Touring is the pastime of choice for a majority of motorcyclists in India and road conditions are quite apt for ADV bikes. Of course, every metropolitan city is surrounded by trails but barely a handful venture into the wild. The big-bore machines are fast and heavy and if you aren’t well-versed with the bike’s capabilities, it can all go downhill in no time. A lot of manufacturers are putting up tents in adventure parks to get owners acquainted with their ADVs but it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s why the sports tourers make a lot more sense, especially if you belong to the ‘tarmac only’ herd.
These machines are road biased and don’t come with 21-inchers at the front and seats as tall as a horse’s saddle. And when it comes to sports tourers, we firmly believe that nothing comes close to the Ducati Multistrada. However, to sour things for Bologna, Kawasaki has introduced its biggest Versys yet. Well, the 650 has been doing really well and if anything, the Versys 1000 is expected to satiate the needs of big bore fanatics. But can it take the fight to Ducati’s entry-level Multistrada 950? There’s only one way to find out. And to help you decipher the puzzle, we did everything a sports tourer is expected to do: tour long distances, tackle winding roads and even hustle around the streets of a bustling metropolis.
The previous-gen Versys 1000 looked so similar to the 650 that it failed to grab many eyeballs. The latest one however, picks up elements from the H2 SX and even the Ninja 1000. Although the amalgamation may not please many people. The Versys 1000 definitely catches your attention quicker than its predecessor, but that’s due to its size and not its aesthetics. It’s oddly designed with a bulbous front end and a slim mid-section, but the derrière again is way too big for its own good. Its 255kg heft is perched upon tiny 17-inch wheels, shod with Bridgestone Battlax Sport Touring T31Rs, which make it look more confused.
However, the Versys 1000 is a clear case of function over form. The wide seat is properly cushioned and the pillion split is even wider. The 840mm seat height would appease even short riders. The windshield is adjustable via two rotary knobs and even the rear suspension is remotely adjustable for preload. The handlebar is not too wide and is placed close to the rider, clearly meant for long distance touring. And remember, it is powered by an inline-four that also underpins the Ninja 1000. How many ADVs can you think of that boast of such credentials?
The 1043cc liquid-cooled motor has been tuned keeping touring in mind. With a lower compression ratio of 10.3:1, it makes a respectable 118bhp and 102Nm. Subject to its heavyweight construction, the Versys is calm in demeanour. That said, there’s a big shove post 6,000rpm especially when the engine map is in Full mode (Low power mode is available too), but the tractability of the engine will make you forget that it’s an inline-four. In sixth gear at about 4,000rpm, she cruises nicely at 100kmph, with dollops of torque available lowdown. You don’t really need to sift through the ‘box much. The engine is clearly meant for comfortable touring for the rider as well as the passenger. The cruise control too adds value to the whole package.
Similar is the case with the ride and handling. The cushy setup filters out even the biggest of potholes in stock setup. She is super stable on straights, even at speeds of up to 150kmph. But the soft setup equates to minimal feedback, when it comes to handling. Heavier riders, like me (84kg), will notice how under-damped the rear feels when you are tipped in a corner. But again, the Versys is so focused about its intercontinental desires that asking it perform like a sportsbike seems unfair.
The Versys badge signifies sports touring at its finest and the flagship 1000 definitely ups the ante, given its fantastic sticker of Rs 10.89 lakh.
The 950 may be an entry level Multi, but it does resemble its bigger siblings, especially the Enduro. Even the chassis is borrowed from the 1260 and that clearly shows. The Multi looks bigger than even the Versys 1000, thanks to its larger 19-inch front wheel. But unlike the Versys, the Multi is a looker! Italian genes are prevalent in the way it’s been designed and the 950 looks beautiful from every angle. And half the battle is already won for Ducati, especially when you consider how demanding Indians are for good looks when it comes to their better halves (read motorcycles).
It borrows the chassis from the 1200 Enduro but the engine is carried over from the Hypermotard 939. And that clearly shows in the way it performs. Despite being about 100 ceecees below the Versys 1000, the 937cc, liquid-cooled L-twin churns out 111bhp and 96Nm. The compression ratio is higher too, at 12.6:1. As the motor has to lug around 26kg less, it feels super active, especially between 6,000–9,000rpm. The engine is properly characterful like almost every other Ducati L-twin. It has its weaknesses too, especially below 2,500rpm. It feels calm between 4,000 to 6,000rpm but once past 6,000 revs it absolutely goes nuts. She is all about drama once the engine gets going, and the symphony being produced from the exhaust simply adds to the experience. Of course, she isn’t as tractable as the Versys and you will have to downshift quite a bit on highways, especially while overtaking. The gearbox is notorious for dead shifts too, especially when shifting between higher cogs. Also, the engine throws up a lot of heat on your calves when you’re pushing it to its limits and that is clearly not enjoyable, especially in urban conditions.
The seat height is exactly the same as the Versys 1000’s but the riding position is quite different. The seat has a narrow inseam and the bar is higher, making for a more upright and sporty riding position than the Versys. And the sporty intentions are prevalent when riding the Multi, especially through canyons. Despite a longer wheelbase and the 19-inch front wheel, the Multi feels easier to tip into corners, thanks to Ducati’s brilliant weight balance. She isn’t super nimble like the now discontinued Multistrada 1200 (sigh!) but you can never doubt that it has Ducati blood running through its veins. It’s so much fun on the canyon roads that you’ll soon forget you’re riding an ADV with a high centre of gravity. The longer wheelbase makes it super stable in corners too, allowing you to lean it to your heart’s content. You’ll only be limited by your own skills, not the Multi’s. Of course, it’s a sheer joy to ride on the highways and you can skim through city traffic quite easily.
The Multistrada 950 is a great bike and is the one for you if you’re looking for a machine that can do it all. But of course, the Rs 12.84 lakh price tag means you'll be paying a pretty penny over the Versys.
It all boils down to your requirements in the end. Both these motorcycles will be subjected to long saddle hours and countless miles through demanding circumstances, even for the rider. Both of them are capable of gobbling up miles for breakfast, lunch and dinner without breaking a sweat and never hesitate to ask for more.
But if you want to get there comfortably, the Versys 1000 is just the perfect motorcycle for you. The motor is not only quick but is also a sweet performer, and its linear nature will not only keep you away from the gearbox, but also keep the pillion away from jolts. The massive seat, with its couch-like cushion will save you those expensive spa trips and the superb ride quality will keep you away from chiropractors as well. Add to that Kawasaki’s unmatchable reliability, and you have a motorcycle that you can depend on. Of course, the superb sticker price will keep your pocket happy as well. You'll not only save almost Rs 2 lakh over the Multistrada 950 but will also get some much-needed additional features, including cruise control.
However, if you are someone who values the smiles/miles equation over anything else, then the Multistrada 950 is the ideal sports tourer for you. After you're done getting bowled over by its looks, take a test ride and I’m sure the Testastretta 11 motor, thanks to its persona, will seal the deal for you. The ride and handling has its own set of playful traits, and it can put a many sportbikes to shame on a trackday.
To call the Kawasaki soulless would be unfair, but in the company of the Multistrada 950, the Versys simply fails to evoke emotions. Of course, the Multistrada has its shortcomings; the engine isn’t as tractable and heats up easily, the ride is slightly towards the stiffer side but that’s what makes it so full of character. And we usually end up falling in love with something that has a soul. And the Multi surely has it in spades.