Does any Japanese motorcycle manufacturer make a bad bike anymore? Like sports bike tyres, there are great ones, and superb ones, but not many crap ones. And so it is with today's test mule.
The Kawasaki Versys 650L ABS
I've been a big fan of the ER6-N for a while, mainly because I liked how the shock was mounted on the side. No, I haven't ridden one, but did try to lose one on the road a long time ago. And after I worked hard through a series of tight mountain bends, I managed to drop him a few metres... on a GSXR1000. So I thought it must be a pretty capable bike. It is, and the Versys?
Well, having been a big fan of the Paris Dakar inspired trailies from years ago, the Africa Twins, Super Tenere's and DR BIG's all left a lasting impression so I do like these current trail/sport bike configurations. Sat up high, in comfort, with all the important whirly bits working away metres below you. A bit like the Titanic in its heyday, ok maybe a different cruise liner, but you get the drift.
The first sit.
Yes it's tall, which isn't much of an issue, but it is quite top-heavy too, initially. At anything above walking pace though, and it's forgotten. Yeah, I know, we've all read stuff like that before, but any overweight feeling disappears once moving. The bars are wide and, oh so comfortable after a sports bike, you just sit cocooned in your own little world. Never have I been so happy to just mooch around at legal speeds, which I obviously do, always.
The Versys is so quiet pulling away and that parallel twin is nothing short of incredible! It's just pure grunt, and this from a LAMS bike (which means, in Australia, that it's restricted for new riders). This has had the restrictor removed, which allows full throttle, and should allow the full 69BHP to flow freely. I was that impressed with the riding of it I completely forgot to try the obligatory first gear wheelies off the power. Apparently it's something that this bike is very good at, allegedly. Whatever, this engine is beautiful. More torque on tap than my little CBR600, it just pulls whatever gear I forget I'm in.
This is what I thought was so cool on the ER6 all those years ago. The shock is on the side, in view, and being different to everything else. Love it. This also has the funky hydraulic preload adjuster, just like your top of the range Ohlins, or your old eighties GSX750's. There isn't any other adjustment and, to be fair, how much track or fast road use are you going to be doing anyway? I've seen how this thing performs standard and it doesn't hang around.
The swingarm is a proper one too. Not some old steel box-section collaboration, but a nice cast aluminium girder that looks strong enough to perform some sportiness should that occasion rear it's ugly head. No, I certainly will not try to outperform someone on their sports bike your honour. Ever.
This bike has a super-sticky Alpha 13 Dunlop on the front at the moment with the original D222 on the back. It's nice to see a trail-style tyre graining up nicely with hard use. I told you there's no bad tyres anymore...
While we have this pic, I'm also a massive fan of the little tucked away exhaust. Almost invisible, it's quiet and produces good power — how?
The upside down front forks are 41mm, and do the job nicely thank you very much. There is preload adjustment, and rebound too which is more than capable for this sort of riding.
Once you start really chucking it around it starts to get a bit flighty, probably to do with its height/weight arrangement rather than anything sinister, but if you're happy to sit there and ride through it, happy days. Just don't fight the bike and it'll take everything in its stride.
This was my only gripe. It's adjustable for height but I think I'd prefer a tiny token gesture one, or nothing at all. The top of it was right in my line of vision and was making me feel sick. A small four or five inch high screen would've been better in the looks department, and would have given me a clear view. But each to their own. A small issue, easily fixed.
The mirrors are a bit out there too, like a drunken lout bent them on the way home from the pub. Ok, two gripes (I only noticed this in the pics to be fair so maybe better in the flesh).
All the normal stuff up front, plus ABS. The brakes are brilliant. The pad material must be good nowadays because this makes my CBR feel a little lacking. I think I need some Ferodo's in mine.
The patio windows are certified cyclone proof. For me, a nice little screen just covering the cluster would've done. I'm sure there'll be some aftermarket ones available, or just knock one up out of hardboard.
How can this only be a 650?
Six-four-nine to be precise, and what a peach. 69 BHP with oodles of torque baby! It feels lazy, and I was convinced the speedo was out. At what I thought was 80kmh, was actually 100kmh, you really have to keep an eye on it. I hope Kawasaki are prepared to step up in court with me should the need arise, hey officer?
Versys — Versatile System.
That's what I've found out online. Yet another nail in the sports bike's coffin. More fun and edging closer and closer to the do-it-all category. I love riding the Versys, though jumping back on the CBR and it felt tiny, nimble, light and giant killing. Different strokes for different...
It's getting harder to say anything bad about modern bikes. The gearbox felt a tadge clunky sometimes, but no worse than a lot of the other twins. The screen and the mirrors — yep, I'm done.
I love the colour! There's a lime green one too, but this is beautiful. It's called blood-red orange... no it's volcanic sun... hang on Agent Orange.
Actually it's none of those, just plain old matte orange. Cheers Kawasaki, that must've taken a bit of thought. Luckily for us, the thought goes into the mechanical aspects, not the descriptions.
What's not to like?
They're comfortable, they're quick enough in the tight stuff to piss off R1's and the like, and they're cheap. And you're good to go touring, take the odd mud track, and all when you've just passed your test! And and and... I like it.
Might have to try out a V-Strom, does this mean I'm getting old?