2023 Kawasaki ZX400R: Return of the Cult Bike

Kawasaki ZX25R is said to be coming to America in 2023 as a 400. Hallelujah ! Kawasaki


Let me tell a story:

Pre-pandemic a friend of mine had a meeting with the executives in charge of the Honda’s US motorcycle division in Torrance. They discussed sales and forecasts and all the usual bad news topics. Most of the Honda street line wasn’t selling at expected levels at that time. This is not to say that they were making inferior motorcycles or bad streetbikes, not at all. They were making motorcycles for people who had to be convinced to consider motorcycles as a mode of transportation or a object of passion instead of making motorcycles that would be a “must have” bike for Honda enthusiasts. My friend implored: there are buyers out there that would buy a modern V-twin Hawk GT650, or a 400 V4, or even a standard CB400F in-line four, outfitted with some of the Honda Motor tech they have been renown for in the last 60 years.

The execs were sympathetic to their visitor’s plea, but dismissed most of it on principle. We’d have to re-tool, they said, the bike would have to be basically created, the costs to bring it here would make the price too expensive for the market.

Okay, my friend said, said, looking over the bikes that Honda was pushing on their dealers and customers for that model year, but what did it cost to create, re-tool and bring all of these bikes to America? Bikes you have to convince non-riding people to buy, to convince them to consider a motorcycle as a mode of transport.

This was after American Honda had decided to bring in the MotoGP streetbike version of the RC213V-S. When they announced pre-ordering for the RC213V-S that was an important day. It was also a day that lives in infamy with employees; because the announcement made the customer service phone lines explode.

And not in a good way.

Honda enthusiasts were so moved by the RC213V-S announcement that they sought out the customer service phone number for Honda and decided to let Big H know how they felt about this motorcycle being imported and sold. The message, according to those working the phones, was ‘HEY! (WTF??!) How about a very special Honda motorcycle that I can afford and ride? I’ve been riding Honda for 20/30/40 years and this is the bike you bring in for enthusiasts? I don’t want an Africa Twin. I don’t want a CBR1000RR. I want something small, and fast and cool. I want to hear the howl.’

What’s the take-away? That there are people out there that yearn for a cult bike to call their own.

When the Kawasaki 250 four cylinder (ZX25R) was introduced in Asia in 2020 there was a very hard push for Kawasaki to bring that bike to the United States.

By me.

And probably many others. I was all-in when I saw the 250 spun to a 17,000 rpm redline.

Kawasaki said that it would cost too much to bring in, there would be huge re-tooling costs and frankly a lot of work to make it USA compliant. Tooling costs for a company that makes ships, helicopters and hard parts for nuclear power plants?, I countered. Give me a break. There are rounding errors in the KHI ship division which dwarf the costs to modify a motorcycle to make it saleable in the USA.

Make it a 400, I suggested to Kawasaki. Bring in some kind of Z-1 retro 400cc to spread the costs around, I said, acting like I have a clue as to what I am talking about.

Not going to happen Kawasaki said.

However, clearly there has been major change in how Kawasaki USA is considering this motorcycle. Many of the early rumors about 2023 product include a new offering of the ZX4R (powered by an in-line four cylinder). Woo-hoo!

What was the last cult bike produced for the US market? If you apply the given that any Italian motorcycle is a cult bike and remove them from the data, it’s been at least 25 years. I applaud Kawasaki for bringing this bike to America, if they do.

Kawasaki: one last piece of Dean Advice: make it green with the blue and white stripes; I bet they sell every one with retro aesthetics.

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