Kawasaki Versys 06-09

Kwak_KLE650_024By Kevin Ash


Pictures: Double Red, Target Press, David Reygondeau





(See Kawasaki Versys 2010 model review here)

There are all sorts of bikes which would have been quicker on the varied, twisting and demanding roads of Provence Kawasaki took us to for the presentation of the new Versys. Sadly, far too many riders judge a bike’s desirability simply in those terms: speed, power, specification and the rest. But a more discerning soul stands not only to save a great deal of money by opting for this 649cc parallel twin over something faster and more glamorous, chances are the Kawasaki will provide a much more satisfactory ride anyway.

Kawasaki_Versys_003Click on image for galleryIf your biggest buzz comes mostly from arriving first, fine, go for a big capacity superbike or streetfighter, but don’t expect to keep your licence for long if you make full use of all that performance and attitude. Meanwhile, as a motorcycle to reward you with its response, crispness, handling and overall feel, the Versys is disproportionately capable. And if that sounds like an apology for lacklustre performance, it’s not, as the motor’s punch and the agile handling make this a very quick A-to-B weapon anyway.

The engine is closely related to the unit which powers the ER-6n/s, with revised cam timing and longer exhaust pipes designed to improve mid-range power at the expense of a few horses at the top of the range. It’s a move which might frustrate some of the marketing men: the Versys is aimed at more experienced riders than the beginner-biased ER-6, yet counter-intuitively its power maximum has been reduced. But it’s an intelligent decision, as the Versys is stronger where most riders use the engine most of the time, in the 3000-6000rpm rev range, 50-80mph (80-130kph) on the road. Crucially, and Kawasaki rightly made a point of this, a lot of work went into refining the throttle response, ensuring it suffers none of the stutter or hesitation which annoys us on so many bikes.

Kawasaki_Versys_008That’s where much of the pleasure comes in riding the Versys: it responds exactly when and how you want, does what you ask and goes where you point it. These are simple aims but if any one of them is found wanting, it can completely spoil a bike. Heel the Versys over into a corner on a closed throttle, hit the apex, open up the twistgrip again and the motor pulls you out of the turn smoothly and powerfully. Not a glitch or stammer to get in the way of enjoying the road, the scenery, the handling or why ever else you’re there in the saddle. The bubbling exhaust and inlet notes sound warm and muscular, the response is sharp without being sudden, there’s no irritating vibration, just a creamy, eager power delivery which really shows how it should be done. The gearbox assists by providing rapid, light and positive changes without the need to use the clutch when changing up, and often down again, which is a step forward for Kawasaki whose cog boxes are often clunky at low revs.

Kawasaki_Versys_001Within some budgetary limitations, and these are mostly minor, the chassis design shows the same understanding of where the pleasure comes from riding a bike. The Versys turns quickly without being nervous then sticks to its line accurately, with no sense of vagueness or wanting to tuck in or run wide. The suspension hints at choppiness occasionally, but the combination of longer than average travel with quite firm springs is more than a match for most types of road, and the overall sense of wieldiness and manageability is a real joy. There is some facility to adjust the damping and spring preload, which with patience no doubt will improve it further, but for a bike at this price level it really is exceptionally good as it stands. As with the engine, the chassis does what you want, and does so with competence.

Just one aspect falls below the Versys’s overall high standards, and that’s the brakes. These use low cost, floating pin callipers and it shows as a wooden feel at the lever and a need to squeeze hard in order to stop as effectively as the bike corners and accelerates. ABS is available at a price premium (£343 in the UK), and this is worth going for if you can, even aside from the safety aspect, as the ABS version also happens to feel sharper in normal stopping circumstances, and more in line with the rest of the bike’s qualities.

Kawassaki_650_020The Versys then is certainly a fun machine, but as the contrived composite name suggests, it’s meant to be versatile, and there’s no doubt it succeeds in this respect too. In a day and a half I spent around ten hours in the saddle, and not once was I troubled by discomfort. The small screen is good enough for 90mph-plus (150kph-plus) cruising speeds should you wish, although in its raised position it induces some helmet-buffeting turbulence – so leave it lowered (a couple or minutes with the bike’s toolkit). The rear subframe is stronger than the ER-6’s as the Versys is expected to be used for touring, including two-up (pillion accommodation is roomy and comfortable too, with more legroom than the ER-6) and with luggage (available as purpose-made option from Kawasaki), and with a 4.2 gallon (19 litre, 5.0 gallon US) fuel capacity and up to 50mpg (18km/l, 5.5l/100km, 42mpg US) capability its range is sufficient for this role too. Personally I especially like the upright riding position which is becoming increasingly popular: it’s good for comfort and seeing the scenery or where you’re going, and still lets you get on with more committed sports riding too. A shame though that the Versys’s underseat storage space is almost non-existent – it’s unacceptable these days that you have nowhere to store a lock, as this is essential to give you a sporting chance of finding your bike again when you return to it.

Kawassaki_650_011The Versys is unusual for a bike of this type in looking good, where for example Ducati’s Multistrada and Suzuki’s V-Strom don’t quite manage. The headlight is oddly shaped, reminiscent of the Rolling Stones’ tongue if you catch it right, but on the whole the bike manages to look lean and rangy without being awkward or just plain odd. It’s a lot better looking out on the road than in pictures in fact.

Interestingly, the Versys also appears to be a good bike to drop. That’s not to be fatuous, but comes from observing the various plastic covers over the most vulnerable parts, such as the radiator ends and lower frame castings. There are also plastic panels which will be damaged before the fuel tank, which is a major cost saving, and the underbelly exhaust won’t hit the ground in a spill either. Hopefully this will be reflected in lower insurance costs, as major damage incurred from simply falling at a standstill is too often an issue with modern bikes. It’s possible even to write some off without turning a wheel.

Intelligent design throughout then, and running deeper than expected, the consequence of which is simple pleasure, no qualifications. The Versys has made an appearence in several bike of the year awards, and rightly so.



Price: £5,096 (£5,439 ABS)

Available: Now

Contact: Kawasaki Motors UK, 01628 856600, www.kawasaki.co.uk

Related Technical Features:
* Semi-dry sump lubrication

Specifications

shuggiemac
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A very interesting read and it is obvious that this bike has made a real impression on you. It would seem that for five grand it is also pretty good value with it being as you describe.
I am delighted to see Kawasaki getting some real positive and widespread praise for this bike. I have always had a soft spot for them over the other Japanese manufacturers, which I think stems back to the awe we all had for the Z9 many years ago. In saying this however, I have never actually owned a Kawasaki whereas the other three of the big four do have representation in my collection.
I think there is a movement away from the over whelming popularity that pure sports bikes have enjoyed for many years. I did wonder if it was just those of my generation as we age who was feeling that but I believe that this is not just the case. There are so many new bikes coming along that mean that those looking into the middle weight category are absolutely spoilt for choice.
Coud not agree more about the Multistrada - even as a dyed in the wool and biased Ducati fan, it is far from being their prettiest offering.

kevash
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I think I was being kind in saying the Multistrada doesn't quite manage to look good... In fact the impression you get from factory staff these days is that they're a little embarrassed by the Mutley Strada and can't wait for it to be replaced (with a GS trailie type thing perhaps?), but they've been so busy with other bikes they haven't been able to. And yet it's a cracking good bike to ride, especially the 1100 S, you just wouldn't want it parked outside your house when you got home again...
Yup, Kawasaki's always had the strongest following of the Japanese makes, and that's because it's been more focussed on proper sports bikes. The whole mission of Kawasaki's motorcycle division originally was to help publicise KHI, and big, fast bikes did this best. They've never made any scooters or little commuter bikes and are the only Japanese manufacturer not to have what you'd call a full range of bikes. They lost the plot at the end of the 1990s then new boss Shinichi Morita took them back to their roots and said Kawasakis must be fast and exciting again, and they've pretty much stuck to that since.

shuggiemac
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The Mutley Strada - an excellent name by the way. Am I correct in thinking that this is a Pierre Treblanche design? If it is do you think his coat is hanging on a shakey nail in the Bologna cloak room? The 999 was so poorly received in general and was broadly slated, somewhat unfairly in my opinion but conisdering what it was replacing then understandable. The Supermono was gorgeous but not exactly a volume machine, I am guessing that he did the last version of the MHR which was a success but again only ever made in small numbers. The Multistrada is as we both agree the runt of the litter, so what else has he done? Did he have a part in the 1098/1198 and Monster re-design?

kevash
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Yup, Terblanche did the Mutley but his coat's not hanging up anywhere in Bologna these days, he was sidelined by Ducati about 3 years ago I think. The 999 was his and in fact it was a great bike to ride, but I think what he did wrong was try to come up with something completely new to replace the 916 when it should have been developed in the way the Porsche 911 has been. And there's now a picture of a 911 in Ducati boss Claudio Domenicali's office...
The MV F4 was originally to have been the 916 replacement, but Tamburini left for MV when TPG took over Ducati in '96.
The Supermono was Terblanche's but he says himself it was massively influenced by the 916, which was being developed in the same studio by Tamburini - although the Supermono came out first all its influences are from Tamburini and the 916. Yes, the MHR was Terblanche's too, but he's also developed some successful bikes like the Sports Classic range and ironically, his most successful design went on sale after he left, the Hypermotard.
He's not had anything to do with the 1098 or new Monsters, and in fact he's just recently started to work for the Piaggio Group.

prowen
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Personally, I think Terblanche gets a bad rap, particularly in the top British bike mags. The Multi's not that bad to look at once you overlook the 'Cyclops' like stacked headlights. I've been looking at mine for five years now, and as long as I park it face forward to the wall, it's a far prettier addition to the garage than a BMW R1200GS. As you mentioned, it's also a great ride, and therefore triumphs (sic) over the BMW in both function and form.

kevash
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I tend to agree, the Mutley has a lean, rangy look that works pretty well aside from that face, and like I said, great to ride. The trouble is for most people it's a bike's face which really defines it. But Terblanche has had some successful designs, like the Hypermotard and the Sport Classic range, the Supermono might have been inspired by Tamburini but it was still Terblanche's. The big problem was the 999 really as that cost Ducati a lot of money, and money speaks...
Mind you, I like the look of the GS so who am I to comment on taste?

shuggiemac
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As I have mentioned in here before I too think that the front end of a number of Ducati's let them down and this from an openly biased Ducati fan. I have an ST2 and a 999 and I could not agree more with your sentiment as far as parking them facing the wall.

I am not so sure though that the rap Terblanche gets is so much unfair. The bottom line is that he, as the designer, was paid to produce machines that the market wanted to buy and he failed. The 999 and the Multistrada did not sell in the numbers they should have globally, so it is not just a British thing. The fact that the 1098 sold immediately so well showed that there was a demand for the brand all along and perhaps Ducati owe a large thanks to people like you and I who shelled out their hard earned cash on the bikes that we did during the times of the slightly less beautiful machines.

ariwerf
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ooppps I thought this link was about the Versys.
Excellent write up on the Versys.
I purchased a pre reg in 07 and paid £4100.00 recon I had thumping good value from the bike.
Money is an important component in the choice of bike. My enthusiasm for the 2 wheel adventure cant be streached to some of the costly kit out there. Buy it cheap and get the use out of it is my moto.
A big bonus with the Versys for me has been running cost all i have forked out has been the prescribed services and tyre changes.
well done Kawasaki say I.