|Kawasaki Ninja 1000 Review|
By Trevor Hedge
There was a time when Kawasaki made some of the most practical road going sportsbikes with exciting engines and good road-tuned suspension, combined with friendly ergonomics. The 1998 through to 2003 ZX-9R Ninja machines and the last carburetted 636cc version of the ZX-6R in 2002 in particular, are awesome road bikes. Then Kawasaki followed the trend set by other manufacturers in producing a more hard edged focus in suspension and ergonomics, influenced by production category racing.
Manufacturers are gradually starting to realise that consumer demand has changed again, with punters wanting big sportsbike power combined with comfortable ergonomics and suspension that is well damped enough to iron out rough roads, yet perfectly competent when the pace hots up. Kawasaki’s latest effort at cracking this market is the new Ninja 1000.
Pressing the starter button for the first time as I geared up for a ride, Kawasaki’s new Ninja 1000 emitted a fairly pugnacious snarl as it sucked its first breaths through the airbox and fed the fuel-oxygen through to a quartet of hungry oval shaped 38mm Keihin throttle bodies.
You instantly feel that this is no lightweight in the engine department as more than a litre of four-cylinder goodness rasps its intent and eagerly awaits your command.
The Ninja 1000 engine was first released last year in the 2010 model Z1000 naked bike. Kawasaki claimed it was an all new motor specifically designed for street and performance riding, as opposed to a detune and massage of an existing sports powerplant. While the Z1000 was in fact first to be released, both models were developed from the outset, with production scheduling dictating that the nakedbike be released first.
To allow for the appreciably larger 19 litre tank (four litres more than Z1000), the Ninja 1000 sports a slightly smaller airbox than its naked cousin. Kawasaki still claim an identical 101.5kW (133hp) @ 9600rpm for the Ninja with 110N-m @ 7800rpm.
A particularly spirited morning run returned a shocking nine litres per 100km economy. Clearly, the Ninja 1000 enjoys a drink when you’re up it but this came back to around 7 litres per 100km in more sedate riding. Whilst this is still not great, it is manageable enough thanks to the 19 litre tank. I am sure on a long haul, a range of 300km would be easily achieved.
The Ninja runs four less teeth on the rear sprocket than the Z1000, to help lower rpm on the highway and aid fuel economy in comparison to the naked bike. This translates to 110km/h highway cruising at just under 5000rpm – a particularly sweet spot in the motor that combines with a very smooth on-off throttle response to make highway work, or commuting, a much less frenetic affair than its sibling.
Likewise the three-position adjustable screen, higher and closer bars and rubber mounted pegs help make the Ninja 1000 a friendly long distance mount. Legroom is generous while the close, straight positioning of the grips takes a while to get comfortable with. The screen is good but not to ‘true’ touring bike standard. It is certainly better than nothing and can be adjusted without tools.
The bike feels slim between the knees, responds well to peg inputs and feels overall like a small and agile bike, belying the machine’s 231kg wet weight. The seat is sufficiently supportive for long distance riding. Pillions, on the other hand, are not quite so well catered for.
The initial stroke of the suspension is plush but stiffens progressively when needed. The inverted forks and horizontally mounted shock absorber both offer the full gamut of preload and damping adjustments, allowing the machine to be tailored to all types of riding.
However, in reality I found that tuning my riding style to the Ninja 1000 reaped the most benefits.
Initial struggles in tighter terrain required adapting a more aggressive attitude to the Ninja, which helped the relationship immensely. In faster bends the Ninja need no such coaxing to perform, eating them up without a problem. Adding more preload and a lot more rebound damping to the rear shock paid dividends with more rebound and compression adding to the front balancing the machine out nicely.
If spending more term time with the Ninja, I would experiment with dropping the forks a little more through the triple clamps, to push more weight on the front end for sports riding, which should help improve turn-in characteristics in the tight stuff.
Healthy drive is available from 3000rpm before the in-line four really starts to grunt hard over 6000rpm. The bottom end is nowhere near as fat as larger capacity machines, but is rarely found wanting once into the mid-range.
In fang mode the engine delights in being kept spinning above 7000rpm as you roll on and off the throttle your favourite set of bends. The top end drive is seriously impressive but the engine is not peaky, just a little more exciting than its somewhat modest, by modern standards, power figures might suggest.
Pulling the Ninja up requires more effort at the lever than expected but there is plenty of power there to be had by giving them a decent squeeze. Again this is a compromise with the long progression of the lever helping to ease smooth application when not in fang mode and marrying well to the softer-than-sports bike suspension.
ABS is fitted as standard and works well while remaining unobtrusive – just the way you want.
Instrumentation is lifted from the ZX-6R parts catalogue; it works well enough, but given this bike’s intended purpose, the addition of a full functioned trip computer would have been a nice touch. The mirrors are superb.
In my opinion, a bike like this without affordable factory sorted accessories is half baked. Thankfully, Kawasaki agree and offer colour coded Givi luggage specially designed for the Z1000, rounding out the package. The rear sub-frame of the Ninja 1000 was designed with luggage in mind and is much more robust than that seen on its nakedbike sibling. A $699 set of pannier brackets are required to fit the $660 panniers and the tubular brackets will prove an eyesore when the panniers are not mounted. This does reduce the amenity of the design somewhat; an integrated mounting solution that works with the machine’s styling when not mounted would have been a much smarter approach.
At $16,999 plus on road costs Kawasaki’s Ninja 1000 is not a budget sports-tourer in the vein of the capable Suzuki GSX1250FA and the like. Instead the Kawasaki straddles an affordable line between the bargain bikes and the much larger sports-tourers, like their own ZX-14.
The Ninja 1000 is another good option in the marketplace and well worth throwing a leg over at your local Kawasaki dealer if you are in the market for a sports-touring motorcycle or a semi-naked bike with an added does of real world practicality.
It’s more fun that most of the bikes in this style of motorcycle, not as epically laugh out loud in your helmet entertaining as KTM’s brilliant 990 SMT, but certainly a lot more larrikin than most. I reckon it’s a bit of a winner.