Do-it-all motorcycles, with styling reminiscent of a Dakar rally bike, but only the slightest pretence of off-road capabilities, generally come from Europe—with offerings from marques such as BMW, Ducati and Triumph—where the styling and performance have great appeal.
Kawasaki entered the fray last year with the European and Canadian introduction of the Versys; a motorcycle based on the Ninja 650R platform with the addition of longer, adjustable suspension, and an engine re-tuned for mid-range power. Due to the number of inquiries from American enthusiasts, Kawasaki is bringing the 2008 Versys to the U.S. market.
The styling is there on the Versys. The small, aggressive faring wraps from the headlight around the sides of the gas tank with carved knee notches. The headlight is an over/under high-and-low beam, with small running lights on either side of the low beam. The running lights give extra illumination to the sides for better coverage when cornering. All of the light bulbs are covered with a large, single lens that dominates the front of the bike.
The small windscreen is positioned far in front of the rider yet provides a large amount of protection from the wind. The keystone-shaped plastic is adjustable to three different heights to customize where the wind hits your helmet. There are two optional windscreens, both larger in every dimension than the stock unit and come with gradient tinting. One of the optional windscreens has an adjustable top lip that uses a pair of A-arms with detents to fine-tune the wind flow.
The right side of the Versys is the show side of the bike, for profiling from the fast lane. The swing arm demonstrates this best, as the right side is a finely sculpted gull-wing and the left side is a triangulated box tube, apparently to accommodate the chain drive.
The exhaust is also best viewed from the throttle side. The under-chassis exhaust enhances the performance élan of the bike. It also makes fitting a center stand impossible, which detracts from the bike’s potential as a light tourer. The exhaust tip wraps around the Dunlop D221 and tucks close under the swing arm giving a fine, custom look.
Heading to work, the Versys is a great commuter. It is narrow, decreasing the stress level when splitting lanes and the higher riding position gives you a better chance of seeing trouble early.
Enjoying nature, the Versys carves canyons with a confidence-inspiring expertise that makes any mountain road too short. The adjustable, inverted Showa fork and adjustable shock give you almost six inches of travel to smooth out frost heaves and tar patches so you don’t have to let a rough road slow you down.
The steering geometry has been refined from the Ninja 650R, allowing the bike to effortlessly transition from one corner to the next and the mid-range power of the engine allows generous throttle application out of corners. You can ride aggressively and not have to worry about overpowering the road. The close-ratio 6-speed transmission makes gear selection less critical, but I did find false neutral several times at high revs. Can you get your knee pucks dirty? Probably, but if that is your goal, hit a track day.
Picking up the groceries, the Versys makes a fun streetfighter. Everything that makes this bike an enjoyable canyon machine also gives you the confidence to tackle the streets. The wide handlebars give you the leverage to tuck the bike through traffic and the ubiquitous petal disk breaks effectively scrub off speed. Kawasaki even increased the size of the radiator from the Ninja 650R to give better cooling for waiting at those annoying stop lights.
Getting out of town, the Versys is comfortable when you have to hit the highway. With the optional Kawasaki hard panniers, top case, and tank bag you can pack enough to put a couple of weeks between you and home. The seat is comfortable for both you and passenger with the pillion high enough to provide excellent forward visibility for everyone involved.
The one-piece seat is upholstered to give the appearance that the pillion is a separate unit and under the seat is a compartment designed to hold a U-lock in addition to the standard tool kit. If you really need to put a few miles under you, there is an optional gel seat that is two inches lower than stock.
If you can only find room in your garage for one bike, the Kawasaki Versys is an attractive option. It is versatile, attractive, and best of all, fun. The Versys is available this year in all states except California, where the lack of a vapor recovery system, (charcoal canister), will delay its arrival by a year.
Motorcycle Riding Style
Helmet: Dainese Airstream Course
Eyewear: Oakley M Frame
Jacket: Firstgear Denali
Gloves: Firstgear Mesh Sport
Pants: Firstgear Meshtech
Boots: Sidi On-Road Gore-Tex