WHAT WE LIKE
-- Hard-charging engine
-- Balanced chassis
-- Comfortable riding position
-- Adjustable screen
NOT SO MUCH
-- ABS is not switchable
-- Under seat storage
-- Slim mirrors
Take one of the best Japanese litre-class naked bikes on the block, the Z1000, add a fairing and adjustable screen, increase the fuel tank by 25 per cent and you'd be left with a very handy piece of machinery.
That's exactly what Team Green has done with the new 2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS, first shown to the public at the Cologne motorcycle show in late 2010.
When Kawasaki developed the modern era second generation Z1000 naked bike, it built an all-new 1043cc engine. It's this 136hp (101kW) powercore that motivates the aggressively-styled Ninja 1000 and, as we discovered, delivers big bang for your bucks.
The idea behind the Ninja 1000 is to make the most of this newly developed four-cylinder engine yet package it in a way that appeals to a different type of buyer: a motorcyclist who wants to do fewer wheelies and burnouts but more touring, travelling and the odd bit of scratching.
Has it succeeded? Let's take a closer look...
PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
Under the skin, the Ninja 1000 is identical to the Z1000; it has the same frame, same brakes, same suspension, same engine. The only major difference is the external design -- the fairing, the seat section and so forth.
Despite what are only minimal changes to the bike's structure, there's something about this bike that feels very fresh and, priced from $16,999 plus on-road costs, also represents good value.
The Ninja 1000 features a serious brake package: twin 300mm wave discs hooked up to radial-mount quad piston calipers, with a 250mm rear disc and single-pot calliper at the rear. The entire kit is serviced by an antilock braking system (ABS) and like the Z1000's setup it's always active.
The $16,999 price puts it around $500 above the Z1000's, but what it adds is worth a lot more than that.
The fairing alone is worth the price of admission, allowing the bike to slice through air with less resistance, and the adjustable screen is fantastic. I kind of wish our long-term CBR600 F4 had one...
Weighing in at 231kg (10kg more than the Z1000 due to the extra plastics and larger fuel tank), the Ninja 1000 makes good use of its donor bike's aluminium frame. But unlike the Z1000's flat bars this bike gets a pair of clip-ons that raise the bars a little higher. Together with a 820mm seat height, it's a comfortable ride and isn't difficult to throw a leg over.
Power for the Ninja 1000 comes from a 1043cc liquid-cooled inline four-cylinder engine that punches out a very healthy 136hp (101kW) at 9600rpm, but it's the 110Nm of torque at 7800rpm that really takes your breath away.
The engine has so much mid-range torque, I was almost convinced at one stage that it was a triple. In sixth gear at around 100km/h the bike feels incredibly tractable and pulls like a steam train.
Top speed is around 260km/h, and if you crack the throttle at low speeds in second gear the front wheel becomes decidedly light. Indeed, response is excellent and it's a refined mill too, revving cleanly and surely from idle to its rev limiter.
Kawasaki's 16-valve engine has a 77mm bore and 56mm stroke, while 38mm downdraft Keihin throttle bodies make sure the fuel finds its way into the cylinders. Like the engine, the exhaust system is also carried over from the Z1000, featuring an under-engine chamber that allows the stocky, stylised dual exhaust outlets.
One thing the Ninja 1000 gets that isn't present on the Z1000 is a 'cool air system', which is designed to funnel cool air to the airbox via ducts that flank the headlight assembly. It's not like ram air induction as it doesn't pressurise air within the airbox, but does keep intake air cooler which in theory should maintain peak performance levels.
Suspension wise, the Ninja 1000 boasts fully adjustable 41mm upside-down forks, while the rear wheel is propped up by a horizontally-mounted shock with rebound and preload damping adjustability.
ON THE ROAD
Stepping onto the Ninja 1000 for the first time, there's only a vague impression that this is a faired version of the Z1000. It feels like its own bike, like a new model rather than a naked bike wearing a fancy suit, which is in large part thanks to the taller clip-on handlebars and a 5mm higher seat.
The engine feels eerily familiar, and this is a good thing because the Z1000's new 1043cc four-banger goes off like a frog in a sock. That extra 43cc seems to have done the engine a world of good, delivering meaty midrange punch that wouldn't be out of character on a British-built triple.
Throttle response and fuelling is excellent -- snap the throttle open and you'll know about it, particularly in the lower gears. It hauls astonishingly well and the new seat section with big grab handles for the pillion makes ferrying passengers around effortless.
The bike has so much mid-range torque and such a nicely balanced chassis that you barely feel the extra weight of the passenger whether cutting through traffic or around apexes.
Combine those traits with the optional top box and panniers (not to mention the three-way adjustable screen fitted as standard), and you're looking at a very capable two-up tourer.
What's more, the Ninja 1000 is also a very enjoyable motorcycle to lean into long, fast corners and has decent braking power to match, with good decelerative feel through the right-hand lever.
There was some initial confusion as to the naming of this particular motorcycle, and we've had plenty of reader feedback on the issue regarding the usage of the 'Ninja' name on something that appears to be a tourer, and the potential for confusion between this Ninja 1000 and the 1000cc Ninja ZX-10R sports bike.
However having ridden the Ninja 1000 in a range of conditions, I can understand why Kawasaki wanted to use the 'Ninja' badge on the bike -- it's seriously quick through corners and in a straight line, and it's surprisingly rewarding to ride.
A jack of all trades, it has plenty of pros – it grips well and is easy to ride, has truck loads of torque and plenty of power, is pillion and tourer friendly yet can still track through tight turns keenly – and very few cons.
Though it does feel a little top-heavy initially, half a dozen corners are all it takes to find the bike's measure. It excels in open sweepers and while it feels as though it could keep pace with sportsbikes through tighter, twistier routes, its 231kg weight does play against it at times, especially under brakes and through chicanes, also when changing directions rapidly.
Thankfully the big bruiser has a well-sorted dual ABS system, which comes as standard and certainly adds confidence when riding in the wet.
Taller riders will feel at home on the Ninja 1000, with a relaxed riding position that won't put your back out of place. The raised clip-ons and taller seat height suited my six foot frame nicely and the adjustable screen, as mentioned, is a bonus.
Ride quality is above average in urban areas and won't rattle your wrists but the suspension is adjustable so you can tailor the damping settings to your liking.
The instruments (analogue tach, digital speedo) are clear and concise and the 19lt fuel tank affords an impressive touring range.
It's also a neat looking bike, with standout features like the aggressive headlight design, minimal fairings with integrated indicators, futuristic exhaust outlets and a sleek tail section with LED brake light cluster. The hexagonal mirrors also look cool.
Some of the not-so-great elements of the bike include a tiny amount of underseat storage, not enough for more than a small rag, and the centre stand is awkwardly positioned and takes a few goes to master. The mirrors might look schmick, but they're not best in class in terms of providing rearward visibility, but neither are they the worst.
Kawasaki is telling no lies when it says the Ninja 1000 "...can accommodate everything from city riding to touring to sport riding" while delivering the "...depth not available on super-naked or supersport models."
Ninja name or not, this is a very accomplished motorcycle and one that represents impressive value and has the depth of character to be a sleeper hit for the Kawasaki brand.
SPECS: Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS
Type: Liquid-cooled, four-valve, DOHC, inline four-cylinder
Bore x stroke: 77mm x 56mm
Compression ratio: 11.8:1
Fuel system: 38mm Keihin with oval sub throttles
Emissions: Euro 3
Final drive: Chain
Clutch: Wet, multi-disc
CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame type: Aluminium twin-tube
Front suspension: 41 mm inverted fork with stepless compression and rebound damping and spring preload adjustability, 120mm travel
Rear suspension: Horizontal Back-link, gas-charged with stepless rebound damping and spring preload adjustability, 135mm travel
Front brakes: Dual semi-floating 300mm petal discs with opposed 4-piston dual radial-mounted callipers (with ABS)
Rear brakes: Single 250mm petal disc with single piston calliper (with ABS)
Wheels: Cast aluminium 17-inch wheels
Tyres: front 120/70 ZR17, rear 190/50 ZR17
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Rake: 24.5 degrees
Claimed dry weight: Not given
Claimed wet weight: 231kg
Seat height: 820mm
Fuel capacity: 19lt
Claimed maximum power: 136hp (101kW) at 9600rpm
Claimed maximum torque: 110Nm at 7800rpm
Colours: Green or black
Bike supplied by: Kawasaki
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres
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