Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX Wrap-Up Review

The Ninja wins on paper, but in reality I’m not so sure…

So; the Ninja has been sold. I’m forever shopping for new bikes, but don’t actually take the plunge and buy one all that often. And when I do, I usually keep them much longer than this. But after just over a year and just over 8,000 miles my gorgeous bright green Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX has gone to a new home. Why? And what will I buy instead?

The Ninja was supposed to be a more practical and touring-friendly replacement for my well-used Triumph Street Triple R, and by all metrics it succeeded. Even with a complete suspension overhaul the handling could never quite match the lithe Triumph, and installing a set of HEL braided brake lines could not compensate for a 50kg weight gain over my earlier bike. But the reupholstered seat was more comfortable, and the fairing and heated grips meant that I had no trouble enjoying a two-day run around Yorkshire in -2C temperatures.

I’m not sure why seat-based temperature readouts haven’t seen wider use

The quick-release and colour-matched hard panniers left no trace when removed, yet kept my luggage safe and dry without affecting handling overmuch. Performance was more than sufficient, especially when the 1,043cc inline-four engine was allowed to sing in the upper reaches of its rev range. Yet it remained smooth and tractable at low revs, returning just over 50mpg (UK) during my ownership. At night, the dual-mode LED headlights were very impressive indeed, illuminating dark lanes on my commute with ease.

During a four-day lap of Scotland’s northern coastline, the cruise control made short work of the late-night 200-mile run up the motorway, while the confidence-inspiring handling made high-speed, high-lean corner carving through the empty October highlands an absolute joy. When the weather turned sour the Michelin Road 5 tyres had no trouble keeping pace through Duke’s Pass with the advanced lean-sensitive traction control providing a comforting safety net for my shenanigans.

October is absolutely the best time of year to ride to Scotland; the roads are empty…

The bike wasn’t perfect, however. And being the sort of person who pays attention to the details, these friction points were an ever-present irritation, like a stone in a shoe. The cruise control, for example, simply could not hold a steady speed. You set it, let go of the throttle, and it would lose a few miles per hour before slowly creeping up to around the speed it was set at, but never able to settle. You couldn’t nudge the speed up or down with the buttons – instead, you have to hold the buttons down and wait for the numbers to slowly climb to where you wanted, eyes on the dashboard the entire time.

Similarly ill-conceived is the user interface for the heated grips. Unlike every other system in the world that uses either colours, LEDs, or perhaps a dashboard icon to indicate the heat level, Kawasaki relies on a flashing pattern of the single backlit button. Pressing the button increments the heat setting, but you have to keep your eyes on the button and count the flashes to know whether you are set to low, medium, or high. By the time that’s happened, you’ve had your eyes off the road for several seconds and have probably ridden into a ditch.

Mediocre windshield mechanism, user-unfriendly cruise control, and downright dangerous heated grip controls

I never found the perfect angle for the adjustable windshield, and even tried a shorter alternative in an attempt to move buffeting off my helmet, to no avail. What’s more, these experiments had to be done stationary, because the button to release the lock on the windshield is forward on the front right of the cockpit, making it very much a two-handed operation. With air pressure trying to push the windshield down at all times, making adjustments on the move was impossible or at least very dangerous.

The engine, for all its top-end grunt and smoothness was ultimately rather boring in day-to-day riding. Noise regulations mean that even with the factory-fit Akrapovic silencer the Ninja made less noise than my T-Max. Above walking pace it was essentially inaudible over the wind noise. Overtakes or on-ramp launches were effortless, but somehow devoid of excitement. On my final camping trip down to Land’s End I discovered that it was possible to make the Ninja exciting by sticking to second gear, at which point the violence of acceleration was matched only by the equally aggressive engine braking. At that point I found smooth inputs impossible, making for a very choppy, sloppy ride.

A sports-tourer can take you almost anywhere an adventure bike will, but it’ll be much harder work

Adjusting the chain is a pain in the backside, requiring two large, extra-long allen keys that do not come in the bike’s toolkit. With no centre stand fitted chain maintenance requires a paddock stand at home and either patience or brute strength while on tour. Those fancy plastic panniers aren’t even that practical to use, with the Kawasaki-provided removable bags only making use of around half the volume of each box. You can throw extra items in loose, but the clamshell side-opening design means that stuff then falls out every time you open them. Form over function, I am afraid.

The passenger grab rails are in the wrong place to properly tie down tents or extra bags, and the comprehensive fairing makes even basic mechanical work slow, and if paid for at a dealer, expensive. The up/down quickshifter isn’t too bad on upshifts, but is so jerky on downshifts that I twice took the bike back to the dealer to be investigated. In the end I gave up and shifted with the clutch. The dashboard had a tendency to reset itself every now and again at petrol stops, losing the time, mileage, trip computer, and other data. And to be clear, every single problem I have outlined here was mirrored on my wife’s identical Ninja 1000SX. Our local dealer even replaced the entire dashboard to try and cure the reset issue, to no avail.

You can absolutely go camping with a sports-tourer, but strapping a tent down is not easy

Then there were the issues inherent with the type of bike itself. Turns out, I really struggle with leant-forward riding positions – I just can’t get as comfortable as I can on more upright bikes. I also really miss having a top box – commuting with a backpack is absolutely no fun; my laptop wouldn’t fit in the oddly-shaped panniers. The stylish fairing means a low windshield, which limits effectiveness at actually blocking the wind. Mirrors can’t help but be blocked by shoulders and steering lock is inevitably limited by the raised clip-ons.

And, when all’s said and done, when you’re carving down a twisty road and hauling on the brakes for a tight corner all 230kg of bike is diving for the front wheel with all your weight on your wrists, no matter how strong your core is. We don’t have that many smooth, high-speed sweepers here in the UK, and even the bottom-end drive of the engine coming out of first-gear corners seems lacking after riding a succession of twins and triples. Great for fast, sweeping curves in the Cairngorns, not so great going up Applecross Pass or dicing between hedgerows in Cornwall.

The dealer-fit carbon can does almost nothing for the aural entertainment, thanks to modern noise regulations

And so, when a friend of a friend heard that I was considering selling he picked up the phone and a deal was done on the first viewing. I didn’t lose much for a year and 8,000 miles worth of riding, and I finally got to experience owning one of the best sports tourers money can buy. The new owner loves the bike, and in my care it probably became the very best version of itself. But I’m afraid that what this experience has really made clear is that, for me at least, there’s no substitute for the practicality of an adventure bike when it comes to true multi-purpose motorcycling.

Time to go shopping…

I gave it a go, but it’s time for me to go a different way…