CycleOnline.com.au rides and rates Kawasaki’s brand new Ninja 1000 ABS.
Modern era sportsbikes are inching ever closer to becoming circuit-bred race weapons, the kind of bikes that look exceptional at a standstill, perform miraculously at track days and become fully-fledged racers with just minimal modifications.
However the downside for those who still enjoy a weekend blast around their favourite country roads in the real world is that unless you’re going at 10-10ths, chances are you’re going to struggle for comfort with a few hours in the saddle.
Take your latest and greatest sportsbike on a touring trip down to the Island for the World Supers or MotoGP and you’ll likely be aching for days afterward, not to mention the possibility of carrying passenger or anything more than a backpack of clothes.
That’s where the 2011 model Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS comes into play, a bike that has very capable sportsbike foundations, albeit a lot more purposeful than its ZX-R siblings.
The Ninja 1000 is shares a lot of its components with the popular Z1000, but don’t be fooled into thinking this particular ride is simply a nakedbike with fairings bolted on as an afterthought.
While both models feature the same 1043cc four-cylinder DOHC engine, Aluminium Twin Tube frame, suspension and brake components, their purposes are much different.
The addition of fairings and more relaxed seating position on the Ninja 1000 does wonders for when you’re in travel mode, providing a greater amount of wind protection and comfort for your journeys.
In fact, the tall handlebars – especially compared to a superbike – and lower seat height is super comfy weather you’re going out for a short stint or planning a longer run.
It’s not a touring bike to the point where you won’t want to take it out of the garage unless you’re going 500-plus kays, which is a positive thing because 95 percent of the time you’ll feel right at home chasing down your superbike-equipped mates without being left in their wake.
As mentioned previously, your partner can appreciate the Ninja too, since the pillion arrangement is well thought out in both the seating position and rubber-monted foot rests. Plus, there are large handles to hold onto.
Equally as impressive is its ability to load up goods for a weekend away. The pillion seat is large enough to strap a bag to, while the handles could also easily double up as tie-down points.
Kawasaki is obviously aware of its touring purpose as well since there is an assortment of GIVI cases available in the Kawasaki Genuine Accessories catalogue (see breakout).
By now it’s obvious that the Ninja 1000 ABS is an all-rounder in a growing category that has little competition at this point, but it’s the bike’s handling prowess that really surprised during our test period.
At a glance you can see it’s definitely not as sleek as the ZX-10R that’s just been released, nor is it supposed to be for the reasons that we’ve already mentioned.
On the scales the Ninja weighs in at 231 kilos full of fuel according the Kawasaki, which is 23 more than what Kawasaki claims the new ZX-10R weighs.
For reference, the Z1000 naked tops the scales at 221 kilograms wet.
Once out on the streets of New South Wales that included some freeway cruising, flowing country roads and a trip through the National Park near Sutherland, you really begin to understand the bike’s meaning.
There’s no doubt that it’s a slower turning bike than both the superbike and naked, but its balance and stability is confidence inspiring with a surprising amount of feedback returned via the quality Bridgestone BT-016 tyres.
Upon corner entry the Ninja is somewhat difficult to commence the initial lean, however once you’ve applied the first part of the lean angle then it’ll follow through nicely.
That’s where the balance and stability come into play, and the bike’s ultimate playground is a series of long sweeping turns where you can really flow from one corner to the next.
On the tighter corners you’ll want to approach them with ease as the weight takes quite a bit of work to pull up, but the ABS braking system does a handy job if you need to come to a halt at speed.
Part of me expected the brakes to be slightly more powerful, although they did start to gain power as they got more heat into them over the course of a ride.
One of the best things regarding the front brakes is that they don’t have that ‘wooden’ feel that some ABS set-ups have, feeling very natural while still defending against wheel lock upon emergency braking.
The lean angle you can carry is enjoyable, largely thanks to the feedback through the ’Stones, and once you begin to exit turns then the rear suspension delivers that same confident feedback that we came to appreciate.
Considering it’s a bike that you can go long distances on, the stiffness on the suspension on the street is what assists in keeping up with more highly developed superbikes, although it’d obviously be a whole different story on the race track.
What I am a fan of is the bike’s ability to adjust the windscreen in three different settings, ranging from a sportier setting to one that’s more ideal for the long haul. The difference can be noticed and I’d say it’s an option that will come into good use for those who own the model.
When it comes to engine power, the Ninja won’t “tear your arms off” or anything of the sorts, but it does have ample power that can bring a smile to your face in no time – especially on those sweeping turns that suit its handling so well.
It’s not overly powerful off the bottom, but ultra smooth and the power really begins to kick in at around 5000rpm. From 7000rpm onwards you’ll really start to feel the power that’s on tap all the way until the redline marker of around 11,000rpm.
The throttle is light to apply and so is the clutch, enhancing the bike’s ability to go lengthy distances as your energy is conserved in all of these small, but important, areas.
When working your way up the RPM range and through the exceptional six-speed gearbox, you’ll be hard pressed to fault the shifting capabilities of the ’box – you hardly even have to close the throttle. It’s also nice as you work your way back down the gears, making for a terrific experience in that department.
The exhaust note is punchy, if not tough enough, but the connection between the throttle and the rear tyre is refined as you’d expect from Kawasaki in this current day and age.
When summarising the instrument panel, there’s no other words that could describe it other than simple and effective. It’s operated by a Mode and a Reset button, with no options to scroll through apart from having a trip metre.
More capabilities would probably be better, but the ease of using this dash is somewhat a relief when compared to other electronic-crazed models on the market. It looks good and is easy to read though, which is appealing to the demographic that would likely purchase the Ninja.
All in all you’d have to give Kawasaki a big thumbs up for producing this model, even if it may be difficult to sell to the masses, and I’m confident that those who do lay down their hard earned on it won’t regret it one bit.
The 2011 model Ninja 1000 ABS may share many similarities and hard parts with its Z1000 sibling, however the pair are entirely different animals when it comes to riding in the real world.
The pair feature the same engine, frame, suspension and brakes, developed in tandem by Kawasaki, albeit released a year apart from one another.
In short, the Ninja certainly isn’t a Z1000 with fairings on it though, because the Ninja 1000 is very much a sportsbike with great touring capabilities.
The fairing provides great comfort from the wind on lengthy rides with a larger capacity 19-litre fuel tank, an adjustable windscreen, plus easy-to-grab passenger handles.
When it comes down to the crunch, the Ninja 1000 may not look as sharp or as new age as the Z1000, however the additional comfort over the long haul is a factor that’s tough to overlook if you’re a long distance tourer.
The 1043cc four-cylinder DOHC engine that’s featured in the Ninja 1000 features a host of technical innovations to make it a solid performer in its class.
It has a secondary engine balancer that is gear-driven off the crankshaft to help reduce engine vibration.
The cylinders have linerless, chrome composite plated aluminium bores, which lowers the engine weight and improves heat transfer.
Also in the cylinder-head, the camshaft profiles enhance low- to mid-range performance.
It’s tuned to deliver torque in the bottom-end and mid-range, while a low crankshaft and five-degree downward engine tilt help the engine remain compact.
Digital fuel injection is featured as the 38mm Keihin throttle bodies are designed to assist in the response of the lower and mid-range.
Oval sub throttle valves help reduce overall throttle body width, making the package more compact.
Sub-throttle valves are controlled by the ECU to provide precise response and make DFI performance similar to constant velocity carburettors.
Additionally, the Cool Air System routes cool air to the airbox from ducts at the front of the side fairings in a bid to minimize performance loss via heated air – which shouldn’t be confused with force-fed ram air as it’s not pressurised.
The exhaust is made up of a four-into-two-into-one-into-two (you got that?) system, which utilises a pre-chamber to assist in weight centralisation. What the pre-chamber also does is allow smaller mufflers for enhanced appearance and less weight.
It also has an exhaust butterfly valve in the right muffler that tunes exhaust backpressure waves for greater bottom-end response. The main and pre-catalysers are a honeycomb style in each exhaust pipe to meet emissions regulations without over-restricting the power.
Also for emmisions, the oxygen sensor with ECU feedback loop meets Euro 3 standards for low carbon emmisions.
Chassis-wise, the Ninja 1000 has an Aluminium Twin Tube frame that features the engine as a stressed frame member.
It has a mounting point at the front of the cylinder for added rigidity, while the main spars and swingarm brackets are a single die-cast piece and are welded to the cast aluminium steering stem. Cross brackets attach to the inside of the spars for less external welds and a nicer finish.
The forks are 41mm inverted cartridge units, which are fully adjustable and feature standard settings dialed in for sport riding and comfort.
At the rear suspension you’ll find it positions the shock unit and linkage above the swingarm, which equals to better mass centralisation and it makes room for the exhaust pre-chamber.
The fully adjustable lay-down shock absorber is further away from the exhaust so that its operation will not be affected by exhaust heat, and the free piston in the shock enhances damping characteristics.
Its pressed aluminium swingarm is lightweight and rigid with eccentric chain adjusters. According to Kawasaki, the linkage ratios are designed to offer smooth and linear suspension response.
Radial-mounted front disc brakes are featured, and it has a radial pump front brake master cylinder to improve power and feel.
ABS brakes are featured as standard equipment, as the name of the model suggests.
The front disc is 300mm and is clamped by four-piston callipers, while the rear disc is a single piston calliper with a 250mm disc. Both discs are petal-shaped to improve cooling and warp resistance.
The leading edge of fairing is designed to direct air outward so that the bodywork can be slimmer in the mid-section and its rear flairs help direct hot air away from the rider.
Adding to rider comfort is the adjustable windscreen, which has three available positions spanning approximately 20 degrees for sport and touring use. All three adjustments can be done without tools.
Rubber-mounted and coated footpegs are also designed for additional comfort over the long haul with minimal vibrations. Also suitable for long distance travels is the 19-litre fuel tank, which is made of steel and facilitates the use of a magnetic tank bag.
Finally, the instrumentation is made up of a large analogue tachometer and multi-function LCD screen – based on the design of the ZX-6R sportsbike. Its functions include a speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, odometer, clock, dual trip meters, and warning lamps.