Kawasaki’s rationale for building the Ninja 1000 epitomizes the road sport concept. Team Green continues to push the performance envelope with its racing flagships, most notably the latest ZX-10R which utilizes production traction control and ABS. But Kawasaki purpose built the Ninja 1000 to deliver sporting performance in a less aggressive and less expensive package. The Ninja arrives as an all-new 2011 model, effectively a fully-faired version of its Z1000 streetfighter.
The Ninja’s headlining feature is its rip-snorting Inline Four. The dual overhead cam, 16-valve design displaces a pleasingly uneven 1043cc. It sports similar internal engine dimensions to the Yamaha with an identical 77mm bore, stretching the extra 45cc from a 2.4mm longer 56mm stroke. The engine performance, however, is far different than its Japanese cousin.
The dyno confirms as much, where the Ninja churns out 76 lb-ft of torque. That’s almost nine up on the Yamaha, and the Kawasaki exhibits a distinct torque advantage over its rival across its rev range. The Kawi just edges the 74.6 lb-ft Suzuki, but where the GSX starts to tap out at 6500 rpm the Ninja’s just getting into its top-end hit. The Kawasaki’s 123.5 peak horsepower comes at 9100 rpm.
The Kawasaki Ninja 1000 enters the Road Sport fray with a punchy 1043cc engine with grin-inducing performance.
Off the dyno and onto real-world streets, the Ninja’s torquey engine tune translates into immediate, usable power. Where the Yamaha is more top-end biased the Kawasaki proves potent at any rev.
“I couldn’t find any faults with the Ninja’s motor,” says Robin. “The thing started out with plenty of power down low and then it just never seemed to really fall off.”
“It is a do-it-all motor,” agrees Scot. “Didn’t matter if you were lugging along or hauling at 80 mph, it was the only bike you could dump it at eight grand and ride a huge ass wheelie. If something is gonna give you a thrill it’s this big, punchy engine.”
The Kawasaki gets the top nod from our testers in engine performance. The BMW and Honda both hold more than a 20-hp advantage, and run the quarter-mile better than the Kawi’s 10.81 @ 129.6 mph byline, but the Kwakker just plain feels the rowdiest, most virile bike of the bunch. Fueling is brisk, with an immediate wallop at the throttle. The Ninja is far and away the most wheelie prone hooligan bike of the group, and the howling engine noise also has us smiling too.
“I like big horsepower in a motorcycle and the Ninja 1000 delivers this in spades,” declares Kenneth. “It has the signature Kawasaki howl and it feels like the fastest bike of the bunch. This is the bike for the hooligan who wants to be comfortable but still do 100 mph wheelies if some young buck tries to punk you on the freeway.”
The engine package isn’t without its complaints. The Ninja exhibits the most intrusive engine braking, with throttle roll-offs pressing riders into the bars. It’s also, by far, the buzziest bike in the group – the vibes running up through the tank and bars with irritating effect.
The Ninja’s slick-shifting six-speed transmission didn’t register any complaints. Same goes for the front brakes, with the four-piston radial-mount Nissin calipers nabbing rave reviews for their outright stopping power and feel. This reverses our complaint from our Ninja 1000 first ride, where the test unit brakes had yet to bed in. The only thing that mars the Ninja’s braking performance is a less than potent rear, the single-piston unit delivers a vague feel.
The Kawasaki makes use of excellent suspension components. Its three-way adjustable Showa fork is particularly laudable, comfortably soft at low speeds and freeway droning, but progressively stiffer when pushed in sporty habitat. The horizontally-mounted rear shock holds up its end of the equation too, offering preload and rebound adjustment options.
The suspension teams with an aluminum frame and swingarm to form a taut, communicative chassis. Riders feel confident from the ample feedback through the controls. The problem is the Ninja isn’t as neutral handling as some of its competitors, requiring more rider input to initiate and hold lines while cornering.
While the Kawasaki requires more rider input for cornering, it’s taut chassis transmits ample feedback to the rider and encourages a felonious pace on curvy backroads.
“The Ninja needs to be held down with bar pressure to keep it held into the turn,” confirms Scot, “but I actually prefer that instead of keeping a bike from falling into the turn.”
Whether preferred or not by the test rider, there is a tendency for the Ninja to want to stand up. Our test unit’s rear Bridgestone Battlax BT-016 sported a 190/50 profile. It’s the same profile as the Z1000, a bike we’ve flogged and noticed similar handling quirks. Interestingly enough, the Ninja’s spec sheet lists 190/55 as the standard rear profile and we await word on the official spec. Regardless of size discrepancy, it’s worth noting the 016s were better suited to sporty paces than the touring-spec 021s sourced by the Suzuki.
Riding position on the Ninja is, like many of the other mounts, upright with a slight forward lean. The Kawi feels different thanks to the dramatic height of its clip on bars. While presenting a comfortable reach, the positioning seems quite foreign after stepping off the other bikes. It’s also notable how narrow the Ninja feels, with an easy reach to the ground from its trim seat.
Kawasaki touts its Ninja as a viable sport-touring option, and at 497 pounds it’s well over a hundred pounds lighter than purpose-built ST mounts. With a 37 mpg efficiency, the range works out to a respectable 186 miles. The seat works well enough for long-distance treks, while the biggest boost for touring credo is the three-position adjustable windscreen.
“I can’t express the importance of the adjustable windscreen when it comes time to log serious miles on this motorcycle,” says Ken. “The Ninja deserves a real plug for that little feature.”
It bears repeating that the Ninja’s vibes do cut into the comfort factor. They are most noticeable when the tach revs up to 7K and the rattling buzz can get tiresome. Our pillion rider took issue with the Ninja’s comfort too, rating it dead last for two-up runs.
“Everyone said how great this bike was when they were riding it, but it wasn’t very comfortable,” says Laura. “The seat was thin without a lot of padding and I was always sliding back and forward on it. My knees weren’t too cramped, but I got tired of riding on back of this bike much sooner than the others.”
The Ninja 1000 sports comfort enough for light touring duty. At $10,999 is represents a more affordable and lighter weight ST option than purpose-built touring models.
The Ninja 1000 looks every bit the sport bike. And Kawasaki knows America’s predilection for the fully-faired look. Its naked Z1000 and Z750 are best sellers in Europe, but struggle here in the States and in the case of the 750 don’t even warrant importation (Kawasaki USA actually pleaded, to no avail, to have the Ninja 1000 rolled out before the latest generation Z1000). The full fairing look works for our testers.
“I wish Kawasaki would have made the ZX-10R look as cool as the Ninja 1000,” says Hutch. “I think this is one of the better looking motorcycles on the market, and the dual color red/black of our test bike is real sharp.”
Robin, who gets paid for his aesthetic tastes as a graphic designer, agrees in a roundabout way: “When I first saw photographs of the all-new Ninja 1000, I thought it was a beautiful piece of machinery. When I saw it in person, I was slightly less impressed. The fit and finish was less than the Honda and the front end seemed just a little large, but after a few days of riding and looking at it day in and day out, the style really grew on me again.”
That Kawasaki delivers its all-new 2011 model with a $10,999 MSRP is remarkable. While the FZ1 is less expensive, the Ninja delivers a more polished look and freshened styling. It puts the Suzuki to shame in terms of both componentry and fit and finish.
The Ninja 1000 touches all the bases. It’s a bike that can run at the track, hit the canyons, or head out on tour – all in the same day! Add in the fact that it’s five grand less than the high-end Beemer and Honda and the Ninja 1000 makes a fantastic all-rounder for the roads.