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2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX: MD Ride Review, Part 2

After posting our initial thoughts, we have had time to put a lot more hours, and miles, on our 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX test bike. Here is our final report.

One of the first “comfortable sportbikes” offered in the industry, the Ninja 1000 has been through several iterations, and 2020 sees substantial changes, yet again. These changes are extensive, and involve the engine, transmission, electronic rider aids and instrumentation.

Kawasaki finally switched to a ride-by-wire throttle system, which means the new model has a modern cruise control feature, and a standard quickshifter (for shifts in both directions) that is among the best we have sampled. The electronic throttle seems to have resulted in quicker, more precise throttle response, as well.

The new big Ninja also incorporates one of the latest IMUs from Bosch that intelligently incorporates data into braking, acceleration and other functions offered by the suite of electronic rider aids.

These aids include Kawasaki Traction Control (KTRC) available in three, rider-selectable levels (as well as Off), and Kawasaki Intelligent Anti-lock Braking System (KIBS).

Power levels, KTRC settings and KIBS settings are incorporated by default into three riding modes, including Sport (full power with sharper throttle response), Road (also full power) and Rain (reduced power and softer throttle response with KTRC and KIBS settings appropriate for low traction conditions). There is a fourth Rider mode that can be customized for KTRC and power levels.

Like many other new Kawasakis, the Ninja 1000SX gets a color TFT instrument display that is both bright and high contrast, and includes all the information a rider could need, including gear position, fuel information, and identification of the electronic aid settings and rider mode. Scrolling through and adjusting the bike settings is relatively easy and intuitive, by using switches near the left-hand grip.

You can connect your smart phone via Bluetooth and use Kawasaki’s Rideology app, which allows you to remotely control certain settings (before you get on the bike, for example), monitor information about bike settings and even log your rides.

Kawasaki seems to have enhanced everything we liked about prior Ninja 1000 models, including an excellent compromise of touring and sport riding capabilities. The integrated luggage (see photo above) is reasonably spacious – easily swallowing a size large Arai helmet, for instance. Bags lock onto the bike, but remove easily enough with the ignition key.

As we mentioned in our first impression article, older Ninja 1000s tended to stand up in corners, sometimes requiring constant bar pressure to keep them on an arc. The new bike effectively eliminates this tendency with chassis geometry changes and Bridgestone’s superb new S22 tires. Still very stable in a straight line and at high speeds, the new Ninja 1000SX now turns in with very little effort and holds a line through a corner like a modern sportbike should. Ground clearance is also excellent.

We have also been impressed with the suspension settings and the adjustments available. The smooth motor couples with a smooth ride on a fork and shock that also received Kawasaki’s attention for 2020 with damping changes. The fork, in particular, can be tuned to be extremely plush on one end, or tight enough for a track day, on the other end. The fork is fully adjustable, but the shock is only adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping. The shock makes due with compromised compression damping, but it is a reasonable compromise that also works well over a fairly broad range of uses. The shock could clearly use more compression damping, however, for very aggressive riding such as a track day.

The brakes are excellent with the four-piston radial-mount front calipers (squeezing dual 300mm discs) offering outstanding power and good feel.

The bike accelerates strongly with a linear power delivery (peak power at the rear wheel is in the neighborhood of 120 hp), and the engine remains smooth – with just a hint of vibration at freeway speeds and under hard acceleration at high rpm levels. Inline-four cylinder engines don’t get much smoother.

The rider triangle strikes a good balance between sport and touring, placing the rider relatively upright with a slight lean forward and the footpegs slightly rearward. Long days in the saddle are doable, but the position is reasonably aggressive when the rider wants to carve twisty roads or visit the track.

With the new cruise control, a revised four-position windscreen and body sculpting, highway comfort is enhanced. Wind protection is good, and air flow at the helmet level was smooth for our 5’11” test rider with the screen in the next-to-highest position.

The 2020 Ninja 1000SX is a very refined machine – reflecting several generational changes. It continues to offer one of the best sport touring platforms leaning towards the “sport” end of the scale. It is a powerful, comfortable bike that can eat miles while still being capable of great handling on twisty roads. At a U.S. MSRP of $12,399, we think it represents good value. The 28 liter saddlebags found on our test unit are an option available for $899.95. Take a look at Kawasaki’s web site for additional details and specifications.

58 Comments

  1. RyYYZ says:

    It’s a nice comfortable sport bike. I could probably stand a weekend trip on it.
    I don’t know if I could handle even that riding position for an extended tour.

    And yes, the lack of a centrestand to facilitate chain maintenance and tire repairs (if needed) is a major minus for touring. One might have to install a chain oiler (ugh).

    Still, really nice bike, and one I’ve seriously considered in the past, and they’ve made it better since then.

  2. Trevor says:

    120hp at rear wheel? Thats a fast 120hp, since my bro’s previous gen keep up with my 2019 Superduke R neck and neck.

    • dodog says:

      The Superduke MUST be sandbagging, or your bro’s a better rider. A Superduke, or any KTM 1290 will leave the Kawi eating dust before the first turn. Simply no comparison. I have both.

  3. Jay says:

    I have a 2016 and love it. I have been lusting after a BMW R1250RS but for 20K forget about it. I think a new 2020 N1K is in the cards next spring.

  4. VFR_MANE says:

    I like the Ninja 1000 but, I am on a rival machine ( 2014 Honda VFR ) and quite happy with it going on 60k miles. In the real world away from home a centerstand is a wonderful thing to have.It is perplexing that Kawasaki didn’t see fit to design that in. As for radios, crap or otherwise, I just listen to the music of the engine …too much terror out there to listen to tunes while I’m riding…

  5. Arsenius Pestis says:

    When Dirk says “One of the first ‘comfortable sportbikes’ offered in the industry” I hope he is referring to the rider’s and passenger’s seat and not just the riding position. My R1200RT is often a contender for best sporty tourer in several lists. Yet the seat is such torture that 100 miles is the limit for old bones. BMW just assume you’ll spend another $grand on a Sargent or something. Deal breaker. (On a H-D stock seat I can ride forever.)

    I love Kawis. I’m delighted they didn’t put some crap radio on this bike and add $1000 for it. I can stream by myself, thank you. I don’t need BMW’s crap radio.

    I also don’t need BMW’s crap VSP or ESP or ASP or whatever it is. God, I hate that thing.

  6. Jim R Hall says:

    2006 Honda Blackbird 1100xx rider here.
    That’s a sport tourer!

  7. Fred N says:

    Mine is due for delivery this week.
    I bought it based on Dirck’s great Part 1 test report; no test bike ridden by me.
    Part 2, being very timely, has no surprises in it for me, thank goodness.

  8. James Miller says:

    I have a 2018, and am very happy with it. Spencer from Fl did the seat and I did an 850 mile trip last yr coming home from the motogp race in Austin. What would I change? I think the 2020 model addresses all the things I was wishing for. And I’m 70.I have over 27000 miles on it, and so much more fun and lighter that the other sport touring bikes I had.

  9. Sam says:

    Still NO Center stand, Kawasaki….can’t be a serious sport-touring machine without one..!

    • TimC says:

      Unless it has shaft drive.

      • Reginald Van Blunt says:

        And solid rubber tires. The side view pictures suggest the biggest failure of function as a tourer, the acute angle of the riders knees. Come on, really ! One can’t corner briskly without emulating a monkey on a football ? This is a road bike.
        I am pleased to see an evolutionary approach to product improvement. That is very nice.

        • Bob Krzeszkiewicz says:

          I logged 140k on a BMW R1100SA. A serious sport tourer and probably my favorite bike in 35 years of riding. The N1k actually has a more relaxed rider triangle and is real comfy. I have 78k miles on mine so far and have ridden from Houston to San Diego 3 times in one sitting…21 hours straight. (I-10/I-5 is probably the most boring route ever, but it’s the destination, not the ride in this case.) You’d have to sit on it yourself to really see how nice the ergos are. If it’s still not your cuppa tea, you might like the big Versys, though much heavier.

        • Anonymous says:

          “…the biggest failure of function as a tourer, the acute angle of the riders knees.”””

          If my 65 year old knees can easily do an 1,100 mile day on a CBR1000RR the knee angle on this bike should be a non-issue.

        • David M says:

          “…the biggest failure of function as a tourer, the acute angle of the riders knees.”””

          If my 65 year old knees can easily do an 1,100 mile day on a CBR1000RR the knee angle on this bike should be a non-issue.

    • Sean says:

      It’s weirdly ironic that my H2SX has a centerstand and the 1000SX doesn’t.

  10. Okinawa Joe says:

    Looks like a really nice bike, I have to ride one. I do love my 2017 Concours, it’s utility, power, and handling are impressive. But lighter is preferred cornering, my last bike was an ’03 RC 51 and it was a jewel cornering but over time a rack for my 60 year old bones. When my dealer gets stock again I’ll have to try one.

    • fred says:

      If your problem is age, rather than injuries, starting a regime of diet and exercise may help a lot. I’m over 60, and my old bones and old muscles do fine if I maintain even a casual level of fitness.

      Not trying to pick on you, but improving your physical fitness has a great many benefits, including extending your riding years. Having said that, some bikes just aren’t conducive to comfort.

      • TimC says:

        WOW. Thanks for the health lesson. An RC51 would be a torture rack even when I was 40.

        • fred says:

          You’re welcome. 🙂 Sometimes it’s hard to state the obvious without being, or at least sounding like, a jerk. Fitness will always be a benefit, regardless of the bike being ridden, but bikes with incompatible ergonomics will be painful, even for fit riders.

          I’m not, nor ever was, fast enough to take advantage of the ergo’s of full-on sport bikes like the RC51.

      • mickey says:

        Age and it’s maladies catches up to all of us eventually. There is a reason guys like Kenny Roberts and Agostini are no longer racing. Eye, hearing, muscle tone, timing, reflexes all deteriorate with age. No one is immune. Begins in your 40’s gets worse in your 50s, even worse in your 60s and let me tell you about your 70’s lol. Some guys get lucky health and genetics wise, and if you are one of them I’m happy for you, but I can tell you I am not near the rider I was 40 years ago and genetics strongly suggest no matter what I do, I have less than a decade above ground left. Plan to ride as long as I feel safe and am not a threat to others and can hold up my bikes. Hoping for another couple of years.

        Luckily the bikes have gotten better and much easier to ride. Good frames, good wheels, good brakes, good lights all help those of us that have lost a little in other places.

  11. Bob Krzeszkiewicz says:

    I’d like to see a SE version of this like the big Versys got. With cornering LEDS and semi-active suspension.

  12. Gary says:

    It doesn’t look like the test unit has a center stand. Is it available as an option? Also, how’s the range/mileage? Looks like a terrific bike.

    • Bob Krzeszkiewicz says:

      Centerstand is not an option. Mounting it and clearing the cat would make it too low to the ground. The big Verys has one though.

      My ’11 would get 39-40 on long trips but I was always loaded up and heavy handed with the throttle everywhere I went. Supposedly 43-45 is doable with responsible riding, whatever that is. Around town, commuting, I’m always heavy handed so mpgs is around 35-36.

      • Gary says:

        No center stand on a chain driven bike? No sale. I’m funny that way …

        • fred says:

          Mostly agree. OTOH, a rear paddock stand can serve quite well in the garage. Still inconvenient lubing the chain, etc on the road. About half my bikes have centerstands, and I prefer having the convenience. The extra weight and ground clearance issues just don’t mean much at the “slower” speeds that I ride.

          • Jeremy says:

            I’ve had few bikes with center stands. In fact the last two street bikes that I just sold a few months ago both had them. I honestly can’t remember deploying the center stands outside of the garage on either of those bikes even once in the years I owned them.

            The center stands were handy in the garage to stand the bikes up straight and thus take up less room and lube the chains, so that was nice but also unnecessary. But out on the road? I can’t think of any need for them. A center stand would be the best tool for the job if you needed to remove a wheel while stranded on the side of the road, but again not necessary.

            Most people have some attribute(s) of a bike that is a “deal killer” for them. For some it is the lack of center stands. I don’t get why exactly, but people like what they like.

          • mickey says:

            Ride a chain drive bike on a cross country trip (the touring part of Sport-touring) and you will probably have to adjust the chain a couple of times, lube the chain every few thousand miles, maybe plug a punctured rear tire and re-inflate it. All of those are doable I suppose without a center stand, but man, what a PIA it would be.

            I personally would not ride any bike cross country that didn’t have a centerstand.

        • Bob Krzeszkiewicz says:

          Understandable. This bike replaced my BMW R1100S with a shaft and centerstand. My first long trip on the N1k was about 5500 miles and 30% rain and 20% heavy dust and Borax because a few days in Death Valley and I did find it annoying to have to clean and lube a chain by moving the whole bike 1/4 turn of the wheels at a time for several revolutions.

          I’ve also had to plug or replace tires on a few trips. Had to do it on the R1100S too but that was very easy because of the centerstand. I’d like to have another shaftie/centerstand (and a twin) equipped bike for these reasons. But the N1k really ticks a lot of boxes for my needs and the value is outstanding.

  13. Marcus says:

    It’s one of the few reasonable sport tourers still manufactured. It’s slight weight comes in handy on long highway slogs. I’ve ridden my friend’s, it’s pretty sporty when ridden in the twisties. I’ve also ridden the Connie 14, its HEAVY, which is good for highway but in the twisties is quite the handful.
    I’d take the this 1000 SX above all else.

  14. Chris says:

    This is the only bike on the market that ticks all the boxes for me. I’m on my 2nd Ninja 1000 since 2014, and I will happily get another should something happen to my 2018.
    It’ll easily dice it up in intermediate group at a trackday.
    It’ll tour (even 2 up with luggage) all day long.
    It’ll do 80 mile graded gravel roads in the middle of the Nevada & Utah desert in the August sun without overheating or breaking.

    And it’s stone reliable and cheap to maintain. A lot of the parts/consumables are compatible back to 2011, meaning it’s easy to find what you need.

    The oversteer issue is easily fixed with a change in tires, and a slight suspension adjustment.

    The KTMs and BMWs are lighter and more powerful, but if it’s my wallet, I’d much rather put big miles on my Kawasaki.

  15. Dave says:

    I have a friend who purchased a 2020 this year. He let me ride it for 150 miles a few weeks ago. I am going to buy one next spring it’s just a great bike.

  16. Goose Lavel says:

    This bike is nice looking and comfortable. Reminds me of my 2001 Yamaha FZ1. I really liked my 1st Gen FZ1. It was the most comfortable and versatile sportbike I ever owned.

    Took several single day, 500 mile round trips from the SF Bay area to Yosemite, 10 day tours all over California, multiple track days, daily work commutes and occasional top speed run at a ‘local’ abandoned air strip.

    This bike could do it all. Never broke down, stone reliable and easy to service.

    Finally sold it with 65K on the odo, still ran smooth. Bought an FJR1300 for greater distance riding.

  17. Jeremy says:

    I know a few people that own previous model years of this bike, one of whom just recently traded his in for this 2020 model. They all love it. It must tick a lot of boxes.

  18. todd says:

    I’ve ridden the original ‘83 Ninja 900 and an early 90s ZX11 Ninja and sat on one of these new Ninjas (along with many of the other sizes). Though I haven’t ridden this yet, those old Ninjas seemed more of a “comfortable sport bike” and very sport-touring oriented. This seems to have always been the goal of the big Ninjas. I don’t care for the seat padding or angle and the passenger accommodations look terrible. Maybe I would feel different after riding one.

    • Snake says:

      Same here. I owned a ’84 Ninja 900, and unless you’ve ridden one you never really understand why it was so successful, such an important bike – it was simply great. It was comfortable, did sporty as well as distance rides, great engine, very good range. It was simply a great ‘do everything’ bike for the ages, wrapped up in a great-looking sporting shell.

      I’m still waiting for a modern manufacturer to get that perfection, that sweet spot, again. I, also, checked out the original Ninja 1000 as well and, like you, found it missed the [exceedingly high] target that it’s grandfather did – it was too tilted to the ‘sporty’ side to the detriment of the ‘comfort’ side. Thin, tall seating and quite a bit of weight on the wrists (hack, cough, wheeze 😛 )

  19. Sonny says:

    I just got mine about 3 weeks ago. I love this bike. I’m still trying to get familiar with the control functions. The bike is a little tall for my short legs. I’m 5’8″, but if I were 5’9″ I don’t think I would have a problem flat footing it.

    • TimC says:

      The “need” for flat-footing it is what has caused the current hysteria of too-low seats that slant into the tank (and flatten balls).

      • mickey says:

        There’s a hysteria of too low seats? I would argue that the design hysteria of tail in the air single shock suspension caused the forward slope to the seats.

        Other than cruisers, how many motorcycles out there have a 30″ or less seat height?

  20. Skybullet says:

    Sounds like a nice bike… but, you could pick up a late model, low mileage KTM Super Duke GT and get a lot more bike for the same money. If you can get around the styling.

    • Dave says:

      Everyone I’ve met who rides one of these thinks it’s perfect, like “more” of anything would be worse. All about balance.

  21. John says:

    The Ninja is on my top 3 list after riding a CBR 954 and a VFR 800. My joints now hate a sport bike and I look forward to taking longer, more leisurely rides. The question of comprise always comes up when choosing a bike. You can judge the number of compromises by the number of “buts, excepts and howevers” when reading reviews or comments. I love the styling and power with this Ninja, “but” don’t like the weight. I like the riding position, “but” don’t think it would be as comfortable as other bikes I’m considering. I think BMW’s new F900XR just may provide fewer compromises. But … .

  22. Silver says:

    Still geared like a 600 after all these years. Wake up Kawasaki we don’t want ZX10R ratios for a bike like this!

    • fred says:

      If your complaint is overall gearing, it’s easy enough to toss on a larger front and/or a smaller rear sprocket to lengthen the gearing. You s/b able to pull it off for less than $100, even if replacing both sprockets, assuming you don’t go so radical that you also have to replace the chain.

      If you’re unhappy with how close the gear ratios are, it’s a bit more of a challenge.

    • Dave says:

      Does it lack a tall overdrive? If it’s anything like all the Honda’s I’ve owned then I’m guessing it’s geared to just reach peak rpm in 6th.

      The article doesn’t touch on gearing but it does say, “Inline-four cylinder engines don’t get much smoother.” and “ It is a powerful, comfortable bike that can eat miles while still being capable of great handling on twisty roads.”. Those two statements strongly hint that the bike is exactly what Kawasaki meant for it to be. Maybe a Concours is an even better “mile eater”?

    • Bob Krzeszkiewicz says:

      Not a thing wrong with the gearing for everyday commuting or long distance touring. The first gen Ninja 1000 has a lower 6th gear but the new ones have a more comfortable cruising rpm at 75 mph. The bike will also hit an indicated 160 mph with the loaded cases and a tank and tail bag on, something I do at least a couple times any time I take a trip somewhere.

  23. mcrides says:

    The 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX was on my short list.
    It ticks off a lot of boxes for a functional sport tourer.
    But its surprisingly low 330watts alternator output is a weakness that’s difficult to overcome for many sport touring riders.

    A sport tourer typically needs a bit of electrical headroom to run anything from heated clothing, heated grips, aux lights etc.

    And this is for one rider, not to mention two.

    330watts is fine for a ZX-6R or ZX-10.

    • fred says:

      You might be surprise just how much of a difference switching to LED’s makes. I haven’t run any tests, but my guess is that the 330 watts will be more than sufficient for sport touring since the Ninja is using LED’s.

    • ema says:

      I have this 2020 with heated grips, dual usb charger, tomtom.
      I don’t see any problem, what do you need to power up with the alternator, a nuclear enrichment centrifuge???? Some modern apartments runs with less than 300W average!!!

      Also the electrical accessibility and layout of this bike is excellent (aux ports just under the front fairings).

      • Been There Done That says:

        You and others are failing to say what of the 330W is still being consumed by the Ninja even with its LED lighting. There are lot of electrical gizmos on the Ninja that require power. The old workaround of replacing all the incandescent bulbs with LEDs to gain wattage for added non-OEM items is not applicable for the Ninja. A heated jacket and gloves could be problematic on the Ninja with its required power budget for them.

        • fred says:

          You are correct. It’s difficult to find the current production and draw figures for most bikes. My C14 puts out about 560 watts, and I’ve run it two up with full heated gear, GPS, phone, camera, twin headlights, etc with no issues.
          I’d suspect the Ninja would be fine running solo with heated gear and normal electronics. Driving lights on top of that might be an issue, especially if not LED.
          I’ve never had an issue, even with older, smaller, bikes running solo, even while running my electric vest. That was true even before I switched over to LED headlights (and sometimes taillights).

  24. Dirty Bob says:

    Figures seem inline with a well equipped motorcycle. Someone finally manufactures a modern motorcycle. No more retro please!

    • ema says:

      You get hard bags with locks configured for the same ignition key, removable in seconds, designed with the bike project, good volume, space for a full helmet, good looking, with no visibile mount frames when off, and certified for the top speed of the bike, still compact when mounted and you can still filtering…. and in some countries those are this year included for free (most people that buy this bike, as researched by kawa, buy also the bag from the start… rightly so, they are versatile).

      Seems good value for me… pick a comparable bike (ie. bmw 1250) and ask for the price of luggage…

    • fred says:

      Why no more retro bikes? It’s good when manufactures build different bikes, so they can see what people want. If enough people buy, the mfg’s make money and the bikes keep getting built. IMHO, it’s a good thing when bikes that I don’t like get built. It means that I won’t be the only rider on the road. If all of us got our “no more” wishes, the industry would shut down overnight. Just me alone would wipe out more than half the sales in the U.S.A., because I don’t care for cruisers or dirt bikes. LOL

      Nah, it’s better to have choices.

  25. RonH says:

    Seems like a good value for a performance motorcycle, but $900 for saddlebags? Are they insane?

    • RyYYZ says:

      Factory hard bags, (sort of) colour-matched, for $900, is a good deal, actually.

    • Stinky says:

      It does seem like they’re kind of expensive, until you price Givis with mounts. If I get enough riding time as I’m hoping to next year, this bike will be in my garage.