California stretches out ahead in a burst of emerald and blue. Summoned from the earth by rain, flowers dot the apexes we’re blitzing. We’re moving, but not too fast to take in a world of beauty.
As I lift to accelerate off a corner on Malibu's famous Mulholland drive, a vista opens before the next apex - a moment melding the experiences of high performance and touring into one. The Ninja 1000 is instrumental in that process.
A group of journalists and I are all on the 2017 Ninja 1000. No X, Z, or R. Just 1000. This is the sport tourer of the Ninja line, blending space and pace in one package for the discerning rider. Or so the Powerpoint claims.
Kawasaki says the Ninja 1000 is the “gentleman’s sportbike.” It’s been with us since 2011 and, judging by member surveys, makes a certain segment of riders very happy. What is that segment? The average Ninja 1000 owner makes twice the US average income for one, averages 19.4 years’ motorcycle experience, has multiple bikes, and over 70% have formal motorcycling training.
Unlike other press presentations where the term “millennial” is thrown around like hashtags in a tweetstorm, Kawasaki is to the point: Ninja 1000 owners are experienced and know what they like.
And they do like the Ninja 1000. Previous owners report satisfaction with power and handling, but hate the factory colors. Kawasaki has responded with a revision that answers these requests without taking away what makes the Ninja 1000 beloved in its demographic.
But can it attract people who don’t already own one?
For 2017, Kawasaki has not touched the frame, engine internals, or suspension. The rest has been highly revised to offer more aggression and convenience.
The engine is still a 1,043cc liquid-cooled inline-four outputting 138 bhp @ 9,600 rpm and 72.68 lb-ft of torque @ 8,800 rpm. Subtle tweaks have improved throttle response and torque spread. There are further ECU revisions to meet Euro4 emission standards. A secondary balancer geared to the crankshaft has been added to reduce vibration, and a new intake resonator has been integrated to soften intake roar below 7000rpm yet “give it character” above that point.
The assist and slipper clutch is carried over from the previous model.
The fork is a 41mm inverted unit adjustable for compression, rebound, and preload. The rear shock is the previous unit with remote preload adjustability, features revised linkage and settings for a softer ride, and lowers the seat height a bit to 32.1 inches.
The front brakes are carryover dual 300mm petal-shaped discs clamped by 4-piston, radial-mount monobloc calipers. The rear is a carryover 250mm petal disc with a single piston caliper. For 2017, pad material is revised on the rear, and a radial front brake master cylinder is new. Both changes are made to improve braking feel.
Looks and accommodations are updated as well.
For starters, the fairing has been redesigned to be more in line with the bikes it shares it's Ninja namesake. The new Ninja 1000 is significantly less pudgy than the outgoing model and features chiseled flanks, a sharpened front fascia with a chin spoiler, and a more angular lower fairing. The windscreen has been brought in closer too, and hews more closely to the bodywork.
Not too aggressive; no one will confuse it with a nearby ZX-10R. None of these cosmetic changes, Kawasaki claims, impacts this bike’s comfort at speed. There are outright comfort improvements, too.
The seat is wider for more support, and the passenger seat is longer, wider, and redesigned to keep the passenger from sliding forward. The windscreen, although closer to the bodywork, is three-way adjustable to keep the wind off.
Amenities are a little sparse, though. There is no cruise control and heated grips are a $289.95 option.
Of all the revisions, there’s one that redefines the whole bike: the electronics package.
For 2017, the Ninja 1000 receives the kitchen sink of Kawasaki’s electronic suite. Get ready for the acronym soup: 3-Mode KTRC is carried over from the previous model. And for 2017, KIBS, a Bosch IMU, are added. This whole system is now dubbed “KCMF.” Here’s the message, decoded;
The Bosch IMU is the same unit found on ZX-10R. It features six axes of measurement (including Longitudinal, Transverse, and Vertical angles and accelerations) and Kawasaki has its own schemes by which IMU data are interpreted to become the bike’s reactions through KTRC.
KTRC is Kawasaki’s traction control system, and was available on the last Ninja 1000. It features three modes - two levels for dry pavement and a third for wet, plus completely off. Previous to this year, KTRC relied on wheel speed sensors to decide how the bike reacted. With the addition of the parameters added by the Bosch IMU, wheelie control is now more precise and its interventions have become more nuanced than simple power cuts.
KIBS is Kawasaki’s Intelligent ABS and works through the riding modes and wheel speed sensors with information from the engine’s ECU to provide seamless braking intervention. It is a carryover from the last model. KIBS has also been enhanced through the Bosch IMU.
Kawasaki now dubs the new system KCMF (Kawasaki Corner Management. IMU data on bike lean angle now works with ABS and KTRC to make ABS and traction control interventions more accurate, subtle and effective.
For the Ninja 1000, all of these systems have been modified specific to this application.
PowerPoint over. It’s time to ride.
We had our choice of color, as long as it was green.
In the light of day the Ninja 1000 does cut a striking profile, even with the optional saddlebags (an option chosen by 54% of buyers - $1300 including parts and labor). Overall, it’s noticeably more sport oriented, its snout more sculpted and edges sharpened over the older model.
The assembled journalists and I would be making a two-day “Gentleman’s Road Trip” up to the Quail Motorcycling Gathering. That label depends on your definition of “gentleman.” I would hardly say our group qualified for the distinction. No one brought a top hat, and I was wearing denim-on-denim. Quite well I may add.
As the needle sweeps and you thumb the start button, the first novelty is the revised LCD dash which, unlike many other units, you can actually see in direct sunlight. Imagine that!
Next, you see the cluster that controls the riding modes with a switch next to the lights on the left handlebar. The bike saves your chosen power mode unless you turn all systems off. Once you again switch on, it will default to Mode 1.
Seating position is initially very agreeable and neutral. Your feet are beneath you and your hands outstretched straight with just enough crouch to cut the wind. At 5’10” I fit very well, but if you’re taller you may wish to add risers as we did to our old long-term Ninja 1000.
We set off due north, our merry pack of Undistinguished Gentleman a green algae flowing through traffic.
Slogging through an urban environment, two things matter - low speed manners and maneuverability. Since you’re not hunched over like on a sportbike, it was way easier to crawl in traffic at a snail's pace, and the easy pull clutch was a one finger featherweight. Even with the bags, the bike does not feel noticeably wide. If you don’t feel like shifting, the engine can chug along snatch-free in a gear too high.
Out of the city though, the bike really makes sense. We snaked our way to the, err, Snake - Mulholland Drive. Its dusty blind corners always catch out those not familiar with the route (i.e. me), but the bike was an entirely confidence-inspiring package with its electronic revisions. When the traction control light blinks, you brace for the stutter of power cuts, but with the new system you feel only a smooth thrust reduction. Power never cuts or chops. The system just gently nudges you along.
Same with the brakes. Initial bite is a touch soft, but stopping power is more than adequate. Again, ABS never cuts or chops in. It gives you confidence to really trail brake into corners.
For a bike with 1000 ccs, the electronics package makes it downright friendly and accessible. But do not be fooled.
At lunch, Senior Media Relations Coordinator Jeff Herzog mentioned that I should try it with the systems off. All of them. After a gut bomb of a cheeseburger, we departed lunch and I left with the systems turned to 0.
The power level does not change, nor the forward momentum, but with the electronics not helping, you’re left with the Ninja 1000’s literbike roots. The front wheel will rise with a twitch, and the power feeds through the rear wheel uninhibited. Highly recommended if gentlemen require a more “vigorous” experience.
I left it in Mode 1 for the rest of the trip. I am a pansy.
Valleys turned to wide open expanses, then into coast, then hills and back again as we snaked our way up to wine country.
The windshield bothered me. It’s three position adjustable, but you can’t adjust it while moving because the lever is located on the right side buried near the gauge cluster. There’s even a sticker that mentions the incredible dangers of touching the windscreen without opening the owner’s manual. But even on its highest setting, you still get an athletic buffeting that reminds you that the Ninja 1000 is more sport than touring.
Even with the more comfortable seat, after three hours you will still be angling to get out of the seat for a stretch and a break. There is no mistaking this bike for a pure touring machine.
On a ride like this, howling along the coast combines well with the grand scenery. For crossing Nebraska at one sitting, though? Not so much.
The intake resonator is a welcome touch. The motor clears its throat above 7000rpm with a howl.
I thoroughly enjoy an inline-four in this application as compared to a V-Twin. It spools endlessly to the horizon, nearly vibration free (remember that secondary balancer!) aside from a small tingle at around 10,000rpm. It’s the most sophisticated way to travel at a quick pace.
Over two days it was more of the same. More awesome scenery, more interstate slogs, wash, rinse, dry, and repeat. And with each cycle, the Ninja 1000 made more and more sense.
As we slither into Monterey, I notice the bikes of others arriving. All of them say something. From Harley to ADV to sport, they’re two-wheeled identities chosen by the pilot. Except ours. Even in alien bio-hazard green, the Ninja 1000 is a sleeper.
The Motorcycle for Those in the Know
Distinctive looking, yes. But a stand out? No. It doesn’t proclaim, “You’ve really ADV’d only if you’ve seen the Andes at sunrise. Check out my ADVrider thread for details.” Nor does it say you shred the gnar at all times, nor cruise vast distances with the sound of American thunder between your legs.
The Ninja 1000 is quiet confidence. It’s the quiet guy at the bar with a left hook that will leave you reeling if you run your mouth. Even with the dial turned down a couple notches from full punch, the achievable pace can leave even well-ridden sportbikes in the dust. And with the rider-aid suite, you can accomplish this even more easily and safely than before. Take your bags for the weekend, and your wife.
The Kawasaki Ninja 1000 is defined more by what it isn’t than what it is. It is not an apex-slaying hypersport; that is the ZX-10R. It’s not a heavyweight sport tourer; that is the Concours. It is not a sky-high, beaked adventure bike – that’s the Versys. Those are lifestyle-oriented machines, functional, yes, but imposing their marketing-backed roles on you, whether of the speed, natural terrain, or distance variety.
The Ninja 1000 comes without the marketing. I would say it’s not even for gentlemen. That term just has much too much smarm behind it. No, this is an intelligent sport bike. It’s a brilliant bike at a smart price.
Starting at $12,199 in green or black, it’s the least expensive bike with such an advanced rider-aid suite. Plus, it combines high level power, tech, and capability at less cost than a “look-at-me” retro bike.
The value is insane at that level. Think about it. This is a bike with 140hp and an electronics package traceable to World Superbike podiums. That you can ride all day.
Not many riders seem to notice. The outgoing Ninja 1000 sells a third of ZX-10R volume. I would hunch that that’s because there are more people looking to make an entrance than enjoy the ride.
They’re missing out, as are many other potential riders. For those in the know, who want to fly under the radar, this could be the one bike to rule them all.
As we rolled into the Quail unnoticed, it felt like the best kept secret in all of motorcycling.
Which is a shame.