Over the past few years, motorcycle technology has grown at an increasing rate, and developments like traction control, wheelie control and power modes now litter most of the production bikes that grace showroom floors. As a result of this and many other outside forces, motorcycles have become so specific to the type of riding they were designed for that it's a challenge to find a bike that is versatile enough to carve the canyons with on Sunday and commute with on Monday - comfortably at least.
Despite the evident void, few manufacturers have looked to build a bike that can successfully field that grey area between sport bikes and touring bikes. Kawasaki's Z1000 is a great motorcycle that has a ton of potential (and is very popular on the other side of the pond), but its naked design never really caught the attention of Americans. Enter the Ninja 1000 - the fully faired Z1000 sibling. While the first ride on the Ninja 1000 was insightful ("The Gentleman's Ninja", March '11), at the end of the day we were still left with two lingering questions; what category does this bike fit in and can it in fact adequately fill the role of multiple bikes in your garage? A full test was surely the only way to determine whether or not this do-all bike was as capable and versatile in the real-world as it seemed during the first ride.
Comfort, Style and Performance? What?
As El Jefe himself confirmed in his First Ride coverage of the all-new Ninja 1000, the transformation from naked Z1000 to faired Ninja 1000 wasn't much of a transformation at all. In fact, let's be honest: the Ninja 1000 is more of a Z1000 with bodywork than anything. But while the bike retains the 1043cc powerplant of its naked relative, it takes on - among other things - a full fairing, slightly revised ergos and a larger fuel tank. And while the numerous changes may seem small, they actually combine to make a significant difference, and are therefore welcomed with open arms.
After the analog tachometer and LCD digital speedometer of the Ninja 1000 - which has been pulled from the ZX-6R - dance to life, the engine fires up with zero hesitation. The dual exhaust doesn't emit the loud bark that some literbike systems give off, but instead spits out a sound that is sure to not wake the neighbors. Blip the throttle just slightly though, and the 1043cc inline four engine gives off a deep tone that quickly reminds you that you aren't riding some featherweight machine. In terms of looks, Kawasaki has done a sufficient job at making the silencers shorter and more palatable than some of the bulky units we have seen on production bikes of late, but their look is still questionable.
Many of the differences between the Z1000 and Ninja 1000 are evident the second you throw a leg over the bike. Aside from the fairing, the most noticeable difference is the pair of cast aluminum bar risers, which bolt to the top of the triple clamp and replace the conventional tubular handlebar of the Z1000, instantaneously giving the Ninja 1000 a sportier look and feel. The risers, which pull the bars some 10mm closer to the rider than the Z1000 setup, are marked by a wide stance and provide for an extremely comfortable riding position. The advantages don't end with comfort, though. Both on surface streets and at highway speeds, the wider bars help initiate turn-in and provide for great stability.
The next obvious difference is the welcomed 10mm-thicker seat that is without question more comfortable than most sportbikes and much appreciated on longer rides. While the added comfort is appreciated, the 32.3-inch seat height may not be for some and may have those with a smaller inseam unwillingly balancing the bike on the smaller part of their feet.
The mirrors of the Ninja 1000...
The mirrors of the Ninja 1000 are extremely adjustable and their unique shape provides tons of rear visibility. No longer are you looking at your shoulders when you try to look behind you.
Another welcomed change to the fully faired Z1000 sibling are the mirrors. Both have an extreme amount of adjustability and their unique shape provides for plenty of visibility - and thankfully, not just of your shoulder.
The benefit of having the Ninja 1000 parked in your garage is that it really doesn't matter what kind of riding you are doing, the bike can handle it all - comfortably we might add. A great deal of this versatility can be accredited to the Kawasaki's user-friendly inline four-cylinder engine.
When Kawasaki engineers designed the 1043cc powerplant, they looked to build a motor that would be at home on surface streets and on the highway rather than on the racetrack. So when you pull out of your driveway and start riding around town, it's no surprise that the bike has plenty of torque to squirt from point A to point B with relative ease and doesn't have you constantly searching through the gearbox. The Digital Fuel Injection of the Ninja, with its four 38mm Keihin throttle bodies, makes for smooth power delivery and the transition between open and closed throttle is anything but abrupt. The refined power delivery makes short trips around town easy and enjoyable, something you wouldn't expect from a bike that looks like a sportbike.
While the Ninja pulls from right around 2500 rpm, surface street speeds usually have it running around 4000 rpm. And despite being geared slightly taller than the Z1000 (41-tooth rear sprocket as opposed to a 42), the Ninja 1000 is more than happy running in a gear higher. Don't fret though - even when running at lower rpm, the bike has plenty of power on tap, and acceleration is never a concern thanks to the torque-laden engine. This isn't to say it's a total powerhouse, though. Despite the strong-feeling power delivery, peak horsepower is nothing to write home about; at 120 horsepower, it's down slightly from the Z1000 (due to the Ninja 1000's smaller airbox). This is no concern on tighter sections of road though, where the engine packs plenty of low-end punch and allows for fewer gear changes.
Opening up the throttle of the Kawasaki Ninja 1000 as you merge onto the freeway also shines some light on how flexible the engine is. And once cruising along at highway speeds, the engine stays at a steady 5000 rpm with little effort. There is never an ounce of hesitation when throttling past cars, either. And thanks to Kawasaki's efforts at reducing vibration, only slight vibes are felt through the bike above 4500 rpm. Kawasaki accomplished this by fitting the Ninja with rubber-mounted, rubber-coated front pegs, rubber-coated rear pegs and a counterbalancing weight on the heel guard. As a result, longer rides are more enjoyable and surprisingly smooth.
In order to adjust the position...
In order to adjust the position of the windscreen, you must come to a stop and release the button below the gauges seen here and manually adjust the screen. On the bright side though, no tools are required.
While the Z1000 has great potential performance-wise, its naked design puts you in a constant battle with the wind, and by the end of even a moderate jaunt on the highway, you feel like some personal trainer has just worked you to death. Not to mention, the styling lacks some marks in the design department. Thanks to the full fairing of the Ninja 1000 though, commuting and riding at speed is no longer equivalent to a drill sergeant workout. In addition, the well-designed fairing vent and slats along the fairing's leading edge are molded in such a way that all the excess engine bay air is dispersed without so much as coming close to the rider's lower body. Above all, the fairing provides plenty of wind protection and a look that most people confuse with a sportbike.
The adjustable windscreen,...
The adjustable windscreen, seen here in its highest position, doesn't make as much of a difference as we would have liked in terms of dispersing the air and wind noise.
Another wind-protection feature is the three-position adjustable windscreen, which can be manually adjusted by means of a release button under the instrument panel. But as much as we would like to say that the windscreen made a big difference, we really can't. After miles of riding at different speeds and in different conditions, only one thing became apparent: the different positions were all compromises of one sort or another. In its upmost position, the windscreen sets right around the average rider's chin or neck area and sufficiently deflects the wind. However, running the windscreen in this position causes a great deal of turbulent wind noise around your helmet that becomes bothersome at higher speeds. In addition the difference between the middle and lower position of the windscreen is very minimal. In these two positions, the Ninja 1000 isn't that much better than the Z1000. So therein lies the problem; either you can have a decent amount of wind protection and deal with the wind noise, or you can be hit with wind blasts and ride with less turbulence. We still like the adjustable windscreen idea though, so perhaps a taller and/or wider accessory screen might be the answer.
As was the case with the Z1000, steering and handling characteristics of the Ninja 1000 are above par. The five-piece backbone frame, which uses the engine as a stressed member, provides for excellent stability at higher speeds and works perfectly with the Ninja's suspension package.
The 41mm inverted cartridge front fork, which is adjustable for compression damping, rebound damping and spring preload, provides great stability in corner entry and excellent handling characteristics through the middle of corners. There is also a great range in the fork's adjustability, which allows you to change settings for the different type of riding you do - which will vary drastically considering the bike can be used around town, in the canyons and on long adventures (accessory hardbags and all). The Ninja 1000's horizontally mounted rear shock, which features stepless rebound damping and spring preload adjustability, is plenty capable of handling any and all abuse you can throw its way in the canyons.
A lot of the Ninja's stability comes from its rather stiff factory front fork settings that give it its more sport-oriented handling characteristics. The stiff settings don't mean that the Ninja is by any means unpleasant on the freeway during commutes, though. Freeway riding is comfortable and with only a few minor setting changes, the rough patches of road that were once bothersome are no longer a concern.
The dual 300mm rotors with...
The dual 300mm rotors with radial-mount four-piston calipers do a sufficient job of slowing the Ninja 1000 and are still surprisingly potent considering they are now stopping a 20-pound-heavier bike.
The 300mm discs and radial-mount four-piston calipers mounted to the Ninja 1000 provide a strong feel that you would expect to be from a race-inspired sportbike and gives a potent enough bite to slow down the bike in a timely fashion. On longer rides through the canyons, though, there was a slight amount of brake fade that was compensated for by adjusting the lever.
The slight brake fade could be attributed however, to the fact that the system is trying to slow down additional weight. Unfortunately, in its transformation from the Z1000, the Ninja 1000 gained 20 pounds and now tips the scales at 503 pounds, wet, ready to ride. Fortunately, the Kawasaki's heft is only noticeable when maneuvering the bike in the garage, and is masked well once underway. And while the extra weight may be unwelcome, the additional gallon of fuel it carries over the Z1000 is not. The Ninja 1000's five-gallon tank allows you to ride a few surplus miles before hunting for a gas station - a benefit considering we didn't want to get off the bike.
Closing The Gap
So is there a definitive category for the Ninja 1000? Well, we would like to say no. The $10,999 bike so perfectly combines sportbike-like performance with touring-like comfort that it is almost in a league of its own. And without a doubt, this bike can take on the role of multiple bikes in your garage. Whatever the category it falls in, we like it.
2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse inline four
Valve arrangement: DOHC, 4 valves/cyl., shim-under-bucket adjustment
Bore x stroke: 77.0 x 56.0mm
Compression ratio: 11.8:1
Induction: Keihin DFI, 38mm throttle bodies w/oval sub-throttle plates, single injector/cyl.
Front suspension: 41mm inverted cartridge fork with stepless compression and rebound damping, adjustable spring preload / 4.7 in. travel
Rear suspension: Horizontal monoshock with stepless rebound damping, adjustable spring preload / 5.4 in. travel
Front brake: Dual 300mm rotors with radial-mount four-piston calipers
Rear brake: Single 250mm rotor with single-piston caliper
Front wheel: 3.5 x 17 in., cast aluminum alloy
Rear wheel: 6.0 x 17 in., cast aluminum alloy
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop D210F Sportmax
Rear tire: 190/50ZR-17 Dunlop D210 Sportmax
Rake/trail: 24.5 deg. / 4.0 in. (102 mm)
Wheelbase: 56.9 in. (1445mm)
Seat height: 32.3 in. (820mm)
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal. (19L)
Weight: 503 lb (229 kg) wet; 473 lb (215 kg) wet
Instruments: Analog tachometer, multi-function LCD screen with digital speedometer, fuel gauge, odometer, clock, dual trip meters; warning lights for neutral, high beam, turn signals,
Quarter mile: 11.30 sec. @ 123.46 mph (corrected)
Top speed: NA mph
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph/2.6 sec., 80-100 mph/2.8 sec.
Fuel consumption: 27 to 36 mpg, 33 mpg average
At 120 horsepower, the Ninja...
At 120 horsepower, the Ninja 1000 is right around three horsepower down on the Z1000. The lower numbers are most likely a result of the Ninja's smaller airbox that was fitted to accommodate the bike's fairing and larger fuel tank.
|2011 KAWASAKI NINJA 1000
||Fairing keeps hot air away from lower body
||On the heavy side
||Have to come to a stop to adjust windscreen
||Windscreen positions make only slight difference
||Comfortable for commuting and full of potential in the canyons
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: Spring preload - 7 turns out from full stiff; Rebound damping - 2 turns out from full stiff; Compression damping - 1 turn out from full stiff; 30mm fork tube protruding above top triple clamp.
Rear: Spring preload - position 5 of 10; Rebound damping - 1 turn out from full stiff.
"Surprise, Surprise", that's the first thing that comes to mind while riding the New Kawasaki Ninja 1000!
It's clear within the first 10 minutes of riding this bike that you know you're going to have a good time no matter where you're going. The bike is really comfortable and I like that the bars seem to be a bit on the straight side rather than having them swept back like a beach cruiser.
The typical Kawasaki transmission makes shifting smooth and effortless, brakes are rock solid and did I say just how much fun this bike is to ride? The slight adjustability of the windscreen didn't seem to have a huge effect whether it was fully up or fully down; however, the rubber-mounted foot pegs were a nice touch.
Overall I was extremely happy riding this bike that the need for a full on sportbike seems somewhat excessive even if 70 percent of your riding is in the twisties.
Kawasaki continues to bridge the gap between sport and tour. The new Ninja 1000 is a completely different platform which makes it a true hybrid, more so than its naked brethren. The Z1000 may share a ton of similar attributes from the current fully faired Ninja but that's where similarity stops and function steps in. The 1000's short first gear makes for a usable powerband and the taller gearing is great once you get rolling on your favorite piece of tightly wound tarmac. Shift up to second and she pulls across the tach like a turbocharged train. The bars are mounted in an ideal standard seating position, the three-stage wind screen is a nice touch when set at its elevated position. In the lower position it might as well be a naked bike. The categories of sport and touring are continually morphing, in a good way, and the difference between a touring sport bike and a sport oriented tourer is now blurred more than ever. It all boils down to how big or how small you really want to go these days and the Ninja is a great balance/option when considering a price point.
I must admit, when I first started riding the Ninja 1000, I was a bit confused. I was confused in a good way though, I guess. The question that had me scratching my head was, "What is this thing?" The reason I asked was because the bike handled every type of riding scenario I threw at it - brilliantly I might add. It didn't matter if I was taking a short trip around town, commuting hours in traffic or thrashing (I mean putting) through the canyons, the bike was comfortable and performed beyond how I expected. So that's when I started to question, if the bike performs just like a sportbike, is as comfortable as some touring bikes and has great looks to boot, then really what is it? What I decided was that the Ninja 1000 is really in a class of its own. It is a do-all bike that lacks few marks in any categories.
On a side note, its strong performance has me wondering, what would it be like to ride on the track? Theoretically, you could ride the bike to the track, thrash around on it all day, and then commute home-in comfort too. Hint hint, Kent?
When a group of riders on one of Kawasaki's organized test rides at the Long Beach motorcycle show last year returned to the base camp trailer, I quizzed the ones riding the then-new Z1000 for their impressions. Every single one of them replied that they loved the Z1000's engine and chassis. When I asked them if they were going to buy one, however, their response was just as similar: they'd buy one if it just came with a fairing. "I ride a lot of highway miles," replied one consumer, "and I don't want to be a sail fighting the windblast for hours, and ending beat up because of it."
Well, those requests have been answered with the Ninja 1000. The new Kawasaki has all the qualities of the Z1000, with some upgrades in key areas, including a larger fuel tank and more comfy ergos. While the windscreen may be a little short of what some were expecting, you can be sure the aftermarket (and probably Kawasaki's own accessories division) will be taking care of that. And with an MSRP of just $10,999? Heck, sign me up!
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.