Long-Term Kawasaki Ninja 1000: Ride To Laguna Seca

Long-Term Update: The serpentine roads to Laguna Seca.

WRIST: Kevin Smith
MSRP (2014): $11,999
MILES: 14,014
MPG: 40
MODS: None

Countless motorcycles have been tested on "the ride to Monterey," and now my Kawasaki Ninja 1000 long-termer is among them. The exquisite serpentine roads—notably Cerro Noroeste, California 58, and the Coast Highway—that connect Greater Los Angeles to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca ask a lot of a bike's response and controllability while the hours and miles tax its comfort and accommodations. A perfect trial, in other words, for the "all-day sportbike" I want the Ninja 1000 to be.

My own 10-year-old GSX-R1000 knows this route by heart, and the Ninja and I had a couple Gixxers running in formation with us this year. So the bike would be judged on some pretty high performance standards.

For that same reason, though, the comfort standards were pretty low. The big question as we launched for World Superbike weekend was how much cornering confidence would I sacrifice in the most demanding sections, and would the livability over the course of the trip make the tradeoff net positive?

Short answer: Yes, the Ninja vindicated itself and its soft-sport concept by seating me comfortably upright compared to the GSX-R pilots, while not appreciably diminishing my confidence on corner entry.

That’s my personal yardstick. I’m not going for lap times, committing hard and early to a line and pinning the throttle out of turns. These are public roads, mostly two-lane, often packed with tourists in motor homes, overloaded Subaru wagons, or rental Mustang convertibles. We are riding briskly but leaving plenty in hand. So the test is how do I feel working with a bike as I size up a corner, account for traffic and surface and sightline issues, then bend ’er in? Comfy and confident or tentative and gun-shy? Is it fun and fast or slow and still nervous?

The Ninja’s weight, balance, wheelbase, and suspension action all served it quite well on the fast, winding roads. And the higher, wider bars provided useful leverage (not as much as an ADV but more than a race replica). It was a fun and rewarding platform to work with, and we didn’t hold anybody up on the Monterey trip.

Admittedly, the Ninja’s chassis composure was some percentage points short of a premium sportbike’s when a corner got all lumpy with pavement-repair patches on the Coast Highway. But I never felt that deficiency was a significant handicap. And this was with 6,000-mile-old tires. The excellent Pirelli Angel GTs are still sticking well, though the profiles have worn enough to make steering a little imprecise. I’ll be replacing them soon.

So, yes, the Ninja 1000 thrived on the run to Monterey. It felt planted and confident on the Coast Highway and had my GSX-R-mounted pals envious on the freeway transit stages.