A Versys owner’s take on Ninja 650

It was imminent – both riding and writing how I felt riding a Ninja 650.

The odds are clearly stacked against the Ninja considering I already own a Versys 650. Fact is, Ninja doesn’t have ABS or Showa separate function fork, both of which makes for a really safe and comfortable ride regardless of the road condition. It also falls short by 5 liters on fuel capacity.

But, I got to say, it did have a few things going for it. Especially the dual tone color that I sorely miss on my Versys. Ninja 650 is a stunning looking motorcycle and my Versys looks like an ugly twin that wants to disappear into the darkness to avoid any comparisons. Ninja is all about pleasing the eye and everyone around knows it’s a sportsbike even without a second look. Give me that green shade on my Versys, please?

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The moment I sit on this Kawasaki, I breath a sigh of relief. I can plant both my legs and
there is absolutely no fear of putting the bike down because of it’s the height or weight.
Instinctively, I know I would have taken this motorcycle into the urban jungle more than the number of times I would have even contemplated taking the Versys.  It’s just far more easier and simpler to manage because of the lower seat height.  Never thought 4cm would make such a huge difference.

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Sitting on the Ninja, a few things become very obvious. It cries of sportiness – hard seats that will help you move from side to side when cornering, comfortable but forward leaning stance, and yeah, ball crusher alert! It all reminds me of some of the tough times I’ve had trying to ride my R15 on the highway. But hey, that’s not what it’s made for. Take it into the city. Take it to the track. Take it on a Saturday morning breakfast ride and you’ll never be short of a grin.

As I ride the Ninja for the first time, I wonder why I never considered purchasing this motorcycle. Just a few minutes into the ride, it all seem to make so much sense. The super sensitive and powerful throttling almost surprised me. Too hard to believe it was the same engine. I loved how the Ninja picks up speed but I couldn’t stop thinking how my Versys keeps cursing even after I stop accelerating. Clearly, Ninja lives in a two dimensional world of acceleration or deceleration. But my Versys, it has a third dimension called cruising and that’s exactly what makes mile munching a joy!

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As I ride more, it becomes clearer why these two motorcycle exist. One for the highway and one for the corners – no questions about it. Versys seems like a slightly more competent vehicle, but let’s get ABS and a slightly more sophisticated suspension in the Ninja, and you’ll have nothing but your riding requirements to fall upon to decide which motorcycle you’d buy.

As I ride faster and it wasn’t buffeting that was on my mind. I was wondering what to do with the wind blast that was wearing me out so fast. To me, this is the only disappointing thing about the Ninja knowing that I’ll be tired much earlier and there is only so many miles I can do riding in a racer-like position. Unfortunately, I had to slow down for every speed breaker and pot hole too. That’s so passe…

Let’s throw a curveball at it though.  The 2017 Ninja 650 (let’s hope it launches with ABS in India) has a ZX-10R inspired look that makes it look even more stunning.  There was also a half-hearted effort by Kawasaki designers to make the 2017 Versys look slightly less duller. Who’s the winner? The riders of course. Kawasaki seems to have make the consumers decisions making pretty easy.

For looks and performance, it’s always going to be the Ninja. For comfort and touring, it’s going to be hard to match the Versys. Choose wisely, my dear friend.

As I rode back to return the rented Ninja 650, I was comfortable pushing the motorcycle hard and couldn’t believe how quickly I’d gained confidence in riding the Ninja compared to the 3000km it took for me to feel half as confident on the Versys. Ninja is definitely the friendlier motorcycle of the two but it’s more of an adrenaline junkie who wants to go to a party every other evening.

I’ve never liked parties and it’s hard for me to stay awake long into the night. I’d rather travel a bit through the day without it feeling like a penance, find a quiet place and meditate a bit as the sun sets. Versys it is!

Reading about riding.

A fractured ankle can only bring your riding to a halt but it can’t prevent you from reading about riding. What I realized pretty soon was that it’s as much fun reading about riding as it’s actually riding a motorcycle!

While it was 6-weeks long ‘stay at home’ path to recovery, I went (figuratively) on a few hundred rides with author, David L. Hough and learned so much about riding that I probably wouldn’t have had I continued to ride without this break.

It’s very easy to get carried away thinking that in the years of riding, I’ve probably mastered all the skills required to be a proficient rider for life. However, all it takes is one small article or a conversation to realize how little I actually know. These are learning I’m more than happy to learn from others’ experiences and mistakes than my own.

I’m grateful to have read these two books that will hopefully improve my riding skills when I get back from my longest riding slumber.

There is no way I can do justice to the books but the table of content remind us of all the areas of riding we need to master to ride safely for as long as our soul wishes (and live a long life too by not getting killed on the road either due to our own mistake or someone else’s)

  1. Canyon bites – basics of riding in the twisties 
  2. Motorcycle dynamics – don’t be surprised at how little you know! 
  3. Cornering tactics – corners always bring a smile, don’t they?
  4.  Urban traffic survival – because this is where we end up riding for most part of our lives
  5. Booby trap – nay, it’s not what you think it is. I’ll leave it to your imagination though.
  6. Special situations – oh yeah, most of these are common situations in India!

Isn’t that a comprehensive list? What makes it better are the photos that show what the author is talking about. Makes understanding even the complex situations pretty easy.

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Some quotes just to get your started:

“The self-balancing action of a motorcycle front end is a result of the combined effects of a number of details, including rake, trail, steering head rise and fall, mass shift, contact patch location, and tire profiles.”

“less experienced riders look closer to the bike with a more fixed gaze, while skillful riders look farther ahead and frequently change their focus.”

“12 seconds represents about as far ahead as you can see details. If you’re not in the habit of looking that far ahead, then you should be working on that important technique.”

“it’s not only a matter of controlling the motorcycle you’re riding but also controlling the situation around you.” 

I really wish I had read this book around the time I was learning to ride. Although, I must admit, even 15 years later, it doesn’t seem to be too late to pick up some new skills, overcome few bad habits, and apply the right technique – especially if it promises to help me ride more with less risk and obviously has the potential to avoid a few accidents that the world has already learned from.

If you don’t have the patience to read the entire book, then read the part on braking – may reduce your braking distance significantly and even save your life one day. Of course, all of this is assuming you are wearing appropriate protective gears. Ride safe.

Are there other books you know of? Do share it in the comments.