In its own way, the Kawasaki Versys 650L (L for learner-approved here in Australia) is the latest in a long line of 500 to 650cc twin cylinder motorcycles that stretches back to before even I began riding. These bikes have always been honest, workmanlike machines – although in the early days they were also performance bikes – which have served millions of motorcyclists with reliability and enthusiasm.
“What?” I hear you cry. “You‘ve done it again, Bear. The Versyses (Versii?) have always been adventure bikes!”
The early models were certainly an attempt at that, complete with the somewhat awkward styling that Japanese manufacturers often imposed on their adventure ranges, especially in the single and twin mid-size class. See Suzuki’s V Strom and any number of Honda attempts to get the look right. Along with that awkwardness in looks the bikes have always (go on, hit me with an exception) been somewhat ambiguous in their equipment. They have, without wishing to be critical, been ‘soft’ adventure bikes.
This Versys is even softer, and the better for it. Despite the relatively long-travel suspension, it is a road bike – something confirmed by the tyre choice if you need confirmation. Kawasaki reveals a certain uncertainty about the bike which, apparently, “refuses to be restricted to any one classification. Difficult to explain and impossible to categorise, the Versys 650L is one of those machines that exceeds the sum of its parts.” Right. Fortunately it is also a looker, which stops the people who used to ask me “What is it?” when I went anywhere on one of Yamaha’s ambiguous-looking TDMs.
Kawasaki says that the headlight layout is intended to provide a more aggressive, sporty design than the previous stacked headlights, and that’s worked well. The overall appearance of the bike is quite sporty, one of the things that makes it look less like an adventure bike. Airflow management was a priority when the bike was designed, and the moveable screen does a good job.
Overall comfort is spot on. Kawasaki has taken trouble to direct the engine’s heat downwards, away from the rider, and the rubber mounts keep vibration to a minimum. The handlebar is also rubber mounted, but it avoids the wobbly feel that that can cause.
So what is the Versys 650L? You can’t call it a soft adventure bike. That sounds like an insult. And it isn’t that, anyway. It is a well-designed and well-equipped road bike. One that doesn’t need any qualification beyond that. It is a motorcycle that I suspect anyone, no matter what bike they already had in their garage, would make room for. It would supplement just about any other bike you owned.
Motorcycles with midrange capacity are very nearly ideal allrounders. They are light enough to handle effortlessly, solid enough to carry two people and luggage, able to handle poor quality roads, torquey enough to pull out of corners and hardy enough to survive even Australian roads. The Versys fits into that wish list perfectly. Apart from the light and effortless handling, I really liked the forgiving way the bike would power out of corners. On the Oxley Highway, one of Australia’s less forgiving scratching roads, I missed the ideal line a couple of times, as one does, but the bike just tracked out. The power restriction for Learner status didn’t worry me, and I kept up comfortably with much larger bikes.
Given the amazing range, the bike is a perfectly adequate tourer except for the seat which does get a bit painful after a day or so in the saddle. Nothing an air seat won’t fix, but I was determined to try the bike as-is. I carried my gear in a Nelson-Rigg tank bag and a Kuryakyn luggage roll, but you can get panniers, a top box and other gear for the bike from Kawasaki’s extensive range of accessories. The 28 litre panniers will each hold a full fac e helmet according to Kawasaki, but I couldn’t check that for you. Panniers and top box can be locked with the ignition key. The panniers mount without unsightly rails, and can be used with the 47 litre top box. Payload has been increased by 30kg to 210kg.
The seat is at a reasonable height, but the pillion seat is higher and the luggage roll on top of it made it impossible for me to swing my leg over the way I normally would. This became a problem at times, but I can’t see a way around it. If you’re a bit short in the inseam, don’t load luggage onto the pillion seat. All in all, although the bike makes a perfectly adequate tourer it is probably more in its element as a city bike and weekend scratcher.
Homer Simpson said at one point: “I’m not easily impressed. Look, a blue car!” I try not to be too impressed by the paint on bikes because it’s not really a vital part of their makeup (sorry). But the Versys’ Candy Lime Green with Metallic Spark Black does look smart, and it matches the general build quality.
The single instrument binnacle is easy to read and offers the combination I prefer: a dial for revs and a digital readout for speed. The ‘remaining range’ readout is as pessimistic as these are on most bikes, but the other instruments are good.
I put nearly 5000km on this bike over a couple of weeks, which might seem to contradict what I’ve said about the seat’s suitability for long distance work. The comfortable riding position helped. I even did a one-day 850km run down the superslab because I had to get home. Most of my riding, however, was on roads that looked a bit like sections of the Tail of the Dragon. Much as I enjoyed the bike’s handling and steering, what probably impressed me more than anything else was the range. Five hundred kilometres per 21 litre tank is adventure bike territory, even if the rest of the Versys is more like a road bike. Point to note: I am notoriously easy on fuel consumption. You might not get my 4.2l/100km.
(Photos The Bear)