Long-Term Kawasaki Ninja 1000: Final Update

FINAL UPDATE: Parting shots and words on our Team Green Flexi Flyer.

WRIST: Kevin Smith
MSRP (2014): $11,999
MILES: 16,167
MPG: 40
MODS: None

I have come to consider our Kawasaki Ninja 1000 a true Flexi Flyer: It's sporty and quick enough to feed my need for speed yet also impressively broadband doing mundane transportation chores. Short trips or long, in town or out, whatever the road conditions and mood of the operator, the Ninja seems at home doing whatever is asked of it.

In this day of hyper-specialized motorcycles that do one thing brilliantly but struggle with most everything else, that flexibility is a revelation. Kawasaki created a comfortably upright riding position on architecture with a sportbike vibe, which aligns with my own tastes better than the faux-ADV approach.

But honestly, I wasn’t real hot on the Ninja at first. For one thing, it was…busy. In a couple of ways. The design showed me too many gratuitous creases and edges. And short gearing had its 1,043cc inline-four shrieking and buzzing needlessly.

For another thing, the Ninja lacked a narrative. All products need a narrative. “It’s derived from the championship-wining Superbike platform.” “It crushes the Iron Butt.” “It’ll take you to Patagonia and back.” Something. What’s the hook with the Ninja 1000? What cool storyline plays in your head as you walk up to it? “Well, it’s kind of sport-ish, though it shares nothing with the ZX-10, and you can ride a long way, though it’s sure no Concours 14.”

Not very sexy.

The narrative thing would have to simmer for a while, but I could do something about the busyness right off. Changing sprockets for taller overall gearing was easy to do and totally transformative. After lots of trial and a little error, I settled on 16/39 cogs, up one tooth in front and down two in back. That sounds like a lot, and it does blunt the roll-on snap a little, but the longer-legged Ninja becomes smoother and more civilized. To me, this is how the bike really wanted to be, and someone at Kawasaki threw on wheelie gearing at the last moment.

Over the Ninja's 13,000 miles in the Motorcyclist test fleet, I experimented with different windshields, hand guards, mirrors, tires, and throttle stops (read the previous installments for details). In the end, the gearing change is the one modification I consider mandatory.

In that time with us, the Ninja 1000 averaged 40 mpg of premium and gave us no reliability issues to discuss.

And what of the narrative thing? Over time, between lusty back-road blasts to Monterey and tedious drones on Interstate 5—plus daily commuting and errand running month in and month out—that very flexibility came to be its own story. More subtle, perhaps, than something like, “The fastest production bike ever.” But something to grab on to nonetheless. And in fairness, as a technical and engineering challenge, such do-it-all capability is trickier to capture than dragstrip or road-course numbers.

At first, I respected the Ninja 1000 more than I liked it, but we bonded over experience. Now that it’s leaving, I even think it looks pretty cool.