2017 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS Review: Sport-Touring Test
For a few years, the Kawasaki Ninja 1000 has been a great starting point for a sport-touring bike. The 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 is a big step forward to making it a turn-key sport-tourer.It’s not quite there, but Editor Don Williams took a new Ninja 1000 with factory luggage from Los Angeles to The Quail Lodge in Monterey on everything from urban streets to freeways to all kinds of back roads to find out how well it can pack on the miles.
The 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 gets two major upgrades. The electronics package is more sophisticated and now includes an IMU (inertial measurement unit) from the track-ready Ninja H2 and ZX10-R, though with 1000-specific settings. Also, the bodywork is redesigned to fit in visually with the H2 and ZX-10R.
The IMU is the secret to the new electronics package. Previously, the Ninja 1000 had traction control and power modes. Now, with the six-axis Bosch IMU, Kawasaki has upped the ante by offering cornering ABS, as well as power management in corners. Kawasaki calls this Kawasaki Cornering Management Function (producing an unpronounceable KCMF acronym).
The Cornering Management Function is transparent. In my 500+ miles of testing, which included countless corners of varying speeds and radii, I never felt the KCMF kick in. That could be because I am a highly precise rider—unlikely—or due to its ability to make corrections surreptitiously. I’ll go with the latter, as I did try to push it into the occasional savable error, but the Ninja 1000 always kept its composure, even when challenged.
Traction control has three levels, plus off. Unless I’m planning on big wheelies—wheelie control is built into the traction control—there’s no point in my turning off that valuable safety feature. The Ninja 1000’s traction control is so precise these days that it didn’t really seem to care which setting I was in, acceleration from the 1043cc motor did not suffer. This is a sport-touring bike, of course, so I’m not trying to ride it like a superbike. Even when accelerating out of a dirt turn-off, the traction control does its job without drawing attention to itself.
ABS is smoother than ever. The new Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Brake System (KIBS for the alphabet soup fans) also keeps brake feel smoother when going into anti-lock mode. While I still felt pulsing in both the lever and pedal when over-braking, there is no clunky feel. ABS is definitely upgraded on the Ninja 1000 this year.
While it has Z1000 roots, the true role of the Ninja 1000 is sport-touring and Kawasaki fully recognizes that this year. Previous iterations of the Ninja 1000 were ready for sport-touring, but adding bags was unnecessarily difficult. For 2017, the Ninja 1000 has the bag mounting system integrated. All you have to do is buy the pair of hard bags and a few mounting accoutrements, and you’re good to go—initial installation (save keying the bags) now takes minutes instead of hours.
The hard bags are wonderfully integrated. After you’ve spend a bit over $1000 for the bags, you’re rewarded with bags that look like they were built onto the bike—though removed in seconds—and have a useful capacity. Still, if you are on a short sporting jaunt, you can pull the bags off and the Ninja 1000 doesn’t look like something is missing. A big upgrade f0r 2017 is definitely in the luggage department.
The new fairing adds to the touring capability. Not only is the fairing more Ninja-like, it is also wider with additional protection—always a plus on a sport-tourer. Most of the additional protection is for the legs and lower body. The manually adjusted—and only at a stop—three-position windscreen does a good job. I found the middle position to work best for my height (5’ 10”), though the low position looks sportier. I was impressed by the slippery aerodynamics in some seriously aggressive crosswinds—my body was catching more wind than the Ninja 1000.
Nominally enhancing touring capabilities are new linkage and shock settings. The back end is smooth, even on some of the rough roads I encountered. The linkage was also changed, lowering the seat by almost a quarter-inch, which is helpful if your height is right on the lower edge for the bike. It wasn’t an issue one way or the other for me.
There’s a pair of new LED headlights that blaze on high-beam. If you’re caught out after dark, you’ll be glad you are on the 2017 Ninja 1000. Those two eyes throw the light much farther than before. Speaking of lighting, the integration of the front turn indicators gives the front end a classy look.
Also brought to modern spec is the new dashboard. It has an analog-style tach in the middle, with an easy-to-read digital speed and gear-position readout. Some of the smaller numbers, such as the clock and mileage might be a bit harder to read, depending on your near-vision eyesight. The turn indicator lights are smaller than I’d like, too. The power and traction control settings can be seen at a glace, and changed easily with the switch/button combo on the left handlebar.
For all the electronic wizardly, the 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 still doesn’t have cruise control. Kawasaki’s awkward explanation is that the Ninja 1000 is a sport bike, so cruise control isn’t appropriate. In a world where the Aprilia Tuono, Yamaha FZ-10, and BMW S 1000 R have cruise control, so can the Ninja 1000.
The motor is unchanged, which is fine—I love it. Smooth and strong from the bottom through the midrange, it takes on a more aggressive attitude above 7000 rpm. This is similar to the Z900 tuning philosophy—easy power down low and through the midrange, with a quick spin-up on top. It’s a superb sport-touring powerplant.
Kawasaki remembered what was great about the previous Ninja 1000 and made the 2017 Ninja 1000 even better. You can’t help but love sport-touring on the Ninja 1000, and Kawasaki has made the bike easier to set up for touring, and improved its safety and capabilities when you tap into its sporting soul.