Kawasaki’s Ninja is 32 years old – older than me – and the model lineup now includes everything from the 300 hp H2R hyperbike to the 39 hp machine that CMG raced so successfully this year.
Somewhere in the middle, there’s an odd ball. The Ninja 1000 ABS is not like the others — there are about two dozen Ninja variants listed on the Kawasaki website. It’s traded the usual crotch-rocket silhouette for something that looks more road-friendly, so where does it sit in the historically sporty lineup? Has it remained true to its origins or is it something else completely?
The Ninja 1000 has been in production for five years now and it does a number of things right. It offers the agility expected from a Ninja, but it also trades the signature lean-in riding position of the 300 and 650 for something that’s more accessible.
Walking up to the parked motorcycle on our first day together, I was disappointed this specific model looked more like a tourer than a sportbike, but I was getting off the Ninja 300 that had left me wanting more; I was looking for something with more spirit in the throttle. I jumped on the saddle and hit the road, and the disappointment did not last long.
I like the generic design of the typical Japanese sportbike with the bee-eyed headlights, the shapely fairing and the dramatic silhouette, so I can’t help but find the Ninjas sexy. The anthropomorphic quality of these designs appeals to the sleeping artist in me.
The 820 mm height of the saddle (32.3 inches in oldspeak) makes it accessible to a fairly wide range of riders’ shapes and sizes. At 5-feet-8, I was quite at ease sitting on the bike. Unlike the smaller Ninjas, the 1000 has a slightly higher handlebar that eliminates most of the tension in the arms and wrists. The footpegs are placed slightly forward for an almost natural sitting position, and with the body’s weight shifted forward, the distribution is well balanced.
Just as well really, since its 19-litre gas tank encourages road trips. For an extra $900, you can add a pair of 28-litre hard saddlebags, big enough to store a helmet and a few sets of clothes, if you want to go the extra distance.
After the first few minutes, I felt right at home and had a feeling the 1000 and I were going to get along fine. Power is plentiful: its liquid-cooled, 1,043 cc, four-cylinder engine produces 136 hp, which is about the same output as my Hyundai Veloster, but with a quarter of the weight.
Torque and power are available from the low 2,000s right up to the 11,000 rpm redline. Whether I took off in first gear or needed to do a quick pass on the road in fifth, I never really needed to downshift and rev the thottle to have enough power to act. The engine is highly responsive in most everyday situations, at low and high rpms. The clutch doesn’t turn into a forearm workout when you land yourself in traffic, either.
But there’s also the downside: the Ninja 1000 is like that friend who’s a really bad influence and who always gets you into trouble. Always the instigator, never the perpetrator. It has a tamed and approachable demeanor, but the 1000 is a devilish temptation and dangerous for the licence. It’s especially so in the tester’s vibrant, notice-me green colour that begs for attention.
There’s very little vibration and wind pressure to be felt, even at highway speeds. The fully adjustable shield and frame of the bike leave just enough resistance to feel the speed, but not enough to notice the jump from 100 to 130 km/h. You might want to look down a few more times than usual to watch for the speedometer.
The Ninja weighs in at 231 kg but is not a pain to handle in a parking lot or in the city. And as soon as you twist the throttle, any feeling of weight disappears. The motorcycle maneuvers superbly and just like that, it feels almost as agile as a much smaller motorcycle.
After some proper brain racking and some research, I figured that despite a handling true to its legacy, the Ninja 1000 is in a category of its own. As a tourer injected with sports DNA, I can’t think of a better balance of both worlds: most models go into one category or the other, but this one has a wheel in both. At $13,999 (now $13,499 with Kawasaki’s end of year rebate), the 2016 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS seems reasonably priced, especially considering the lack of direct competition.
It comes with a standard traction control system that offers three traction modes: two settings for dry tarmac for enhanced sport riding performance and one for some extra stability in rainy conditions. The new 2017 model has more advanced software that includes cornering ABS, matched with a price increase of $300.
There’s also a power selector and a racing-inspired assist-and-slipper clutch. This system has two different cams that provide that lighter and less tiring clutch lever action, with less release pressure on the clutch plates in case of heavy engine braking. This apparently protects the mechanism from accidental and premature wear.
The 2016 Ninja 1000 is a great all-around motorcycle, combining the spirit of the Ninja with some extra riding comfort. From quiet rider to supersonic key-lime extrovert, this bike feels like it won’t let you down and will rise to whatever challenge you give it.