The first thing I'll tell you about the Kawasaki Ninja 1000 is that it didn't really need to get updated for 2017. The 2016 bike was—and still is—a practical and smooth motorcycle with good luggage and plenty of sporting chops. But it wasn't quite good enough for Kawasaki, apparently, which updated the 2017 bike with a fairing facelift, IMU-based electronics, and a handful of other little adjustments. Seats, lights, and more! So, in honor of Kawasaki's 1,043cc engine I rode this newest Ninja 1,043 miles through California before reporting back to the office to file this story.

THE UPDATES
The marquee change made to the 2017 Ninja 1000 is arguably the IMU (inertial measurement unit) that now feeds the ECU with data on all of the bike's trajectories—up/down movement, accel./decel., side-to-side, lean angle, pitch, and finally, with Kawasaki's proprietary software, yaw. This is superbike-level technology that is trickling into sport-tourers and flagship ADVs, and frankly I'm a little surprised to see it on this bike. But, I applaud Kawi for biting the bullet. Spoiler alert, it works great. The IMU is in addition to updated electronics controlling the ABS and traction control, not to mention a revision to the Ninja's fuel mapping to make throttle response smoother (and to make it compliant with Euro-4 regulations).

Kawasaki says: “Dream combination: Ninja + touring.” Motorcyclist says: “Easily one of the best sport-tourers around.”

Ninja 1000 side view
The Ninja 1000 in full tour mode: that’s 56 liters of luggage hooked to the standard rear rack and the windshield all the way up.Photo: Drew Ruiz
2017 Ninja 1000 ABS brakes
Radial-mount calipers are branded as Kawasaki, but they’re Tokico components. The brakes are great, as is the ABS.Photo: Drew Ruiz

There’s also new bodywork, which is a little wider, a new dash, and a windshield that’s 15mm taller in the center, as well as an LED headlight that’s more powerful while drawing 50 percent less energy than the previous model. Then there’s the new, wider seat, and an integrated saddlebag mount/grab rail system—this used to be an option, but is now standard. All this new and updated kit and caboodle can be yours in green or black for $12,199. That’s $200 more than the previous model, and still a relative bargain in the marketplace (it’ll be a thousand bucks or so for the saddlebags, by the way).

THE RIDE
Kawasaki actually started the technical presentation with some stats on the average Ninja 1000 owner, which I only bring up as a way of shedding context on my opinion of the machine. Historically, the mean age of an owner is 47 years, with 19 years of riding experience, riding solo (no passenger) 83 percent of the time, and having an income of about $120,000 a year. Read my adoration and criticisms, then, knowing I'm 15 years younger and make, errr, a bit less annually than the average owner.

Zack wheelies the Ninja 1000
Hmm, I wonder if there’s enough power to… heyo!!!Photo: Drew Ruiz
Ninja 1000 dash and gauges
The Ninja 1000’s dash—pretty simple, but easy to understand and controllable from the left-bar switchgear.Photo: Drew Ruiz

First up on my Tour de California, a crawl out of the beating heart of Los Angeles, warming from a pleasant morning toward a sweltering afternoon. As usual the Ninja 1000 is as polite as ever—a light clutch with direct feel, no discernable engine heat, and handling that’s light enough considering it’s a 500-plus-pound sport-tourer. I can’t call it a city bike, but it’s plenty easy to ride at low speed. After escaping LA, it was on to meandering roads up the Golden State’s central valley for the next two days.

That’s Ninja 1000 country. Any two-lane road, really, as long as it’s reasonably smooth, is exactly where you want to ride this bike. It’ll cruise at utterly inadvisable speeds on the straight and narrow, yet is just as happy to dance along a tight and twisty tarmac, too. There’s a reason the brochure is littered with photos of the Ninja 1000 gliding through the countryside; that’s precisely where it will feel most at home.

2017 Ninja 1000 action
Kawasaki’s 2017 Ninja 1000 in its natural habitat, grazing on apexes and strips of sun-baked tarmac.Photo: Drew Ruiz
2017 Ninja 1000 hand controls
Switchgear on the left clip-on controls the Ninja 1000’s dash. A basic up/down/select button set gets most of it done.Photo: Drew Ruiz

If you hustle too deep into one of those joyous corners you might engage the KIBS—that's Kawasaki Intelligent Braking System. KIBS isn't a new thing for Team Green, but it's new to the Ninja 1000, and essentially monitors brake pressure, wheel speeds, and ECU data to make sure that if the ABS does engage it does so smoothly and keeps the bike in control. For 2017 that's combined with KCMF (Kawasaki Corner Management Function) which oversees KIBS functions as well as the traction and wheelie control. Kawasaki figures that if all of the systems have visibility on what the other is doing, there's a better chance of not interfering with what the rider's intentions are.

2017 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 on highway
The Ninja 1000 puts a sporty bend in your knees. It’s not uncomfortable, but at 6-foot-2 I could have used a slightly thicker seat.Photo: Drew Ruiz

At this point I have to apologize to you, the reader, and say that I managed to ride more than 1,000 miles without needing any of my corners “managed” or braking made more intelligent. I did, however, experiment with the ABS, TC, and wheelie control. Not just because I’m a menace to society, but also to try to gauge the sophistication of the electronics. And I was impressed. The ABS seems just the right amount of lenient, and the traction control only serves to keep the bike from going sideways, not kill all of your fun. Wheelie control is IMU-driven and advanced enough that it’ll let the front wheel hover but not rise and then fall wildly. It’s better than wheelie control on some superbikes, which is both a slap in the face of those companies and a major feather in the Ninja’s cap. I only wish that it could be shut off independent of traction control. But that’s only because I love wheelies so much. It’s a terrific system.

A new dash reads out some of this info (like flashing when the TC or wheelie control kicks in), as well as showing levels of TC selected (1, 2, or 3) and which power mode has been selected. Power modes remain as Full or Low (which delivers 70 percent of total power and a softer response). It’s a relatively old-school setup, with a two-color LCD to the right of an analog tachometer, but I think it’s just the right amount of information and it’s displayed nicely. My only gripe is the LCD screen can be tricky to read if the sun is hitting it just so.

Ninja 1000 left rear view
My what a narrow tail you have! In reality, the Ninja 1000 has a slightly more plush passenger saddle in 2017. Still, it looks sleek with no bags.Photo: Drew Ruiz

Aerodynamics at speed from the new, taller and wider plastics feel pretty much the same as before—meaning comprehensive but not overdone. In the mold of the sporty touring machine that the Ninja is, there’s enough protection from the elements to be comfortable but at 6-foot-2 my head and shoulders still stick out in the wind and remind me that I’m not in a car. As it should be, if you ask me. Also as before, the windshield adjust to three different positions by pressing a button under the bubble and moving the screen manually.

Ninja 1000 road
The Ninja 1000 demonstrates its photobomb abilities, stealing this perfectly good shot of a fencepost.Photo: Drew Ruiz
2017 Euro-4 compliant Ninja 1000
Kawasaki went ahead and made the Ninja 1000 Euro-4 compliant for the 2017 update. While we’re down here, note the eccentric axle adjuster. Nifty, but it does stand to change ride height when you adjust the chain.Photo: Drew Ruiz

When it comes time to stop and access your luggage, you’re likely to be pleased. These are saddlebags from Givi, which means they’re expensive (a $900 accessory, but plan on spending around $1,000) and hot damn do they work well. They’re a symmetrical 28 liters each, key-matched to the ignition, and can be opened/closed with one hand. Brilliant. Plus, they pop off quickly and easily if you want to cruise without them or take them into your motel at the end of a day’s ride. It’s some of the best stuff on the market, in my opinion.

2017 Ninja 1000 suspension
I know it looks boring, but remote preload adjustment is pretty nifty. Spin this little guy in to stiffen the shock, back it out to soften.Photo: Drew Ruiz

Over my thousand or so miles on the new Ninja, I could have stood for a stiffer seat and a little more legroom, and I wish it was geared a little bit taller. Dropping a few teeth on the rear sprocket would likely net you more mileage out of the 5-gallon tank (I averaged about 180 miles) and would also make the ride a little smoother. As it stands the bike vibrates a fair amount, even with its weighted footpegs. Still, it’s a really nicely refined motorcycle that deserves more credit than it gets. From the features that it’s always had, like the remote preload dial to stiffen the shock without tools, to the updated kit like slightly wider mirrors and state-of-the-art electronics, this is a seriously capable machine. I lived off of the Ninja 1000 for a few days, and could have easily kept going. 2,000, 3,000, or 10,000 miles would have been no sweat for the 2016 version of this bike, and 2017 is even better.

Ninja 1000 no bags
We all look better with low light, and the 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 is no different.Photo: Drew Ruiz

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION
Kawasaki’s venerable Ninja 1000 gets a few updates, mechanical and electronic.
TECH
PRICE $12,199
ENGINE 1043cc liquid-cooled inline four
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER n/a (prev. model: 123.5 hp)
CLAIMED TORQUE n/a (prev. model: 74.8 lb.-ft.)
FRAME Aluminum twin spar
FRONT SUSPENSION 41mm fork, adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Single shock, adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 5.4-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Tokico four-piston calipers, 300mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Single-piston caliper, 250mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 24.5°/4.0 in.
WHEELBASE 56.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.1 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 5.0 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 516 lb.
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT kawasaki.com
VERDICT
An even better version of the previous Ninja 1000, which was already pretty great.