2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 LT Review
With a myriad of updates and a tweak in focus, the 2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 has been refined, and Kawasaki offers a Light Touring (LT) version that is perfectly dialed in for its intended purpose. Wearing its tricorn hat (commuting/sport riding/light touring) with equal panache, the 2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 LT is an unequivocal success.
The dual-sport type ergonomics – upright seating, wide bars, neutral peg position – are immediately comfortable and put the rider at ease. For 2015, the Versys’ footpegs have been lowered slightly and moved forward, creating just a bit more room and a seating pocket that is really just perfect. Your knees lay against the narrow frame and tank where you can easily and comfortably grip the bike, adding that extra element of security when riding at speed.
The upright seating posture is not only comfortable for clicking off miles in the saddle, but it elicits sensible speeds, as the body position doesn’t promote overly aggressive riding—at least not in straight line riding on the freeway. Get the 650 LT into the canyons, though, and suddenly the sporting side of the Versys 650 steps front and center, demanding attention – something we found out quickly during our test.
It’s deserved attention, as there is plenty enough torque and response from the liquid-cooled, DOHC, 649cc, parallel twin, resulting in an athletic ride. Twist the throttle and you can have a rousing good time accelerating hard out of turns, and then revving right up to the 10,000 rpm redline as you try to catch your buddy who is spotting you 250cc. Yes, you’ll start to lose ground on long uphill straights, but you will close the gap when things tighten up again.
The Showa forks have been upgraded by putting the spring in one tube and damping mechanism in the other; judging by the spirited chase I was able to maintain, it is a success. I was able to transition in and out of turns quickly and confidently using the leverage at the bars; the front end was solid and gave me no cause to back off. The KYB shock now has knob-adjustable spring preload, which is helpful when carrying a passenger or setting a preferred ride height.
Aggressive riding necessitates powerful brakes and the 2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 LT delivers. The dual 300mm discs up front with Nissin calipers are convincing and won’t bite you, and coupled with the 250mm rear disc and a stock ABS, confidence abounds.
Due credit also goes to the Dunlop Sportmax D222 tires, which stuck to the road as far over as I wanted to lean, and offered full confidence regarding traction. Turn-in isn’t excessively fast, which is appropriate for an adventure tourer, and pure sport riders will want the Ninja 650 flavor of this machine.
The 2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 LT is also an excellent commuting partner. Body positioning and the tallish 33-inch saddle affords a good view over surrounding vehicles, while the low-end torque makes it easy to carve through traffic. Having carried an Alpinestars backpack to work for the past several years, I enjoyed being able to put all that weight in the 650 LT’s hard side bags instead.
Happily, the additional width to its backside did not cramp my lane-splitting habit much. I have also been enjoying the option of running errands on the way home; I have an easy stash for small grocery purchases, including items that might need to sit upright and/or are too fragile for a backpack.
The semi-long travel suspension (just short of six inches at each end) serves the Versys well by soaking up the heavily traveled urban and suburban thoroughfares’ bumps, pavement transitions, and outright potholes with ease. Commuting through city streets is a quite comfortable; the ride is cush without being soft.
When you can get away from work for a long weekend, you’ll find the Versys 650 LT is the perfect mid-size light-touring bike. Easy to handle even with both side bags fully loaded, I put 1100 miles on the 650 in three days along the California coast and Central Valley, and found it impressively maneuverable.
Whether enjoying the tight turns along coast-hugging Cabrillo Highway, zooming along La Honda Road’s fast sweepers up the hill to Alice’s Restaurant, or some lane splitting when faced with brutal summer traffic on 19th Avenue in San Francisco, the Versys 650 LT was an easy ride.
Helping to keep fatigue at bay is a manually adjustable – up to 2.4 inches – windscreen that directs the majority of the windblast over the rider. Thanks also go to the new rubber-mounted engine and handlebars for keeping vibration to a minimum. This was especially impressive on a long drone down Interstate 5 from Willows to Los Angeles. In addition to being reasonably comfortable, the motor and chassis were more than willing to play along with the autobahn-like weekday speeds.
For those keeping an eye on their fuel bill, the Versys 650 LT is a thrifty ride. The dash displays a green ECO light when the engine is at maximum efficiency. When aggressively accelerating, the ECO light will naturally turn off, but I was surprised to see it generously displayed while cruising up to 80 mph (around 6250 rpm). This returned an average 50 mpg, even when dealing with stop and go traffic, and hard charging some quick ascending mountain roads. The Versys has a 5.5-gallon tank, including a gallon of reserve, so the theoretical range is easily over 200 miles.
The 650 LT comes equipped with Kawasaki’s Quick Release hard saddlebags with a 30-quart carrying capacity. While the bags are the less-convenient clamshell design—harder to dig stuff out of while attached to the bike without loose items falling out—it truly is quick and easy to remove and reattach the bags at the end of your day’s ride. Fortunately, bag liners are available from Kawasaki Genuine Accessories. I liked the simplicity of the single-key system, with the ignition key also serving the saddlebags. It’s convenient and less to keep track of.
The LT comes dressed for adventure with handguards, though you’re not likely to be riding off the asphalt and knocking through the brush on the 650. Still, it’s a nice styling cue and it keeps the wind chill off your hands on cool summer nights.
There are various other accessories available from Kawasaki Genuine Accessories, should you want to deck the Versys LT out for more serious touring, including a 50-quart top case (large enough to fit two full face helmets), that can be combined with the saddlebags, or used alone, heated grips, an automotive-style power outlet, a GPS mount, and a taller windshield.
What makes the 2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 LT so much fun is that the engine is so willing, without being any kind of handful. When you’re not working the Versys over, it is happy to tool around the backroads or suburban neighborhoods quite docilely, its amiable character shining through. A novice could ride this bike without stress, yet a seasoned rider will know how to have a blast on it. Nicely done.
Photography by Don Williams
- Helmet: Arai Signet-Q Tropic
- Communications: Sena 20S
- Jacket: First Gear TPG Monarch
- Gloves: Alpinestars SP8
- Pants: First Gear Women’s HT Overpants
- Boots: Sidi Vertigo Lei
2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 LT Specs
- Engine: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, four valves per cylinder, parallel twin
- Displacement: 649cc
- Bore x stroke: 83 x 60mm
- Compression ratio: 10.8:1
- Fuel injection: DFI with two 38mm Keihin throttle bodies
- Ignition: TCBI with electronic advance
- Transmission: 6-speed with positive neutral finder
- Final drive: Sealed chain
- Frame: Double pipe diamond frame constructed from high-tensile steel
- Front suspension: Showa 41mm hydraulic telescopic forks with stepless adjustable rebound and preload; 5.9 inches of travel
- Rear suspension: Single offset KYB laydown shock with remote adjustable spring preload; 5.7 inches of travel
- Tires: Dunlop Sportmax D222
- Front tire: 120/70×17
- Rear tire: 160/60×17
- Front brakes: Dual 300mm petal rotors with two-piston calipers and ABS
- Rear brake: Single 250mm petal rotor with single-piston caliper and ABS
- Rake: 25 degrees
- Trail: 4.3 inches
- Wheelbase: 55.7 inches
- Overall length: 85.2 inches
- Overall width: 37.2 inches (with saddlebags)
- Overall height: 55.1 inches (windshield low) / 57.1 inches (windshield raised)
- Seat height: 33.1 inches
- Curb weight: 496 pounds
- Fuel capacity: 5.5 gallons
- Colors: Candy Lime Green, Pearl Stardust White
- 2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 LT MSRP: $8,699