2014 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS First Ride Review

  • Broad spread of engine torque
  • Well thought-out luggage system (but expensive)
  • High-quality and precise clutch and transmission
  • $1,269.75 luggage option
  • Suspension could deliver better ride on bumpy roads
  • Windscreen could be taller

Do you like the speed and look of a sportbike but are fed up with the hunkered down seating position and limited touring capabilities? Kawasaki may have the answer with its 2014 Ninja 1000 ABS ($11,999). Designed with a long pour of sport on top of a shot of touring, this sport-sport-tourer makes racking up miles easier and cozier than ever before. For ’14 the motorcycle gets some powertrain refinements as well as traction control and easy-to-use removable hard bags, all outlined in the 2014 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS First Look article.


Looks-wise the Ninja is more or less the same except for a couple things. The biggest change aesthetically is the switch to a brushed stainless-steel mufflers giving the Ninja a more premium guise. There are also new passenger hand rails that work in unison with Kawasaki’s ultra-slick and optional removable hard cases ($1,269.75). The 28-liter cases use a simple and effective latching mechanism so they can be carried off the bike when you arrive at the destination. They are also lockable and can be coded to the ignition switch key. Other touring features include the three-way adjustable (without tools) windscreen. We preferred the highest setting though it’s still too short for it to push turbulent air up and over the rider. For some the absence of a center stand will be a put off but we appreciate the added cornering clearance when the road starts to zag.

(Top) We’re big fans of the Ninja’s new optional luggage. It’s easy to mount and use but it costs a little much. (Bottom) Although Kawasaki gave the Ninja 1000 a new instrument display, the LCD is too small and cramped with too much information. It was hard to ride while riding.

A new instrument display was also fitted. It continues to house a large analog-style rev counter next to a smaller rectangular LCD that incorporates a bar-style fuel meter, speedometer, various warning lights and an indicator for the traction control and power mode settings. It also displays instant and average mpg as well as a distance to empty mileage counter. Another nice touch is the ECO light that illuminates when the engine is achieving near maximum fuel economy. During the course of our 500 mile ride we recorded an average of 38.5 mpg at a moderate-to-fast highway pace. This net’s an approximate range of 192 miles based on the capacity of its steel, tank bag-compatible five-gallon fuel cell.

Kawasaki offers a line of precise-fitting accessories engineered specifically for the Ninja 1000 ABS.

Curiously it’s missing a gear position indicator. An ambient temperature gauge would have been a welcome addition too. While we appreciate some of the added features the LCD is too small and cramped with so much information making it difficult to read while riding.


Engineers spent time tweaking the 1043cc Inline Four engine for a smoother and wider spread of torque and they succeeded. This Ninja has perhaps the widest powerband of any four-cylinder bike we’ve ridden recently. This helps give the rider plenty of acceleration in all of its six gears at virtually any rolling speed. In fact the engine doles out so much immediate wheel twisting force that you can quite literally leave it in sixth gear as you accelerate away from a rolling stop, with only a quick slip of the clutch. Power flattens up toward its 11,000 rpm redline as expected due to its street-biased engine tune.

If you’ve spent time at the controls of the Z1000 (the platform the Ninja 1000 is based on) or read our 2010 Kawasaki Z1000 First Ride you probably know about the engine’s thrilling induction roar but on the Ninja 1000 it is muted significantly. Engineers attempted to add some intake noise back into the equation on this latest iteration but for a sport rider it’s still too quiet. Other than that the silky smooth motor is well balanced and devoid of any vibrations except toward the upper third of the tachometer but it isn’t annoying.

The rest of the drivetrain, including the cable-actuated clutch and gearbox, perform well. The clutch lever has a nicely weighted and more experienced-rider friendly feel when pulled and its action is impeccably progressive. It’s complemented by a high-quality transmission that meshes between cogs with precision. Gearing is also spot-on with the taller sixth gear netting around 4300 rpms at 60 mph. The only thing missing is a true racing-style slipper clutch but 99.9% of riders will never miss it unless they’re purposely trying to slide the rear end of the bike during deceleration with the ABS manually disabled (more on that later).


(Top) Wheelies. The Ninja 1000 ABS likes to do em’ due in part to its modern turbo diesel-like Inline Four engine. (Bottom) The Kawasaki handles well—and is a pretty easy bike to get a feel for in corners.

The new Ninja 1000 sources a similar version of Kawasaki’s traction control system as used on the ZX-14R. Three modes are available and it can also be disabled if desired. Level 1 and 2 maximize acceleration allowing for a degree of wheel spin, while Level 3 is designed to mitigate any wheel spin say when riding on wet roads or loose gravel. A button on the left side switch gear allows the rider to toggle between modes while riding, however, it can only be disabled at a stop. Each of the three modes functioned well but it was tough to get a good read on Level 1 as the pace that it demands is a little too wild for the street. For the most part we felt most comfortable in Level 2 as it seemed to reign in acceleration force for those with a heavy throttle hand on unfamiliar roads.

In addition to TC, the Ninja has two engine power modes. When started it defaults to full power but also offers a low power mode. When selected the lower setting reduces power delivery at elevated rpm which will help less experienced riders maintain control. It also dulls throttle response slightly. In application the lower setting didn’t feel that much different than full power, unless you were accelerating full throttle in the upper reaches of the tachometer. Overall it’s a great feature and will make the already inviting Ninja easier to ride for a wider range of riders and road conditions.

Ninja 1000 ABS Suspension Settings


  • Preload: 7 (Turns in)
  • Compression: 0.75 (Turns out)
  • Rebound: 1


  • Preload: 33 (Turns in)
  • Rebound: 1


Aside from the pretty new die-cast subframe, designed to accommodate the optional new hard luggage, the chassis is pretty much unchanged. It continues to use an inverted fork with 4.7 inches of travel. The front suspension also allows for spring preload adjustment and independent rebound damping. Compression damping can also be set at the bottom of the right fork leg. Kawasaki’s horizontally-mounted shock returns but with a new Ohlins-style adjustment knob which makes adjusting spring preload a snap. It also offers rebound damping adjustment. The shock offers 5.4 inches of movement from top to bottom.

(Top) For ’14 the Ninja 1000 ABS gets monobloc-style one-piece calipers sourced from Tokico. They offer sharp performance plus work through an updated ABS system that responds more accurately to hydraulic pressure than before. (Center) With some suspension tweaks the Ninja offered pretty good handling however it definitely doesn’t like being ridden on really bumpy roads. (Bottom) The traction control and adjustable power modes let you tune power delivery to suit conditions. It’s a great feature and helps make the bike easier to control on a greater range of surfaces.

In stock form this Ninja has a slightly un-balanced feel. This not only made it steer sluggishly gave it a propensity to wander around the road slightly. By dialing in preload at the rear as well as slowing down the fork and shock damping settings made a big difference allowing the bike to turn with less effort with better composure. On the freeway the Ninja delivered good overall ride quality, however, on bumpy surfaces the suspension doesn’t do as good of a job filtering out ill-effects as we remember with the Z1000. Though, with the bags loaded and a passenger the Ninja might be under sprung for spirited two- up riding.

Perhaps the biggest chassis change is the fitment of one-piece monobloc-style front calipers from Tokico. They still pinch a pair of 300mm diameter cross-drilled petal-style discs. The set-up is powered hydraulically through rubber lines and a new and improved ABS pump that better monitors fluid pressure allowing for more accurate anti-lock intervention during hard braking on slick surfaces. We’re big fans of the brakes’ sharp performance and appreciate the greater accuracy and more transparent modulation of the ABS system. Although it’s not designed to be turned off, a short fast burnout is all it takes to disable the system, if desired. But don’t worry getting it back online is as simple as a cycle of the ignition key.

After a two-day 500-mile ride, the Ninja 1000 proved to be a very sporty and touring-friendly mount. It’s got plenty of get-up-and-go at any rpm, plus the electronics help make it as mild or wild as the rider desires. It also delivers decent fuel mileage even during fast rides and has a really cozy riding position and seat. Although it didn’t blow us away with its handling performance, it’s going be hard to pass over this Ninja if you’re looking for a capable and do-it-all sport tourer.

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