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First Times Ride: Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS

I had my first green-machine experience on the track, at Keith Code’s California Superbike School in Willow Springs. In the years since, I’ve ridden Ninja's new 636 and the 300 models -- and loved them.

So I was delighted to hear Kawasaki had added a sport-touring version of the Ninja to its lineup, and excited about taking a ride.

I found the resulting Ninja 1000 ABS a happy marriage of power and comfort, featuring superbike performance and speed with some sport-touring bike ergonomics.

But the bottom line? This is still a track bike, but with baggage compartments and some other touring adornments.

The Ninja 1000 ABS offers two riding modes -- F for "full power" and L for "low." But even in L, which is said to cut the total engine power by about 30%, the acceleration on this Ninja is really aggressive.

The ride is so high-strung and excitable -- almost too much so. The throttle is sensitive and the power is full on or full off. Twist on a bit and you're flying. Slack off a bit and you're engine-braking hard. There's no coasting.

In other words, though it's outfitted with ABS and a three-mode KTRC traction control system, what it really requires is TTC -- total throttle control.

Many design elements of the Ninja 1000 are a nod in the direction of the sport-touring market. The bike has an adjustable windscreen, raised bars for a more upright seating position, and some very good slide-on, slide-off side bags that hold a lot of gear but are tucked in tight in a way that makes lane-splitting easy. (These are an after-market product, and add about $1,200 to the price of the bike.)

But the seat may be too hard for long-distance touring, the windscreen doesn’t shield much wind, and even with a six-speed transmission the unequaled 1000 cc inline four-cylinder engine still feels like a race bike.

For really serious touring, Kawasaki does offer the well-regarded Concours 1400 and Vulcan Voyager, Nomad and Vaquero models.

But this one's a racer, and priced to move off the showroom floor as fast as it moves down the highway -- at a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $11,999.

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