The Ninja 1000 can trace its roots back to the original Ninja
While the Ninja 1000 may represent a new direction for Kawasaki, it is a direct descendant of another fully faired Ninja with an upright riding position, the GPz900R - otherwise known as the ZX900 Ninja. Introduced in '84, the first Kawasaki to bear the Ninja name featured a variety of other firsts. At a time when manufacturers were experimenting with engine configurations other than the previously (and now) standard inline four, the 900 was the first motorcycle with a liquid-cooled inline four.
Other innovative firsts included moving the camchain to the left end of the cylinder block, making the engine narrower and evening up the cylinder spacing to make the ports straighter. The alternator was mounted behind the cylinders to keep the engine narrow, and a gear-driven counterbalancer, six-speed gearbox and hydraulic clutch were all used. And while other manufacturer's were going bigger and heavier (think Honda Interceptor 1000, Suzuki GS1150, Yamaha FJ1100 and Kawasaki's own GPz1100), Kawasaki was willing to sacrifice outright power to keep weight down. The Ninja's engine wouldn't be too far out of place in today's world, and many of its features are now the sportbike standard.
The Ninja's frame was just as innovative. It's "diamond" design was Kawasaki's first to use the engine as a stressed member for a large-displacement machine. Consider too that while other sportbikes had smallish fairings and separate belly pans for bodywork, the Ninja had a full fairing at the front and a wraparound tailsection that covered the frame and subframe tubing completely. The remainder of the chassis was fairly conventional for the time: A 16-inch front/17-inch rear wheel combination, an air-assisted anti-dive front fork and Uni-Trak rear suspension.
In Motorcyclist magazine's April '84 test of the 900 Ninja, the headline reads, "Suddenly, your two-year-old sport bike is ten years old," an indication of the step forward the bike represented. Motorcyclist's Road Test Editor Jeff Karr posted a 10.96-second quarter-mile run, about two-tenths slower than the then-king Suzuki GS1150. Still, the editors raved about the Kawasaki's power and handling, with this statement closing the test: "The Ninja is a very exciting motorcycle, a leap forward for large-displacement sporting bikes. If you think the essence of motorcycling is the sensation of leaning into corners, you need one."
While the Ninja 900 wasn't imported into the U.S. after 1986, it continued to be produced for other markets until 1996, with various upgrades along the way.