Review: 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX

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As I collect years in my 40s, I’m increasingly aware of not only my own mortality, but also my appreciation for comfort and the finer things in life. My girlfriend, Allie, frequently enjoys reminding me that she’s several years my junior, so I devised a plan that would make me appear younger and fitter than I am. Or at least make her realize age will soon begin catching up with her, too.

Allie rides a pristine, 20-year-old Ninja ZX-6R. It’s a fantastic bike that always makes me marvel at the engineering and build quality Kawasaki puts into their machines. It still dives into corners enthusiastically, its engine pulls strong, and it shifts gears crisply. This was the last generation of ZX-6R before Kawi went full repli-racer and made their supersport more fierce, but far less comfortable. Despite this, and Allie’s insistence that she can tour comfortably on the bike, I find my neck and wrists beg for mercy far too soon to ever consider covering any significant distance on that thing.

Jeff’s much younger girlfriend rides a 20-year-old Kawasaki ZX-6R…comfortably.

This is where the Ninja 1000SX comes in. Kawasaki figured out a decade ago that there was a sweet spot for certain riders who wanted most of the performance of a supersport machine, but without the high chiropractic bills that typically accompany them. The Ninja 1000 offers serious performance and Ninja style but with legitimate sport-touring comfort.

The 2020 Ninja 1000SX’s upright riding position and ergonomics allow someone even as old and inflexible as Jeff to ride all day without pain or discomfort.

The plan then, was to show Allie that I could spend a long day in the saddle of a Ninja without complaint, just as she does, reaffirming my youthfulness. It was fool proof. We’re avid travellers, and while we relish heading out on the bikes for a few days at a time, this year’s COVID curse has had us sticking closer to home. Day trips are the extent of our journeys now, so we got creative and planned a tour of Europe, without leaving our own backyard so to speak.

Our forefathers weren’t particularly original in their naming of places as they settled Southern Ontario. If not named after themselves (like here in Hamilton), settlements generally bore the title of places the settlers originally hailed from. Starting with breakfast in Paris, we skirted past Cambridge and New Berlin (better-known now as Kitchener), through Luxemburg (and nearby Baden), northwest to Lisbon, before stopping in Stratford for a break.

Allie was promised a trip to a number of European countries, but CMG doesn’t pay much, so a tour of Southern Ontario would have to do.

For 2020, Kawasaki has significantly updated the Ninja 1000, making a strong case for this split-personality machine, especially given its starting price of $14,399 (just a few hundred bucks more than last year’s model). Adding the SX suffix in the process. Styling has been updated to keep it familiar within the Ninja lineup; its sharp creases and defined angles certainly sell the “sport” part of this sport touring machine.

The 2020 1000SX continues the Ninja tradition of offering supersport performance, but without having to contort ones self into a pretzel to pilot.

The engine reinforces the styling exercise. Displacing 1,043cc, the Ninja 1000SX’s inline-four punches out an impressive 142 hp at 10,000 rpm, a figure greater than the bike’s direct competitors. But it’s the smooth and very linear delivery of 82 lb-ft of torque that make the Ninja 1000SX such an effortless performer.

Winding the SX’s engine out to nearly 10,000 rpm generates the most forward thrust, but it’s very rarely necessary. There is so much mid-range (and even low-end) grunt, that the Ninja pulls strongly all the time. This is abundantly clear when passing dawdling traffic at highway speeds, where even when left in sixth gear, a roll-on from 3,000 rpm to 6,000 rpm takes the rider from yawn to “holy crap, I don’t want to lose my license!” without hesitation.

The Ninja’s 10,500 rpm redline arrives in a hurry.

It feels like Kawasaki could’ve gotten away with a two- or three-speed transmission in this thing, given how flexible the powerband is and how infrequently one actually needs to shift. But with shifts that are so smooth and easy, and such a light clutch (with its five adjustable points), it’s properly fun to snick-snick through the gears. There’s even a quick shifter for clutchless up- and downshifts, making it even more fun to zip away from slower traffic.

The quickshifter allows for quick, seamless gear changes…even when Jeff is at the controls.

Stratford, Ontario is a beautiful town that’s adapted well to the restrictions brought on by the pandemic. The downtown core was alive with activity when we visited, yet the businesses have all managed to keep things safe, orderly and socially distant for patrons. I grabbed a t-shirt from Perth County Moto (a friendly, must-visit stop for any motorcyclist) and a delicious affogato from a neighbouring café before we set off for Brussels, which has optimistically been claimed as Ontario’s Prettiest Village.

Like many of the communities in the region, Brussels sprouted (Ed: Seriously, Jeff?) out of the surrounding agricultural land. While crucial and often quite beautiful, the farms sectioned into colonial grid patterns don’t exactly produce (Ed: Alright, that’s your last warning) the most exciting roads for motorcycles. Straight and flat concession roads are fine to test the Ninja’s standard cruise control, and various settings of the adjustable windshield (the most upright of which kept the morning’s cool breeze from whipping through my mesh jacket), but they do little to test the handling prowess of the bike.

The 32-inch seat height allows for most riders to plant their feet flat at a stop, but Jeff has to use his tippy-toes.

The rest of our 500km round-trip European tour through London, Copenhagen and Vienna offered little to test the Ninja’s cornering either, prompting me to take the bike out as often as I could for the rest of the week, to enjoy some of the curvier roads closer to home. The big Ninja feels every bit of its 233 kg (514 lb) while the 32-inch seat height has my short legs tippy-toeing around parking spaces, but even at low speeds, with feet on the pegs, the Ninja 1000 is quite agile.

The 1000SX proved to be adept at eagerly and precisely carving corners. It’s eager to dive into a lean, and inspires confidence holding a line steady as the Bridgestone Battlax S22 tires provide plenty of stick. For the knee-dragging track performance crowd, Kawasaki will happily sell you a ZX-10R. For the rest of us, the Ninja 1000SX offers far more capability than can be legally exploited on our province’s roads anyhow.

Kawasaki has fitted the 1000SX with strong brakes (twin 300 mm up front and a 250 mm rear) and their intelligent ABS system. A simulated panic stop produced gobs of stopping power before tickling the ABS. When I clumsily goosed the throttle on a slippery bit pf tarmac, the standard traction control system caught the back end before I could even react.

Twin 300 mm discs up front and a 250 mm rear, with intelligent ABS makes for brisk, precise stops.

There’s also a lot of technology jammed into the new Ninja 1000, including multiple riding modes (Road, Rain and Sport), plus a six-axis inertial measurement that can show a rider the maximum lean angles either through the 4.3-inch TFT display, or on the rider’s phone via Kawasaki’s Rideology app. A lot of this stuff is gimmicky and unlikely to be used much by owners. Also, only being able to adjust the ride modes when the throttle is closed can be a bit cumbersome, but it’s all becoming status quo in motorcycling, it seems.

The Ninja offers information and customization through the 4.3-inch TFT display, or on the rider’s phone via Kawasaki’s Rideology The App.

During a week with the Ninja 1000SX, I logged nearly 1,000 kilometres through a variety of riding conditions. The Kawi never faltered in its dual mission of simultaneously providing exhilarating performance, and comfortable touring. The latter was proven by the end of our 500 km European-Ontario tour where I was tired, but didn’t have any discomfort in my wrists, neck, hips or butt from touring on the Ninja. This would certainly not have been the case for me on a more aggressive machine. It even made an easy commuter, zipping around town and through traffic.

Even if my complaint-free tour on the Ninja didn’t convince my girlfriend that I am the fit young man I once was, I would happily ride longer and further on the Ninja 1000SX – especially if it came with the accessory panniers that’ll each accommodate a full-face helmet, or a weekend’s worth of gear. (Ed: And anti-aging cream, and your heating pad, and little blue pills, and…) As it has been doing for years now, the Kawasaki Ninja allows riders who demand both performance and comfort to have both, maybe even helping them feel a bit younger in the process.

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