2017 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS: Better Than Ever

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Drew Ruiz

Kawasaki’s Ninja 1000 ABS sport-touring model was first introduced in 2014. For 2017, the model has been revamped and updated in a number of significant ways. The bodywork and gas tank have been redesigned with a sharper cowl, more closely resembling Kawi’s supersport models, along with updated turn signals and front fender. Chin spoilers were added and new LED headlamps light the way. The electronics have also been upgraded.

Atop the new Ninja, our two-day ride started at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles before heading to San Luis Obispo the first night, then through the Central Coast’s wine country to historic Monterey the second night. The next morning we took in the fantastic Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel.

Powertrain and Performance

Power still comes from the potent 16-valve, 1,043cc four-cylinder engine used in the previous Ninja 1000 ABS. Revised ECU settings lower emissions and contribute to smoother power delivery. The engine is tractable at low speeds and can be lugged down to 30 mph in sixth gear. Power climbs almost exponentially from midrange on up to redline. A gear-driven balancer keeps vibrations in check at normal riding speeds, but at around 7,000 rpm a strong buzzing can be felt through the seat and bars.

The clutch has assist and slipper functions. Operation is smooth, and it’s easy to modulate, via an adjustable lever. A slick six-speed transmission makes gear changes easy.

The three-mode Kawasaki Traction Control (KTRC) and power selection has been improved with the addition of Bosch’s Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), which detects acceleration, pitch, roll, and yaw. The first two KTRC modes are intended to maximize acceleration while the third mode is for low-traction conditions. It works seamlessly in use, keeping riders safe.

Chassis and Handling

A lightweight aluminum backbone frame and rear subframe provides torsional stiffness. An inverted 41mm fully adjustable fork with 4.7 inches stroke holds up the front. In back, a double-sided aluminum swingarm with single horizontal shock, adjustable rebound, remote rear preload adjuster, and 5.4 inches travel handles suspension chores. Ride quality is firm and sporty, with good compliance over all but the worst bumps. 

Handling is quick and nimble; steering is light. Even with saddlebags in place, left-to-right flicks are nearly effortless. The Ninja tracks well, holds a line nicely through corners yet allows correction, and feels stable at high speeds. There’s enough ground clearance for tight cornering, and the bike feels very competent when the roads become twisty.

Two big radial front brake calipers clamping 300mm rotors, and a single-pot caliper working on a 250mm rear disc, provide ample stopping power. With the improved Kawasaki Intelligent Brake System ABS, hard, fast stops are chatter-free and consistent. 

Wheels are lightweight six-spoke alloy, reducing unsprung weight. Standard Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport radial tires specially designed for the bike grip well, don’t chase pavement grooves, and provide confidence with good feedback.

Kawasaki Cornering Management Function (KCMF) has been added, which monitors engine and chassis parameters and adjusts brake force and engine power to facilitate smooth transitions from acceleration to braking and back again. This also seems to be unobtrusive in normal riding.

Features and Ergonomics

The manually adjustable three-position windscreen is about a half-inch taller, but still could be bigger. Riding posture is sporty yet humane, with tall handlebar risers taking most of the weight off the wrists. Heated grips are available. The rider’s footpegs are well placed, but the passenger pegs are too high. 

One of the worst features of the Ninja in a touring role is the hard seating. The rider’s saddle is thin and soon has you squirming. The passenger seat has been widened an inch and is one-tenth of an inch thicker, but still small for longer rides. A gel seat and a reduced reach seat (three-tenths of an inch lower) are offered as accessories. Passenger grab rails have been improved and integrate with the luggage mounts. The pentagonal mirrors have been moved four-fifths of an inch farther apart, but are still too small and mounted too far ahead of the rider, so that the field of view is limited.

The compact instrument cluster includes a digital speedometer and an analog tach, which warns as you reach the 11,000-rpm redline. An LCD display shows traction control status, gear position, average or instantaneous fuel mileage, plus odometer, fuel level, coolant temp, clock, and more. Glare and bright sunlight can make it difficult to read sometimes. A five-gallon fuel tank provides a range near 200 miles to empty, if ridden frugally.

 

An aluminum rear subframe supports the (optional) color-coordinated saddlebags. Kawi says the mounting system and bags have again been redesigned to not only fit closely, but to look clean when the bags are not installed. Saddlebags are both rated at 28 liters capacity, and most full-face helmets can fit inside. It’s easy to operate the latches, and handy liners are offered as accessories. 

Topcases with 47 liters capacity, plus soft topcases, can be purchased, but Kawasaki says they can’t be used with the saddlebags. There’s also still no electronic cruise control, heated seat, or GPS offered.

Final Thoughts

Kawasaki’s latest Ninja 1000 is a fast, nimble, and sharp-handling sport-touring machine, with excellent fit and finish. Suggested retail is up only $ 200 from the 2014 model, to $ 12,199, plus destination charge. Color-matching saddlebags add $ 900, get keyed to match the ignition, and must be dealer installed. The Ninja 1000 is well suited for twisty backroads, long highway rides, and even commuting. It combines style, performance, and good value in a trim, sharp-looking package.