Chris Cleaveland
Plainfield, CT

Age: 44
Experience: 20+ years
Height: 5'9"
June 17, 2011

500-2100 miles: Wet weather riding

About 20 years ago I earned the nickname of "Rain God." If I'd been born during the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s I probably could have single-handedly helped stave-off a national economic depression. Unfortunately, my uncanny ability to summon up rain any time I venture outside only serves to depress me and my riding buddies. Undeterred, I've learned to plow on through all conditions on a motorcycle: rain, snow, ice, wind, hail, whatever. When you live in New England, you either learn to adapt to the weather or you grow fat on the couch.

So it was with the Ninja and the last 1600 miles. At least half those miles were spent gingerly blasting through varying degrees of rain. How does the Ninja 1000 perform in the rain you might wonder?

On the positive side the Ninja has a full fairing which offers some degree of leg protection from the elements. It's not the largest of fairings though, so don't expect your legs to stay completely shielded. After all, it's no Kawasaki Concourse. The N1K's fairing is more of a high-speed air-slicing device than a slow-speed rain shield. As you increase speed the air envelope around you increases, thus keeping the elements away. Unfortunately, rain is not conducive to speed, so rain protection is minimal at speeds under 65 mph. Still, it's better than no shielding at all.

Likewise the Ninja also has an easily adjustable windscreen which when set to the tallest setting helps keep some of the rain off your chest. I've no issues with taking rain on the chest, but unfortunately water tends to flow south and that's when things become less than comfortable. Instead of setting the screen high, tucking down and trying to peer through the water covered screen, I decided to keep the screen set to the middle position, tuck down and peer over the top of the screen so the airblast helps blow the helmet shield clean. Either setting is workable.

Now some annoyances. The stock 190/50 rear tire is too wide for heavy rain given the relative weight of the bike. It hydroplaned at much lower speeds than my riding partner's bike did with a 180 on the back even though his bike is a good 50 pounds lighter. Both tires had roughly 500 miles on them, but were different brands. The 170 was a Dunlop Q2, which will be the Ninja's next tire. I had no issues with front tire stability or grip.

Sometimes I wonder if engineers actually ride bikes in the rain. If they do, they missed a strange venturi effect which sucks water up below the fork clamps and spits it out at the rider just below the tachometer in a gravity-defying manner. Not that this spittle of water is much compared to the dousing being delivered elsewhere, but it makes me wonder how much of the electronics and wiring are being covered with road spray. It seems the good work being done by the windscreen to shield instrumentation is wasted due to this small aerodynamic oversight.

Now back to the positives. The Ninja's ignition system seems impervious to rain. Even after a thorough night's soaking in 35 degree temperatures the bike started as if fully warmed on a dry SoCal afternoon. While riding, the strongest deluge didn't produce even the slightest hiccup when the bike was brought to idle.

I mentioned earlier the effect gravity plays in moving water down the chest towards one's temperature-sensitive parts. Taking that a step further, when water reaches the seat the best you can hope for is proper drainage. I've got a Corbin seat on the Suzuki Bandit and while I love it for long-haul work, it's dished shape tends to act like a wash basin. The finest rain gear in all the king's land can't withstand sitting in puddle for 12 hours, but that's not a worry with the Ninja's stock seat. It drains without issue, thankfully.

So, on that note, I'll wrap up my wet weather analysis. Check back again for more Ninja 1000 experiences in a few days.

'Till then, keep the rubber down.

June 14, 2011

500-2100 miles: New no more

As expected the Ninja 1K performed brilliantly on the 1700-mile-long, 4-day nastiness now known as the 2011 New England Motomarathon. It's not the Ninja's fault we didn't make it to all the checkpoints on Day 4 of the event, it was my brother's CBR600 that let us down. Sure I could have left him to fend for himself with a dead voltage regulator hundreds of miles from home, but he's my brother and Mom wouldn't have been happy. So, we opted to limped home swapping a spare battery into the Honda every 60 miles with the hopes it wouldn't explode as the acid boiled out of it from being overcharged! If it wasn't the voltage regulator, it might have been the faulty radiator fan that would have got us farther down the road.

Not so with the new Ninja, which only had 500 miles on it at the outset. Despite temperatures that ranged from 95 degrees to 38 degrees and weather that varied from sun to driving, blinding rain, the Kawasaki was flawless. The motor never hiccupped. The electronics never flickered and much to my surprise, I never even had to adjust the chain tension! It felt like I was aboard a black, Japanese juggernaut that just happened to move like, well, a Ninja. The only problem is, it no longer looks as new as it feels. She sits in my garage now covered in road sand, water spots, pine needles, chain lube and the carcasses of a thousand dead insects. If there was ever a harder first 2000 miles put on a Ninja, you better go read what they have to say.

So is the bike the perfect touring machine? I guess that depends at what speed you like to tour. For what I was doing, which was moving at illegal speeds for extended periods of time, it was perfect. Even with fully loaded saddle bags the big liter bike had no issues with stability or aerodynamics even at 140 mph indicated. Down around the 90 mph mark where I spent much time, the wind envelope was ideal with little or no buffeting to shoulders or helmet. I'm 5'9" and found the windscreen set to its middle position to be best. Up high, the screen bounces around a bit and can be a little distracting. Set to low, the screen offered too little protection given the bike's partially upright seating position. Clearly the team which designed the fairing/windscreen on this bike set their goal at making this bike a high-speed tourer.

How about some other things like long-haul ergonomics, gearing, suspension and general usability? You'll have to check back later to get my take on all of these things and more. I've got a bike to clean!

'Til then

June 6, 2011

27-500 miles: Seat, controls, bars, oil, luggage and more

It's been a busy week of Ninja testing and with just two days before the start of a 1700 mile Motomarathon ride it's time to kick this blog into high gear. Last time I checked in I had a giddy 27 miles on the bike. Five days later and I've hit the 500 mile mark, which gives me a little more insight into bike setup, servicing and comfort. Let's start off with the obvious things that needed tweaking from the get go.

I'm picky about my lever position, and being an off-road rider I've learned to stand on the pegs while riding which means you need to rotate your levers down a lot to accomodate your now-higher elbow position. Now granted, on a street bike you don't need to stand the whole time, but if you're an aggressive rider it's still wise to get your backside up off the seat so your legs become part of the suspension and not part of the problem. So I found the stock lever position of the Ninja to be a bit too level to the plane of the bike. Unfortunately, you can't rotate them down too much because bits of the clutch and brake assemblies come into contact with, well, other bits. Now I could probably remove a couple of the safety bits that interfere, such as a piece of spring steel meant to keep the clutch cable adjuster from backing off, but I hate fixing one problem by enabling another.

The Ninja uses clip-ons, which like all clip-ons have little or no adjustability. It's a love it or leave it situation. For the first 100 miles on the bike it seemed the bar position was angled a little bit too far in toward the rider, causing a pressure spot on the outside of my hand. I wanted to rotate the clip-ons out a degree or two to distribute the bar pressure evenly across my palms, but this is not possible without removing what appears to be a safety bolt which I can only assume is there for a reason. Rather than remove it, I decided to run with the stock setup to see whether I'd adjust to it. It's no longer glaringly annoying, so I'll run with it a bit longer before removing the safety bolt and trusting that the two pinch bolts per clip on will suffice to keep bar attached to fork. Now I know clip-ons look trick, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say a standard 7/8ths bar like that still found on the current Suzuki Bandit, the Ninja's closest competitor, is more adaptable, especially since it can be rotated forward/backward within the clamp.

Shifting at a stop:
Moving up and down through the gear range is smooth as long as you're on the move, but don't get lazy and come to a complete stop with the bike still in 4th gear. Clicking down to first again requires a slight release of the clutch for each gear as it notches its way down the stack. I'm hoping this gets easier as it wears in, but in the meantime it's necessary to click down through the range while rolling to a stop at the light. I got caught a few times frantically trying to slip it into first when the light changed.

Apparently my moonside is only rated for 5 hours of Ninja seat time. I've got a 33 waistline so I'm not hanging a lot of cheek off either edge either. That being said, 5 hours is more than adequate for most rides, but for those with a bigger posterior who like to ride long distances, I'd be thinking about a custom seat replacement when they become available. The stock Ninja seat in no way compares to the comfort of a Corbin saddle for instance. I'll have more to say about this next week after logging 12 hours of seat time a day for 4 days.

It was a little tricky to properly mount my Nelson Rigg saddle bags. I'd read that the passenger peg brackets had worn holes through someone else's saddlebags on an N1K and sure enough, pointy bracket tip came into direct contact with bottom of bags when I fitted mine. It took some experimenting to prevent this from happening while loaded. To their credit, Kawasaki designers cast a hook into the rear peg brackets which is ideal for attaching luggage straps.

Oil Change:
Sure, Kawasaki said they'd pay the bill to have the dealership change my oil following the 600 mile break-in period. My only problem with that is how would I be able to write about it if someone else does it? Besides, why circulate metalic particles through your engine for 60 miles, let alone 600! Ideally, you do it at 100 miles and again at 600. Since I'm about to log close to 2000 miles next week and I've only had the bike 5 days, I split the difference and changed the oil at 400 miles. (Yeah, I know, 400 is not half-way between 100 and 500, but you know what I mean.). The oil change out was straightforward with easy access to the oil pan drain bolt. The oil fill was easy to get a funnel on, and while I did not change the filter that also looks to be to access without necessitating any plastic removal.

Air Filter:
Didn't change it. Didn't inspect it. I'm a little concerned that the owner's manual recommends bringing the bike to a service center for air filter replacement. I had the rider seat off to attach a 12v power outlet to the battery and didn't see any airfilter access there, so I'm guessing it's a tank-off scenario. Not the end of the world, but tough for inspection purposes.

Holy servos:
While I had the rider seat off I noticed an electric, cable-actuated valve I suspect is controling intake airflow. Pretty cool. Then I saw another one on the right-side exhaust can below the footpeg. I suspect this is controlling exhaust back pressure to some degree, so obviously the ECU has things covered coming and going. That being said, don't expect simple exhaust system mods on this bike.

Seat Removal and storage:
Passenger seat removal is straightforward but I question putting the key mechanism under the rear fender where it will get blasted with water, sand and other road nastiness. The rider seat is held in place with two allen-head bolts, so quick storage is limited to what's beneath the passenger, and that's not much. There's room for a tookkit (included) and maybe a wallet and sunglasses. As an aside, it's clear the weight-reducing engineers decided to shave a little weight from each bolt since these are officially the shallowest allen heads I've ever seen. These are also used to secure the fairing. A fraction of an ounce here, a fraction all ads up.


June 1, 2011

I just pulled into the driveway of my Connecticut country home after taking possession of my brand new – correction, Kawasaki's brand new Ninja 1000. I have to stop myself short of calling it "mine" because it's not mine. Kawasaki still holds the title on this bad boy, but any question I may have had about eventually owning this 1000cc cross between a sport bike and sport-tourer got left behind about 27 miles ago when I pulled out of my local Kawi dealership. A mere forty-five minutes after punching that start button for the first time I find myself wondering which of my worldly possessions I will sell in order to keep this bike in my garage long past the 90 days Cycle World and Big Green have given me. My wife - who for the next three months I will dote over as if she were a princess about to give birth - will no doubt take longer to convince.

So let's fast forward to that first ride impression before it fades on me. One thing I noticed right away is the Ninja is pretty light for a sport-tourer, if that's what you should call it. I'm not talking about flicking it into turns kind of light, I mean pushing the bike around the parking lot kind of ... light. Which is the first thing I had to do with the big girl so we could take some pics for you readers. This is my chance to give New England Cycle Works in Groton, CT a big shout out for getting the bike uncrated and prepped. Nice job guys, the wheels stayed on and nothing seized up, just like you promised. Good guys. Anyways, the bike felt noticeably lighter to push around than my 2000 GSF1200, aka the Suzuki Bandit 1200, a bike similar to the Ninja in many ways. Strangely, the Bandit weighs in at 469 lbs. dry, while the Ninja is listed at 502lbs., 33 pounds heavier! To be honest, I couldn't believe the numbers when I looked them up.

The only explanation for this light feel is something the engineers like to call mass centralization, which basically means you try to keep the stuff toward the outside of the bike light while keeping the heavy parts in the center of the bike or even better, centered and low. Clearly, engineers have learned how to do this a little bit better in the last decade because the Ninja doesn't feel heavy.

One thing I noted while muscling the bike around the lot was the rear grab handles are rubber mounted, which I'm assuming helps reduce vibration to a passenger's hands. That's good for the passenger, but moving the bike around the first time I had a moment of panic when I thought the grab handle was about to fall off. Now that would have been an interesting first-ride picture, but definitely not part of my master plan to keep the rubber side down on Day 1. Regardless, push test completed.

At 5'9" I'm a giant in Thailand, but just a smidge below average height in the United States, so I was a tad worried the 32" seat height of the big liter bike would have me tip-toeing around. I was thankful that's not the case as my 30" inseam seemed sufficient to keep me from having to curse my stubby legs on my way toward the ground.

I've read some reviews about the seat sloping toward the tank and it being uncomfortable on long hauls. I'm not prepared to refute the long haul comfort claims yet, but I had no issues with the slope of the seat and noticed no immediate pressure points. With a 1600 mile Motomarathon ( ride looming a week from now, I was a bit worried about seat comfort and ergonomics. Some of those worries were laid to rest though as the seat had me feeling centered and attached, even under heavy braking. Comfort seemed fine, but it's possible years of riding narrow-seated motocross bikes on rock-strewn New England trails has beaten the sensitivity out of my backside.

Unfortunately I have to agree with reviewers who noted the twin exhaust cans get in the way of your heels when riding on the balls of your feet. I had hoped my smallish 8.5 (US) shoe size would exempt me from this problem, but not so. I can say though that the position isn't bad, but anyone with size 12s might want to think about going with some aftermarket slip-ons.

Roll-on power is abundant and infinitely accurate through the throttle. In fact, the fuel injection works so well and the drive-line is so tight it highlights the fact that from the factory there's a little too much throttle cable play. I plan on adjusting this play out at the throttle, but read more about that later when I start detailing some of the hands-on adjustments you need to make to any new bike. Suffice it to say though, applying a steady roll-on of power throughout a turn will not be a problem with the Ninja. It pulls from 2500 to 6000 rpm flawlessly, and that's high praise when you're coming off a Suzuki Bandit, a bike known for it's big displacement, torquey inline four. But where the carburated Bandit can sometimes stumble in light throttle conditions the Ninja pulls cleanly.

Beyond 6000 rpm I can, for right now, only imagine. With 27 miles on the clock I'm still in the engine break-in phase. Must....resist.....desire to twist. But one thing I now know is if the tac stopped at 6000 rpm instead of it's indicated red line of 11,000 there would still be plenty of power for a spirited street ride.

Well, there's Part 1 of my initial impression. Time to go ride some more and refresh the brain.

See you out there.

May 24, 2011

I may not have the Ninja 1000 in my garage yet, but I've got plans -- big plans. In two weeks I'll be riding in an event called Motomarathon (, a four-day event that involves riding the twistiest roads in the region - in this case New England - to the tune of 400 miles per day on average. Can you think of a better test run for the Ninja? I can't.

Motomarathon is a relatively new event and this will mark its second year in New England, but some of my fellow Cycle World guest editors may want to look into this year's Motomarathon in Colorado, the birthplace of the Motomarathon Association.

I've been waiting for this ride to roll around for almost a year now and knowing that it's always more fun to ride with a group of friends, I convinced the only two people I know with the gumption to bang twisties 12 hours a day to join me. I won't get into details on them just yet, but suffice it to say they aren't afraid to push fear out a little further each time we ride. So when I heard Kawasaki and Cycle World were going to "give" me a N1K to test in time for Motomarathon I'm pretty certain the clouds parted; sun shined down on me; and three dollar symbols came up on the slot machine all at the same time.

I mean, come-on, a brand-new bike that's being touted as the sportiest of sport-tourers to test out on a four-day sport-touring event? I haven't been this lucky since...well... I've never been this lucky.

Of course there's a rub. There always is. It's called the "unknown." Racers deal with it all the time. You make a change to your setup and the result is either good or bad. If it's good, you move on, if it's bad, go back or go the other way. It's like dialing in your bike's suspension - a little rebound here; a little compression there and suddenly for good, or for worse, you're on a different bike. It doesn't sound too tough but trust me, Obtaining the perfect setup for all conditions is comparable to playing marbles on the deck of a ship in a hurricane. So what's the rub you say?

Let's break down Motomarathon for a bit. As preparation to see what I was in for with this event I led a few 400+ mile rides through some of the twistiest roads I could find in New England. In good weather, with stops for fuel and food, you're looking at 12 footpeg-grinding, tire-peeling hours in the saddle. Now multiply that by the number of riders in your group, so in my case three. That's 36 hard bike hours a day. Now multiply that by four days, you come out with 144 hours. That's a lot of hard bike hours where you're praying you don't have a mechanical failure or some kind of ergonomic discomfort that's going to turn a fun ride into a titanic struggle.

Now to be honest, I wasn't too worried about all of this until now. I've had a year to dial in my trusty old Suzuki Bandit 1200s, the class predecessor you might say to the Ninja. It's a half-faired, do-a-lot bike that also leans toward the sportier side of sport-touring and despite giving up 12 years of technology advancements, with its inline-four 1200cc motor, it has similar attributes to the Ninja in terms of roll-on power delivery and low-end grunt. Suspension upgrades, a Corbin saddle, new Dunlop Q2's, GPS mount and a long list of other tweaks had it ready for the job at hand.

Is the Ninja up to the task bone stock out of the box? I'm not sure. All I know is there's two weeks from today to take delivery of the mighty Ninja, break it in, service the engine and get it outfitted for a 1600 mile beat down. There's a few questions to be answered in the meantime such as saddlebag fitting; 12v powersocket for gps and cell phone; gps mounting location on the Ninja's clip-on style bars and a host of other details. Add to that bike setup such as sag, compression, rebound, fork height (remember marbles, ship, deck, hurricane analogy) and there's some work to be done. And that's the rub.

So the question is do I, "run what I brung" as they say, or go with the Ninja? Well Cycle World isn't giving me a bike to park it, so I'm riding the Ninja and hopefully I'll be bringing a few readers along with me as I chronicle its prowess. Is it the right choice? You'll know in about three weeks, so keep reading.

'Till next time...

May 23, 2011

At the starting gate
I'm not good at waiting. I came to that conclusion two decades ago when I used to be a ski racer. There was something about sitting behind the starting gate and staring down at the course while everyone else had their run at it that made me nervous as hell. You know, that feeling in your stomach that makes you feel like you shouldn't have eaten lunch afterall. "It's all mental," my slalom coach used to say, "put it out of your head and just ski." Yeah, right.

Twenty years later, I still have a sense of dread when I line up at the starting gate at the local motocross track every Wednesday to compete in our weekly club race. Maybe I'm a pessimist - like that damned Murphy guy who created his law about things going wrong all the time, which with the possible exception of the speed limit, seems to regularly effect me far more than any other law I know. By nature, I just assume that something can and will go wrong, and if it hasn't already, the greater the odds are that you'll get stung right before the finish line.

So it is with my latest blessing known as the Ninja 1000 Experience. You see, a while back I entered a contest at Cycle World magazine to test ride a 2011 Ninja 1000. I was at Disney World with the family three weeks ago when I got the call from Cycle World that I was one of the 10 lucky winners to get to try one out for three months. Yes, THREE MONTHS! That's a whole summer of riding, which to me is about 6000 miles of road I now don't have to put on my current road bike, an ageing but still competent GSF 1200S, also known as the Suzuki Bandit 1200. Even though el Bandito was minted back in 2000, it's a bike cut from the same concept as the Ninja 1K. Or maybe it's the other way around. Regardless, it seemed like there could be no better fit than my buttocs on that bike.

So here I am, at the starting gate waiting for a call from Cycle World to let me know my local Kawasaki dealership has my Ninja ready. A couple of the lucky 10 already got their bikes, but no word yet. Could there be a problem? Maybe my local dealer dropped the ball? Was there an issue with the paperwork? Maybe they notified me but it got caught in a spam filter. It's Murphy vs. Ski Coach, round 997, and Murphy is winning...again.

Logically I tell myself the same thing Winston Churchill told his English countrymen during a particularly bad bit of trouble in World War II, that there's nothing to fear but fear itself. I'll amend that slightly to "...but fear itself and the guard rail," but that's fodder for another blog. Anyway, if you see Murphy, tell him I went the other way while I wait on the nervous side of the starting gate.

May 17, 2011

I'm a former journalist who knows there's a nirvana-like rhythm to be found in writing just as there is in riding. When you find it, your words have a flow and purpose as sharp and concise as a zx-6r through a set of sun-baked switchbacks. Every word tells; every movement counts, and failures are glaringly obvious. My passion is riding and I do as much of it as I can - on the street, the track, and the trail. When I'm not riding them, I'm repairing or modifying them. When I can't do either, I read about them. I can write from a position of knowledge and relate what I know to the reader. I'm a capable wordsmith with a toolbox full of motorcycle terminology and an obsession with engineering excellence. I'm a habitual researcher and self-made technology geek. My current profession is in Information Technology at a newspaper where I've worked to expand brand awareness through social networking mediums facebook and twitter, and I have experience and access to video shooting/editing software and equipment. Good Lord, if ever there was a perfect fit this is it. On top of it all, I'd already decided I had to try one of the new fully faired Ninja 1000s weeks ago! Put me in coach, I'm ready to play.

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