2014 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS: Sporty, Yet Civilized

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Kawasaki

Kawasaki’s sporty and powerful Ninja 1000 has been morphed into a respectable sport-touring machine for 2014. Some of the biggest changes include standard ABS and revamped color-matched saddlebags, but there are a number of smaller tweaks that add up nicely.

Powertrain and Performance

Motive power continues to come from the spirited 16-valve, 1,043cc four-banger, which has been in the Ninja 1000 and Z1000 previously. A few minor intake and exhaust changes, as well as computer remapping, broaden the torque band. There’s 0.3mm less intake cam lift plus 6 degrees less duration, which causes the engine to pull better at lower rpms, and the peak torque comes 500 rpm sooner.

Keihin electronic fuel injection is paired with an advanced ECU. Throttle by wire has been introduced, and it enables three-mode KTRC traction control and two-mode power selection. The first two KTRC modes are intended to maximize acceleration while the third mode is for low-traction conditions. The low-power mode also limits power to about 70 percent.

This all works in unison to deliver strong and controllable power. The engine runs smoothly at even 2,000 rpm and can be lugged down to 30 mph in sixth gear. Torque rises steadily as the revs climb toward redline, and there’s plenty of power through the mid and upper rev range. Some buzz can be felt around 5,500 rpm, which is typical of inline fours, but it’s mild and many riders won’t even notice.

This new Ninja is easy to ride and feels familiar quickly. Clutch operation is easy, and it’s simple to modulate. Gear changes are smooth and fast, and neutral is readily found. With the wider torque band, constant shifting isn’t required.

A new, taller sixth gear reduces engine rpm at cruising speeds, which adds comfort when covering serious miles.

Chassis and Handling

A lightweight and sophisticated aluminum frame adds torsional rigidity. Front suspension is via an inverted fully adjustable fork. At the rear, an aluminum double-sided swingarm is controlled by a horizontal shock with a step-less rebound adjustment. Slightly increased rear spring rate and firmer front and rear damping are designed to compensate for saddlebag weight. A remote rear preload adjuster makes changing settings easy.

With 24.5 degrees of rake and 4 inches of trail, handling is quick and steering is light. Even with saddlebags, side-to-side transitions are nearly effortless. The bike tracks well, holds a line through corners, and is stable at high speeds. There’s sufficient ground clearance for tight cornering, and the Ninja feels at home in the twisties.

Twin radial front brake calipers clamp 300mm rotors for strong, easy stopping. With the standard ABS, stops are easy. Even if you slam on the brakes, it won’t skid or upset the motorcycle provided you’re going in a straight line. Braking is strong and fade free, without drama.

Wheels are lightweight six-spoke alloy, which reduces unsprung weight. The standard fitment (Bridgestone radial tires specially designed for the bike) grip well and provide confidence.

Ride quality is sporty with reasonable compliance—as long as the bumps aren’t too big. The bike’s claimed 509-pound curb weight feels like it melts away as you pick up speed.

Features and Ergonomics

Tall handlebar risers take most of the weight off your wrists so that the riding position is practical. Heated handgrips are available as an accessory.

The manually adjustable three-position windscreen gives decent wind protection, although there’s some helmet buffeting. The rider’s footpegs are well placed, but the passenger pegs are too high.

Perhaps the worst feature of the bike when used in a touring role is the seating. The rider’s saddle is thin and soon begins to feel uncomfortable. The passenger seat is small and sure to garner protests after even a short ride. Another gripe is the pentagonal mirrors. They’re far enough apart but are mounted so far ahead of the rider that the field of view is limited.

The compact instrument cluster includes a digital speedometer and an analog tach that warns as you reach the 11,000rpm redline. An LCD shows traction control status, gear position, average or instantaneous fuel mileage, and includes an odometer and clock, as well as gauges for fuel level, coolant temp, and more. Glare and strong sunlight can make it difficult to see though. Fuel economy averaged around 41 mpg on our test ride, and the 5.0-gallon tank provided a range near 200 miles to empty.

A new aluminum subframe supports the optional color-matched saddlebags. The mounting system and bags are totally redesigned and tuck in close to the bike rather than sticking out like the previous generation. Both saddlebags are rated at 29 liters capacity, and a full-face helmet can fit inside. It’s easy to operate the latches and handy liners are offered as accessories. When the bags are removed, the bike looks clean and trim because there’s little hardware evident. Tail trunks are offered as accessories, but Kawasaki says they can’t be used with the saddlebags. There’s also no electronic cruise control, heated seat, GPS, or sound system offered.

Final Thoughts

Kawasaki’s updated Ninja 1000 ABS is a quick and capable sport-touring machine with excellent fit and finish. Suggested retail is $ 11,999 for 2014 (up $ 900 from the prior model) primarily because ABS is now standard. Saddlebags add $ 1,270 and must be dealer installed as they get keyed to match the ignition.

Best suited to solo riding, the Ninja 1000 ABS can attack the canyons, ply the interstates all day long, or take you to work. It combines style, performance, and good value in a trim, sharp-looking package.