Sunday, September 13, 2015

Versys versus Ninja

When researching the 2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT (Light Touring), I found scores of favorable reviews on the new (to U.S.) model. Subsequently, the Big V has gone on to receive heaps of accolades from the likes of Motorcyclist Magazine and Rider Magazine as their respective motorcycle of the year. It seems that everyone who's anyone likes the new Versys 1000 and has a lot of great things to say about it in their reviews. However, many of the more comprehensive reviews often contain a veiled comment somewhere in the text on a curious point involving how close the Versys 1000 is to the venerable Ninja 1000 in so many respects.

2015 Kawasaki Ninja 1000

The Ninja 1000 in its current configuration began production in 2011* and quickly became one of the most popular and affordable mid-sized sport touring motorcycles. It was designed with performance characteristics from the "sportier" end of the sport-touring spectrum, but with features more akin with the beastly, 700 pound touring models, like Kawasaki's Concours or Yamaha's FJR: for instance, a larger fuel tank for better range, smoother transmission and final drive gearing, high-upright seating positioning, a comfy pillion for 2-up and the protection of a full fairing. Great idea, great design, great bike!

So, it appears that Kawasaki in its Ninja 1000 has, among its offerings, a really, super nice and popular light touring, sport touring motorcycle. Yet, come 2015, they roll in the Versys 1000 LT ... with many of the same features as the Ninja 1000. In the infamous words of Sweedish Chef, "Vert da firk!"

2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT

The first thing I look to in comparing the models are the basic dimensions and a few other specs.

Pretty close on a lot of the metrics, indeed.

In addition, both models are equipped with some of the latest touring and riding technologies including  Dual-Power Modes, Triple-level Traction Control and ABS. However, for 2015 only the Versys has Kawasaki's Assist Slipper Clutch, although they have announced that the 2016 Ninja 1000 will be equipped with this user friendly technology (Announcement).

In 2015, Kawasaki offered an extra year on the typical one-year warranty coverage for the Versys, which was pretty nice of them, but that's just a selling feature. I seriously doubt that it has anything to do with the warrantability of either models.

From a power train perspective, each of the Versys and Ninja are equipped with Kawasaki's 1043 cc in-line four cylinder engine and a six speed transmission. However, there are a few differences:

First, while bore and stroke are the same on each model, Kawasaki modified the cylinder head on the Versys, which reduced the compression ration to 10.3:1, compared to the Ninja's compression ratio of 11.8:1; plus, Kawasaki modified the Versys' cams to produce more mid-range torque. Second, the six speed transmission used in the Ninja was fitted to the Versys, but the gear ratios were modified to result in a lower first gear and higher ratios in gears 3-6 (the 2nd gear ratio is the same for both models). Lastly, the 15/41 final gear ratio of the Ninja was modified to 15/43 for the Versys.

I found some dyno results online that give effect to the differences in horsepower and torque presumably resulting from these modifications that Kawasaki has made to the Versys power train. A 40 pound difference and some additional fairing interference are in play here, as well.

The 2015 Ninja produced 126.7 horses to the rear wheel at 10,300 RPM in the Rider Magazine Review.

Charts provided in the Motorcyclist Magazine review that compares the Versys, FJ-06 and V-Strom have the 2015 Versys (Green Line) producing 110.3 horses to the rear wheel at 8,800 RPM (presumably in the Full Power Mode).
Okay, so the Ninja 1000 is a little more leaning toward the sport side of sport touring than the Versys. But is it by a lot, or does it really make that big a difference to the average Joe (or "Bill") who's looking to cruise around the country, whilst stopping occasionally for some romps here and there on the more curvaceous of roadways? I don't have much of an answer for that question. Kawasaki was quoted in some reviews that I read to provide that the differences in engine, trany and final drive configurations were designed to result in the Versys having a lower peak power than the Ninja, but more torque in the low to mid-rpm range resulting, in part, in better touring performance on the part of the Versys. Again, that only says that the Ninja is more leaning on the sport side of sport touring, not how much or why one should be chosen over the other.

Why, why, why...

I think it's perfectly safe to say that the Ninja 1000 and Versys 1000 are two very closely fitted motorcycles in Kawasaki's line up; very close in size, very close in performance metrics, very close in ergonomics, very close in intended uses. Why they did that, we don't know. Perhaps the bigger question is, "Why did you pick one over the other?"

In my case I've never personally owned a Ninja 1000 but, as a former Kawasaki Salesman, I'll tell you that I am very familiar with the Ninja 1000, I have many miles in the saddle of several years of the Ninja 1000 and I would have no problem whatsoever owning the Ninja 1000 and using it in the exact same manner and purpose as I have raking up 12,000 miles in five months on my Versys 1000. Seriously, I am a huge fan of the Ninja 1000.

On the other hand, I like new and interesting motorcycle models. In fact, I purchased two motorcycles on a pre-delivery basis site unseen; those were the 2009 Harley Davidson XR1200 and the 2012 Yamaha Super Tenere. As it related to the Versys 1000 ... well yeah, there sat the Ninja 1000 on my dealer's (and former employer's) showroom floor ... but there also was the very unique and new Versys with all the features that I was looking for. Not just that, it had the power train, transmission, rider technologies and many of the features that I was already aware of from my knowledge of the Ninja 1000. It really didn't take long to come up with the true substance of what I was confronted with.

Bottom line ...

... the Versys 1000 is the Ninja 1000!

Pick a color and Ride on!

* The Ninja 1000R was produced from 1986 to 1989, but is not really a comparable configuration for purposes of this post.


  1. Great review, thanks, which one am I going to buy???

  2. Great review, thanks, which one am I going to buy???