When Kawasaki introduced the Z1000 last year, we wondered why the company went through all the trouble of designing an all-new engine and chassis just for a naked bike. The R&D and tooling costs associated with an all-new design are astronomical, and in these tough economic times, Kawasaki's move was surprising to say the least.
With the launch of the new 2011 Ninja 1000 however, that question has been answered. Utilizing the Z1000's basic platform, the Ninja 1000 builds on that superb midrange-strong powerplant and nimble handling by adding a full fairing, slightly revised ergos, a larger fuel tank, and other small bits to create a bike that surprisingly goes far beyond what you'd think the parts add up to...in other words, much more than just a tarted-up Z1000.
The World Takes Precedence
Countering the notion that the Ninja 1000 is a Z1000 afterthought is the fact that the two bikes were developed alongside each other during their design phases. "We wanted to bring over the Ninja 1000 first instead of the Z1000," admitted Kawasaki Motor Corp. USA product manager Karl Edmondson, "but because the factory's plan was for the Z1000 to debut first worldwide, we - like everyone else - had to wait." Because demand for the Z1000 was expected to be high in all markets (except the U.S., where naked bike sales have traditionally been tepid at best), Americans had to wait until now for the version of this motorcycle that probably fits their tastes better.
Utilizing the same all-new...
Utilizing the same all-new 1043cc engine as the Z1000, the Ninja 1000 certainly isn't hurting for power. Plenty of stump-pulling torque coupled with quick-revving upper midrange horsepower can fill multiple riding roles.
In a world of ever-more specialized machinery, the Ninja 1000 utilizes the strength of the Z1000 - the aforementioned 1043cc torque-laden inline-four engine and aluminum five-piece backbone frame with horizontally mounted rear shock - and modifies it a bit to turn back the clock to an era when bikes were expected to handle a multitude of roles, and do them well. This isn't the well-worn path of taking an old-generation literbike and "retuning" it for midrange torque (in other words, dulling the engine's character); the Kawasaki platform was designed from the start to be much more suitable in these real-world applications.
Rather than being narrowly aimed at the younger rider as with the supersport ZX-10R and ZX-6R, or intended for the slightly older crowd as with the Z1000, Kawasaki expects the Ninja 1000 to appeal to the complete spectrum of riders, from testosterone-addled young adults to grizzled old veterans. So while the flashy (but functional - more on that later) bodywork and zippy engine satisfy the younger generation's needs, some accommodations needed to be made to ensure that the more experienced (read: less durable) bodies weren't pummeled by aggressive ergos and lack of wind protection.
To that end, the Z1000's ergos were subtly modified for better long-range comfort. The conventional tubular handlebar is replaced by a pair of cast aluminum bar risers that bolt on to the top triple clamp; overall height is said to be the same, but with the bars angled inward about 10mm. Both the rider and passenger seat have been slightly reshaped, with 10mm thicker seat foam for both, and additional rubber dampers underneath the pillion pad for comfort and support. The footpegs have rubber covers and the brackets are rubber-mounted, with resonance-quelling weights attached to the inside of the footpeg heel guards.
Although the Z1000 wasn't really a "true" naked bike in that it had some bodywork surrounding its midriff that gave it a polarizing Transformers-style look, the Ninja 1000's full fairing is much more substantial, offering decent wind protection for both the rider's upper and lower body. The fairing's leading edges have slats to direct more airflow along the outside portion of the bodywork, in turn helping the large radiator cutouts (with their own flaired edges) to pull hot engine-bay air out and away from the rider's legs. Front turn signals are integrated into the fairing, with rubber mounts minimizing the potential for damage if the bike should tip over.
The Ninja 1000's windshield...
The Ninja 1000's windshield is adjustable to three positions by simply pushing a button below the instrument panel and manually positioning the screen. In its uppermost position, it deflects most of the windblast off the rider's chest.
The Ninja 1000's windscreen is manually adjustable to three positions via an adjustment button (by hand, no tools required) below the instrument panel. The three positions span approximately 20 degrees in angle, from low-and-tight sport to maximum-protection touring.
Other welcome changes include a larger fuel tank, with a 5.0-gallon cell replacing the Z1000's barely adequate 3.9-gallon unit. The Z1000's tiny LCD instrument panel has also been thankfully jettisoned in favor of a larger and more conventional (and readable) analog tachometer/LCD panel combination lifted from the ZX-6R, albeit with slightly different graphics. The six-spoke cast aluminum wheels are lighter than the Z1000's five-spoke units, reducing unsprung weight; unfortunately, the Ninja 1000's claimed curb weight is 503 pounds with a full tank, meaning it gained about 20 pounds on the Z1000 we tested back in May '10 ("Naked Torchbearer").