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Story by Dustin A. Woods, Photos by Dustin A. Woods (Riding shots by Matt Ball)
Developing a brand new motorcycle is a difficult undertaking to say the least. Attempting to improve upon an existing platform that has an existing and loyal following is an even more difficult proposition. Team green clearly had their work cut out for them when they set out to revamp the new-for-2011 Ninja 1000.
I doubt that there are many Canadian motorcycle enthusiasts who wouldn't enjoy trading places with Jordan Szoke for a weekend. Dominating the Parts Canada Superbike Series on his Kawasaki, there aren't many who could actually fill his riding boots, for a myriad of reasons. Not only from a talent standpoint, but most riders larger than a jockey who are old enough to shave are generally beyond the point where riding a supersport for more than a few hours is even an option. A truly phenomenal bike in every respect, the ZX-10R is purpose- built for one thing - speed. Ergonomics aren't entirely an afterthought, but they also aren't the top priority. Enter the Ninja family of motorcycles; a selection of steeds that offer racebike styling and technology that is better suited for the street.
The old adage of race on "Sunday sell on Monday" is as true today as it ever was, but the performance capabilities of contemporary racebikes have far outpaced those of the typical rider, not to mention our the speed limits of our fair nation. Aside from competition or the occasional lapping day at the track, you can hardly skim the surface of their power potential before risking incarceration and they aren't exactly comfortable on the long haul. Why would manufacturers even bother making bikes that are capable of speeds will into the triple digits? Racing isn't just about entertainment and marketing, it allows for valuable research that carries over to consumer products. Advancements in engine refinement, handling and aerodynamics can all trace their origins to race programs around the world.
Having the chance to log some serious miles on the Z1000 last summer, I fell in love with the torquey yet manageable 1,043cc powerplant that also calls the Ninja 1000 home. Feeling like it could pull for days, the liquid-cooled, fuel injected in-line Four runs out of road long before running out of torque. The Ninja 1000 rings in at $13,699, or five Sir Robert Borden's more than the Z1000. This covers the cost of added goodies like the additional bodywork and a three-way adjustable windscreen. Debuting a year after its fairing-free sibling, the Ninja also shares the same braking setup , suspension components and quad exhaust silencers. Despite sharing components and a powerplant, the Ninja actually cuts through the air more efficiently than its naked sibling thanks to its additional aerodynamics, necessitating an electronic speed limiter.
Steering that is both light and precise makes the Ninja one-thou inspire confidence. Thanks to Mass Centralization, which is essentially a fancy way of saying the bulk of the weight is kept low, the Ninja feels much lighter than its 228kg running weight would suggest. The Showa suspension includes a 41mm fork and rear monoshock offering three adjustment choices up front with adjustable preload and rebound in the rear.
Acceleration is as smooth or severe as your right hand dictates and wheelies are easily attainable but can easily be tamed if calmer heads prevail. While the speed and agility of the biggest Ninja may be impressive, it's no one trick pony. Its true value lies in the fact that it boasts exhilarating performance without compromising comfort. Over the course of a week with the Candy Lime Green and Ebony tester, it never felt out of place whether I was tackling twisties out in the country or battling streetcars on my commute in the city. Its beauty truly lies in its versatility.
Braking is equally exceptional and reeling in the Ninja's 136 horsepower is both swift and predictable. Radial-mounted four-piston Tokico calipers grab a pair of 300mm petal-style rotors up front with help from a Nissin radial-pump master cylinder while a single piston caliper clamps onto a single 250mm rotor out back. A neutral riding position, 19 litre fuel tank and adjustable windscreen make it an ideal mount for longer distances, unlike most supersports where you need to be helped off the bike after a spirited day of riding. My only grievance with the Ninja 1000, as with several Kawasakis, is the placement and effectiveness of the mirrors. Appearing to be concave, their surface area is adequate but their coverage leaves something to be desired. If that is the biggest gripe I can possibly conjure up, I'd say the engineers have done a pretty damn good job.
Agile handling at any speed
Comfortable riding position, adjustable windscreen and 19L tank allow for longer trips
Powerplant is as strong or serene as you like
- Mirror placement and coverage could use some tweaking