Just like Honda’s famous Fireblade, Suzuki’s Hayabusa or even Ferrari’s Testarossa and Lamborghini’s Huracán, Kawasaki has its own iconic moniker; Ninja.
It burst into public recognition in 1986 when - ridden by Tom Cruise - it howled down a runway in Top Gun. No wonder Kawasaki has kept the name alive, using it across much of its range, to signify sports performance.
One of Kawasaki’s best-known bikes - the 1000 SX sports tourer - bears the legendary badge and deservedly so. Compared to its predecessor, the top-selling Z1000SX, the latest model, introduced in 2020, was tweaked to offer better, lighter handling - particularly at low speeds - for instance around mini-roundabouts and in city traffic.
Other changes included new tech such as an up/down quick shifter (for clutchless gear changes), cruise control and a colour TFT dash as standard equipment. It also got a thicker and wider seat for extra comfort while creating a little more legroom. Kawasaki fitted Sport, Road, Rain and Rider modes, all adjustable on the fly.
A 450-mile dash from London to Cornwall underlined the effectiveness of these changes and the star quality of this bike that starts at £12,349 for the ‘entry’ model, rising to £13,349 for the Performance model, £13,499 for the Tourer version we rode and £14,499 for the Performance Tourer.
In addition to standard equipment the Tourer comes with two handsome, spacious panniers that complement the bike’s rakish looks, as well as a ‘large smoke windscreen’ with three different settings, heated grips, a universal phone mount, 12v DC outlet and a transparent scratch-resistant dash screen cover.
This Ninja’s looks divide opinion but I like them; it looks more contemporary, even more purposeful than the Z; a stylish, serious, motorcycle with or without panniers in place.
First surprise - after the Z - is that the seating position feels quite upright; no danger of wrist/arm ache here; despite the bike’s aggressive appearance it’s even more upright than its key rival, BMW’s R1250RS.
The seating position feels slightly more spacious than before too; you also sit ‘in’ the bike rather than on it, reassuring on a long-distance, mile-munching machine.
Second surprise is how comfortably the handlebar and switchgear fall to hand - including an indicator switch well within reach - while the third surprise is how civilised, muted even, the liquid-cooled 140bhp in-line four-cylinder unit sounds on ignition. It purrs and rather than throbs - at least until it’s opened up.
This Ninja is particularly well balanced. It is a doddle to filter through traffic, always extremely well-planted and stable; clearly those handling tweaks paid off handsomely. You can come to a complete stop, pause, then put your foot down. Same thing pulling away; the smooth throttle action and light clutch make it a pussycat in traffic, docile, but always ready to deliver more power or a quick flick around a hold-up with a twist of the wrist and a dab on the handlebars. It belies its 238 kgs weight well.
The nicely-styled bodywork-mounted rear view mirrors (which can be neatly folded in then out again in a tight spot) not only give a good view (although I found it impossible to dial out at least a portion of the view of my hands without sacrificing sight of close-following traffic), they are also mounted sufficiently low down to prevent snagging on most other vehicles’ door mirrors. They offer some rain protection for the hands.
The brakes are superbly ‘feely’ in town and parking is relatively straightforward too; the lowish (835mm) seat height makes paddling backwards possible and the side stand is easy to reach, offering just the right degree of lean for most conditions.
With the screen in the lowest position there’s plenty of ventilation in town even on a warm day, and the colour TFT screen is clear, easily readable and attractive.
On the open road this Ninja remains highly composed, superbly engaging and entertaining, offering assured, sporty handling while effectively absorbing bumps and ruts. Open it up and it is extremely fast. At around 3,500-4,000 rpm it begins to howl - you think it’s going to be too noisy on motorways and A roads.
Rev a little further, however (it doesn’t redline until around 10,500rpm) and the howl quickly dissipates into a pleasant-sounding turbine-esque hum, with 70mph coming up just below 4,500 rpm. By way of contrast it’s certainly ‘busier’ - a little buzzier - than BMW’s 1250 cc ‘boxer’ engine, but not intrusively so.
It’s possibly more thrilling - if marginally less relaxing - to ride than its German competitor, in a way that keeps the rider fully engaged even over six or seven hours of travel in a single day.
The saddle is cushy enough for an hour and a half or so before the ‘edges’ create pressure points at the top of the thighs; way before the 19-litre tank’s limit (the ‘range’ readout can climb as high as 200 miles on an easy throttle) is reached.
Screen if you want to go faster
Generally, however, the bike’s touring credentials have been well considered. Not only does the seating position sustain the rider nicely over several hours, the screen - generally - does a good job of deflecting the slipstream. At 5ft 10 inches or so, I’d have liked an even higher screen position at times, to deflect the wind over - rather than into - the top of my crash helmet, on motorway stretches. Sat-nav ‘prep’ - though not a navigation unit - can be specified at purchase.
The cruise control worked well (although active cruise control would be the icing on the cake) and a clearer readout of the ‘target’ speed you’re trying to set, would be useful. Riding modes can be adjusted on the move (although the throttle must be fully closed). ‘Sport’ sharpens the bike up nicely, ‘Road’ makes the machine more pliable in town. Buyers can spec a USB socket in addition to the old-fashioned ‘cigarette lighter’ type included.
Any niggles? The quick shifter works better changing up than down (both are fine, though) and there’s no auto-blip, so while you don’t need to use the clutch, some throttle action is necessary. Disappointingly, Kawasaki doesn’t provide a centre stand, sparking endless discussion on owner forums about how to oil or adjust the chain on long tours. It can be a faff.
The big panniers - able to hold a full-face helmet - were easy to use and lock and not too ‘sticky out’ in tight traffic but, unfortunately, Kawasaki doesn’t approve the use of a top box on this machine, apparently for sub-frame strength and capability reasons. Riders must resort to a tank or tail bag, neither of which is sufficient to stash your crash helmet when you take off on foot. This could be a deal breaker for some touring riders, and is something Kawasaki should address.
Overall, this is a solidly premium bike although some minor components (the screen stanchions and the brake fluid reservoir and brackets, for instance) look like afterthoughts. Sure, they’ll last, but BMW does them better, more solidly.
The TFT is clear and easily used, however, and the bike feels, generally, forgiving - despite that exciting, engaging, Ninja vibe. The 1000SX Ninja could be that ‘holy grail’ bike: brilliant for comfy, long-distance tours but perfect also for daily commutes, fun weekends, high days and holidays.
It was so good I drove the - very - long way back to London from Cornwall. Just because I could. And I loved every second.
Kawasaki 1000 SX Ninja Tourer
Power: 140 hp
1,043cc, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC 16-valve in-line four
SAFE AND SECURE
Security when touring is a headache. A solid chain would be great but they’re too heavy and bulky, so most riders use a brake disc lock instead.
I used Squire’s reassuringly weighty (1.1 kgs) Defiant disc lock, which is about the size of one-and-a-half cigarette packets and clad in a tough, ruggedised, bright yellow cover.
Sold Secure Powered Cycle Diamond (formerly Motorcycle) rated, it surpassed their angle grinder attack for 90 seconds; a serious deterrent for any casual thief.
Made in Britain, the Defiant is made from 25mm solid hardened steel with what Squire calls ‘heavy duty armouring material’ claimed to destroy cutting discs. At the heart of this smart unit - which comes in a handy padded compact neoprene pouch, complete with coiled telltale wire - is a hardened 12mm boron hardened steel shackle. It also has a 6-pin dimple key cylinder which is anti-drill, anti-pick and anti-bump.
Two serious-looking keys are included and - once you get the hang of it - it is quick and simple to use. Squire says it is weather and corrosion resistant.
The neoprene pouch can be attached with a belt loop (probably not wise in case you fall off), clipped to part of the bike with its built-in D-ring or stashed in the top box or pannier. There might even be room under the saddle. The solidity and ease of use of the Defiant are major plus points, as is the fact that, being compact, and with square edges, it can easily be stored on the bike. It looks the business too.
I found it simple to fit and remove from the brake disc which, of course, itself still remains vulnerable to determined attack with an angle grinder. At £199.99 this unit is certainly not cheap - but reliable security seldom is.