2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000

Text: Florian Neuhauser • Photography: Kawasaki, USA

Most young riders, and surely many seasoned riders as well, want the ultimate sportbike - they want to feel like a MotoGP racer. Of course, in reality, a motorcycle that's been specifically designed for the track isn't the most practical on the street. Kawasaki engineers took this into account and produced a very capable, purpose-built sportbike for the street.

When I first saw the new Ninja 1000, the styling deceived me. The full fairing, sleek aerodynamics, the two-piece seat, and the 6-spoke wheels all indicate a sportbike, yet once straddled, I got a very different story from the relaxed seating position. The heat dissipating bodywork stands out and is difficult to overlook. The front part of the fairing directs oncoming air outward, and the mid-section fairing directs the hot air from the engine outward as well. The slimmer fairing design provides increased comfort from both wind protection and engine heat, making the Ninja 1000 very street friendly.

Engine

Firing up this engine in the morning will bring joy to any motorcycle enthusiast. Even at idle, it sounds like a jet engine. The 1,043cc inline-four with DFI offers serious torque in an accessible range. As soon as I rolled on the throttle, I had more than enough power with the low-mid range performance – along the Pacific Coast Highway, the needle pointed mostly between 4,000 and 7,000 rpm. At around 7,000 rpm, there’s a distinctive power kick, as that’s where the maximum torque is. And the steady roar of the engine is a sound that few motorcycles can match. From idle to redline, the Ninja 1000 performs smoothly and with control, harnessing the open-class power. Yet for all of its power, due to a secondary engine balancer, no noticeable vibrations crept up my feet, seat, or hands throughout the entire day.

Handling

The high performance, aluminum twin-tube frame is compact and lightweight, yet highly rigid. The front suspension consists of a fully adjustable, 41mm inverted Showa fork, whereas the rear back-link horizontal suspension allows rebound and preload adjustments. Aggressive, but plush best describes the suspension. In the hills behind San Francisco, we encountered every type of road surface, and the Ninja 1000 superbly handled them all. Cracks and bumps in the middle of a curve, washboard-like asphalt, and even wet pine needle-covered roads were no problem. Shifting was smooth, with no false neutrals. The clutch isn’t difficult to engage, and it allowed me to use just one or two fingers. With such a powerful engine and well-tuned suspension, the brakes don’t fall far from the sportbike tree. The 300mm front petal-type brake discs are gripped by opposed four-piston radial-mount calipers, providing superb braking power. The radial pump master cylinder contributes to better braking feel. The rear brake is a single-piston, pin-slide caliper around a 250mm petal-type disc. The caliper is mounted below the swingarm and located by a torque rod.

Comfort

Although the Ninja 1000 looks aggressive standing by itself, the seat features a relaxed riding position for all-day comfort. A great addition is the adjustable windshield, which offers three settings. A lever inside the fairing has to be manually pulled, while simultaneously raising or lowering the windshield with the other hand. Definitely not for on-the-fly adjustments. With my 6’2" frame, the middle position proved best for me.

I found the seat width to be spot-on, if leaning a bit toward the “too-narrow” spectrum. This capable touring machine also offers improved comfort for the passenger. Dampers underneath the rear seat reduce vibrations and passenger grab rails enhance security. The one-piece aluminum sub-frame adds storage under the seat, while also strengthening the motorcycle as a whole and making it more stable. One cause for concern is the placement of the passenger footpegs, which are positioned directly atop the exhaust pipes. After the engine had been running for a while, I placed my hand on the pegs and didn’t feel any excessive heat. The heat shield seems reliable, but a real-life passenger would know best.

Accessories

Kawasaki was still working on accessories at the time of the intro, but side cases and a topcase are almost ready for market. The side cases are the same that are offered on the Versys, with each holding about nine gallons. Heated grips will also be available at a later time.

Overall Impression

The Ninja 1000 is a very fun machine on the road and it’s a bike that performs well for sport riding, commuting, and sport-touring. The exciting sporty handling, smooth and stable power, and all-day comfort clearly make this bike appealing to all age groups. For better touring use, though, the features of the instrument panel should include more than just the analog tachometer and the digital speedometer, fuel gauge, clock, and dual trip meters. Average speed, fuel range until empty, estimated miles per gallon, and outside temperature would be nice additions. The Ninja 1000 has 10 percent more horsepower, and 65 percent more torque than the track-oriented ZX-6R, and virtually the same torque as the ZX-10R. With the looks and acceleration of a sportbike, but with the comfort of a sport-touring machine, this model is bound for greatness. I enjoyed the flexible and fast accelerating, carving up twisties, and swallowing every road bump thrown at me. One of the best parts, though, was walking away at the end of the day upright, without having to loosen up the wrists.