags than the Alps, the RC is particularly lousy in the top mid-range, with a giant flat spot that spikes sharply at 8000rpm before stalling at 1600rpm on the way to the red line. It’s really shocking how bad the fuel curve is.