2014 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 Test
With its genesis going back to Kawasaki’s futuristic-looking Z1000 naked streetfighter, the Ninja 1000 that debuted in 2011 had the right ingredients to be successful.
It was a great idea — take the existing but somewhat niche model with its ultra-torquey motor and broaden its appeal. So Kawasaki diluted the Darth Vader looks, dressed it up with a nice fairing, and gave it comfortable ergonomics. Although not marketed as a sport-tourer, the Ninja 1000 entered the genre by having a three- position adjustable windscreen and optional Givi hard luggage.
This year, Kawasaki committed itself to the Ninja 1000 ABS, and the new edition is a machine that no longer feels like an adaptation. The liter Ninja’s motor has been tweaked to produce even more mid-range power (via improved breathing and revised intake camshafts), and it is now tamed by Kawasaki’s excellent traction controlling electronics. Revised velocity stacks don’t just improve engine response; they also happen to give a very agreeable roar when you hit the gas hard.
The fuel mapping is so well sorted that the Ninja is easy to pootle around town; conversely, when you are riding hard, its smooth transitions from off- to on-throttle make it easy to get a strong drive out of any corner.
The redline is a relatively modest 11,000 rpm, though it feels a bit point- less to push the motor to it because of the enormous power produced between 4500 and 7000 rpm. In that meaty part of the torque curve, the motor spins up faster and feels ready for anything. From 8000 rpm onwards, and despite the presence of a balancer shaft, the engine can feel a bit buzzy, especially if you are squeezing the metal gas tank with your knees.
Thanks to a taller sixth gear ratio, 80 mph arrives at only 6000 rpm, so at real-world speeds the Ninja motor is right in its sweet spot and happy to go into warp-drive if you ask it to. With so much power instantly on tap, overtaking is ridiculously easy.
However, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility; Kawasaki takes that seriously. The electronics package gives the rider three levels of traction control, as well as an optional low power mode to help out if conditions get slippery. Everything is selected via an obvious switch on the left handlebar; it is very intuitive to use and functions can be changed on the fly.
Low power mode limits the mid and upper rpm output to about 70-percent of full power, and the low rpm throttle response is softened considerably. Passengers will appreciate the gentler power and flawless throttle transitions of the Low power mode; regardless, the Ninja 1000 will still accelerate hard if asked.
The traction control works extremely well, although the most intrusive mode can surprise you if you’re riding aggressively — the cut-off feels like hitting a hard rev-limiter. I played around with the various settings and ultimately settled on Mode 2 as my preferred level for hard riding.
The Bridgestone B20 sport-touring tires didn’t have the level of grip I would have liked, although the Ninja handled superbly with them fitted. For the fast yet twisty roads I was on, I dropped the tire pressures from 36 front, 42 rear, to 32/34 psi, and that improved things a bit. However I was still a little nervous and left the traction control on Mode 2, just in case.
The Ninja 1000 twin-spar aluminum frame rises over the motor and gives that narrow mid-section to the bike. The motor is a stressed member of the frame and, by tuning the engine mounts carefully — the rear crankcase mount is rubber — the chassis has a little tuned flex in it that contributes to its excellent feel.
The previous edition felt a little vague at low speed and, when accelerating hard from corners the back could squat, resulting in understeer. Part of the problem was stiction inside the steering stem, so the fix offered by the new low-friction steering stem seal is not to be underestimated.
In addition, the revised damping settings in the 41mm inverted forks, plus an upgraded back-link rear shock with a higher spring rate and revised rear damper settings combine to fix the low speed maneuvering and modest-speed handling quirks from before.
The Ninja’s rear shock also comes with an external spring preload adjuster and a handy one-click-per-revolution indicator. The stock setting is very soft — let’s call it “comfort mode”—however when I reached the open road and started cornering hard, the rear developed a strong weave that was exacerbated with the bags fitted.
Cranking up the shock preload by eight clicks (turns), made an enormous difference, and from then on — even in windy conditions with the hard bags — the Ninja 1000 behaved impeccably. The bike would go exactly where I placed it, turn-in was fluid and neutral, and it stayed rock solid on line. Charging out of corners did not induce any kind of understeer—the Ninja 1000 now has the handling to match that awesome motor.
The brakes have been upgraded; Tokico four-piston radial calipers, coupled with a new brake pad compound, give great feel and excellent power. The initial bite is very intuitive and lacks the sudden grab of some radial setups; power is easily modulated, and the included ABS is
another part of the electronics safety net that Kawasaki provides.
New instrumentation includes a large analog tach and LCD digital speedometer; both are easy to read. Information includes touring niceties such as fuel consumption and the range left from the five-gallon fuel tank. I was a little disappointed to see there is still no gear indicator.
The optional, color-matched hard bags are ideal for the Ninja 1000. Gone is the ugly tubular frame that stayed in place when the bags were off, replaced by the typically neat mounting system that has become de rigeur nowadays. The bags themselves appear to be very high quality and they are childishly simple to remove and replace.
The 7.4-gallon capacity is generous enough to carry a full face helmet, and for simplicity, the keys can be matched to the ignition key by the dealer. A 10-gallon top case is also an option; however, it won’t work in conjunction with the side bags. Several other Kawasaki Touring accessories are available, including soft bag options, saddlebag liners, a tank bag, and a rear bag.
Kawasaki is clearly committed to the touring-sportbike genre with a series of well thought out upgrades. The stonking motor and excellent handling to match now elevate the status of the Ninja 1000, and the end result is a sport bike that will keep even the most demanding riders happy.
Yet because you can ride it all day and still walk when you dismount, it won’t take long before you fill the saddlebags, put your other half on the back, head for those far away hills, and take several days exploring them. And that’s what motorcycling is all about, isn’t it?
Photography by Adam Campbell and Kinney Jones
- Helmet: Arai RX-Q Deco
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Comet
- Gloves: Joe Rocket Speedmaster 8.0
- Pants: Joe Rocket Speedmaster 5.0
- Boots: Joe Rocket Speedmaster 3.0
Story from the November/December issue of Ultimate MotorCycling magazine. For a digital version, click here.