The Real Do-It-All Sportbike
The Ninja 1000 thankfully...
The Ninja 1000 thankfully ditches the tiny LCD instrument panel of the Z1000 for a unit from the ZX-6R, with a much more easily read-at-a-glance analog tachometer paired with an LCD for the digital speedometer and other vital functions.
Given that the Z1000's engine, chassis, and suspension return basically unchanged in the Ninja 1000, it stands to reason that the former's agile yet rider-friendly handling and torque-monster of an engine would be retained in the latter. No surprise then; as with its semi-naked forebear, there's excellent torque from as low as 2500 rpm from the smooth, counterbalancer-equipped powerplant. An impressively flat torque curve means that shifting becomes more an option than a requirement when carving twisty sections of road, and a one-tooth-smaller rear sprocket mellows out top-gear cruising rpm for both fuel efficiency and less vibration in the rpm range where the counterbalancer isn't as functional (as in a steady 80 mph, where just a few vibes make themselves known through the bars).
Despite the slightly taller gearing, there's still enough steam on tap to easily loft the front end without provocation in the lower gears, which also translates to plenty of quick acceleration to launch you from point A to point B swiftly enough to get your attention. The best part is that you don't have to keep a close eye on the tach to access that speed; highway traffic passes or strong corner exits are but a twist of the wrist away, with no thought spared for the shift lever. Throttle response is smooth and crisp, allowing early application to use that torque to your advantage. Let the Ninja 1000 stretch its legs, and you'll find that it combines a quick-revving nature with that torque that eats up the upper half of the tachometer surprisingly fast. Like the Z1000, this Kawasaki is no pushover when it comes to performance (strangely, Kawasaki has fitted the Ninja with a top speed limiter - representatives weren't sure exactly what speed, although we'd wager on the far side of 150 mph - while the Z1000 apparently doesn't need one due to its lack of fairing resulting in an "aerodynamic limiter").
The Ninja 1000 uses the same...
The Ninja 1000 uses the same horizontally mounted rear shock setup as the Z1000, but with a stepped seven-position preload collar instead of the Z1000 shock's threaded unit.
While the suspension components obviously aren't supersport-spec, they're plenty capable for the type of speeds the Ninja 1000 is likely to encounter. The fully adjustable 41mm inverted fork and horizontally mounted rear shock (adjustable for spring preload - via a stepped preload ring instead of the Z1000's threaded adjuster - and rebound damping only) do an admirable job of straddling the line between sportbike firm and sport-touring compliant. Sharper bumps tend to get transmitted to the chassis (and then the rider), but most everything else is handled without complaint - provided the suspension is set up correctly. With the more pillion-friendly accommodations, optional hard luggage accessories, and added weight from the fairing and larger fuel tank, the suspension adjustability is crucial to avoid handling issues caused by uneven weight distribution.
As expected with the same chassis and running gear, the Ninja 1000 retains the agile yet affably neutral steering habits of its naked cousin. Although the bar angle is only slightly changed and height is basically the same, we found the upper ergos of the Ninja 1000 to be a surprising improvement over the Z1000, with the bars' more rigid feel and inward angle contributing to easier and more positive steering inputs while feeling more comfortable to boot. The OEM-spec Dunlop D210 Sportmax rubber offers quick handling, a fairly smooth ride, and decent grip, although considering the Ninja's extended range capability, their life expectancy might be a little suspect; our naked bike group test in the December 2010 issue ("Strip Search") found the D210's wear rates on the Z1000 to be a bit excessive.
For some reason, the brake pads on our test bike initially felt as if they weren't bedded in quite yet, but a few miles of moderate use quickly returned them to the brakes we remembered from the Z1000: strong, linear feel, with a crisp response that has just enough edge taken off of it to keep less-experienced riders from getting themselves into trouble at first application.
Although it looks very similar...
Although it looks very similar to the Z1000 perch, both of the Ninja 1000's seats feature 10mm thicker foam, with the passenger seat also getting rubber dampers underneath for additional support.
Speaking of comfy ergos and extended range capability, this is where the Ninja 1000 fulfills the potential of the Z1000's basic package. While the naked bike certainly isn't a major offender in this area, the Ninja 1000's full fairing does a good job of keeping wind - and engine heat - away from the rider's legs, and when adjusted to its highest setting, ditto for the windblast on the rider's torso (despite outward appearances, don't expect any difference to the airflow on your helmet; in its forward-most position, the windscreen is too far away to have any effect there, even at speeds above 80 mph). The thicker-padded seat and rubber-mounted pegs make longer rides more palatable, and when paired with the more natural positioning of the bars, the Ninja 1000 makes a very appealing sport-touring companion - with the emphasis on sport. But the icing on the cake is the larger 5.0-gallon fuel tank. Instead of forcing you to frantically search for a gas station at 135 miles, the Ninja 1000 can easily saunter out to the 165-mile range, especially when you factor in the taller gearing. It's no surprise that the majority of the accessories available for the new Kawasaki are aimed at increasing its touring potential (hardbags, rear top case, heated grips, etc.).