Bike Review – 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX

In Japan, Reviews, Sport, Touring by AbhiLeave a Comment

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It usually takes me a few hours, if not a few days, to figure out why I really like a given motorcycle. I knew I was going to love the Ninja 1000SX in the first 5 seconds.


Bike Review – 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX
Photos by Nathan May.


The previous Ninja 1000 was a fun ride that I felt right at home on, but at the time I thought that Kawasaki was lacking a few features for a sport-touring bike – most notably, cruise control and a significantly-sized windscreen.

Leaving LA on the 2018 model.

So when I heard that the new model had cruise control and cost $200 more (MSRP $12,399, destination charge $410), I was more than pleased. Then I found out that your hypothetical two Benjamins actually gets you much more than the ability to hold a set speed:

– Bosch IMU (enables Kawasaki Intelligent Anti-Lock Brake System and Kawasaki Cornering Management)
– Ride-by-wire (enables the cruise control and ride modes)
– Quick shifter
– Bridgestone BATTLAX Hypersport S22 tires
– Smartphone connectivity
– 4.3″ TFT dash

There’s some styling changes in the front fairing, fender, and mirrors, and they ditched one of the exhaust pipes to save ~4 pounds. With that said, the overall weight stays the same at 516 pounds for the California model (513.8 for the rest of the US), but if the four pounds went to all the features up above, it was a worthwhile trade.

So weight stays the same, but the new bike gains two letters. It’s now called the Ninja 1000SX instead of the Ninja 1000, presumably to better align with the name of its supercharged big brother sport-tourer, the Ninja H2 SX.

On paper, the Ninja 1000SX is pretty staggering for the price. But what’s it like on the road? Well, if you add the $800 luggage (more on that later), it’s 90-95% of the H2 SX at 50% of the price and (depending on which side of the sport/touring equation you fall) it’s 99% of a Versys 1000 at 73% of the price. It’s a motorcycling bargain.

Old (Ninja ZX-11) and new.

As the term “sport touring” is so broad and means different things to different people, let me start by saying that this definitely leans more towards sport. If I could define it with slightly nebulous percentages, I’d estimate it’s 70% sport, 30% touring. Let’s look at both parts:

SPORT

This is the thinking person’s sportbike. Or maybe it’s the older person’s sportbike. Either way, it’s perfect for someone who wants to be comfortable riding all day while knowing they can get aggressive at a moment’s notice.

From a power standpoint, the engine produces 138 horsepower at 9,600 rpm and 81.7 ft/lbs of torque at 7,800 rpm. In other words, there’s enough. Even better, Kawasaki has clearly tuned this motor to provide mid-range torque that’s much more valuable to sport-touring riders than top-end horsepower. The fueling is excellent and there aren’t any flat spots – the only negative with the engine is excessive vibration that you’ll start to feel at 6k rpm in the bars. By 7k it’s very strong in the bars and you’ll get some through the seat as well. It starts fading around 8k, and by 9k it’s gone. You’ll feel it as you accelerate through the gears but it doesn’t come through while cruising at legal speeds: at 7k in 6th gear you’re doing 95 miles per hour.

So there’s plenty of oomph. There’s also plenty of handling – after a spirited run to Wrightwood along Angeles Crest Highway the dash told me that I got 58 degrees of lean on the left side at one point.

As you’d expect with a bike that’s got to balance sport and touring duties, everything’s a little soft when you really want to go fast (understand that this is not a negative in my book, I think Kawasaki’s made a good compromise here). There’s enough adjustability in the front forks (rebound/compression/preload) to make them stiff enough for my liking, but when riding aggressively the rear end dances around a bit too much for my taste, no matter what I do with the preload and rebound settings (no compression adjustment). The rear shock is one of the few items that reminds me this bike costs just $12k and change.

Despite that, the overall package is definitely good and it will allow you to approach the edges of the Bridgestone S22 tires with ease and a sense of stability.

Also earning my approval are the controls – particularly the buttery-smooth clutch. Both levers are adjustable, none of the buttons feel like they’re going to break any time soon, and they all flank a nice LCD screen that I preferred to keep with the black background. I’ve covered this dash in several prior Kawasaki reviews, so I’ll just briefly state that I think it’s great but I don’t like that when you’re in the “Rider” ride mode it hides info like the trip meter and odometer.

One of the new features for 2020 is the quickshifter, which is on point 98% of the time. Every once in a while it’d feel clunky or slow but I could never find a specific set of circumstances that made it replicable. Plus, I’ve yet to encounter a quickshifter that was basically flawless except for the 2020 Yamaha R1M. When it comes to slowing things down, Kawasaki has equipped 300mm semi-floating discs paired with radial mounted, monobloc opposed 4-piston calipers up front and a single 250mm disc in the rear. Ari Henning of RevZilla (did you see his review?) asked me if I felt the ABS kicked in too early on the front in sporty situations as he was experiencing that issue, but I didn’t. If anything, I felt that the rear wheel ABS kicked in too early in commuting situations. I don’t know if our bikes were slightly different, we were in different ride modes (which aren’t supposed to affect the braking performance), or I just use too much rear brake, but I do know that Ari is much faster and a better rider than I am, so you can extrapolate from there. Regardless, I didn’t think the ABS was as much of an issue as he did.

When it comes to going fast, I only had one serious annoyance with the Ninja: the large rubber frame plug underneath the left side passenger peg.

When I’m leaned over to the left and have the ball of my foot on the peg, my heel constantly bumps up against the plug.

Thankfully, you can just pull the plug out and never worry about it again. Problem solved, as long you don’t mind the open hole in the frame (I don’t, this bike is quite ugly regardless and it’s not like the rubber plug was pretty anyway).

I try not to look up specs on a bike until I’ve been riding it for a few days, and I was surprised when I found out that the Ninja weighs 516 pounds (in California trim) as I would have guessed it weighed a shade under 500. I’m not smart enough to tell you why it feels lighter than it is, but that’s the feedback I have for you.

TOURING

Put a bigger windshield on the Ninja and it’s almost as good at touring as the typical boats – but it’s so much more nimble.

The positives start with the ergonomics. As a reminder, I’m 6’2″, and I sit upright with just a slight amount of forward lean. The position is comfortable for decent stretches (> 1 hour) at a time, but more importantly there’s lots of room on the seat to fidget around and the passenger seat acts as a baby backrest when you want it. It’s a great place to put your butt on a long ride.

In terms of wind management, the windshield has been “upgraded” with 4 levels of adjustment instead of 3, but I only used the lowest or the highest at any given point. Remember how I wanted last year’s model to have a bigger windscreen? Well, they didn’t change the size, and I’m still left wanting. I know it would take away from the sporty styling, but this just needs to be larger. Here’s photos of the windshield at its lowest and highest points:

There’s about 12 degrees of lean at rest.

The biggest touring-related update for the 2020 model in my mind is the cruise control. Not much to say about it except that I’m very glad it exists – Kawasaki’s cruise control works well, though I do think it’s a bit weird that they limit the top speed to 85 miles per hour. Yes, I know that’s more than the speed limit, but I’m not aware of any competitor that limits the maximum cruise control speed this low.

On the flip side of velocity, the big Ninja is a kitten in town. As motorcycles get faster and crazier, I’ve found that many of them lose civility in real world riding. Admittedly, in a world with 220+ hp superbikes the 138 hp Ninja isn’t shocking anyone with its dyno graph. But it just works all the time, in every environment that a street rider would encounter. The Ninja 1000SX isn’t the sexiest motorcycle in the world – I never looked back at it longingly after parking and there was never any moment on the road where I thought it was the perfect bike for the moment, but this Kawasaki is a great jack of all trades. It’s the kind of bike I’d actually buy for myself.

A couple negatives for you: the Ninja throws off a little too much heat on your left ankle, and the mirrors are way too tiny. Stupidly tiny, in fact. It’s one thing when you’re stopped on a road with no traffic, but when you’re moving and trying to see what may or may not be behind you, this isn’t enough. Just like the windshield, it needs to be bigger.

Normally I’d mock a chain-driven sport-touring bike that didn’t come with a center stand (there isn’t even an optional one), but Kawasaki makes up for most of that missing feature with the easiest chain adjustment setup I’ve ever worked with. All you have to do is loosen one pinch bolt on either side of the tire, then shove a 12mm hex bit in the bottom hole of the adjuster (shown in the below picture) and turn as needed. You only have to do it on one side, and the whole process will take you just a couple of minutes. I’m a total bum when it comes to chain maintenance, and even I was pleased with this. This is probably as good as it gets with chains – though BMW is after my heart with their recently-announced maintenance-free unit, assuming it holds up.

Obviously your MPG will vary with riding style, but after approximately 1,500 miles when I was generally riding this like a sportbike with bags, I got 35.7 miles per gallon. Someone who spends more time touring (or just someone more civilized than I am) could easily see north of 40.

Vy got to spend some quality time on the back on the Ninja and has no complaints. She wasn’t blown away by anything, mind you, but she had no complaints – and that’s good enough for me! One thing she was glad to have was the optional luggage, which Kawasaki will sell you for $799.95. These are so crucial to the sport-touring ethos that I actually wish Kawasaki had made it a standard feature and just baked it into the price because they could offer it for a bit cheaper with the guaranteed volume and I think you’d have to be crazy to buy a 1000SX and not get the bags.

Each bag contains 28 liters and has a luggage capacity of 11 pounds. You can fit pretty much any helmet in them, even with cameras/communicators mounted on them. I’m one of those people who thinks luggage makes every motorcycle better, and Kawi’s offer excellent functionality. There’s no reason to go to the aftermarket here.

The bags are well-integrated into the passenger grab rails and the profile of the bike, so if you take them off for any reason you’re not left with ugly rails that hang a couple of inches off the tail. Well done, Kawi!

There’s a few other accessories I’d add if I was to keep the 1000SX.

1.) One key system for the hard bags – $54.95. The annoying tax you have to pay to ensure your excellent bags use the same key as the ignition.

2.) Large windshield – $185.95. It’s 1″ taller than the stock unit, so I’d actually recommend that you go aftermarket to get something even taller.

Photo from Kawasaki

3.) Heated grips – $298.95. Heated grips are awesome. Enough said.

4.) Center stand – N/A. As mentioned above, Kawasaki unfortunately does not offer a center stand for this bike even as an option, which seems like an oversight for a sport-tourer. We already discussed the ease of adjusting the chain, but cleaning the chain and changing the rear tire is a different story.

COMPETITION

The sport-touring world isn’t very popular nowadays, as most buyers have moved on to ADV bikes (even if they’re only riding on pavement). There’s a few options that have you sit a bit more upright like Kawi’s own Versys 1000 or the Yamaha Tracer, but the Ninja 1000SX is almost in a class of its own at this point seeing as Honda’s given up on the Interceptor.

The closest options I can think of are the:
1.) Ducati Supersport – similar price, 20 less horsepower (but weighs about 60 pounds less). Compared to everything else in this section, it’s too much sport, not enough touring. Plus, Ducati wants a criminal $1,559 for the luggage, which isn’t well-integrated, isn’t hard, and isn’t lockable (unless you’re padlocking zippers together).
2.) BMW R1250RS – starts at $15,695 and if you want options that are standard on the $12,399 Kawi like cruise control, ride modes, or the quickshifter, then BMW Motorrad USA forces you to get the $3,150 Select Package so you’re nearly at $20k. I like the RS (I’ve only ridden the 1200, not the 1250), but it’s a lot easier to enjoy a test bike when I get it on loan for free instead of spending my own money on it.

My time on the RS came from a 2-up trip in Spain and Portugal.

CONCLUSION

I said it at the beginning of the review and I’ll say it again – the Ninja 1000SX is a motorcycling bargain. It’s not my favorite bike, but it’s very good at most things. It’ll get you to the office with room to carry what you need, take you on long trips, carry a passenger in relative comfort, and still let you go fast when you want. Kawasaki calls the Ninja 1000 the “best of both worlds” – presumably in reference to sport and touring. It’s not the best of both worlds, but it’s damn good at both as long as you’re OK with the fact that it’s geared more towards sport than touring.

This bike is so good that the styling upsets me, as I know that some riders won’t even give it a chance because it’s so ugly. This is admittedly less offensive than many other offerings in Kawasaki’s lineup, but someday Team Green will ditch their trademark “Sugomi” styling and the world will be a better place for it.

Hopefully, you feel differently, because if you can look past the styling (or if you just think I’m being too sensitive) then you’ll be rewarded with something that makes more sense than anything else I’ve ridden in a long time. Whether you want to go fast or go far, the Ninja 1000SX won’t leave you wanting and it does it at a reasonable price. Considering all the features Kawasaki added for just $200, I’d probably be very disappointed if I bought a 2019 model! I could have taken this instead of the H2 SX SE on my coast-to-coast in 50 hours run and I basically would have had the same experience with a bike that was half the cost. Objectively, Kawasaki should sell a ton of these, and I sincerely hope they do because deals like this should be rewarded.

PLEASE NOTE: While I was writing up this review over the last week or so, Kawasaki debuted the 2021 model of the Ninja 1000SX. Good news: it’s ditched all the green, hiding some of the ugliness in a wall of black. I can’t determine any other changes beyond the paint. Bad news: the price has increased by $200 to $12,599. Possible good news: maybe there will be discounts on the 2020 models while they’re still in stock!

The 2021 model has one color option: “Metallic Carbon Gray/Metallic Diablo Black”

Check out the 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX!

Helmet: Shoei X-Fourteen in Matte Black – $742.99
Helmet Design: custom design by Velocity Tape – $140
Jacket: REV’IT Airwave 3 in Grey/Anthracite – $229.99
Gloves: Velomacchi Speedway – $149
Shoes: Alpinestars Faster 3 Rideknit in Black/White – $179.95
Backpack: Velomacchi Rolltop 40L

YOUR QUESTIONS

Before each review I try to make I sure I get your questions about a given bike. This time I only got one:
Reverend Bill: “My FJ-09 was a swing-and-a-miss as the perfect sport tourer due to poor stock wind and weather protection. My ST1300 had perfect wind and weather protection, but lacked the performance package of lighter bikes. I put 52K on the ST and 33K on the FJ, year-round commuter in Seattle and touring. Three other bikes in between. Currently on an Africa Twin.

My question for your review of the Ninja 1000SX would be: how are the ergonomics, wind and weather protection and seat comfort for big mileage days on the bike.

If you thought the FJ was lacking in wind/weather protection, I think you’re going to find the same problems here. It’s good enough for my usage but I can tell that I’ve got a different perspective and much of it is probably due to our respective locations. I rarely encounter rain and I like having a bit of wind come through as it reminds me I’m on a motorcycle. When I’m on bikes that are well insulated from the elements like a ST1300 or R1200RT, I feel a little bored (I took the windshield off my R1150GS for that reason). However, considering what you described above I think the Ninja might be a little too much on the sporty side. I definitely think it’d be worth a test ride in your case, as the seat is pretty good and your potential problems might all be addressed with the simple addition of a larger windshield.

I should also mention that Kawasaki makes the Concours 14 – it’s definitely faster than the ST1300 but it’s heavy and it hasn’t been significantly updated in years.

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