THE NEWEST AND BIGGEST NINJA
I reckon that sportstourers of around one-litre capacity are a great choice of motorcycle! Yes, the mid-sizers are more practical, but I reckon the one-litre models are great bikes! They have heaps of power, delivering as much performance as you’d ever need (and more!), they handle well, ride well (usually with fully adjustable suspension), look good, and are just a good all-round bike. Yes, I realise they’re not everybody’s cup-of-tea. Some people prefer the laid-back, uber-cool style of cruisers; others like going beyond the normal paved back-roads and prefer dual-purpose mounts; but for the majority of “roadies” I reckon they’re a good choice. They are ideal for a blast along your favourite biker’s road, zapping through the twisties, and are equally capable of slinging on some luggage and heading off on a weekend tour. There are some great bikes in the category too, including the bargain-priced Suzuki GSX1250FA (really just a Bandit with a fairing – which is no bad thing, as the Bandit is an excellent sportstourer anyway), the Triumph Sprint ST (a personal favourite), and the ever-popular Honda VFR800. Another fairly recent entrant is the Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS. The Ninja 1000 is based on the Z1000 released a year or so earlier, and runs the same aluminium backbone type frame. But unlike the Bandit, they haven’t just thrown on some clothes; it’s different in a few ways designed to make it more suited to its sportstouring role. Some sources say that the engine is a detuned (“retuned”) version of the 2010 ZX10, but Kawasaki claim it was an all new motor specifically designed for street and performance riding, as opposed to a detune of the sports-bike engine. Likewise the three-position adjustable screen is higher and the bars are closer to the rider. The foot-pegs are rubber mounted. It's all to help make the Ninja 1000 a friendly long distance mount.
It all seems to have worked, because the Ninja 1000 was the 3rd best-selling bike in the sportstourer category for 2011 in the larger capacity models, being beaten only by Suzuki’s Hyabusa (I’m still not convinced that should be called a sportstourer!) and the venerable Honda VFR800.
Trevor Hedge, writing for MCNews said, “Manufacturers are gradually starting to realise that consumer demand has changed, with punters wanting big sportsbike power combined with comfortable ergonomics and suspension that is well damped enough to iron out rough roads, yet perfectly competent when the pace hots up.” And this is exactly what Kawasaki have tried to achive with the Ninja 1000.
IN THE DRIVEWAY
They say that looks are in the eye of the beholder, and some beholders will think this looks really cool and modern. When it was first wheeled over to me that was probably my initial impression too, but the more I looked at, well, now I’m not so sure. Flouro lime green, black panels in between and bodywork at all odd angles; it looks like the styling was done by a hippie who spent too much time studying Picasso! And what’s that monstrosity of an exhaust? And that weird looking thing sticking out above the rear number-plate? Is that a machine-gun to fire on following motorists? Weird! And the side-panels seem to be just whacked on any old how. And those strange looking holes in the belly-pan, what’re they all about? Maybe to help dissipate heat, as that was one of the objectives of the design. Still looks weird! The instruments are pretty standard fare and comprise an analogue tacho, red-lined at 11,000rpm, and digital speedo. The digital display also shows fuel level, odometer and time. There are buttons to push, which I didn’t try, but it apparently doesn’t have a full trip-computer. Another grip about appearance is the windscreen mounts; to me they look very after-market. Come on Kawasaki, you can do better than that! I know it's adjustable, but adjustable mounts can be done neater than this. Climb aboard and things improve (from my perspective anyway; as I said, I’m sure there are people who think it looks “way-cool man!”). The ergonomics are good; and this is so important in a sportstourer, of course. It’s a very comfortable and natural riding-position. Look at the height of the bars relative to the height of the seat and you can see that it’s more upright than sporty. The seat feels a bit hard (but I make that criticism of most bikes). All the controls are light and easy to use. In fact the whole bike feels very light, and easy to ride. My only other criticism (and this is just a personal thing) is that the handlebar ends are a bit more horizontal than I would prefer; I’d like them to be angled down a bit more. And not being a traditional handlebar, you can’t rotate the bar to alter the angle. I should also mention that there are colour-coded Givi panniers available from the Kawasaki options list.
OUT ON THE ROAD
You might question the styling, but out on the road you forget all that, because on the road this is a great bike! Kawasaki have done a brilliant job with the engine! Very smooth, very powerful, and very tractable, it’s the sort of engine that puts a smile on your dial before you’ve even got to top gear, as well as making it delightfully easy to ride. It pulls easily and smoothly from under 2,000rpm and remains smooth all the way to … well, I had it up around 9,000rpm and it was still smooth then. Twist the right grip and there’s great acceleration; at all revs, but even more so as the revs rise. The smoothness and ease of operation continues with the gearchange, which is easy and positive to use. Clutchless up-changes are no problem. I mentioned above that the gearing had been raised a bit from the Z1000, and it runs 23kph per 1,000rpm in top. That might be a little lower than you’d expect from this type of bike, but with an 11,000rpm red-line it still gives a relaxed cruising ability. At 120kph it’s doing a touch over 5,000rpm and doing it easy. If the engine, the smoothness and ease of riding has you liking it, the Ninja continues to impress when the going gets twisty. Handling is great! By Old Bloke standards anyway. I don’t know how flickable it would be if you threw it at some high-speed flip-flop corners, but at the more reasonable speeds at which I was riding, it was great! It turns into corners easily, goes exactly where you want it to go, and is totally stable. It’s very confidence-inspiring! I rode this over the same route that I used for the Kawasaki W800. In fact I actually rode this before the W800, although I wrote the test on that one first. It included a bit of mountain highway, then some back-roads that eventually led out onto a main road that took me back to the highway. When I turned off the highway it was onto a narrow winding back-road that has a series of tight flowing corners. On this occasion though (as with the W800), it had damp patches in shaded areas from overnight rain, and was covered in leaf-litter. Of course I took it easy, but the bike felt solid and stable; very reassuring. It was also easy to change lines to avoid the larger leaves or wetter damp spots. As I said before, very confidence-inspiring! The brakes inspired confidence too, being very powerful and progressive. And just to boost the confidence even more, ABS comes standard. My only real criticism of its on-road performance was that the ride felt a bit firm. But the suspension is fully adjustable at both ends, so you should be able to find a setting that suits your riding style and desired ride characteristics. I couldn’t help wondering how the bike would’ve fared in the comparison of sportstourers I did a couple of years ago. I didn’t actually pick an outright winner in that one; but there’s no doubt the Kawasaki would be up there with the best of them. I think the Ninja would be a very good choice indeed. SNAPSHOT The Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS is a great bike! It has power and performance to spare, and is superbly tractable. It’s smooth and easy to ride, with a riding-position that suits its purpose perfectly. It handles well, and is totally stable. Everything works as it should do (including mirrors that don’t blur). You can squirt it through the twisties on an afternoon blast, or throw on some luggage and head for the next state. It’s not perfect, of course (no bike is), but the only real turn-off could be the appearance. Although that is probably a matter of taste.
Engine: 4-cylinder, 1043cc. Power: 101.5kW at 9,600rpm. Torque: 110Nm at 7,800-rpm.
Suspension: Front: upside-down 41mm fork. Rear: Monoshock, horizontal link.
Fuel capacity: 19 litres.
Weight: 231kg ready to ride.
Seat height: 820mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 120 X 17, Rear: 190 X 17
Brakes: Front: Twin 300mm discs. Rear: single 250mm disc. ABS standard.
There have been a few minor up-dates to the Ninja recently, basically to let it do what it already did well even better. First thing, not that it really needed it, is a slight increase in power – up by about 8kW and 1Nm. Perhaps of more significance is that you now get two modes of engine power. Reports say that there’s not a lot of difference down low, but the softer mode calms the power at higher revs. And speaking of power and electronic gizmos, you also get traction-control, with three settings, to keep everything further under control. There’ve been slight changes to the seat, and the design of the optional panniers (they sit closer to the bike now), but nothing too major. And the fairing has been changed slightly too, with the green paint extending down the sides, so that the top section is all green, with a black lower fairing. It's not exactly "pretty", but it looks better than the model I tested. What hasn’t changed, despite the extras, is the price. So you still get a great bike at really good price!
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