Although nominally an adventure bike derived from an upright sporting motorcycle, the Kawasaki Versys ABS, a parallel twin 650, is really about versatility—it is a machine that can suit any sort of riding you’re feeling up to doing.
In urban conditions, the Kawasaki Versys is an outstanding commuter. With a seat height of 33.3 inches, you have a great view of your surroundings, making it easy to avoid trouble before you get into it. The EFI, with two 38mm Keihin throttle bodies, delivers the power off idle without a hitch. Smooth down low, but with decent torque on hand, the Versys slides through traffic effortlessly.
Because of its adventure slant, thanks to almost six inches of wheel travel at both ends, the condition of the pavement is irrelevant. Nasty in-town potholes are absorbed—not transparently, but smoothly enough that it won’t disrupt the ride. Agile at 454 pounds (claimed curb), you can squeeze your way through traffic, and dive into open spots or around corners at will. This is a great city bike, as long as the seat height doesn’t intimidate you.
When it comes time to transition onto the freeway, the engine revs up to a 10,500 rpm redline and acceleration is not modest—you are at the speed limit or above, even on short ramps, if you’re willing to twist the throttle. The wheelbase is nearly 56 inches, and the rake a responsible 25 degrees, so stability is no issue at all. The Dunlop Sportmax tires are at peace with rain grooves, and you feel free to do battle on the freeway as you see fit.
The large digital readout of the speed will at least let you know if you’re getting yourself into trouble. The tach is large and easily read, and there is the usual array of warning lights. There is no gear position indicator, however.
Canyon riding is probably the strongest suit of the Versys. Heavily based on the upright Kawasaki Ninja 650, it loves to rev and lean. Again, the Dunlops provide plenty of traction and good feedback, though you will feel a bit removed from the road due to the height of the suspension and your fully upright seating position. The suspension is better than you’d expect in corners, as it doesn’t dive excessively under hard braking or feel spongy mid-corner. Once you acclimate yourself to the ergonomics and limits, the Versys feels like it can be ridden as quickly as the Ninja 650 in the twisties.
Brakes are no worry, especially with ABS, which works fairly unobtrusively. Initial bite is nice and soft, though when you start to get a good grasp of the adjustable lever, the twin 300mm discs respond to the grasp of the four-piston calipers. The rear brake pedal is a bit out of the way, so you won’t be using it much. Downshifting is fine, as is the complete operation of the gearbox, so you won’t mind putting the six-speed transmission through its paces.
Turn-in is fully predictable and natural, and the high pegs give you plenty of cornering clearance, especially for a bike of this type. The 17-inch wheels will accept premium rubber if you’re serious about sport riding while still enjoying the versatility of the Versys.
There’s also a sport tourer lurking inside the Versys. There are 35-liter hard sidecases available for the Versys from Kawasaki, and a 30-liter top case is just icing on the cake. With 100 liters of cargo, you can take a week off and explore without feeling like you need to wash your clothes before you get back home. A taller windshield is available—highly recommended for lots of freeway droning—from Kawasaki and Zero Gravity. Kawasaki doesn’t offer a touring seat–and some riders will find the stocker a bit hard after a while–so that’s worth looking into.
As far as the adventure aspect of the Versys is concerned, be reasonable. It is not an off-road bike—it is a dirt road bike. In fact, make sure that dirt road is in good shape. The Sportmax tires are not intended for dirt excursions and the underslung exhaust is vulnerable.
We took the Kawasaki Versys out on the dirt portion of Mulholland Drive and it’s pretty good in a straight line. However, come into a turn at any speed and the front end will start pushing immediately. You might feel comfortable backing it into turns on dirt roads—we weren’t and we simply slowed down. Still, you won’t feel like you aren’t where you should be when riding the Versys down a good dirt road, as you would on a pure street bike.
There’s something very convenient about having the Kawasaki Versys in your garage. You know that if any friend comes by and wants to go for a ride with you, you can go along without concern. You won’t be as cool and low as your cruiser friend, or as fast as your superbike-riding friend, or able to go where your dual-sport riding friend goes, but without a wide range of riding, you can hope on and go along. Friendly, versatile, and capable—the Kawasaki Versys is one of our favorite fun bikes, and it remains unchanged for 2014 (save for it being available in green only in ’14).
Action Photography by Kelly Callan
Helmet: Arai XD4 Explore Silver
Jacket and pants: AGV Sport Telluride
Gloves: AGV Sport Mayhem
Boots: Sidi Armada
2013 Kawasaki Versys ABS Specifications
Engine…Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four valves per cylinder parallel twin
Bore x Stroke…83.0 x 60.0 mm
Fuel System…Digital fuel injection with two 38mm Keihin throttle bodies
Ignition…TCBI with electronic advance
Final Drive…O-Ring Chain
Frame Type…Semi-double cradle, high-tensile steel
Rake/Trail…25 degrees/4.3 in.
Front Tire Size…120/70-17
Rear Tire Size…160/60-17
Front Suspension / Wheel Travel…41mm hydraulic telescopic fork with stepless adjustable rebound and preload / 5.9 in.
Rear Suspension / Wheel Travel…Single offset laydown shock with 13-position adjustable rebound damping and adjustable spring preload / 5.7 in.
Front brakes…Dual 300mm petal discs with two-piston caliper and ABS
Rear brakes…Single 220mm petal disc with single-piston caliper and ABS
Fuel Capacity…5.0 gal.
Seat Height…33.3 in.
Curb Weight…454.2 lbs.
Overall Length…83.7 in.
Overall Width…33.1 in.
Overall Height…52.4 in.
Color(s)…Pearl Stardust White, Candy Thunder Blue/Metallic Spark Black
MSRP: $7999 (2013 and 2014)