Popular wisdom says you should wait for the second generation of any new product, so the manufacturer can “work the bugs out.” But, let’s face it, sometimes you just can’t. The first generation represents something so different and so desirable that you have to have it. No waiting allowed.
The first generation of the Kawasaki Ninja 1000 (introduced to the US market as a 2011 model) qualified as one of those have-to-have-it-now products for many motorcycle enthusiasts tired of race bike ergos as the “price of admission” to superbike performance. The upright seating position, more generous leg room, and adjustable windscreen were too hard to resist when combined with adjustable suspension, premium brakes and street acceleration that not only equaled, but surpassed that offered by superbikes.
|Kawasaki Ninja 1000 (2011 model)||46/83||61/88||75/91||95/97||115/105|
|BMW S1000RR (2010 model)||41/76||56/83||65/77||80/84||102/92|
Kawasaki ZX-10R (2013 model)
That’s right, at street RPM levels, the original Ninja 1000 was faster, particularly given the ridiculously tall first gear found on every superbike sold in the US (all of the Japanese street-legal superbikes exceed 90mph at redline in first gear, due to their race inspired close-ratio gearboxes). The numbers above represent interpretations of the Dyno charts prepared by Akrapovič for each model, which can be found on the Akrapovič web site. The bottom line is that the original Ninja 1000 had more street engine performance than nearly every other bike available in the U.S.
But now we have a second-generation 2014 Ninja 1000, and you might wish you had followed Grandpa’s advice about waiting. This bike has numerous changes, some significant and some subtle, that, our testing confirms, add up to a much better motorcycle than the already excellent first-gen bike. We have put nearly 500 miles on the 2014 Ninja 1000 riding with a group of very fast journalists from Los Angeles to Monterey. We didn’t take the shortest route available, but instead tried a wide variety of roads (some more than once) to fully assess the performance of the new bike.
First, let’s talk more about what’s new for 2014. A new three-stage traction control system allows riders to select minimal interference for maximum acceleration, all the way to a setting appropriate for wet/slippery conditions that intrudes as much as a similar setting found on the Concours 14 sport tourer. The system can also be turned off completely. When you start the bike it defaults to Level 1, which is the least intrusive setting (for maximum acceleration, while still providing traction control).
Also new for 2014 is the ability to select from two power modes, including Full Power, as well as a second mode that significantly softens power delivery and limits the machine to 70% of its peak horsepower. For instance, in wet or slippery conditions, traction control might be set to Level 3, while setting power to Low Power.
In Part 1, we mentioned the new monobloc, radial mount, four-piston front brake calipers controlled by a radial-pump master cylinder. The front rotors are 300 mm each. According to Kawasaki, these Tokico front calipers are machined from a single block of aluminum, and feature differentiated piston diameters to match the force on the leading and trailing edge of the brake pads (which are of a new compound with a higher coefficient of friction). A new ABS pump provides more precise control of line pressure.
The changes to the 1043 cc, DOHC, 16-valve inline four-cylinder engine may receive less attention, but they are significant nonetheless. Kawasaki claims improved horsepower and torque throughout the rpm range from the following changes. The intake cam features less lift and more duration for increased low-mid rpm power. Breathing passageways have been created between the cylinders to reduce pumping losses, increasing high-rpm power. New oval shaped, large diameter balance tubes connect the exhaust headers, also increasing engine performance. Finally, additional air intake volume and equal-length velocity stacks improve performance, while adding a more “stirring intake howl.” Kawasaki tops this off with a higher flowing, stock air filter element. Revised ECU settings compliment these changes and, according to Kawasaki, provide for a more crisp throttle response.
We have already mentioned the stiffer damping settings in both the fork and shock for 2014, together with a higher spring rate for the shock that is adjusted by a remote pre-load handle. This makes it easy to dial in the desired spring tension for changing passenger/luggage loads.
Speaking of luggage, the 2014 Ninja 1000 ABS has a new sub-frame, specifically designed for the integration of new 28 liter saddlebags. These new bags, designed with the assistance of GIVI, are relatively short front-to-rear, but very deep. They easily swallow a size large, full-face Arai helmet, for instance, seemingly with room to spare. As you can see from the photos at the end of this article, the new mounting system is far more attractive than the clunky-looking brackets found on the older model, and it holds the bags much closer to the centerline of the bike. We found these bags among the easiest we have ever used, both in terms of opening/closing (they are locked with the ignition key) and complete removal from the bike. They also look much better and more integrated with the design of the motorcycle. No complaints.
Other changes for 2014 include a taller sixth gear for more relaxed highway cruising (we saw less than half of redline at 70 mph), and a revised instrument panel with new LCD functions indicating traction control and power modes selected, current and average fuel consumption, remaining range and coolant temperature. The rider’s seat is flatter with thicker padding, while being no higher (thanks to the new subframe), while the passenger seat is also new with thicker padding and underside vibration damping. Other subtle changes include improved rearview mirror shaping and more accurate fuel level sensor.
Features that contributed to the last model’s long distance comfort and practicality, such as the large, five gallon fuel tank and three-position windshield, return for 2014.
We are very familiar with the 2011 model, so had a good basis for comparing the 2014 Ninja 1000 ABS. In short, the new model is faster, smoother, more comfortable and better handling.
Throttle response seems crisper, yet the engine remains very controllable by the rider. The engine simply seems livelier, and more eager. The bike pulls smoothly off the bottom into a stout mid-range and a fiercely powerful top-end.
Power is nothing without control, as they say, and the new suspension settings really play an important role here. The new model feels much better balanced, and can be pushed very hard on the street without losing its composure. Although firmer, the new suspension settings still absorb small bumps comfortably, and keep the bike planted in corners on rough surfaces. Seemingly small changes to the suspension have paid big dividends.
The new flatter seat offered good comfort and support, and the narrower mid-section of the bike (thanks to the removal of the side panels) seems to allow an easier reach to the pavement.
The new suspension settings and the tire profiles offered by the Bridgestone S20 tires, together with another seemingly subtle change (lower friction steering stem bearings) contribute to noticeably improved low-speed handling, and easier direction changes overall.
The engine changes also seem to contribute to a smoother, lower vibration ride. While vibration could become annoying at times on the older bike, we were not bothered by it during our test, and the rearview mirrors seemed less disturbed, as well. These mirrors are much more useable (wider spaced) than those found on the typical sport bike.
After testing a naked bike last week, I really appreciated the excellent wind protection offered by the Ninja 1000. With the adjustable windscreen in its middle position, I had clean air flow at the helmet level with zero buffeting, while my chest remained out of the wind. Exactly the way I like it.
I typically used Full Power and the default setting 1 on the traction control, and never spun-up the rear tire, despite riding some rather dirty roads (and sliding the front tire at least three times on the extremely technical Santa Rosa Creek Road, just inland from Cambria, California).
The transmission shifted well, and the clutch operated predictably with a pull-effort in keeping with the size and torque of the engine. The higher sixth gear undoubtedly contributed to the perceived lower vibration on the highway. Although we did not test it, the taller sixth gear might very well improve fuel economy as well.
As I stated in Part 1, the brakes are fantastic. I had one near-panic stop on Highway 1, and used everything the front brake had to offer. The power and control was stunning.
Frankly, I have to think hard about criticisms. At roughly 510 pounds curb weight, the Ninja 1000 is not as svelte as a modern super sport or super bike, and you do feel its heft in comparison to that category of machine. Although far more comfortable than a sport bike, there are sport tourers and adventure tourers that sit bolt upright, if you require that position. Finally, in an era where triples and twins are more common, an in-line four can feel a bit more generic and lacking in character, although this particular in-line four sounds fantastic at full song.
All-in-all, Kawasaki must be commended for making excellent decisions about updates to an already fine motorcycle. The changes to the new 2014 Ninja 1000 ABS result in a superb, high performance machine that is comfortable and practical at the same time. Every purchaser of this motorcycle should add the excellent hard saddlebags as well. The integrated look of the saddlebag mounts, and the look and function of the bags themselves are hard to fault.
So what we have here is a viciously fast street bike that is controllable, easy to ride, and a good fit for a wide variety of enthusiasts. If you want one bike that does it all, the 2014 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS might just fill the bill.
U.S. MSRP is $11,999, for each of two color choices, including Candy Lime Green and Candy Cascade Blue. The hard bags, together with the mounting system pictured, are available for $1,269.75. Many other accessories will be available from Kawasaki after the bike begins hitting U.S. dealers in a couple of weeks. For additional details and specifications, visit Kawasaki’s web site.