Kawasaki’s Ninja 1000 has always struck us from the beginning as having the potential as a superb sport-touring mount. And it appears that Team Green was thinking along those same lines; back in the August 2013 issue, we had the opportunity to test a Kawasaki Ninja 1000 equipped with numerous accessories from the Kawasaki Genuine Accessories catalog (“Factory-Fitted Ninja”). A set of hard luggage, tail pack, and other sport-touring add-ons quickly convinced us that the Ninja 1000 could fill a sport-touring role that no other bike can match; it’s far more agile and quicker than the big Concours 14, while offering much more long-range comfort than the ZX-14R or ZX-10R.
The boys at Kawasaki evidently believe in that capability as well, as the new 2014 Ninja 1000 has upgrades aimed at enhancing that longer-distance competence. We covered the details of those upgrades in the last issue (“Late Braking,” Dec. ’13); in a nutshell, the changes include a subtly massaged powerplant for improved low-end/midrange power and torque, taller sixth gear, new electronics with traction control and power modes, monoblock radial-mount calipers and ABS as standard for enhanced braking capabilities, remote rear spring preload adjuster, plus a new subframe with built-in compatibility for new Kawasaki Genuine Accessory hard luggage.
With all these improvements over the previous-generation Ninja, we were chomping at the bit to test the new 2014 model. Lo and behold, Kawasaki decided to hold its US press launch a few days before the return of the World Superbike Championship to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with the two-day launch starting in Los Angeles and heading up the California coast with a stop in Cambria then continuing on to Monterey. Needless to say, this was going to be an excellent chance to experience the new Ninja 1000 in its element—plus we were going to watch both WSBK racing and SR ’s own Bradley Adams cross swords with the AMA Pro Daytona SportBike class regulars in the support races. Who were we to argue?
Slinging a leg over the new Ninja reveals what feels like a slightly lower seat height, but this is mostly due to the new three-piece aluminum subframe that allows a narrower midsection because it gets rid of the need for side panels. Allowing your legs a straighter path to the ground gives the same impression as a lower seat. An added bonus is that the new subframe is already set up for fitment of new Kawasaki Genuine Accessory hard bags specifically designed for the Ninja 1000 (more on those later). The rest of the Kawasaki’s cockpit is basically the same as the previous version, save for an LCD info dash panel that now includes additional displays for KTR C (Kawasaki Traction Control), ABS, economical riding indicator, remaining range, current/average fuel consumption, and coolant temperature.
Firing up the 1,043cc DOH C inline-four reveals a slightly throatier growl than the previous version, probably a result of the exhaust updates that include large oval-shaped connectors between cylinders 1 and 4 plus 2 and 3, larger muffler exits, the deletion of the exhaust valve, and additional airbox intake passages (two, one just below the main intake and another on the bottom of the airbox) that channel the intake howl toward the rider as well as permitting better breathing. Snick the transmission into gear, and you find that as you’re letting out the clutch, the engagement isn’t quite completely smooth; just as we experienced with the previous-generation Ninja, the clutch seems to slip and grab a very slight amount as it engages.
In addition to equal-length intake funnels and some ECU tweaks, Kawasaki engineers mildly reduced the intake cam’s lift and duration (0.3mm less lift, six degrees less duration) in order to improve low and midrange performance, and the difference is noticeable. Acceleration off the line is crisper, and the Ninja responds to throttle inputs below 7,000 rpm with more immediacy than its predecessor. Moving past traffic or zipping into openings definitely wasn’t difficult with the previous model, but the new engine’s improved response makes it even easier than before.
Out on the superslab, the Ninja 1000’s taller sixth gear isn’t exactly an overdrive gear; cruising at 75 mph has the engine sitting at 5,000 rpm, so most passes don’t really require a downshift. The same 5-gallon fuel tank should yield about 160 miles before you should begin looking for a gas station, though the reserve warning (consisting of an idiot light and the tripmeter changing to miles run since the warning began) is fairly pessimistic; ours activated at around 130 miles, but we ended up seeing about 1.3 gallons still left in the tank after our calculations from the mass refueling of the press launch bikes at one stop. The fuel gauge seems more accurate than before, but it’s still not something we’d use to measure the bike’s usable range.
Ergos are basically identical to the previous model, so the Kawasaki’s same superb compromise between tucked-in-sport and uprighttouring remains, along with decent legroom that doesn’t excessively impinge on ground clearance. The windscreen retains its three-way manual adjustability that provides a modicum of wind protection on its higher two settings, and the mirrors still provide a good rearward view (though a mild vibration tends to fuzz the images a bit above 5,000 rpm).
Once into the canyons, the real forte of the Ninja 1000 becomes clear. Striking the ideal balance between big sport-tourer and hard-core supersport, the Kawasaki allows you to enjoy allday twisting-road sojourns without feeling at the end of the day as if you’ve just endured of one of those boot camp physical training classes or wishing that you’d brought along a bit more serious tackle on the trip. Handling is quick enough to shred your favorite back road without requiring the concentration of a brain surgeon to pick your line, and we didn’t encounter any stability issues when hustling very quickly over uneven/ nasty pavement. Kawasaki says the spring rate in the horizontal rear shock (adjustable for rebound and spring preload) was increased 3 percent, while rebound damping rates in the shock and the fully adjustable (rebound and compression) 41mm inverted fork were revised to “deliver quicker handling while still maintaining excellent ride comfort” (read: stiffer damping rates), and those changes definitely make a difference when the speeds ramp up and turns come at you at a quicker rate. The new Ninja is very composed at aggression levels that other sport-touring bikes would be vociferously protesting at, all while keeping you in reasonable comfort for extended periods.
A big plus with the latest Ninja 1000 is the new remote hydraulic rear spring preload adjuster. This in addition to the horizontal mounting of the rear shock that permits easy access to the rebound adjuster screw means that suspension alterations for additional cargo and/or passenger are far easier than the usual method of hammer/punch or hunting for an extra-long thin screwdriver.
Steering habits with the OE -spec Bridgestone S20 tires are better than the previous BT-020s that came on the older Ninja 1000, with responsive and quick handling and above-average grip. Neutrality isn’t as good as we’d hoped for, as we could feel a bit of steering resistance as the bike approached maximum lean angles; the rear axle sports an eccentric adjuster that can alter rear ride height, so a final judgment will have to wait until we can fiddle with it during a full road test.
The additional low-end and midrange power of the new engine also pays big dividends when the pavements starts to twist and turn. Acceleration is nice and responsive nearly everywhere in the Kawasaki’s amply broad powerband without being abrupt off closed throttle or littered with dips and jumps in its power curve, and making use of the six-speed transmission is usually more an option than a necessity unless you really want to be aggressive and make up some serious time. The traction control system is fairly refined, with Level 1 allowing a decent amount of wheelspin for maximum forward drive (though we detected a bit of a cycling that caused the rear suspension to pump a little) and Level 2 reining in the party some more for those who aren’t quite comfortable with that much wheelspin. Level 3 is fairly intrusive, cutting power at the slightest hint of wheelspin, and is better suited for low-traction conditions such as rainy pavement. We stayed in the Full power mode for practically the entire time we rode the Ninja 1000, as the Low power mode stunted the engine’s output enough to be basically useless in our opinion. In fact, the Kawasaki’s engine character is amiable enough that the KTR C was better to have as a safety net than any sort of riding tool you would use on a regular basis.
Braking from the new ABS-equipped monoblock four-piston radial-mount Tokico calipers biting on 300mm petal-type rotors is much improved over the previous Ninja 1000, with far better response and power over a wide range of braking situations. Overall feel for a system with ABS is very good, and when the system does begin to intervene at very aggressive braking levels on dry pavement, the cycling is very transparent.
For the second portion of our trip up the California coast, our Ninja 1000s were fitted with the optional Kawasaki Quick Release Genuine Accessory saddlebags. These units are a vast improvement over the previous accessory saddlebags that we tested back in August, with styling that is much better matched to the Ninja 1000’s sporty look and an integrated mounting system in the new rear subframe that not only mounts them over an inch closer on each side but also includes locks that are coded to the bike’s ignition key during dealer installation, eliminating the need for extra keys as with the previous bags. The 28-liter-capacity bags also mount and remove from the bike easily, and the bike doesn’t look cluttered with bracketry with the bags removed. While the new saddlebags are still a bit pricey at $1,269.75 retail, their more integrated design and function make them worth it in our opinion. Kawasaki also has a slew of other accessories for the Ninja 1000, including a 39-liter top case, gel seat, tank bag, tail bag, etc.
It’s pretty obvious that Kawasaki is listening to owners and potential owners of its highly capable Ninja 1000. The latest version addresses the few gripes that we had with the previous model, while adding improvements that bolster the sporttouring potential we always knew it possessed. A list price of $11,999 makes the new Ninja 1000 a very appealing and much sportier alternative to the bigger sport-touring rigs, and we can’t think of many bikes that offer the same combination for anywhere near that price.
Type: Liquid-cooled, DOH C transverse inline four
Bore x stroke: 77 x 56mm
Compression ratio: 11.8:1
Induction: Keihin DFI, 38mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone S20F N
Rear tire: 190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone S20R N
Rake/trail: 24.5°/4 in. (102mm)
Wheelbase: 56.9 in. (1445mm)
Seat height: 32.3 in. (820mm)
Fuel capacity: 5 gal. (19L)
Claimed curb weight: 509 lb. (231kg)