Another Dedicated Track Bike

So I did a thing… I found a virtually brand new 2020 Ninja 400 (EX400) showing 53 miles with rearsets and track bodywork not far away at a reasonable price and following the raves about the bike from several high-level riders and coaches, I decided to make the jump. I did this after a decent experience having ridden and raced a KTM RC 390 in 2021 but there were some characteristics of it that I didn’t care for, not to mention the constant fear of something going wrong with it.

Ninja 400 (EX400)

So, the Ninja 400 is widely lauded as being a great track bike and learning platform. It’s also a social thing for me as I have a couple of track buddies who have small bikes and being able to ride with them on comparable equipment should be good fun.

Another part of this that’s attractive to me is I want to ride a nearly stock, low-spec bike and find its limits. I don’t plan to upgrade much on it until I start reaching component limits. There will be some upgrades, but these are in the interest of data acquisition (AiM Solo 2 DL with an April Systems connection unit so I can capture throttle position, brake pressure, RPM, gear position along with the native AiM GPS measurements), engine protection, captive wheel spacers, captive axle blocks, etc. Most of this is functionality, not performance-related. I’m actually quite looking forward to this learning process. I had an excellent time riding a bone-stock, softly setup Yamaha R7 in 2021 courtesy of YCRS. Once we cleared traffic and picked up the pace, I could start to feel some limitations or the need to adjust things in a couple of spots. My primary track bike (the Daytona 765) is setup so nicely and the envelope is so much beyond my current capabilities, I never really get a sense of what its limits are.

So, in sum, my plan for this bike is to run Dunlop Q3+ tires, upgrade the front brakes (because they’re notoriously inadequate for track pace), keep it mostly stock (other than bike protection and data acquisition and minor ergonomics) until I can find limitations, then work on riding to the bike as much as I can, then upgrade individual components. I don’t plan to add a quickshifter, exhaust, flash, or suspension parts until I find that there’s nothing I can do to get around limitations. Another part of this is my goal to work more on becoming an adaptable rider. Now if my buddies on built Ninja 400s and R3s are gapping me on the straights, I may feel differently but this is my plan for now.

Another side benefit of this is considerably lower operating costs. I expect to be able to get many days out of the tires. Presently I’m getting about 3 days out of a rear on the Daytona, which, if you have a literbike, sounds like a tire luxury but at ~30+ track days per year, still adds up.

As time goes on, I’ll add to this post to detail out the build. I’m excited about this journey and by no means do I plan to stop riding the Daytona, but it’s more of a supplement, not to mention it’s nice to have an alternate bike.

Upgrade/Mod List

  • AiM Solo 2 DL (already have)
  • AiM SmartyCam HD GP (already have)
  • April Systems AiM interface to capture throttle position, RPM, gear position, and analog input for brake pressure
  • Woodcraft engine protection
  • Evotech radiator guard
  • Braketech 310mm x 6mm front rotor
  • SBS Dual Carbon front brake pads
  • Core Moto braided brake lines
  • StompGrip tank grips
  • AntiGravity LiOn battery (the stock battery is nearly flat from sitting for 1+ years)
  • Spears Racing shark fin
  • Magnetic drilled drain plug
  • Angled valve stems
  • Zero Gravity Double Bubble windscreen
  • Kickstand bypass plug
  • Norton Racing steering stop
  • TST captive wheel spacer kit
  • TST captive chain adjuster & GP lifter kit
  • FlashTune OBDII diagnostic harness (in case I need to review or clear engine codes)
  • Vortex 2.0 rearsets (the bike came with them from the original seller)
  • Dunlop Q3+ in 110 & 160 sizing

2022-01-18 – After disassembling things a little, I’ve concluded that HotBodies plastics are absolute rubbish. The fit and finish are positively miserable, they’re brittle, and the fact that you have to mangle the subframe is inexcusable. I don’t know that I’ll be able to put up with them.

On another note, some of the parts are trickling in, one of the coolest yet is the Braketech rotor. It’s a proper floating rotor and is 6mm thick, beautifully made. Unfortunately, my wheels aren’t particularly pretty, I may have to figure out something with that.

310 x 6mm Braketech rotor

I’ve installed the TST Captive Chain Adjusters with the GP lift–it’s just one of those things that seems like the bike should have come with from the start. I put on a Spears shark fin, the captive spacers, and some other small bits. The LiOn battery should be here for the weekend and some other stuff from Wicked Racing, including most of the brake stuff (pads, lines, etc.) though I’ll hold off on opening the hydraulic lines until I get the brake pressure sensor and its fitting.

Just installed the front Core stainless brake line, SBS Dual Carbon brake pads, Woodcraft engine protection, and Antigravity LiOn battery.

Core stainless front brake line, SBS Dual Carbon pads, Braketech 6mm rotor
Woodcraft engine protection
Antigravity LiOn battery; excuse the mess of wires above, those are leads that will be patched into the data acquisition system; since the AG battery is a little shorter than the original, I simply flipped the battery retaining bracket over to keep it tight in there, otherwise there was a gap which could have allowed the battery to bounce or move

I’ll also be installing a steering stem RAM mount for the Solo 2 DL to attach. Also installed are the two RAM balls on top of the windscreen/mirror mount locations for attaching cameras.

A pair of oval RAM mount bases. I had to open up the mounting holes a little with a drill bit but they then fit right over the windscreen/mirror mounts. Now I have a stable and secure mounting location for cameras or mirrors.
3rd time is a charm, it took a while to get a steering stem mount I was happy with for the Solo 2 DL. Even if I end up mounting it in the cockpit later this is still a handy location for a camera or phone holder.

2022-01-24 – First Ride
Mason, Austin, and I met up at the Sonoma kart track today. It was new for Mason but Austin and I had been there a couple of times but it was my inaugural run on the N4. I had ridden my KTM RC 390 at the Dixon kart track last January and it was exhausting. I’m not sure if it was the more relaxed ergos on the Ninja or the track or maybe my expectations had been primed, but the Ninja was pretty fun on the kart track. I had to bed the fresh SBS pads and the Braketech rotor so the first few laps were mellow. After that first session the front brake was working well and I was finding my body reference points on the bike. Kart tracks on any 3/400cc bike are busy work, there’s really no time to relax as things happen pretty quickly, it’s a lot like riding a 200bhp bike on a big track. I’d see ~80mph on the front straight at the top of 4th gear. I felt like I mostly had the track figured out and subconsciously buit my reference points. The biggest takeaway though, I believe, was how it trains you for your vision. This particular config at the Sonoma kart track has a couple of ridiculously long and very slow corners. Once you’re into the corner, you realize you just have to hold the lean and the throttle and, in a way, you’re bored. It makes you want to get to the throttle and if your mind is working, that means you need to find your exit and to do that, you have to move your head and eyes. I was aware of setting my line and then immediately rotating my head looking for the exit. Another thing about any smaller bike is that to be quick and safe, you have to be smooth. I was very consciously working on smooth body transitions and any inputs on the bike. Honestly, the stock suspension worked great, I was lazy in shifting, almost entirely staying in 3rd (even in the tightest bits) and 4th for the front straight. Next time I’ll work on using 2nd for the tightest bits as I didn’t have as much exit drive as I’d have liked. A lot of people have had clutch and transmission issues. Since my bike doesn’t have a quickshifter (yet), I tried ‘powershifting’ instead of traditional closing the throttle and just kept it pinned, slipped the clutch and upshifted. Unfortuantely this technique didn’t work as the the slipper clutch then treated it as slipping. The Quickshifter will be on order soon and I’ll use a more traditional technique for clutchless shifting. I just hate to give up any forward drive and that’s why I tried powershifting. The bike stayed upright the whole time, worked great with a couple of minor fixes, and I got to know it a bit.

2022-02-10 – ECU Flash
I just got the ECU back from Graves today and re-installed it and the tank and rest of the track bodywork sans the belly pan, I’ll have to modify it to fit with the kickstand and possibly the stock exhaust but I want to keep the kickstand for now. The Quickshifter came in last week and I installed that (sans the ECU) and got it fairly dialed in in terms of adjustment. I have a little more tweaking on the height but that can wait.

This afternoon, after getting it running again, I’ve just dropped off with P&M Motorcycles, my local independent shop. They’ll be installing the Q3+ tires, angled valve stems, and the Spears Clutch and Transmission kits. It’ll get its first oil change at the same time.

If all goes according to plan, I’ll be taking it out on 2/19-20 to Sonoma Raceway to get my first track weekend on the big track.

2022-02-22 – Got to ride it at Sonoma Raceway
I finally got to take it out. A couple of days before we got the Spears shift kit and clutch installed, as well as the Dunlop Q3+ tires. The bike worked great (other than burning through the brake pads early). I have a dedicated write up here: