The first thing I noticed upon delivery of the Ninja was the muscular styling and, I have to say, my impression mirrors the flaccid US sales figures of the past. As a member of the infamous Gold’s Gym or, as I like to call it, “the house of insecurity,” I have long since realized that the appearance of strength isn’t what you should be looking out for when the mood sours between men. Given the option, I’ve always chosen to go for the big guy when it kicks off and avoided the lean, ginger-haired Scot or the Asian that tugs his trouser leg during the pre-fight “fuck your mothers.” The appearance of brute muscle usually means useless showmanship and I have had zero occasion to move a 777 Boeing with my teeth or remove a giant tractor tire without the aid of hydraulic puissance.
Photos: Kurt Mangum
Obviously there are exceptions to the formula and one must scan for clues such as Tap Out apparel or cauliflower ears when applying this rule of thumb, so I will keep an open mind as the Kawasaki Ninja 1000 has recently undergone a sweeping transformation to its performance faculties that might overshadow my prejudgments. According to other reviews and reports from Kawasaki, it’s been more of a gender reassignment surgery than a little housewife’s nip and tuck.
Thumb the ignition and pull into traffic. Take note of the way the power comes on. Unlike most performance bikes that produce results within a millimeter’s wrist action, this throttle lays out a very long satin sheet, some Tibetan throw pillows, pours you a glass of Kahlua and puts on Sade 1st album. My desires are torn between burning some calming sage and wheelieing this fucking animal through the rear window of a Prius.
The second thing I notice is renewed good posture. Being accustomed to the embryonic riding position that makes you feel a part of the spine of a sportbike makes sitting on the Ninja feel very exposed, but that swiftly changes as I grasp that this practical position actually grants you another 40 degrees of peripheral vision and the audacity of a squirrel in traffic.
The higher vantage feels refreshingly offensive. The girthy Dunlop’s give one the confidence you normally lack on a touring BMW or a Dual Sport, but retain the testicular displacement and comfort. Suddenly my balls want to visit a friend up the coast in Santa Cruz and my balls never want to go anywhere on a motorcycle.
My wrists, which I didn’t want to mention in the same paragraph as my balls to avoid palpable mockery, are also high-spirited. The bars feel somewhat tall and tight but, with zero vibration, an hour-long ride up the PCH doesn’t result in anesthetization. The adjustable angle on the windscreen is another added perk that will cocoon you in its wind shadow even if, like me, you’re above 6 feet tall.
The see-through brake fluid container above your right wrist is practical, but gives me a constant craving for Chinese pot sticker dumplings as I gallop my 125 horsepower squirrel through gridlock. Understandably, the clear plastic tub offers you a failsafe, lightweight measurement system for a very critical operational element, but it looks like a dipping sauce in contrasts with the Giger-esque lines that define the rest of the bike.
Subsequently I have had to focus any critique of this bike on a minor aesthetic shortcoming, as it is hard to fault the performance of the Ninja. The bike is fast, stable and comfortable with plenty of power all through the gears but with a serenity that makes you want to take your time getting somewhere.
Substance categorically trumps styling in this instance.