Gabe Ets-Hokin: Age: 44, Inseam: 29″, Favorite Superbowl Snack: Fried Chicken Strips
I’m looking at purchasing a brand-new motorcycle in the next year, but I don’t have a lot of money. But even if I did spend the kind of money I need to get the bike my rarefied tastes crave, my lovely wife would demand enough hand-crafted footwear to correct our trade imbalance with Italy. Apparently, there are these things called “professions” that pay enough so folks can buy $16,000 motorcycles, but I think it’s too late for me.
I could swing $8000, so what do I get for that? Not much if I want a motorcycle that’s fast, good-handling, light and comfortable enough for all-day rides. Seriously—if you want 60 horsepower, ABS, adjustable suspension, good tire choice, a fairing with windscreen and a little bit of street cred, for under $8000 you’re looking at…the Versys. Oh, and the Ninja 650, which is kind of the same thing, if maybe a little more tarred as a noob bike. There’s also the Yamaha FZ-09, but the 2014s are all gone and Yamaha will jack up the price of those when it realizes it’s about $2000 underpriced. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut.
Anyway, what I’m getting at is the Versys is a stunning bargain compared to everything else sold new for under $8000. It was already a good bike when it was first introduced to the States for 2008, and it got some mild (but good) mods for 2010.
The Versys is proof of how, like a good bowl of soup, simple ingredients, well executed, can yield a memorable product. The frame is steel trellis, with an exotic-looking and burly aluminum swingarm (the Ninja 650’s is steel) connected to the frame by a direct-action lay-down monoshock adjustable for preload and rebound damping. The front end is an inverted 41mm fork (also adjustable for rebound and preload, although the rebound adjuster only affects one leg) with two-piston ABS-equipped brake calipers—new and at no extra charge for 2014—grabbing a pair of 300mm petal-style rotors. We tested a 2013 with standard brakes.
The motor is a 649cc parallel twin. There’s a reason that configuration dominated the sport and racing scenes in the ’60s—it’s a perfect blend of weight, simplicity of manufacture (which keeps the price down) and performance. The Versys’ power delivery is a nice balance of low/mid-range grunt and top-end hit, and thanks to new motor mounts and footpegs, feels smoother (especially at higher rpm) than the ’08-’09. It’s fast enough and geared right so you can slice through traffic and break the law (badly), but it’s also good on gas and very reliable—a good friend just rode hers something like 8,000 miles in six weeks (including a detour high above the Arctic Cicle) with only minor problems.
On twisty roads, the Versys gets the job done, maybe even with a bit of style. The tires are 17-inch radials, with a 160-section rear, confidence-inspiring, flickable favorite sizes. The suspension offers more travel than your average sportbike, and though it can feel cheap and overwhelmed, is a lot better than some budget rides I could name (and is tunable and rebuildable). The wheelbase is short, at 55.7 inches, and with sporty geometry, reasonable 460-pound wet weight and wide bars, makes the Versys easy to dance with. If you’re on a bumpy, twisty road and overworking the Versys’ capabilities, you need a supermoto, or more likely, a few viewings of Red Asphalt I, II or III. Or just switch to decaff, okay?
On the open road, the Versys is a capable tourer. Ours was set up with excellent factory luggage ($335 for the brackets, $630 for the 35-liter bags), which looked like Givi stuff—high quality, easy to use, durable and secure, and yes, Surj, you can get a 30-liter top case ($250 for the bracket). The seat is great for stock—truly all-day comfortable, if a bit spongy, and wind protection, at least with the $200 “Vario” adjustable windscreen on our test unit, was very acceptable, even at very high speeds. I saw about 45 mpg, which means a 200-mile (or more) fuel range from the 5-gallon tank, another thing that’s tough to find on any motorcycle these days, no matter how much you spend. And if it’s a capable tourer, it would work really well as a commuter.
It’s not a perfect bike. It’s funny-looking, slathered with bits of chintzy plastic and for God’s sake, Versys owners, please stop chopping chunks off your bikes to make them look better because it’s not working. The Versys is also pretty high off the ground and heavy for a middleweight Twin, which keeps me from recommending it as a first or even second bike. And compared to $8,000 worth of used sportbike it’s pretty slow (speaking of buying used, the Versys holds its value very nicely, at least around these parts).
But let’s get real—this is one of the cheaper full-sized motorcycles on the market, and you get a lot. Kudos to Kawasaki for keeping the price the same and adding ABS. Let’s face it, you can do everything on most any motorcycle—but you’ll have more fun doing it on a Versys.
Surj Gish: Age, 40, Inseam: 30, Favorite Superbowl Snack: Shrimp Nachos and Coffee
I have a soft spot for utilitarian bikes, motorcycles that are awesome for everyday riding, from getting groceries to rainy-day commuting. Horsepower numbers and beautiful bodywork excite me just like anyone who gets their kicks by twisting a throttle, but when I get on and go, I want a bike that is comfortable, efficient and useful. Oh, and it has to be fun, too—your classic all-rounder.
Kawasaki’s Versys is one of those bikes that always seemed like it’d be a pretty sweet solution for my equation: sensible riding position, 5 gallon fuel tank, and enough power to get into (and hopefully out of) trouble. Looks are funky—some say ugly—in a unique way that I like more than not.
I picked up the Versys on a Sunday. Vera (that’s the name I gave her) was white, which made me say, “What happened to Team Green, Kawasaki?” The Pearl Stardust White paintjob also somehow reminded me of Ducati’s white Panigale, which added a bit of sass to Vera’s strut. (For 2014, you can only get the Versys in Candy Lime Green—ed.)
On the ride back to my garage, I was pleasantly surprised—the “little” 650 motor (remember when a 650 wasn’t small?) revs quickly and feels faster than I expected it would. Check one in the “fun” column for the Versys.
I spent a few minutes looking her over the following morning. Accessory-wise, the bike had matching white sidecases and a short windshield extension bolted on. The boxes are high quality and capacious, if a bit wide. “Hey, do these sidecases make my butt look fat?”
Since I’d be splitting lanes into San Francisco, I pulled the boxes off (and wished for a sensibly nerdy topcase-only setup) before hitting the road. Working my way through typically tortuous Monday-morning traffic, I was very impressed with the bike’s agility. It certainly didn’t feel like 460 pounds of tall-ish motorcycle, but rather was surprisingly nimble and easy to maneuver at low speeds, without feeling tippy or clumsy.
I spent the day dreaming of taking Vera out for an early evening spin and eventually managed to sneak out in the late afternoon. Just in time! I headed for one of my favorite goat trails to get some non-commute, “real” riding in.
This is where my relationship with Vera got a little rocky—her suspension is fine for commuting and sedate to semi-speedy paces on smooth streets. The stock setup feels like it might be awesome if I was a skinny jean-wearing supermodel of 90 pounds, but I’m a regular sized, leaning-towards-XL dude. Pushing the Versys on some rough, tight twisties got me a whole lot of sketchy in short order. The rear brake also didn’t offer a whole lot of feel, except a sinking “uh oh” feeling I got when I’d bottom out the pedal trying to squeeze a little bit of slowdown out of it. Fortunately the front brake was pretty solid.
I dialed it back a bit to make sure I made it home without kicking Vera to the curb, and spent the rest of my nice mellow ride thinking of how I’d set up a Versys if it was my bike. Definitely need to address the rear brake—maybe steel braided lines front and back are in order. Suspension needs to be sorted, for sure. What next? Hand guards ($187 with brackets), heated grips and a topcase. Beyond that, I couldn’t come up with much else required to make Vera a kickass daily companion.
That’s the thing—as much as I could cry about the suspension not working for me, the Versys is actually a pretty good solution for my desire for a smart, fun all-rounder. It’s also cheap enough (the 2013 is $7,999 with ABS!) that I could afford to throw some money at suspension to make it just right. That’s an all-round awesome deal.
Dirck’s Counterpoint re Suspension
With all due respect to Surj, I put a lot of miles on the Versys myself and found the suspension surprisingly good. After dialing in a bit more rebound damping, it was much firmer and had much less stiction than the competition (i.e., V-Strom 650). It seemed like a good combination of plush, but firm enough to have fun in the twisties. This is a “If I could only own one motorcycle …” motorcycle, combining loads of fun and practicality. Good job Kawasaki.