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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Making Sense of a Big Bike

Being in India we need to look at certain things from the Indian perspective. Or shall I say we tend to look at things that way. That’s why, riding a big motorcycle in India is always a very special feeling. Though it generally feels like that when riding a big motorcycle, but the attention that you get when riding one in India takes it notches higher. You feel like a celebrity and a king.

However, start talking about it to various people and you will find it hard to justify your choice, nearly impossible perhaps. And not just anyone, many of the “good” friends will simply find it weird, expensive and for that reason impractical to ride an “overpowered” and “too big” a motorcycle on Indian roads on regular basis. That the market price is higher than most mid-range cars combined with high maintenance costs (especially for just a motorcycle as many countrymen think) makes such things accessible only to the more privileged. Worst part, you might actually come across as just a showoff, even a menace on the road! All this is enough to put you off.

But there’s a positive side too, there are people who do understand your passion and love for such things exotic. The ones who understand you appreciate such unique choices of yours. And they are also among your friends and family. They (try to) understand that it’s more about making a difference in your life in your own unique way, it’s about learning, it’s about improving your riding skills, it’s about stepping into the unknown and it’s about living one of the many dreams of yours. And with more focused sportbikes, it’s also about the quest of being closer to your all time favorite MotoGP racing god, even if the dream is a bit too fanciful ;)

But today I am here to share my experience of riding the Kawasaki Ninja 1000 in a city. So do the above have any relevance in this article? I would say yes. Because it’s not just about how the bike rides in the city and traffic, it’s about sharing the whole experience of having one and to tell it from the perspective of a normal guy who felt more important than usual astride the wonderful green monster for the time he had it for. Everything above is part of that very experience.

We have already shared our impressions on long distance riding aboard the Ninja 1000 and how impressive it is as a sport-tourer. But is it equally impressive in city traffic? Could it be your single motorcycle? 

Yes, and it depends.

The Ninja 1000 isn’t a small motorcycle by any means. It has bulky looks thanks to the wide dimensions from the fuel tank to the front. The tail section is alright. Between the legs the motorcycle feels neither too wide nor too slim, it feels quite right. Overall, the looks are proportionate. However, at 32.3 inches, the seat height is slightly tall for me as I am not much tall at 5 feet 7 inches and couldn’t put my feet flat on the ground. Still, I never had a nervous moment managing the motorcycle. That says something about the balance and stability of the motorcycle.

With such dimensions, motorcycles often appear quite intimidating straight away to many people. And they are, given the power. Also, many people have no idea about the level of performance these motorcycles are capable of. So when you tell them that this motorcycle can do 250kmph their world shatters, surface beneath their feet disappears, their jaws drop and abandon their faces and they are just short of having a heart attack. But then, motorcycles like these aren’t for everyone. As much as the riding abilities of a person matter, what’s also important is the right head on your shoulders! Motorcycles like the Ninja 1000 with over 140 horse power can excite too much and there’s lots of adrenaline rush. 

It’s very easy to make a mistake and hence it’s important to be calm and patient when riding one. It’s not your average motorcycle where you can wring the throttle like anything and see what happens! It’s much more than that. Especially in a city, the immense power often remains underutilized and is much more than needed. But that doesn’t make it unfit to ride on city streets or to commute. The torque is available instantly as you start to roll so you don’t have to accelerate like a drag racer to feel the power. And that is fun.

But can a big and heavy motorcycle be fun in traffic? There’s a general notion that an ideal “fun” motorcycle to ride in traffic, first and foremost, is light with likably upright riding stance, quick acceleration and good torque spread in the entire rev range. And that’s quite true as well. Take the primary examples of KTM Duke 200 and 390, motorcycles that are extremely popular and successful among bikers. They are light, have a comfortable upright riding position, quick, fast and sound good as well while they are doing their thing. But there’s no rule set in stone about what a fun motorcycle should really be. Is there? Fun, like finding something beautiful, is quite subjective in many cases. Though talking about the Ninja 1000, enjoyment would be a more appropriate expression than fun.

You see, unlike a 600cc or a 1000cc sportbike, this Kawasaki isn’t made for peaky power delivery. The motorcycle produces its peak power of 142PS at 10,000rpm and is tuned better for bottom and midrange torque delivery (111NM at 7300rpm). Naturally we don’t need a very high revving engine for city riding, what we need is plenty of torque and this Ninja has it in abundance right off the idle. Also, an important piece of information here is that the Ninja 1000 is basically a full bodied version of the naked street fighter Z1000. Both produce exactly same power of 142PS but it comes at 1000rpm more in Z1000 (at 11000rpm) and both share the same chassis and suspension with Ninja 1000 carrying slightly more weight of 230kgs compared to 221kgs of Z1000. This means that the Ninja is almost as good in handling with the added advantage of wind protection at high speeds.

But riding the Ninja is more about experiencing the joy of riding. It’s about making sense of nonsensical things that many people think big motorcycles are. It’s about turning your commute into an excuse of taking your motorcycle out to ride as much as you can. It’s about lifting your spirit on each ride. It’s about realizing your dream, everyday!

Everything from the looks to the exhaust note adds to the riding experience. The sound coming out of the stock exhausts is very pleasing. In neutral, the sound has enough bass and loudness to tell you that it is a multi-cylinder inline configuration engine, it’s big and it’s something else. It’s more smooth than gruff but still giving it enough raw appeal. The motorcycle makes its weight felt while lifting from the side stand but much less when on the move though the heaviness is still felt. However, the handling makes all the difference. If I have to describe it in brief, I would say it’s easy. That’s right, the Ninja 1000 is easy to handle even with all that weight. U-turns are surprisingly easy and maneuvering through traffic is quite a breeze. Keep in mind that I am talking about a full faired, 230kgs motorcycle here so adjectives like “breeze” and “easy” should be taken in reference to such motorcycles only and not motorcycles like Duke.

Also, one important aspect we often forget is that your willingness to ride big motorcycles like the Ninja 1000 makes a hell lot of difference in your comfort level with respect to their behavior in traffic. Take my instance, I love many big and powerful motorcycles and I thoroughly enjoyed riding this Ninja in the city. It’s fun at a different level to manage such a motorcycle in regular traffic. And the bulk of the motorcycle is obvious so the heaviness and any handling limitation that might come with it in such situations are expected. Traffic jams are something else and those can be a nightmare even on a small two wheeler. But the overall ease at which it takes on the normal traffic conditions is a surprise and that is more than enough to warrant a smile. Of course the riding position plays an important part in enhancing the fun factor on this particular motorcycle. It’s almost upright for me so there’s not much pressure on my wrist. The clutch lever pull is not heavy so that also keeps the fatigue away from hands as well. On a different note, a motorcycle like the R15 is a featherweight so at least I never have any trouble riding it in traffic even with the more dedicated forward leaning stance but the Ninja 1000 is an elephant in comparison, so in this case a more upright riding stance really makes things easy.

The urban setting was Delhi which is where the Ninja 1000 was extensively ridden. The National Capital is one of the biggest states and probably has the best roads compared to any other state or city in India. But you have all the variety here. Traffic jams you have them, bad roads you have them as well as some extremely good roads (with less traffic). Also, one of the best expressways and the Buddh International Circuit are in the vicinity too. For a city, it’s a great place to ride a big and powerful motorcycle, be it a sport bike or a cruiser like a Harley Davidson.

The Ninja 1000 was ridden in peak office hours when the roads are jam packed with automobiles of all sizes. And to be truthful, the only irritating part was the lack of space to enjoy the motorcycle which is obvious in these situations on or in any vehicle. Otherwise, I was completely comfortable throughout this ordeal. Another important factor enhancing the riding comfort is the excellent heat management. The motorcycle reached the maximum temperature of 105 degrees and there was only a hint of warmth on my legs, nothing more. Maneuvering through tight traffic situations is naturally limited owing to exhausts at either sides and larger than average dimensions but again it’s nothing that will irritate you. And given enough space the Ninja 1000 splits through gaps very well and in the hands of a good rider can kick some serious butt in traffic. The exhaust note becomes even more pleasing as the revs climb up. Well that’s the very nature of an inline four isn’t it! Even with a pillion, things are hardly different. No doubt you can overtake everything else on the road if you so desire, unless you are in a similar company.

On bad roads with gravel, patches and other imperfections, the traction control and ABS systems help keep things under control. Suspension felt quite perfect as well for day to day riding in the city. Any shocks from normal potholes are not transferred to the rider and the man and machine remain stable. The pillion also remains comfortable and free from fatigue almost all the time.

Once out of the traffic chaos, I headed to Chanakyapuri which has some of the best roads in Delhi and good number of roundabouts. It has lots of Embassies of various countries so it’s one of the best maintained and cleaner places in Delhi. It is a place that reminds you that Delhi is the National Capital of India. Riding a good performance oriented motorcycle there is always very enjoyable as the roads are smooth and almost devoid of heavy traffic. And on city roads like these, you really don’t need to ride very fast to enjoy. There are enough turns and roundabouts that will fill your quota of corner carving. When it comes to city riding, Chanakyapuri is a place where motorcycles like the Ninja 1000 would never feel out of place.

And then the ride extended beyond the Delhi borders and into Noida and Gurgaon. These two NCRs (National Capital Region) are at the opposite ends so travelling from either of these two places to the other is like covering the length of Delhi. The connectivity to Noida is very fast due to the DND flyway and it’s a great place to flex some horse power muscle. The windshield comes in handy when doing high speeds although I felt that it should be wider. For night riding, I felt that the headlights were a bit inadequate.

The Ninja 1000, while a capable sport tourer, proved to be an equally good day to day motorcycle as well. I can tell you with confidence that this motorcycle is great for day to day riding at least in a place like Delhi. The notion that big motorcycles are inappropriate for commuting or everyday riding turns into a farce when you are riding something like this. For comparison’s sake, the Street Triple from Triumph or Kawasaki’s own Z800 and Z1000 would be even better motorcycles for this purpose. But the sporty platform that the Ninja 1000 is based on makes it quite worthy as well. And not to forget that it becomes a more capable and appropriate motorcycle when you want to tour with luggage and/or a pillion.

So yes, the Ninja 1000 can be your single motorcycle for multiple purposes (it’s not meant for off-roading though). You can even take it to the track occasionally purely on the basis of its handling characteristics and have a really good time. It’s comfortable, it’s stunning to look at, makes you smile like anything on each ride, handles great, can take a pillion and luggage with aplomb and generates a great soundtrack from its exhausts. Sounds like a great motorcycle and the one to have. Moreover, the riding aides make it one of the safest motorcycles to ride even with all that power at hand. The power is easy to control and it’s one of the easiest 1000cc motorcycles to ride fast, very fast. 

Ride it in the city and take the highway, it’s worth every penny – the Ninja 1000 from Kawasaki.

Acknowledgments: We are thankful to India Kawasaki Motors Pvt. Ltd. for partnering with Throttle Quest and providing us this opportunity to put this motorcycle to it's true perspective.

Imp Note: We at Throttle Quest have carried out these tests in actual regular street conditions by professionals who are trained to conduct such tests. We at TQ do not support irregular, high speed, high risk and unsafe riding by anybody

Text By - Sachin Sen
Images By - Sajal Chakraborty
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Item Reviewed: Making Sense of a Big Bike Description: Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Sajal
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