I am the "historical" sport-bike-rider in the family. I have several other Kawasaki motorcycles in the garage and I have always raved about how my Husband should make the transition to something more sporty and smaller than his Yamaha FJR. We shopped around for years, and tried other bikes (Suzuki SV650 and my other bikes), but to no avail. Finally, Kawasaki delivered the 2011 Ninja 1000. We were excited to be getting the bike for my Husband as his first true sport bike, with a fair amount of crossover in the comfort area, that would allow him to spend a great deal of time in the saddle without the discomfort of something like my ZX10R.
Bill was one of the first people to buy the 2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 in the Orlando, Florida area, we were very excited to get it home and try it out.
Bill drove the bike home from the dealer and he mentioned how stiff the suspension was. When he said so, I wasn't surprised, as Kawasaki was marketing the bike with bags and able to carry a passenger, so I assumed that the pre-load was probably set too high. We got the bike home that afternoon, polished it up and went about ending the day with other chores. I got my first chance to ride it the following day.
When I sat on the bike, I immediately did a bounce on the seat to check out the rear suspension. I had about an inch of travel and then "Thunk". I did it again and again. "Thunk". "Thunk". I was bottoming out the suspension on the default setting of the rear shock. Bill had driven the bike home, all the while, bottoming out the suspension.
Bill is 6' 4" and 290lbs. He's not a small man. I'm 5'10.5" and less weight - and I will leave it at that. Either one of us weighs less than a passenger and the hard bags that Kawasaki is saying are the perfect combination for the bike. I was amazed that the shock was so weak and it didn't feel like the Ninja 1000 I rode at BikeToberFest in Daytona. I was one of the fortunate ones to get to ride a Ninja 1000 in the late fall of 2010 at BikeToberFest, as the Kawasaki ROK folks had two bikes available.
With the "Thunk", I got off the bike and clicked the pre-load of the shock all the way to the stiffest setting. At the stiffest setting, I was only able to bottom out the shock if I jumped up and down on it. I wheeled the bike out of the driveway and took it for a spin. Everything I remember about the demo was there, and the excitement and perfection is apparent - except for the rear suspension. If I hit any kind of imperfection in the road - a bump or ripple - I could tell that I was at the end of my suspension travel. The front fork was adequate, but the rear, not so much. We agreed.
Something had to be done, and done immediately. I called all over for some information on springs for the rear/front of the Ninja 1000. Since the bike is/was so new, no one knew anything about it. Even the Kawasaki service manual had not been printed yet. Faced with waiting 6 months or longer for the aftermarket to catch up and getting a service manual in a month or two, I took my Kawasaki experience and took the bike apart to get at the front and rear suspension. I knew that we would have to send/bring the shock and forks to someone, as there was no way we were going to trust the new Ninja 1000 to anyone that did not know Kawasaki motorcycles like I do.
Our made-from-wood shock replacement while the shock is removed from the bike. Kudos to Bill for using his woodworking skills to make that cool tenon down at the other end of the picture below.
As we took things apart, I could see my husband's face, and you could tell he was not happy. It's a sad day when a bike he just paid over $10,000 a day ago, is in pieces in your garage! Since he is new to Kawasaki, I could see in his eyes as his new brand loyalty was being questioned in his mind.
We called around to no avail. Most folks that I talked to, were not even aware the Ninja 1000 was available to purchase! Most folks still had no experience dealing with the Z1000 almost a year after it's release; a bike that the Ninja 1000 shares many common components with.
I remembered a place that my friends up in Georgia recommended when they had suspension issues. Traxxion Dynamics.
I called them and spoke to Mike, who was laid back and relaxed. He said they could do what needed to be done to get my Husband's bike in perfect condition. Whatever worked for us, would be good for them as far as getting the shock and forks to them. I could send them the forks and shock, or I could bring them. They were excited to be able to see a 2011 Ninja 1000 suspension and would love to take measurements and work with us since we would be the first.
Orlando, Florida to Woodstock, Georgia.
I felt a sick day coming.
I called a friend and asked if we could stay the night at his place, not far from the folks at Traxxion. The next day, we were there when Traxxion opened.
The folks at Traxxion greeted us, as their morning team meeting was ending.
Within minutes, Martin, the suspension guru had our shocks and forks in his "lab" and realized that our OEM shock mount would not fit in his dyno. Within minutes, he made a custom bracket to put our shock into his shock dynamometer. The Ninja 1000 rear of the shock is a unique "blocky" design. Martin's suspension lab was spotless and his dyno is hooked to a computer. As soon as the bracket was in place and our shock connected, he ran it through it's paces and saw the numbers.
Video of Martin Working his Magic
Once the shock was done testing, we talked about our options. The shock had good enough compression, but had poor rebound. The spring itself had a flaw concerning pre-loading it. If the Ninja 1000 had a shock collar that was threaded, the flaw would not be an issue. However, since the Ninja 1000 shock collar has notches, the gap in the spring where it doesn't touch, makes for the pre-load to take up more space before it really starts to get stiff. To overcome the spring gap, it takes up almost a full notch on the pre-load collar.
Martin also said that the parameters for the shock damping/compression were barely up to handling the spring. He recommended that he take the shock apart and change the valving. Our OEM shock was not rebuildable, so he said that he will drill a hole in the shock, de-pressurize it, change the internals - if possible - then add a nitrogen port to allow the shock to re built in the future.
All of his recommendations sounded like VooDoo to us, but Martin seemed up to the task, was confident, and his wizardry for making a bracket to hold the shock and his "lab" lent themselves to us trusting him. I also mentioned that if anything went wrong, then it would be months until we would be able to get a new shock from Kawasaki, and weeks more and a ton more money to have a custom Penske shock made.
With assurances everything would be fine, we left the "scientist" to his work. As we left Traxxion, we noticed their welcome sign for the first time.
After a couple of hours and Breakfast/bookstore and checking work emails, we headed back to Traxxion and sat in their lounge and waited for things to be complete. We were there less than 20 minutes, when our forks and shock were presented to us.
Martin sat down and showed us the Dynamometer numbers.
(Here is the larger version)
The numbers were dramatic. The OEM shock, was barely up to the task of supporting a 503lbs bike with a rider! The parameters of the performance of the shock, in stock OEM form, had the spring too weak and not enough damping available.
With the Traxxion mods, not only was there a more appropriate spring, but the re-working of the internals made for a wider window of damping performance!
What did the shock look like completed? Martin rebuilt the rear shock, added the nitrogen port, added a custom pre-load spacer and stiffer spring, along with changed the dampening internals and added slightly stiffer springs to the forks - while keeping the form factor OEM.
Martin was happy that the OEM shock was a Showa, and of high quality. If it had not been, then he probably couldn't have done what he needed to do.
Back in Orlando, with less than 72hours from start to finish, everything was buttoned up and done.
Wow. We can say that we have never dealt with people as professional and passionate about motorcycles as the folks at Traxxion. Their technical competence and customer service are unequalled. Every aspect of our dealing with them was so beyond our expectations, that we are at a loss for the explanation of how happy we are. Martin and Mike and everyone that we talked to were amazing. The printouts we received, the washed and bagged OEM parts they gave back - in a sealed bag - along with the sign on the door welcoming us was absolutely fantastic. Everyone did their best to contribute to our brief visit. Bill and I are not racers with millions, so to get such special treatment is - well again - beyond our expectations or ability to vocalize or write about.
Cost breakdown for this work was tricky, in that we were the first to have anything like this done on the 2011 Ninja 1000. The price that we paid was based on Traxxion gettting a jump on the competition. You will have to call the good folks at Traxxion to get a price quote if you want something similar done.
To my friends at Kawasaki; I own the following bikes. You can read about me and my bikes here or here.
What were you thinking putting such a weak spring and poor valving on the shock of the Ninja 1000?
The rear shock is a stumble for an otherwise stellar machine.