It might be the quintessential sports tourer but has that goalpost moved out of reach?
2013 was the year when Kawasaki brought the Ninja 1000 to India. The sports tourer was a practical alternative to the ZX-10R superbike, a daily-rider motorcycle which you could not just tour with but also take to the race track. We did. In our previous publication, Ed rode a Ninja 1000 from Pune to Chennai for a day-long session at the MMRT and rode back the day after. Its versatility and value for money at a time when sports bikes were scarce and tourers even more so, made the Ninja 1000 a highly sought after motorcycle among the cultured enthusiast.
While the Ninja 1000 was first brought via the CBU route, later iterations came via the Semi Knocked Down route resulting in a significant price drop of as low as Rs 9.98 lakh. In fact, the current Ninja 1000SX costs Rs 11.86 lakh and is still more affordable than the asking price of Rs 12.5 lakh when it was launched nine years ago. That alone is a good reason to buy one no?
Here's the caveat though. In the past nine years, the Ninja 1000 hasn't seen a thorough revision. Since then, there has been a steady influx of sports tourers and even adventure tourers which are quite capable on tarmac. So does the Ninja 1000SX have other redeeming qualities beyond its low price point?
Big is beautiful:
At least that seems to be the mantra for the Indian enthusiast when it comes to buying large capacity motorcycles. The Ninja 1000 does not disappoint on that count. Everything from the headlamp, fairing, fuel tank, seats, grab rails, and even the saree guard is larger than your average superbike. Large equals heavy and the Ninja 1000 tips the scales at 238 kilos, that's around 40 kilos more than most current generation superbikes and 10kg more than the equivalent BMW S1000XR.
Add to that the wide fuel tank and 835mm seat and you will end up tip-toeing the motorcycle if you are below 5 feet 8 inches tall. The weight can be felt especially while taking U-turns and there is a constant fear of tipping the motorcycle over. Most modern motorcycles are easy to ride despite having ridiculously tall seats thanks to the seats being narrow at the front. Maybe Kawasaki can apply the same thought to the Ninja 1000SX.
Feature-packed but not quite there yet:
The Ninja 1000SX gets a six-axis IMU which allows for cornering ABS. In addition, it gets four riding modes (Rain, Road, Sport and Rider), two power modes (Low and High), three-stage switchable traction control, a bi-directional quickshifter and cruise control even. While the feature list is not as substantial as modern-day litre-class tourers, it gets the job done.
The rider aids can be accessed through a 4.3-inch TFT screen and an array of buttons on the left. Again, scrolling through the menu is not as intuitive as its European rivals especially if you are looking at changing ride modes on the fly. It does connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth and the Kawasaki Rideology app. While the app displays vehicle information and routes, I would have liked more exchange of information between the smartphone and TFT displays.
Sweet Motor O' Mine:
It retains the 1,043cc in-line four-cylinder motor but gets revised internals. The four-cylinder powerplant pushes out 142PS and 111Nm. More than the output, it is the supremely tractable nature of the powerplant and the strong midrange that impresses. You can potter around in town at low speeds in fourth gear or cruise at triple-digit speeds in the same gear, the powerplant ensures you aren't left wanting for performance. It offers a strong linear-pull from 5,500rpm which keeps getting stronger towards the redline.
This heady midrange performance is accompanied by an in-line four-cylinder growl which isn't as sonorous as litre-class Suzukis but has that old-school gruffness which makes the auditory experience all the more enjoyable. This motor impressed in the Versys 1000 as well and besides being a highlight of the Ninja 1000, is one of the reasons to go for it. The quickshifter works well but at times, does refuse to downshift at slow speeds.
Cross country hero?
The Ninja 1000SX is a proper mile muncher. It features a slightly sporty riding position with a wide and padded seat allowing you to comfortably ride for an extended duration. Another highlight is the ride quality which feels plush. The Ninja 1000SX glides over bad roads and potholes when you encounter a nasty bump, is only limited by the suspension travel.
The motor feels relaxed cruising in sixth gear at triple-digit speeds and with the fuel-efficiency counter reading out 17kmpl, that would translate to a range of over 320km from its 19-litre fuel tank!
There are a few places where the Ninja 1000SX can be more adept at touring. The windscreen too can do with more adjustability. It is two-way adjustable and at its higher setting, has wind filter through if you are riding upright. While the grab rails have notches to fit the optional hard panniers, it misses out on loops and hooks to secure luggage. The 137mm ground clearance clears all but nasty speed breakers without touching its belly so you have to be extra careful on country roads.
Kawasaki has cracked the code for heat management and most of its motorcycles, the Ninja 1000SX included, dissipate heat efficiently in traffic. There is no escaping the weight though and while it does not feel as heavy as a cruiser, some effort is required in filtering through traffic.
It also needs some cajoling to turn into corners and its weight is especially felt while transitioning from one side to the other. It does corner well and will be 80 percent as quick on a technical racetrack as litre-class sportsbikes. The Nissin brakes too offer a strong bite. While not as sharp as superbikes, it does a fantastic job of shedding speeds quickly.
More bang for the buck
At Rs 11.86 lakh, the Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX is one of the most affordable litre-class sports tourers on offer and has quite a few attributes working for it. It has a gem of an engine, comfortable seats and a plush ride quality. I feel the Ninja 1000SX's greatest nemesis is its weight and its associated gremlins. Adventure tourers have moved the goalpost ahead and today's ADVs are quicker, lighter, technologically advanced and while being easier to ride, are dynamically as competent as the Ninja if not more.
To simply put it, the Ninja 1000SX is like Maradona. If he were pitted against today's footballers like Ronaldo or Messi, he would come up short. It's not due to his lack of talent though. It's simply the technique and skill that's evolved through the years which Maradona would need to relearn to be competitve.