2011 Motorcycle of the Year
Kawasaki Ninja 1000
Most of What You Want, Everything You Need
Words: Tim Carrithers
This is progress? How exactly does the best motorcycle of 2011 get away with weighing 45 pounds more and making 54 horsepower less than the best bike of 2010: BMW’s S1000RR? For anyone with $16,630 to spend on a staggeringly fast, staggeringly focused sporting tool and the skills to match, it probably doesn’t. But for those of us living a little closer to America’s socioeconomic epicenter, where you can’t afford to impress anyone but yourself anymore, this year’s magic number is $10,999.
That’s $10,999 as in the price of admission for one relatively comfortable, eminently capable, well-mannered Ninja that pulls off most any weekend agenda you can dream up and throws in some pretty sporty transportation for the rest of the week at no extra charge. Call it a compromise. An anachronism. A throwback to the days when one liter-class superbike could haul your dutiful hide to work all week, make the annual Labor Day pilgrimage to the ancestral recreational refuge in another time zone and file off a set of peg-feelers without lingering physical or fiscal pain. We call it a sportbike, sport-tourer or an overqualified commuter, depending on the to-do list du jour. At that rate, broadband ’80s ideology doesn’t sound so bad after all. Make no mistake, boys and girls: The Ninja’s engineering is pure 21st Century stuff. No stale retro aftertaste here. No warmed-over retro styling, either. The silhouette inspires love or hate in most members of the viewing public, but ease your eyes across this fresh, functional plastic skin a couple of times and you’re looking at an idea whose time has come back.
Developed in tandem with the artfully underdressed Z1000, the Ninja’s 1043cc torque-pump makes the kind of smooth, useable power that puts a smile on your face a dozen times every day. Thanks to the miracle of spot-on digital fuel-injection, this engine is open for business with seamless acceleration from 2200 rpm all the way to its 120-bhp, 10,000-rpm peak. But since most of the herd come together toward the center of the rev band, even a casual rearward rotation of the right wrist stuffs dawdling traffic into those nicely shaped rear-view mirrors. Big midrange means all kinds of quasi-legal fun below triple digits—good news for those of us who just don’t look good in handcuffs.
A humane riding position, adjustable wind protection and a genuinely comfortable seat add up to a refreshing change from accommodations designed for Dani Pedrosa or Bilbo Baggins. Spec-chart enthusiasts gnash their whitened-teeth at a 503-lb. curb weight that’s 63 lbs. heavier than a ZX-10R. Okay, fine, but thanks to light, accurate steering and nicely sorted adjustable suspension at either end of the Ninja’s aluminum skeleton, the extra heft is more noticeable on paper than on pavement.
The bottom line, in this case, is the bottom line: When $10,999 delivers more motorcycle to more people than anything in anybody else’s showroom, our Motorcycle of the Year isn’t the fastest or the lightest or the strongest. It’s Kawasaki’s Ninja 1000.