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").
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.).
The Bike Many Have Been Waiting For
This is one of those bikes that we think has the potential to be a big seller. There's a growing number of riders out there who want good, accessible sportbike performance, but without the skill and physical commitments required by supersport machinery. They want reasonable comfort and range without the bulk and heft of the bigger sport-touring motorcycles. And they want it to have the versatility to fill multiple roles with surprising aplomb, all without breaking the bank.
At an MSRP of just $10,999 - only $400 more than the naked Z1000 - the new Kawasaki Ninja 1000 looks like it ticks all of those boxes. Kawasaki USA was certainly aware of the potential, and it's had to wait patiently for a year before the bike could be added to its lineup. But more importantly, this just might be the bike that many of you out there have been waiting for.
2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000
Liquid-cooled, DOHC, transverse inline-four
Bore x stroke:
77.0 x 56.0mm
Keihin DFI, 38mm throttle bodies w/oval sub-throttle plates, single injector/cyl.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop D210F Sportmax
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Dunlop D210 Sportmax
Rake/trail: 24.5 deg./4.0 in. (102mm)
Wheelbase: 56.9 in. (1445mm)
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal. (19L)
Claimed wet weight: 503 lb. (228kg) full fuel, ready to ride