Kawasaki’s popular Ninja 1000SX receives a multitude of upgrades for 2020. We sent international journalist Adam ‘Chad’ Child to Spain to wheelie, I mean test, the latest version of this popular sports-tourer.
Kawasaki’s first Z1000SX was introduced in 2010 and I was lucky enough to attend the world launch in Spain. I was immediately impressed with their new sports-tourer. Kawasaki had cleverly listened to the, let’s face it, aging bike market and gave it precisely what was required: a comfortable tourer that was also capable of being sporty and fun. It was loosely based on Kawasaki’s Z1000, and customers loved it, as did Kawasaki dealers.
In 2014, I was back in Spain to test the updated 1000SX, with improved braking, revised suspension, cosmetic tweaks, and a livelier engine. I owned a 2014 model, and covered nearly 30,000 miles in all conditions and loved it, a brilliant all-round bike. 2017 saw another upgrade, with the introduction of a six-axis IMU offering greater riders aids. Other changes aside from the obvious cosmetic differences was a lowered rear, by changing the shock linkage and new clocks. The engine was also cleaned up to meet Euro-4 but didn’t lose any power or torque.
For 2020, Kawasaki have significantly improved the SX and rebranded it the ‘Ninja’ 1000SX, which puts it in the same family as their corporate flagship, the supercharged Ninja H2 SX.
The improvements include a new TFT 4.3inch full-colour dash with Bluetooth connectivity. New styling, which includes a new single-exiting exhaust that saves on weight and a manually four-way adjustable screen.
Other significant changes include revised suspension, the addition of an up-and-down quick-shifter, cruise control, four electronic rider modes, and a larger and comfier seat for both rider and pillion, increased by 20 mm which raises the seat hight from to 835 mm, from 815 mm. On spec alone this is a significant upgrade for the now Euro5-compliant SX.
The new clocks add a spoonful of superiority to a bike that has already surpassed the Japanese competition in kerb appeal. Yes, $17,199 plus on roads for the base model (without panniers), is a reasonable chunk of money, but for a high-quality and powerful sports-tourer it’s also competitively priced and considerably cheaper than BMW’s R 1250 RS, arguably the Kawasaki’s closest competition. Suzuki have the cheaper, GSX-S1000F, but there isn’t the option of hard panniers, and despite being similar in power, the Suzuki is a little more basic in specification and rider aids.
The new clocks, which have two displays (sports and touring) are strong and offer four riding modes: Sport, Road, Rain plus a personalised Rider mode that allows you to change the engine’s power characteristics and reduce or remove the traction control — and do so on the move. There’s also an easy-to-use cruise control, which, like all the controls, became second nature after 160miles in the SX’s (super-comfy) saddle. Everything is operated by the new array of buttons on the left, bar and although are not immediately intuitive, are simple and easy to operate even in thick gloves.
With 260 kilometres on day one followed by a full-on second day of riding, Kawasaki wanted the press to feel the full benefit of their modernised version of best-selling SX. A new, 835 mm thick, seat is far comfier than before – after two days of riding there were no aches or gripes. On the old model, after two hours in the saddle you started to move around to prevent numb-bum syndrome, the 2020 is superior.
The new four-way, manually adjustable screen is a little on the small side, even when fully erect, but there is a larger screen available in Kawasaki’s accessories catalogue. You’re not meant to manually adjust the screen on the move, but the addition of cruise control does make this easier.
On the motorway, with the cruise-control set to 135 km/h, revs hovering at 6000 rpm and a noticeable but never overwhelming buffeting on my upper body, I couldn’t have been more content. The helpful clocks were feeding me economy data as well as an estimated tank range: two fast hours in the saddle, no problem. On test we averaged around 5.5 litres per 100 kilometres, which with a 19-litre fuel tank gives a theoretical tank range of well in excess of 300 kilometres. With improved comfort, 250 kilometres plus in one stint wouldn’t be an issue.
The SX is desirable, attractive, comfortable, and dripping with rider aids like cornering ABS and lean-sensitive traction control. The rider aids are first rate, comparable to leading road-going superbikes from a few years ago. They are not intrusive, and allow you to ride with a guardian angel on your shoulder. But for me it’s the SX’s sporting edge that elevates it above the competition.
The SX has always been on the sporty side of sports-touring, and I believe that balance has for 2020 swung even more towards sports. Despite its size and weight, the SX handles well enough for knee-down levels of lean — in safety.
The new Bridgestone S22 tyres give exceptional feedback and grip in all conditions. In fact, that new dash has a lean angle indicator that I managed to push to 52-degrees, and even at those extreme peg-scraping levels of lean the SX felt secure and planted. When you add full loaded luggage and a pillion, ground clearance is further reduced, but the remote pre-load on the side is easy-to-use and will reduce the rear sag when you’ve added weight.
The Kawasaki’s turn-in and front-end feel are excellent. Kawasaki have only tweaked the fork internals slightly, increasing the oil flow, which softens the compression, but it’s a notable improvement over the old bike.
The drive from the torquey and smooth in-line four-cylinder is effortless. Give her a big handful, though, and she’ll quickly remind you that there are 140 horses waiting to be unleashed. Make no mistake this isn’t a slow bike. Despite complying with Euro-5, the engine hasn’t lost any peak power or torque.
The SX has the handling and power of a pure sportsbike from just 10 or so years ago,yet is supremely comfortable – with panniers plus a plethora of safety aids to keep everything in-line.
At times I was conflicted. How do you ride a sports-tourer as sporty as this? Should I take it easy and enjoy the views around Corndora or go for knee-down, peg scraping glory? Truth is, the new SX is genuinely ecstatic in both scenarios and, while the old bike needed a tweak on the suspension to make it steer like a ZX, that isn’t the case anymore. The new SX handles from the crate.
But it’s never all good news. The additional quick-shifter is relatively slick on up changes, especially at high rpm, but the same can’t be said on clutchless down changes, particularly below 5000 rpm. It’s not as slick as I was expecting and a little disappointing as the similar system on Kawasaki’s ZX-10RR is effortless and smooth.
Also, with the integrated panniers fitted, the distance between the rider’s and pillion’s feet is restricted, especially if you ride on your toes, in race boots. I’ve ridden the old model extensively in the past with my wife as a pillion, and never had a problem, but it’s worth mentioning. If you ride extensively two-up, try before you buy.
I’ve without a doubt the new Kawasaki Ninja Z1000SX will carry on the sales success of its predecessor. After all, the new model is even sportier yet even easier to ride over a huge distances and has an even higher level of spec’ and appeal. Imagine, if you will, a truly practical and comfortable sportsbike, and, hey-presto, you have the SX, a bike so good you feel compelled to ask why you would you want anything else.
2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX Specifications
2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 SX
Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, In-line 4-cylinder
Bore x Stroke
77.0 x 56.0 mm
Suspension – front
Suspension – rear
Wheel travel – f/r
120 mm / 144 mm
Brakes – front
Dual Discs 267 mm (effective diameter)
Brakes – rear
Single Disc 214 mm (effective diameter)
Wheel Size Front/Rear
17M/C x MT3.50 / 17M/C x MT6.00
Tyre Size Front/Rear
120/70ZR17M/C (58W) / 190/50ZR17M/C (73W)
L x W x H
2,100 x 825 x 1,190 mm
104.5 kW (142PS) @ 10,000 min
111.0 N.m (11.3 kgfm) / 8,000 min
Metallic Graphite Gray with Metallic Diablo Black Emerald Blazed Green with Metallic Carbon Gray and Metallic Graphite Gray
Yorkshire born Adam Child, or Chad as he’s known in the industry, is a multiple UK record holder, former MCN senior road tester and has been professionally bike testing for 20-years.Chad has attended more than 350 bike launches, covering over a million road test miles, he is also an international road racer, with race wins at Oliver's Mount, podiums in New Zealand and two top ten Isle of Man TT finishes.Chad is just as happy elbow-down on a race track, kicking up mud off road, or restoring classic bikes. Chad launched his own company, Chad76Media in 2019, and you can follow his adventures on Twitter and Instagram.
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