Kawasaki Versys – Test Ride

sm_title.jpgSteve Bond takes Kawasaki’s 650 Versys out for a spin in his quest to find if this really is the Versatile System as the name claims.

In the beginning, there was cold and darkness.

“Let there be light,” yada yada yada, and on the seventh day, we had an interesting concept called a motorcycle.


Times were simpler then. There were no cruisers, sportbikes, sport-tourers or dual-purpose bikes. Want to go racing? Just tape over the lights, slap some numbers on your motorcycle and hit the track. Feel like exploring far away places? Fill your backpack, bungee the tent and sleeping bag to the motorcycle and go west young man, or east, or north – but go somewhere!


Longer legs but less top end.

But like everything else in our segmented society, we got sidetracked and motorcycles evolved into one-trick ponies. Taking a hypersport litre-bike over hill and dale to check out a secret fishing spot is about as fun (and life threatening) as cutting hot laps on a racetrack on a stretched-out V-twin custom.

But fear not. Do-it-all motorcycles are making a comeback and I’m liking it a lot. Take Kawasaki’s newest horse in the multi-purpose stable – the 2007 Versys 650 (which, according to the press blather, is short for Versatile System).

It’s basically a Ninja 650R, only taller, with USD front forks, a small fairing and different styling. The motor’s been retuned too, to give a more touring focus over the sportier R model.



Plenty of room for taller riders.
Photo: Steve Bond 

Swinging a leg over, I first noticed the comfortable reach to the wide bars and relaxed riding position. Being long of inseam, I had no problem with the 840 mm (33-inch) seat height, although shorter riders may want the optional gel seat to drop an inch or so off that.

The Versys uses the same 649cc liquid-cooled, 180 degree cranked, parallel twin as the 650R Ninja, only with mellower cams and different EFI mapping that shaves close to 8 hp off the top but gives it a hefty kick in the mid-range to compensate.

The resulting power delivery is smooth (thanks to the balancer shaft) and linear with no hiccups, flat spots or power surges. The eager motor builds revs very quickly – a burst of throttle when rowing up through the gears has you at highway speeds in no time. 


Photo: Steve Bond

It pulls quite strongly right off the bottom and builds linearly right to the 10,500 rpm redline. With the abundant torque, there really is no point in wringing the engine’s neck, although it spins quite happily to the upper reaches of the rev range.

The six-speed tranny shifts positively with a light, short throw and the gearing seems perfectly matched to the characteristics of the engine. The clutch is light with a broad engagement and is buttery smooth.

Freeway cruising speed comes up at just 4,500 rpm and getting by an obnoxious RV or transport plugging up the passing lane won’t require a downshift. 


Optional screen is bigger and comes with adjustable deflecter.
Photo: Kawasaki

The handlebar fairing diverts much of the windblast and the small screen is easy to adjust, although you will need a screwdriver to do so. I set it on the highest position and it was fine for me, providing a fairly still air pocket. (Kawasaki does offer a higher and wider optional screen that includes an adjustable deflector.)


The steel trellis frame looks similar to the Ninja 650R but the massive, aluminum gullwing swingarm is all Versys. Wheelbase is up 5 mm to 1415 mm (55.7 in) and the trellis theme carries over nicely to the subframe, replacing the gawdawful passenger peg mounts of the Ninja and providing an attractive, strong mounting point for the optional Givi hard bags. 


Naked! Although oddly sans ‘gullwing’ swingarm …
Photo: Kawasaki 

The USD front forks are very rigid and to cut costs, only the right side contains the preload and rebound adjustment. The rear laydown shock is similar to the 650R in that it’s on the right side of the swingarm instead of being buried way down in the bowels. Preload and rebound damping adjustment is likewise, a snap.

In all, there’s an extra 30 mm of travel at the front and 10 mm in the rear over the 650R and I found it soaked up road irregularities quite nicely without losing its composure.

At 181 kg (398 pounds) dry, the Versys is relatively light and narrow so you can really squirt through city traffic. It’s also tall so that when you’re in said traffic, you can see over all those gigantic SUVs and minivans. 


Bondo is pleasantly surprised by its track handling.

Despite its height, handling is exemplary. It steers with a light touch, the tubular bars give good leverage around town and the rigid chassis and sport rubber makes the Versys capable of some incredible lean angles. It’s only when you really push hard that the budget suspension starts to fray at the edges with wallowing and feelings of vagueness.

The 17-inch wheels (lifted from the 650R) allow an infinite choice in premium street rubber and so equipped, I’d have no problem doing a track day on the Versys. I’m betting it would embarrass a number of sportbikes on a shorter track where the emphasis is on handling rather than flat-out top speed.
The 300 mm petal-shaped front rotors are lifted right off the ZX10 sportbike but are squeezed by twin pot calipers. The initial bite is on the soft side but once you squeeze harder, stopping power increases on a linear level with good feel and feedback. 


Cockpit gets Bondo’s approval.

I’d personally ditch the odd crossover brake line between the calipers and go with twin braided lines direct from the master cylinder to improve feel.

The cockpit is a wonderful place to spend several hours with the adequate seat, well-positioned pegs and bars and a proper instrument cluster with white-faced tach, digital speedo and LCD fuel gauge, odometer, twin trips and a clock. Nice.

The 19-litre fuel tank and the miserly way the Versys sips dead dinosaurs should give a cruising range of well over 300 km before the low fuel warning light starts blinking.



Where’s the centrestand and backrack?
Photo: Kawasaki

The main roach in the Versys sushi is the lack of a centrestand, and the underslung muffler means that there’s absolutely no way to fit one. Boo! This isn’t such a hardship when you’re home every night but when touring (an activity the Versys keenly encourages), chains need lubing and adjusting and it’s highly impractical to tote a race stand along.

Secondly, there’s no luggage rack (ala 650 V-Strom), which makes it difficult to fit a tail bag or tie things to the pillion seat. Again, this is something that Kawasaki must’ve researched at some point so it’s a huge oversight that these items weren’t addressed.

Despite these issues, I really like the Versys and for a while, I thought it might bump Suzuki’s 650 V-Strom from the top of my “Motorcycles I’d Spend My Own Money On” list but in the end, it came up a little short. 


An excellent do-it-all bike, but not a Strom beater.
Photo: Steve Bond

Both bikes have eager, twin cylinder powerplants and similar riding characteristics, with the Versys getting the first shot in with a retail price that is $500 down on the Strom … but then without the Strom’s ABS.

The Versys gains points with the 17-inch front wheel (with accompanying crisper handling and greater tire choice), adjustable levers, highbeam flasher and optional hard bags.

The Wee Strom sees that with optional bags and flasher switch of its own, then raises the ante with a standard luggage rack, better seat, a larger fuel tank for a greater cruising range, ABS and optional centerstand.

If you want a motorcycle that does it all, you should consider the Versys. It sits a solid third with me – right behind the Wee Strom and the 1250 Bandit. And that’s pretty good company.

Kawasaki 650 Versys Comments

$8,499.00 (down by $500 on 2007) Making it cheaper than the V-Strom, but $300 up on the Ninja 650R
649 cc Is this the perfect displacement for the modern motorcycle?
Engine type
DOHC, Parallel twin
Parallel or V?
It seem that parallel seems to be making a comeback.
fuel injection
What else?
Final drive
Chain, Six speed Kawasaki resist the belt.
Tires, front
120/70-17 Same as the Ninja 650R with lots of choice of rubber.
Tires, rear
Brakes, front
Two 300 mm disc with 2 piston caliper Pretty good brake specs for a 650, although Bondo found them a little soft.
Brakes, rear
Single 220 mm disc with single piston caliper
Seat height
840 mm (33.1") A massive 90 mm up on the Ninja 650R. Good to see they still make bikes for lanky bastards!
1415 mm (55.7") Up 5 mm on the
Ninja, but still quite sporty
Dry weight
181 Kg (399 lbs) (claimed) That’s up 3Kg from the Ninja 650R
blue or red
Not the black shown in the pics … that’s the 07 model.
12 months Standard stuff


  1. It causes to wonder why the “?-Versys” comes adorned with front-wheel [url=http://www.kawasaki.de/Objects/w600h450_0000034044B2B55B.jpg]standard ABS[/url] (better than nothing…) and a [url=http://www.kawasaki.de/product.asp?Id=3404454C008&S=500]tail rack/luggage option[/url] when the one sold here in the territories/provinces/colonies/barrios has none of the above — ??

    JS in Littleton, CO

  2. Next time you go eight months into the future to test last years model, bring me the 649 winning numbers list from now til then, will ya?

    We’ll even split if you want…

  3. OK … thank you.
    I thought the subject seemed warmly dressed.
    But, considering the time the article was posted …
    Was just curious as to the time frame, and venue.
    Again, thank you.

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