Are 400cc twins the next sports bike trend?

Revival of the 400cc sports bike class

HONDA, Yamaha, Kawasaki and KTM have all been linked with rumoured twin-cylinder sports bikes in the region of 400cc – so is this where the next boom of sports bike sales will come from?

Several sources in Japan have, in recent months, repeatedly 'confirmed' that a CBR400R is in the pipeline, based around a parallel twin motor and providing a halfway-house between the CBR250R and the CBR600RR. Others have also suggested that Yamaha and Kawasaki have similar plans, while Indian reports claim that KTM and Bajaj have been working on a 375cc twin for future sports bikes, Dukes and Pulsars.

While we've heard credible sources speaking about the Honda, the others are still in a grey area. While KTM has spoken of a small twin in the past, its recent plans for a small sports bike have revolved around the 'Moto3 350' and 'Duke 350' revealed in the firm's future product plan. All the reports about that bike have suggested that a single-cylinder motor would be its likely power source, although a twin, presumably based on the Duke 125/200's architecture, would achieve roughly the right capacity.

Kawasaki is unique in already having a 400cc twin-cylinder sports bike on sale in some countries, the Ninja 400R. However, that's just a sleeved-down version of the old-model ER6f/Ninja 650. An update, to adopt the latest ER6 styling, would make sense, but whether the bike can match a purpose-made 400cc machine – presumably smaller and lighter than the 650-based Kawasaki – is questionable.

Why the demand for such bikes? In the tough economy, sports bikes aren't shifting fast so smaller and, crucially, cheaper machines could be a partial answer. Add the fact that the motorcycle licence system in Europe is changing (from 19 January in the UK) to add 47bhp limit on the new 'A2' licence level. With direct access to full-power 'Category A' bikes having a minimum age of 24, a potentially large number of new riders could end up needing 47bhp machines for a significant time (two years experience on them being the only way to get a full licence before the age of 24), which would be roughly in line with the performance of these speculative 400cc models.