Kawasaki Versys 650 review, test ride
1st Feb 2016 10:45 am
The tall, middleweight Versys aims to leap over the worst tarmac. Does it fit in well on Indian roads?
On paper, the Versys 650 has all the credentials to make a tantalizing Kawasaki for India. We’ve already experienced top-notch quality on all Kawasakis, and the new Versys has tall suspension, which must translate into a cosseting ride quality and a nice, upright riding position. And we’re well familiar with the blazing performance of the Kawasaki 650s sold here, the Ninja 650 and ER 6n. All of which adds up to ‘tall’ expectations from the Versys 650. But can it deliver?
The Versys 650 in essence, looks like a Ninja 650 balanced atop a pair of elegant stilettos. Mass has been carefully pushed up, to accommodate more damping travel, and it’s a twin headlight, smart and macho design viewed head-first. The headlight provides ample illumination. Alloy wheels give away the Versys 650’s street-biased credentials, while its engine and radiator are surrounded by sleek, smartly placed cowls.
The instruments are smartly laid out, and give out all necessary information required from the bike. A bonus on the Versys 650 is its tool-free, 60mm adjustable windscreen, that takes just a minute to set at whatever height you like, and does an excellent job of keeping passengers safe from wind blast, even when hurtling along at the high speeds this powerful motorcycle is so easily capable of.
Top-quality, supple rubber greets your palms on the Versys 650, as do machined alloy, reach-adjustable control levers. This quality feel continues on the Kawasaki’s switchgear and mirrors as well. A single side-mounted shock absorber strut stands out in smart contrast to the rest of the motorcycle. While below the silencer is tucked neatly out of your way. A stepped seat and chunky grab bars are also in place at rear.
Overall fit-finish and attention-to-detail are excellent on the Versys 650. However, what does play spoilsport is the styling when viewing the Kawasaki broadside, or from rear. The Versys 650 lacks good proportions here, as rear overhang seems pronounced and there just isn’t the right design harmony you would like to see.
The Versys 650 draws power from a short-stroke, 649cc, four-stroke, parallel-twin and liquid-cooled engine. This is an eight-valve motor, with dual overhead camshafts. Digital fuel-injection feeds a pair of cylinders, via a set of 38mm throttle bodies. The Kawasaki powerplant makes 68.4bhp at 8,500rpm, while peak torque of 6.5kgm comes in at 7,000rpm.
You’re already familiar with this Kawasaki, if you’ve ridden a Ninja 650 or ER-6n. Fuelling is spot-on, as crisp throttle response and strong low-end torque make for a meaty low to mid-range power delivery. The Versys 650 is a supremely refined motorcycle to ride, the powerband wide and vibe-free. The clutch is smooth to operate and not too heavy, helping you click smoothly up or down the precise, slick shifting six-speed gearbox.
As on the earlier Kawasaki 650s, the Versys 650 offers seriously quick performance, with the 0-100kph drag covered in about 5 seconds, and a genuine 200kph top speed placing this Kawasaki virtually in superbike territory.
What you could, however, end up missing is the smoother, more character rich burble of an inline-four engine, as
available on the Benelli and Honda in the same segment.
Ninja on stilts!
The Versys 650 isn’t off-road capable, and comes with street-biased tyres. You could switch to off-road tyres to help riding off the beaten track, but otherwise expect limited grip from the present street tyres should you hit the trail. The tall Kawasaki comes with trellis steel frame, and adjustable 41mm upside down telescopic suspension in front. At the rear, there’s an easily adjustable monoshock, and steel fabricated swingarm.
While the Versys 650 is a comfortable motorcycle, especially for taller riders thanks to a more splayed out, relaxed riding position, what we didn’t like was the narrow handlebar, which should have been wider for better leverage on this tall bike. Another let-down was the bike's portly 216kg weight, all of which we often found ourselves wishing we were not riding pillion, more so given the Versys 650s tall stance, and high centre-of-gravity. You really feel the Versys 650s added flab when trying to lean from one corner into the next as that takes effort, as also when braking hard. The ample mid-range performance helps to throw the bike out of corners quickly, which is a bonus.
The riding saddle feels nice and roomy, adding comfort, and ride quality is good, thanks to the long travel suspension, but the Versys 650 is heavy to steer, taking effort to manoeuvre when riding at low speeds, and becoming hard work in traffic.
Braking is excellent, with twin petal type disc brakes in the front, 300mm and a single 250mm disc brake at rear. You have strong bite and quick stops. And the Versys 650 comes with the option of ABS, which we tested and found it works perfectly.
The Versys 650 isn’t all we expected. Although it is fast, and shines when touring at high speeds down straight highways, plonk it into more demanding environments with twisting roads and you’ve got your work cut out dealing with all that weight. Add traffic as common as on our roads, and you quickly find the new Kawasaki becomes hard work; a bike with limited appeal that needs to be more versatile, to work well in Indian conditions.