2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000

The perfect sportbike for an imperfect world?

We just had quick 160-mile go on Kawasaki’s 2011 Ninja 1000, and anybody who’s been around long enough to remember the first overweight, under-sprung Ninja 1000 from 1986 can officially forget it. This one is completely different. If you’re looking for something more agile than a ZX-14R with more humane ergonomics than a new ZX-10R, this would be it. Underneath all that swoopy plastic it’s essentially the same as Kawasaki’s Z1000. Both 1043cc fours were born and raised together. Same stiff five-piece stressed-member die-cast aluminum skeleton. Same 41mm fork and horizontally mounted shock. As a wise far-western philosopher once said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Lighter, six-spoke cast wheels are new to the Ninja 1000 parts manifest, along with a list of functional touches that make life on the street a little more interesting and a lot more comfortable.

Sculpted body panels and an easily adjustable three-position windscreen add effective wind protection and a suitably warlike Nina demeanor. A ZX-6R-style instrument pod conveys vital information. Though the relatively upright riding position is nearly the same as sitting on a Z1000, cast aluminum risers angle the clip-on bars 10mm inward, while rubber covered pegs convey noticeably less engine vibration. Taller gearing makes it a little smoother on the freeway, where 4700 rpm equals an indicated 70 mph. A five-gallon fuel tank carries a full gallon more than a Z1000, giving the Ninja a welcome bump in range. An extra 10mm of urethane seat foam and six buzz-killing mounts under the pillion make this Ninja a nicer place to spend the day.

The fairing and windscreen do an admirable job of steering oncoming air around your grateful torso, especially above 70 mph. There’s a whiff of muted, inline-four buzz at socially acceptable freeway speeds, but nothing more. And while that extra seat foam puts the pavement about a half-inch farther away at every stoplight, it’s a blessing everywhere else.

Radial-mount Tokico front calipers reverse the process with a two-finger squeeze, with or without any help from the rear brake. Z1000-spec suspension is still a bit harsh over the worst lumps and divots, but strikes an equitable balance between comfort and control everywhere else. Burn off that extra gallon of fuel en route to the twisty bits and you’ll never notice the extra weight. Besides, actual wind protection is will be worth every last ounce on the ride home.