Best of both worlds: 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX
Adam 'Chad' Child is a multiple UK record holder, international road racer and has been professionally bike testing for 20 years.
Kawasaki’s first Z1000SX was launched in 2010 and we were instantly impressed with the firm’s new sports tourer. Kawasaki had cleverly listened to the, let’s face it, ageing bike market and gave it precisely what was required: a comfortable tourer that was also capable of being sporty and fun.
Since that initial brainwave, the SX has gone on to become Kawasaki’s best-selling bike in the UK, year after year, as well as a sales success across Europe. The bike has evolved over the years, but the same basic recipe has remained: a comfortable, desirable high-end sports-tourer.
For 2020, Kawasaki has significantly improved the SX and rebranded it the Ninja 1000SX, which puts it in the same family as the corporate flagship, the supercharged Ninja H2 SX. The upgrades include a new TFT 4.3inch full-colour dash with Bluetooth connectivity and new styling, which includes a new single-exiting exhaust. Other significant changes include revised suspension, the addition of an up-and-down quick-shifter, cruise control, four electronic rider modes, and a larger and comfier seat for both rider and pillion. On spec alone this is a significant upgrade for the now Euro 5-compliant SX, which was last updated back in 2017.
So what’s really changed?
The new clocks add a spoonful of quality to a bike that has already surpassed the Japanese competition in kerb appeal. Yes, £10,999 for the base model (without panniers) is a large sum of money, but for a high quality and powerful sports-tourer it’s also competitively priced and considerably cheaper than BMW’s R1250RS, arguably the Kawasaki’s closest competition.
The new clocks, which have two displays (sports and touring) are clear and offer four riding modes: Sport, Road, Rain plus a personalised Rider mode that allows you to change the engine’s power characteristics and reduce or remove the traction control, and do so on the move. There’s also an easy-to-use cruise control, which, like all the controls, became second nature after 270km in the SX’s (super-comfy) saddle.
Yes, you read that right: 270km on day one followed by a full-on second day of riding. Kawasaki wanted the UK press to feel the full benefit of its updated version of best-selling SX.
A new, 835mm thick, seat is far comfier than before and after two days of riding there were no aches or gripes. The new four-way, manually adjustable screen is a little on the short side, even when fully erect, but there is a larger screen available in Kawasaki’s accessories catalogue. On the motorway, with the cruise-control set to 135kph, revs hovering at 6000rpm and a noticeable but never overwhelming buffeting on my upper body, I couldn’t have been more content. The informative clocks were feeding me mpg data as well as an estimated tank range: two fast hours in the saddle, no problem. On test we averaged 45-50mpg, which with a 19-litre fuel tank gives a theoretical tank range of 166-185miles.
Why we love it
The SX is desirable, good-looking, comfortable, and dripping with rider aids like cornering ABS and a lean-sensitive traction control. But for me it’s the SX’s sporting edge that lifts it above the competition.
The SX has always been on the sporty side of sports-touring, and I believe that balance has for 2020 swung even more towards sports. Despite its size and weight, the SX handles well enough for knee-down levels of lean, but safely. The new Bridgestone S22 tyres give excellent feedback and grip in all conditions. In fact, that new dash has a lean angle indicator that I managed to push to 52 degrees, and even at those extreme peg-scraping levels of lean the SX felt secure and planted.
The sports-tourer’s turn-in and front-end feel are excellent, while the drive from the torquey and smooth in-line four-cylinder is effortless. Give her a big handful, though, and she’ll quickly remind you that there are 140 horses waiting to be unleashed. The SX has the handling and power of a pure sportsbike from just 10 or so years ago, yet is supremely comfortable, with panniers plus a plethora of safety aids to keep everything inline.
At times I was conflicted. How do you ride a sports-tourer as sporty as this? Should I take it easy and enjoy the views around Corndora or go for knee-down, peg-scraping glory? Truth is, the new SX is genuinely happy in both scenarios and, while the old bike needed a tweak on the suspension to make it steer like a ZX, that isn’t the case anymore. The new SX handles from the crate.
It’s never perfect
The additional quick-shifter is relatively slick on up changes, especially at high rpm, but the same can’t be said on clutchless down changes, especially below 5,000rpm. It’s not as slick as I was expecting and a little disappointing as the similar system on Kawasaki’s ZX-10RR is effortless and smooth. Also, with the integrated panniers fitted, the distance between the rider’s and pillion’s feet is restricted, especially if you ride on your toes. I’ve ridden the old model extensively in the past with my wife as a pillion, and never had a problem, but it’s worth mentioning. If you ride extensively two-up, try before you buy.
I’ve no doubt the new Kawasaki Ninja Z1000SX will carry on the sales success of its predecessor. After all, the new model is even sportier yet even easier to ride over a huge mileage and has an even higher level of spec and appeal. 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.