Few things move the soul like a four-cylinder Kawasaki Ninja sportbike. But as you age, Low ten second quarter mile times and connect-the-apex performance isn’t as highly valued as you remember. Instead, comfort, storage and versatility become features you desire more. However with Kawasaki’s new-and-improved Ninja 1000 ABS, you get a little of both.
The Ninja 1000 ABS has been a part of Kawasaki’s US model line-up for six years positioned below the heavy-duty and more interstate friendly Concours 14 ABS. It gets a batch of updates centered on improving its electronics package, including high-end ABS and IMU-powered traction control. Read the 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS Preview article to get up to speed on the changes, because below we’re going to dig into the nitty gritty riding experience.
Designed for someone looking for a sporty-ish bike, but still wants some degree of touring capability and comfort. This Ninja 1000 ABS hits that sweet spot very well. New and more aggressive styling in line with its sportbike siblings give it a tougher demeanor. The bold and bright pair of LED headlamps are a real benefit, illuminating dark, moon-less roads.
Powered by Kawasaki’s tried-and-true 1043cc water-cooled Inline Four, as always we appreciate the way its engine makes power. Sure, it’s not the latest and greatest engine, as used in the Ninja ZX-10R, but it still gets the job done, with right around 122 actual horsepower the last time it ran on the dyno. Two power modes exist (Full and Low), with the low setting limiting maximum power output by 70% with a milder, less sensitive throttle response.
There is plenty of juice on tap down low helping this green machine escape from crowded intersections. Mid-range is nice and fat too— the kind desired when passing slower traffic on the highway, and now making for a more enthralling ride, in the lines of its Ninja pedigree. The engine has a throaty sound to it with a grin-inducing airbox howl anytime you’re yanking on the twist grip. Fuel mileage-wise, we recorded a 38 mpg average netting a range of 190 miles based on its five-gallon capacity fuel tank.
Although there’s no electronic quickshifter, like others in the class, the transmission is smooth-shifting nonetheless, moving between each of its six cogs without fuss. Lower final drive gearing complements the torquey-output of this I4, but in top gear, its not spinning a crazy amount of RPM.
The only gripe in the powertrain department is that this older engine architecture delivers a bit of buzz. Vibration is felt through the foot pegs and the handlebars but it isn’t a deal breaker if you’re riding around town or traveling on less than a hundred mile touring ride. On the other hand, if you’re going to ride from Oregon to Southern California or vice versa, it’s a feature that’s going to get annoying. Although the rearview mirrors have been re-positioned outward (wider), the engine vibration still mutes their usefulness.
The windscreen does an effective job of moving air over the rider. Visually, it appears similar to an aftermarket double-bubble type with its tall, concave shape. Manual, and tool-less three-position adjustability make it easy to manipulate airflow, however we preferred the highest position.
Yet, you can’t claim full touring capability unless you have cruise control— a feature that is sorely missing and something we’d like to see on future versions. A 12-volt dc power port sits below the unique-to-Kawasaki monochrome-style LCD dash, which now includes a gear position indicator, up-shift light and ambient air temperature.
As always, the ergonomics of this bike are well suited to an average and above-sized rider. The clip-on positioning is more upright, but still has a sporty and commanding stance. Below the waist, the rider triangle from the foot pegs to the seat isn’t too tight. Riders that aren’t as limber as they remember will appreciate the kinder, gentler positioning of this Ninja, offering a ride that won’t have your joints screaming in agony.
Engineers did some tweaking on the seat— fitting a wider version and it is a tad more comfortable, and a pinch lower, too. If you’re logging serious mileage, you may consider upgrading to something more squishy-feeling, but, for day rides, it gets the job done.
The suspension and handling is well-calibrated and up to the Ninja’s moniker. Sporty, but not overly so the Ninja 1000 possess many of the qualities desired in a sport-touring rig. Stable and quick to turn, the fully adjustable front suspension is a nice touch allowing the rider to fine-tune damping characteristics, based on riding style. The rebound-adjustable shock is more basic however and doesn’t benefit from compression damping adjustment, but does include a handy remote preload adjuster. This allows you to alter rear ride height up or down, say if you’re carrying a heavy load in the cargo cases, or a passenger.
Speaking of cargo, this Ninja 1000 ABS has one of the slickest set of detachable hard cases in the business. The bags come on, and off super easy. They’re lockable so your contents stay safe when you’re away from bike, plus with 28-liters capacity on either side, they swallow a lot of gear. You can fit a full-size helmet in each case.
Convenience also wasn’t lost on Kawasaki. A quick swipe of the lever and off comes the luggage so you can bring them in your hotel room. You don’t have to futz with carrying gear back and forth. The only gripe is that they are expensive— available as an $899.95 accessory. You do get what you pay for though in a quality, well-engineered piece of luggage.
Kawasaki had the first Japanese liter-class sportbike to include traction control (2011 Ninja ZX-10R). However recently, Ninjas have lagged a bit behind the competition in traction control. Not anymore.
The addition of the IMU-powered traction control and ABS unit do wonders for the riding experience. As before, three settings are available, with the lower number equating to less electronic intervention. The IMU gives the motorcycle real-time positional awareness allowing it to augment engine power based on lean, yaw and pitch. We didn’t ride the Ninja hard enough on the street to feel the TC intervene, however it was nice to know that it is there.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the electronics package is the new Bosch-powered ABS unit. The ABS in this Ninja was always good, but now it’s excellent. You can utilize the performance, the brakes at a very high level without having to worry about any wheel skids, any front wheel lock-up. Even during aggressive use, the system is so well calibrated with minimal cycling or brake level/pedal kick-back.
It effectively transfers hand pressure into the brake hardware, and the Bridgestone Battlax S20 tires. The bike stops quick. The ABS is a really handy feature where riding on a sketchy and/or unfamiliar road surface. It will help you extort the true mechanical braking performance in an easier way, where you don’t have to worry about scaring yourself.
Typically reserved for hydraulically actuated clutch units that generally have heavier lever pull, new five-way clutch lever adjustability complements the brake lever. However, it is a little gimmicky. Nonetheless it is nice to be able to tailor the position of the controls.
Although the MSRP increased $200 dollars on this bike from last year’s version, you’re getting a lot more bike for your dollar. The electronics have been upgraded; it looks more mean, like the Ninja ZX-10R; the LED headlights are a big plus. It really strikes a sweet spot in Kawasaki’s Ninja sporting lineup. The ZX-10R is more expensive at 15, 16 grand. The ZX-6R is certainly more affordable, but this machine is only a few hundred dollars more than it. If you’re going to be riding predominantly on the street, doing an overnight trip, getting out of town for the weekend, this bike’s going to be more functional than a 600 Supersport. And for only a couple hundred dollars more, you really can’t lose with this bike.