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2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX – Review Round-Up

Kawasaki’s much-loved sport tourer gets another update and continues to win reviewers’ hearts

I’m not sure what it is that draws me to Kawasaki’s stalwart sport tourer, the Ninja 1000SX. It’s not my usual sort of thing: I don’t tend to go stupid for inline fours and I’m not the world’s biggest fan of sporty ergonomics. Nonetheless, it’s a bike that sits high on my “want” list and remains ever-present on my “bikes I would actually consider buying” list.

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Perhaps I’m won over by the overall package: way more power than I need, a reasonable amount of technowhizzbangery, comfortable*, practical and reliable. And even when equipped with optional luggage it is surprisingly well priced.

2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX
The 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX builds upon the success of the Z1000SX

The Ninja 1000SX was unveiled at EICMA last November but it is hardly a new motorcycle. Really, it is just an updated Z1000SX with a new name. The Z1000SX has held the hearts and minds of British riders for a decade now, consistently ranking as the UK’s best-selling sport tourer. In broader Europe it has held the No.1 slot for the past three years. You might remember that I debated buying one a few years ago.

Admittedly, it’s in a small pond; there aren’t a lot of traditional sport tourers left on the market and none could really be seen as a direct competitor. The Honda VFR800F and Ducati SuperSport have the spirit and stance but not the tech or power; the BMW R 1250 RS has (some of) the power and more tech but neither the nimbleness nor affordability. The Suzuki GSX-S1000F stands closes to the Ninja 1000SX on paper and manages to (just barely) beat the Kawasaki in terms of both power and price. But it can’t hold luggage, doesn’t have cruise control, and somehow just doesn’t seem as cool. Really, the Ninja 1000SX is in a class of one.

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The new Ninja 1000SX marks the fourth update for this platform since its introduction in 2010. Largely it remains unchanged from the third-generation Z1000SX that existed from 2017-2019. Along with a name change to clarify it as a faired motorcycle (Kawasaki’s Z bikes are nakeds), the Ninja 1000SX was given a TFT dash, standard cruise control, and minor tweaks to weight, stance, electronics and styling. Largely Kawasaki have taken a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it approach,” while keeping the bike relevant.

“The Ninja 1000SX carries over the Z’s magic mix of sporty style, plentiful power and undemanding versatility, then fixes a few of its shortcomings.”

Martin Ftz-Gibbons

I’ve not personally ridden the 2020 Ninja 1000SX (nor any of its predecessors) but my fascination with the bike has led to my poring over every review I can find. So, your bike testers for this review round-up are: Steve Rose of BikeSocial, Martin Fitz-Gibbons of MCN, Simon Hancocks of Visordown and Adam Child of Drivetribe. One thing to note from this collection of journos is that they are all British, which means they are typically track- and sportbike-focused. If you’re not of that mind their opinions may need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying these guys don’t do their jobs well, but I think that for some of them their skill level and background is such that it’s difficult to fully get into the mind of a typical motorcyclist. Adam Child is a good example. Genuinely one of the friendliest and most likeable people I have ever met, he is also an exceptionally good rider. One of my favorite stories to tell is of the time I was on a press ride with him and having a meltdown because the pace of the ride was so far beyond my skill/comfort level. While I was crying and mentally saying goodbye to my family Adam zipped past me in a corner – on the inside – and turned to offer a cheerful thumbs up. A guy like that can tell you a hell of a lot of things about motorcycles and motorcycling but he may not be able to comprehend the trifling concerns of the common rider.

2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX
Brits tend to be bigger fans of sporty bikes than their American counterparts. This sporty platform has been the best-selling sport tourer in Britain for a decade

SOME NUMBERS

Starting price: £10,999
Monthly payment**: £227.11
Engine: 1043cc liquid-cooled 16-valve DOHC inline four
Power: 140 hp at 10,000 rpm
Torque: 111 Nm at 8,000 rpm
Seat height: 835 mm
Fuel capacity: 19 liters
Weight: 235 kg

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Your opinion may differ, but I’m a fan of the Ninja 1000SX’s looks. Which is strange, because I don’t typically like insect-like Japanese sportbike styling. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. For their part, none of the reviewers expressed an opinion either way on the bike’s aesthetics. That’s probably because it doesn’t look all that different from the outgoing Z1000SX. There are differences, but you’d need a public relations representative at hand to identify them.

I got a chance to sit on the Ninja 1000SX at Motorcycle Live last year and found it to be surprisingly comfortable. Having also sat on a 2018 Z1000SX I know the bike has a certain amount of heft but its weight is relatively well balanced and manageable. Standard seat height is 835 mm (32.8 inches) but an accessory seat is available to bring that down to 820 mm (32.3 inches). Is there a rider out there for whom half an inch makes all the difference? Maybe.

“On the motorway, with the cruise-control set to 135 kph [84 mph], revs hovering at 6000rpm and a noticeable but never overwhelming buffeting on my upper body, I couldn’t have been more content.”

Adam Child

Throw a leg over and the ergonomics are pretty comfortable. Actually, surprisingly comfortable considering we’re talking about a sport tourer. Upright ‘bars allow a rider to sit up straight when he or she is so inclined, but there’s equally room to drop into a crouch. Not all riders gave their heights but it appears the bike is at least comfortable for riders ranging from 5 feet 7 inches tall to 6 feet tall. (At 6 feet 1 inch tall I found it comfortable at a standstill, for whatever that’s worth.) Though most reviewers pointed out that the bike’s four-setting adjustable screen is a little short. A larger screen is available as an accessory, however. Or it comes standard with the £11,999 Tourer version that also includes panniers and heated grips.

The bike has an excellent fit and finish, with paint deeper than you might expect from a Japanese manufacturer. Though, Kawasaki’s insistence upon using teency sidestands persists. As someone who frequently spins bikes on their stands to move them around in tight places this has always been an area of concern for me. But, in fairness, I’ve never had one break. The stand on the GTR1400 flexed, but it did not break.

2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX
The styling of the 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX isn’t what I’m usually into but I love the look of this thing

ENGINE, PERFORMANCE AND HANDLING

I think I’m pretty well established as a lover of two-cylinder engines – especially those of the V-twin or boxer variety. So it’s clear that Steve and I might interpret the Ninja 1000SX differently when he says: “Riding a modern inline four-cylinder engine after a few too many ‘characterful’ twins is an absolute delight. So smooth, so creamy, such easy power delivery.”

But hey, I’m down with smooth. The smoothness of the Ninja’s 1043cc four is something that all the reviewers commented on, which suggests that the slight buzziness reported on Z1000SX models has been worked out. The engine is the same as the one found in the Versys 1000 – another bike I’m strangely attracted to – though it produces 20 hp more in this application. Not too long ago, I spent an afternoon bending the ear of Adventure Bike Rider Assistant Editor James Oxley, talking about his experiences with the Versys 1000 and he had nothing but praise. If the Ninja 1000SX engine has similar character, then I’m sold.

“The latest fuel injection and ignition technology means that every single one of those horses is delivered as effectively as possible whether you are bumbling along through town or chasing a pack of hungry journalists down a twisty Spanish road with free lunch at the end of it.”

Steve Rose

None of the testers mentioned any issues with the Ninja’s gearbox, so perhaps it’s just me who thinks Kawasaki transmissions are clunky, or they’ve gotten better. Meanwhile, most of the reviewers had praise for the standard slipper clutch and up-and-down quickshifter. Though Adam said it was a disappointment when downshifting.

The Ninja 1000SX claims an impressive 111 Nm of torque (more than a Harley-Davidson Sportster) and reportedly quite a bit of that punch can be found down low. A number of reviewers suggested that in many cases a rider could just drop the bike into third and leave it be, such is the engine’s pull and flexibility.

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The Ninja’s frame and suspension are effectively the same as that of the 2019 Z100SX, though most reviewers felt this bike was more supple and better on bumps. One minor complaint that people had of the old Z1000SX was slightly heavy steering. This appears to have been fixed with the Ninja 1000SX but no one’s exactly sure why. It may be the Ninja’s slightly sharper steering angle or it may be that its tires are better, the bike coming equipped with Bridgestone S22 tires.

All the reviewers offered high praise for the bike’s handling. The bike’s IMU-assisted braking system also earned praise, though Simon lamented that the ABS can’t be turned off. Which is a complaint I don’t understand. 

2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX
The 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX promises a relatively flat torque curve that starts lower in the rev range

BELLS AND WHISTLES

The Ninja offers two power modes and four rider modes. The power modes, logically named High and Low offer full power or a reduced output of 105 hp, accordingly. You can further control the experience with the rider modes of Sport, Road, Rain and Rider, the latter being a personalized option. Each of the set rider modes offers different levels of traction control; Sport and Road have the same throttle response, whereas Rain dulls things for more confidence on slippery roads.

The presence of an IMU means you get features like lean-sensitive traction control and anti-lock braking. Both of these features won praise from the reviewers, if not simply for their lack of intrusiveness. The IMU also means you get the pointless-but-fun feature of being able to keep track of your lean angle. One of the features to be found on the bike’s 4.3-inch TFT dash display is a measurement of your maximum lean angle. BMW’s F 900 R and F 900 XR offer a similar feature and I found it to be a hoot to compare lean angles with my fellow riders. The potential for disaster is obvious here, but, hey, maybe it won’t be you that ends up low-siding off a cliff.

“The Ninja 1000 SX gains a new TFT dash for 2020… [I am] a big fan of this bit of kit. The dash is simply laid out and a doddle to read regardless of lighting conditions.”

Simon Hancocks

The TFT screen offers two types of display: Sport and Touring. I assume Sport is the display that gives you lean angle. Touring probably offers fuel economy info (I’m just guessing on that; none of the reviewers gave specifics about the two different screen types).

As is apparently written into law somewhere, the Ninja 1000SX offers connectivity. Because God forbid we should spend any amount of time without access to TikTok. The TFT display connects to your phone via Bluetooth and keeps track of various riding aspects via Kawasaki’s Rideology app. Amongst other things, the app can track route, speed, average speed, fuel level and lean angle.

Most importantly, however, CRUISE CONTROL COMES STANDARD ON THE NINJA 1000SX. This is the way things should be. Heated grips should also come standard, but, you know, baby steps. Additionally, Kawasaki has placed the switches for cruise control on the left grip, where they belong.

The Ninja 1000SX’s TFT screen is easy to read

VERDICTS

If the opinions of our four reviewers are to be believed, the Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX is a winner and set to continue as Britain and Europe’s No.1 sport-touring motorcycle.

Adam Child: “Imagine, if you will, a truly practical and comfortable sportsbike, and, hey presto, you have the SX, a bike so good you feel compelled to ask why you would you want anything else.”

Martin Fitz-Gibbons: “From mini-roundabouts in town to tight mountain roads to wide open countryside sweepers, the new 1000SX steers as easily and accurately as anything. So that’s sharper steering, more modern sophistication and a touch more comfort – without compromising the fundamental sport-touring recipe that made the Z1000SX so popular. Beware trying to compare ultimate gadget bragging rights with your BMW-owning neighbour, however. The Ninja 1000SX doesn’t yet offer electronic suspension adjustment, cornering lights, keyless ignition, hill-hold control or official plug-in microwave.”

Simon Hancocks: “The phrase ‘do-it-all motorcycle’ is one that manufacturers have been banding around for years and it’s very rarely true… For me, the Ninja 1000SX would be almost all the motorcycle I’d ever need, with comfort for my commute, space for the odd two-up tour and more than enough poke to go and have a play on track a few times a year. The fact that the new bike has even more tech, comfort and aftermarket options than before makes it an even more appealing machine.”

Steve Rose: “This is clearly a very good bike. It has plenty of power, impeccable fueling and ease-of use and a chassis that copes as well with demanding switchbacks as it does with fast sweepers and finally steers like we knew it could, while being very comfortable too.”

2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX
Designed to cover big miles fast

Though, no bike is perfect and the reviewers did identify a few flaws. First and foremost there’s the fact that a center stand is not available or possible on the Ninja 1000SX. This makes sense for a sportbike (the stand would drag in hard leans) but kind of makes maintenance on the road difficult.

If you are planning to use the Ninja for long hauls it’s probably worth noting that in terms of luggage Kawasaki officially says you can have either panniers or a top box, but not both. Having all three items might negatively affect stability at high speeds. This doesn’t bother me. No doubt some riders will just ignore Kawasaki’s advice; personally, I’d just opt for panniers, with a Kriega bag strapped to the passenger seat.

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The passenger seat isn’t really that big, so I wouldn’t be using it to carry a pillion except on very short trips. At 5 feet 8 inches tall, my wife is normal-person sized. If your significant other happens to be more on the scale of, say, Janette Manrara (4 feet 9 inches tall), you might actually be using the passenger seat for two-up touring. If that’s the case, be aware that the panniers crowd the foot space for a passenger, pushing his or her feet toward those of the rider.

For me, though, perhaps the most annoying thing about the Ninja 1000SX is that a USB port is not standard. You have to pay extra for that – either as a standalone item or as part of the touring package. But if the worst thing I can say about a bike is that it doesn’t come standard with a £10 part (NOTE: Do not be a fool and pay £84 for the official Kawasaki part – just buy something off Amazon) that’s a sign of a pretty good motorcycle.

2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX
Not a bike I’d choose if I were planning to ride with my wife to Kazakhstan

As someone who is particularly sensitive to the high-frequency buzzing of inline-four engines, and who isn’t as sport-focused as the majority of British moto-journalists, I remain just a teency bit skeptical but by and large I’m convinced that the Ninja 1000SX is a hell of a machine.

I’d personally want the Tourer version. At £12,147 with registration, etc., it ain’t exactly cheap but I think it’s fair to say the bike is very reasonably priced considering everything you get. That’s less than a base model BMW R 1250 RS – the bike to which reviewers felt the Ninja most closely compared. Ten years of Z1000SX models means there’s plenty of evidence to show the Ninja 1000SX will be reliable and hold up well, even in the British climate. Meanwhile, the bike’s service intervals have been extended to every 7,500 miles, with valve clearances coming every 26,000 miles.

Yup. It’s definitely staying on the “bikes I would actually consider buying” list.

2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX
Is it just me, or do the panniers make it look cooler?

* At a standstill, at least. Obviously I’ve not yet ridden the Ninja 1000 SX, but I did sit on one at Motorcycle Live last year. I have also sat on a 2018 Z1000SX, which is effectively the same machine.

** Based on £1,500 deposit – 48-month hire-purchase agreement at Kawasaki’s advertised rate of 6.3 percent