Anyone notice how the sport-touring class of motorcycles has nearly vanished? At one time, even niche manufacturers such as Ducati and Aprilia proffered appealing machines that delivered sporting prowess without supersport-style ergonomics. But then an array of competent adventure-touring machines bulldozed the S-T class, leaving it hollowed out.
One stalwart S-T is the Ninja 1000, which debuted in 2011 with a stout motor and a capable chassis. It was updated in 2014, and revisions for 2017 included monoblock brake calipers, LED headlights, and an IMU for uprated traction and braking safety controls, bringing the Kawi closer to the sophistication of its Euro rivals.
For 2020, the Ninja 1000 gains the SX suffix and a host of updates that potentially make it the best value in the high-performance sport-touring market. So, what do you get for its modest $12,399 MSRP?
- While adventure-style bikes have dramatically cut into the sales of pure sport-touring bikes such as the 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX, their taller seat heights can be a real stretch for riders with shorter legs. The Ninja’s 32.1-inch seat height is lower than most. The caveat here is the 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX has less seat-to-footpeg room than ADV-oriented bikes, which may annoy those with long legs. The reach to the clip-on handlebars is sporty without being punishing.
- Although the Ninja’s new fairing design appears more svelte, it is wider for improved wind protection. While the SX’s style veers toward an anime visage, it stops short of being overly weird. Aggressive-looking LED headlights peer from its crinkled face.
- With the 1000SX’s new fairing comes a new windshield design. It offers four positions adjustable from the saddle without tools, and it’s slightly more upright for improved deflection. That said, it’s still quite diminutive. Riders in cold or wet conditions might favor the larger windscreen from Kawi’s accessory catalog, retailing for $186.
- Passengers are treated to a plusher seat sculpted with a raised rear area to keep them safely aboard during hard acceleration. New hand-holds have an ergonomic design that provides a more natural grip.
- Instrumentation is via a new 4.3-inch color TFT display, with automatic screen brightness and selectable backgrounds (black or white). Amongst the typical gauges, the vibrant panel includes available range, average fuel consumption, outside temperature, a shift light, and a gear-position indicator.
- Electronic upgrades include a new ride-by-wire throttle that incorporates three ride modes, plus one. Self-explanatory Rain, Road, and Sport presets are supplemented by a Rider mode allows the rider to manually set individual parameters for traction control, ABS, and power outputs. Also, electronic cruise control is finally part of the N1k’s package.
- A Bosch IMU informs Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX’s electronic rider aids. The includes traction control and cornering ABS, ride modes, and a new quickshifter that smoothly performs up- and down-shifts without messing with the clutch lever. It works even more seamlessly than KTM’s 890 Duke, especially on the downshifts.
- The previous bulky two-muffler exhaust system has been replaced by a much tidier exhaust that loses its left-side muffler and 4.5 pounds. The brushed aluminum muffler cover looks classy.
- Power from the 1043cc four-cylinder motor has always been a strong point for the N1k, and output remains about the same. The 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX continues to put out 140 horsepower despite updated tuning, shorter intake funnels on the inner two cylinders, and the new exhaust that help it meet Euro 5 emissions regulations. It’s a ripper when you wind it out, and pulls cleanly from lower revs, exhibiting a smooth and broad powerband.
- To mitigate engine vibes from affecting riders, Kawasaki has fitted rubber damping units under the seat pan and a denser urethane padding in the seats. Kawi’s inline-four-cylinder engine is a stout powerplant, but its vibration bothered some riders of previous generations. Although buzz can still be felt when fully exploring the N1k’s rev range, I wasn’t at all bothered by vibration at cruising speeds. The new cruise control enables resting a throttle hand and operates seamlessly.
- The 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX gets an upgraded fork. The Ninja’s chassis is underpinned by the same aluminum frame as previously. However, the 41mm inverted Showa cartridge fork is updated with damping pistons that now incorporate a slit that “help relieve negative pressure that builds up during compression and results in a smoother fork action over bumps,” according to Kawasaki. Even though the effects of this are difficult to verify, I was very pleased with the compliance and support from the fork. It retains stepless compression- and rebound-damping adjusters, as well as spring-preload adjustability. The shock has rebound-damping adjustments and a handy remote spring-preload adjuster to easily adjust for a variety of loads. The suspenders deliver a sporty yet compliant ride.
- Even though the brake components are Kawasaki-branded, the four-piston monoblock front calipers deliver impressive stopping power and clear communication through the lever. Not once did I wish for better name-brand binders. Cornering ABS provides a security blanket.
- New switchgear makes the menus easy to navigate and has a nice tactile feel that belies the bike’s modest price tag. A new clutch lever allows setting the reach to five positions, and the front brake lever is adjustable, too. New mirrors feature a greater adjustment range and are moved further outboard to provide an improved rearward view of the road behind. An assist-and-slipper clutch yields a light clutch pull and reduces rear-wheel hopping when downshifting aggressively.
- Kawi’s Rideology the App gives your smartphone access to your motorcycle. It enables mapping your rides, tracking your trips, and receiving incoming call notifications, as well as choosing the new ride modes.
- The saddlebags on our test bike are an optional extra for the Ninja, retailing for $1130. That’s a pretty penny, but that gets you color-matched bags holding a fairly generous 28 liters of stuff. Plus, they are keyed to the ignition. The mounts are cleanly integrated, so the Ninja looks smooth without the bags.
- The Ninja scales in at a reasonable 514 pounds, with its five-gallon tank full of premium gas. This fuel capacity yields a considerable range of nearly 200 miles.
- The 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX shows quite well. Green accent stripes on the wheels add a little flair to the reserved Metallic Graphite Gray / Metallic Diablo Black colorway. Foot controls with relieved sections are more stylish than most bikes from Asia.
- To many long-haul riders, a fully featured sport-tourer should be equipped with a centerstand—the 1000SX doesn’t have one. That means chain lubing and adjusting will be less convenient. Kawasaki doesn’t offer a centerstand for the Versys 1000, either, though one can be had from SW-Motech. Unfortunately, even that’s not an option for the 1000SX.
- With the low MSRP of $12,399, penny pinching is evident on the 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX. Heated grips are a $270 accessory item, and a USB socket kit costs $118.
- There isn’t another sport-touring bike that offers 140 horsepower with a TFT and IMU for less than $16k. BMW’s R 1250 RS weighs slightly more and retails similarly equipped for about $7000 extra, although it has the benefits (and drawbacks) of shaft drive. KTM’s Super Duke GT ($20,599) is perhaps the best sporty sport-touring motorcycle in the world, but the N1k provides 90 percent of the Katoom’s capabilities at a fraction of the cost and with a more extensive dealer network.
- When it comes to combining big-league sporting prowess with the ability to cover long distances in relative comfort, the 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX delivers unbeatable value.
Photography by Don Williams
- Helmet: Arai Regent-X
- Jacket: Alpinestars Brera
- Gloves: Racer Mickey
- Jeans: Alpinestars Copper 2
- Footwear: Alpinestars Faster-3
2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX Specs
- Type: Inline-4
- Displacement: 1043cc
- Bore x stroke 77.0 x 56.0mm
- Maximum torque: 82 ft-lbs @ 7800 rpm
- Compression ratio: 11.8:1
- Valvetrain: DOHC, 16 valves
- Fuel management: EFI w/ four Keihin 38mm throttle bodies
- Transmission: 6-speed w/ up/down quickshifter
- Final drive: Sealed chain
- Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable inverted 41mm Showa cartridge fork; 4.7 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted, spring-preload and rebound-damping adjustable Showa shock; 5.4 inches
- Tires: Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport
- Front tire: 120/70 x 17
- Rear tire: 190/50 x 17
- Front brake: 300mm semi-floating discs w/ radially mounted monoblock calipers and radial pump
- Rear brake: 250mm disc
- ABS: Standard, cornering-aware
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 56.7 inches
- Rake: 24 degrees
- Trail: 3.9 inches
- Seat height: 32.3 inches
- Fuel capacity: 5.0 gallons
- Curb weight: 514 pounds
- Candy Lime Green/Metallic Carbon Gray
- Metallic Spark Black/Metallic Graphite Gray
2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX Price: $12,399 MSRP