Kawasaki Versys KLE650

2 Jun 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Kawasaki Versys KLE650
Kawasaki Versys

Ken (R1200GS Adventure) and Mike (DL650 V-Strom) discussing Verle’s KLE650 Versys,

Motorcyclist magazine named it 2008 Motorcycle of the Year. (more. ) July 24, 2008: awareness of the Versys just got a big boost. From the Kawasaki web site: The 2008 Versys™ – an amalgam of Versatile and System – was chosen as the Motorcycle of the Year because of its real-world versatility. This category-busting machine was engineered to perform in a wide-variety of settings, from the daily commute, to cross-country adventures and even at the occasional track day.

After sampling the unique charms of this motorcycle, the editors at Motorcyclist had to agree, writing: ‘The most impressive thing about the Versys is what it can do. That would be just about anything. The Versys has an irrational appeal to anyone who’s tired of coloring inside the same old lines.’ In the end, the Versys’ charms were such that Motorcyclist’s final selection process took far less time than it has in prior years, ending with an easy-win for this unique Kawasaki motorcycle.

The recurring question: what is the Versys? Lack of a good answer may prevent the bike’s success in America. I wrote the introduction below shortly after buying this Versys in

July of 2008. In November of 2008 was still being asked what it is.

While indulging in a coffee and scone at a popular motorcycle gathering place, I was approached by a rider I knew by sight but not by name. He had spotted my Versys and was curious. What is it, he asked? I’ve never seen one before.

Is it something like a KLR? I responded, perhaps brusquely, No, it’s nothing like a KLR, while wondering why anyone would ask such a question. (I like the KLR650 and have owned 6 of them but I don’t believe that kind of exposure is necessary to recognize when a motorcycle is very different.) It should be obvious, even to a novice motorcyclist, the Versys is nothing like a KLR.

This question was asked by a middle-aged, experienced motorcyclist, a long time BMW rider who revealed he was thinking of purchasing a dual sport motorcycle and was put off by the KLR’s seat height. This anecdote, word for word true, reflects an all too common misconception about what the Versys is. Many people see a dual sport.

Where does this confusion come from? (I realize the Kawasaki Web Site for the US 2008 Versys listed it under both Sport and Dual Sport but the people who do Kawasaki’s web site often make mistakes.) I look at a Versys and I see 17 inch wheels, sporty tires, a low-slung (almost Buell-like) muffler and more suspension travel than normal on an average street bike. I see a supermoto-inspired street bike suitable for good unpaved roads.

I realize this may be two sports but not dual sport in the context of popular usage. I never looked at the Versys and thought dual sport. Who’s wrong here? I would be surprised and impressed if someone looked at my Versys and asked, Is it something like a Multistrada? It is something like a Ducati Multistrada, not in appearance, obviously, but in functionality.

Europeans seem comfortable with such machines but motorcyclists in the USA are all too often inclined to force new motorcycles into predefined pigeonholes of which they have too few. Is this one reason motorcycles designed for Europe so often fail in the US market where image may play an all too important role in selection? (Some people want to call the Versys an adventure touring motorcycle and I guess, given that one can tour adventurously on any motorcycle, that should be an acceptable appellation but for the fact that in popular usage, adventure touring usually describes a motorcycle with some dirt orientation but too big and heavy to be called a dual sport. More specifically, an adventure touring motorcycle usually appears ready for intercontinental travel on all kinds of roads.)


I believe most Americans want motorcycles to fit recognizable categories, motorcycles that display styling and equipment clearly identifying purpose. For instance, we expect a dual sport to have a clear dirt-bike heritage, a 21 inch front wheel, long-travel suspension, etc. Ideally for some, a dual sport should be a dirt bike with lights and a minimum of other equipment to make it street legal.

We know what an adventure touring bike looks like. It has a long-range fuel tank, more suspension travel than a street bike, good ground clearance, a comfortable seat and rugged luggage cases. It looks ready to take the long way ’round or down or wherever.

Some people seem to want the Versys to be a dual sport or adventure touring motorcycle. They express a desire for a 19 inch or even 21 inch front wheel and dirt-oriented tires. In my opinion, these people miss the point of 17 inch wheels and sporty rubber which make the versys uniquely desirable as an upright sport bike.

It could have been a street fighter or hooligan bike but for the long travel suspension (relative to street bikes) which adds another dimension: the ability to absorb the inevitable bumps when riding unpaved roads. Although this may indeed be two purposes it still is not a dual purpose motorcycle as the term is generally understood and the Versys is simply not big enough for practical transporting of the luggage necessary for international adventure.

I don’t recall seeing the term in print other than my own, but I choose to call such motorcycles Street Supermotos. Supermoto tracks comprise both pavement and dirt. As such, the supermoto bikes represent exactly how many of us (some of us anyway) ride: a lot of pavement, some of it fast and a lot of good dirt and graveled roads, some of them also fast. For most riders, the mid-sized adventure touring motorcycles work well enough: fast in the paved canyons, fast on the good unpaved roads.

A few of us prefer the focus to be on twisty pavement; we’ll make do on unpaved roads. What works well for us are sporty street bikes that have functional features of supermoto motorcycles, those features primarily being 17 inch wheels, sporty tires and long travel suspension. While supermoto race bikes are usually based on dirt bikes, what I call street supermotos are usually based on street bikes.

The Versys is actually based on a sport bike and could simply be called a naked sport bike but the longer travel suspension nudges it towards street supermoto.

Although the Versys may have a confused identity in the minds of many Americans, there is no shortage of similar concepts available from Europe. Think mid-to-large motorcycles with a supermoto theme: KTM SM, Duke; BMW G650 Xmoto, HP2 Megamoto; Ducati Hypermotard, even the Multistrada fits the description as well as the latest Triumph Tiger and other models I’ve not named. Apparently the concept is understood and welcomed in Europe. In America, Buell briefly had the STT.

So far the Japanese, with the exception of Kawasaki, have offered only smaller supermoto inspired machines. Everyone knows by now the Versys was intended for Europe only. It is said a blizzard of letters inspired a last minute decision to bring the Versys to America, thankfully unadorned by the usual gaudy graphics Japanese manufacturers seem to believe Americans want. I hope the people who wrote letters understood what they were wishing for.

None of the motorcycles mentioned above are adventure touring bikes. All have sporty wheels and tires with long-travel suspension in common with Supermoto machines. Most are expensive, stylish, exotic and sometimes rare. Some have small fuel tanks and inadequate seats for all-day rides.

The Versys is affordable, fun and friendly with an exceptional vertical parallel 650 twin that even a Anglophile could love.

The Versys introduction in Europe coincided with my desire for a light-weight, upright sporty motorcycle also suited for good unpaved roads. The supermoto-inspired street bikes looked like they could satisfy my wants; I preferred Japanese. The Versys, despite it’s odd appearance and funky plastic weld covers looked like what I wanted.

When it was announced that the US would get the Versys I almost bought one, bolting at the last moment. If only it had a v-twin instead of that pesky vertical parallel twin, an engine configuration I considered devoid of torque and character in motorcycles from Japan. Nearly a year later, I was again shopping for an upright sporty bike that I could also ride comfortably on unpaved roads.

This time, I actually rode a Versys and what should I discover but torque and character. My 40-year fear-of-Japanese-vertical-parallel-twin demons finally exorcised, I bought the bike.

After 7500 miles. Summary: I find the Versys to be very comfortable with ergonomics designed towards upright-sporty with hands slightly forward and moderately low, feet high and slightly back. Some don’t like that posture so perhaps they should be considering a big dual sport or adventure touring motorcycle.

Some say they want to lower the footpegs on the Versys but I drag the pegs occasionally despite shifting my weight to the inside of the turn when cornering hard. Lowering the pegs would be a big mistake for me. I find the seat comfortable for long, all day rides and often don’t stop between fuel fillups. Many people complain about the seat.

I can’t imagine what they find wrong with it. I’ve read that it pushes you forward. I can’t agree and suspect they must be trying to sit in the wrong place.

I’m 6 feet tall and weigh 190 pounds and it fits me very well. The Versys feels lighter than it is and therefore quite nimble. The engine is delightful with a wide, strong power band.

I get fuel mileage from the mid forties when riding hard and fast to well over 50MPG at a less aggressive pace. It consumes no oil between changes. Routine maintenance is easy.

The air cleaner is well protected from dusty roads. The suspension is adequate for spirited riding, stiff enough both ends for my weight. People who claim it needs stiffer springs probably never bothered to check static sag or maybe they weigh a lot more than me.

Even though the Versys has been erroneously labeled by manufacturer and dealers alike, I’m still surprised how many think the Versys is or should be a dual sport. It should be obvious it is not a dual sport and was never intended to be. I’ve had many dual sport and adventure touring motorcycles. I bought the Versys because it is not a dual sport or adventure touring motorcycle but is an upright, mid-sized motorcycle I can ride fast on pavement and still explore unpaved roads.

The relative light weight, 50/50 weight distribution and 17 inch wheels with sporty street tires are conducive to corner speeds beyond what I can do comfortably on dual sport or adventure touring motorcycles with rearward weight bias, taller-narrower front wheel and even mildly dirt-oriented tires. That’s why I bought the Versys. Nevertheless, I ride a lot of unpaved roads and the longer travel suspension, relative to street bikes, is beneficial.

I obviously avoid big rocks with the underslung muffler. I cringe when I hear someone knowingly claim you can’t ride off pavement on street tires. I’ve been doing it for forty years and find them adequate for what I do and actually prefer street tires on gravel roads. I find the Versys to be one of the most planted bikes I’ve ever ridden on gravel roads. On several occasions I’ve exceeded 100MPH on gravel with confidence.

If you’ve heard the Versys is a handful on gravel, I assure you it was the rider not the motorcycle. On the other hand, one must be careful to avoid serious bumps. On one ride with over 200 miles unpaved, including fast riding on several rocky 2WD mountain passes and up to 113MPH on good gravel roads, I bent the front rim in three places — not enough to lose air but cosmetically unattractive.

I presume this was caused primarily by speed but perhaps also because of light-weight wheels and street tires with soft sidewalls (I was using Dunlop Roadsmarts, a dual compound sport touring tire). Solution: slow down. If I really needed different wheels and tires I would go back to a dual sport or adventure touring motorcycle. I chose to focus on fast pavement and compromise my off-pavement capability, thus the Versys.

Others may choose to do the opposite and should look elsewhere. I know what the Versys is and I won’t blame it for failing at what it was never intended to do. I still ride off road, though.

I enjoy it, too.

I measure a motorcycle by how it compares to similar motorcycles I’ve owned or ridden; I value it according to how well it does what I want it to do. When I chose the Versys, my objective was to regain or come close to the performance capabilities of my recently owned KTM 690SM. I wanted to do this with a relatively inexpensive Japanese motorcycle offering greater range, comfort and weather protection.

I truly admired the KTM 690SM which was no surprise since after all it was a thoroughbred from a company with a competition heritage.

The Versys and KTM 690SM are similar in many ways although appearance isn’t one of them. The 690SM and Versys have similar horsepower, both come with 17 inch wheels and sporty Dunlop rubber, the Versys wheelbase is 1.7 inches shorter than the KTM, the rake is 1 degree steeper, the trail is nearly the same. The Versys does weigh at least 90 pounds more than the 690SM but both have a 50/50 weight distribution. Both are ideal motorcycles for carrying high corner speed.

I find the performance similar.

The Versys has a linear power spread from under 3000 to over 9000 RPM, more useful if less fun than the KTM 690’s wicked mid-range. On pavement, I’ve sometimes seen 120MPH indicated on the Versys. With a 7-8% speedometer error (measured at several lesser speeds by both GPS and stop watch) that’s a true 110 to 111MPH.

I consider this to be top speed as I believe the power curve and wind resistance had reached equilibrium. Wind protection on the Versys is adequate but not as good as a V-Strom. The seat is all-day comfortable despite what I’ve read on Internet forums. The 5 gallon fuel tank is appreciated; the Versys gets over 50MPG if not pushed too hard giving it acceptable range for our remote western roads. It’s stable at speed and holds a line well in corners.

It’s nimble but not twitchy. The Versys is unexpectedly planted and fast on gravel and good dirt roads. I’ve seen over 100MPH on unpaved roads. Initially, I was concerned the short wheelbase of the Versys might cause instability on gravel roads.

I should have remembered that 55.7 inches is the same wheelbase as the late-sixties TR6 Triumphs I loved so much. They were certainly fast on gravel roads. The Versys is about the same weight as those late-sixties Triumph 650s. The Versys 650 vertical twin even seems vaguely familiar although the 180 degree crank does give it a different character, as does 15 or 20 more HP.

Performance exceeds my expectations, I’ve experienced no oil consumption, it does not need high octane fuel. What’s not to like?

I’m not an expert racer who can tell you for certain why a motorcycle is working well or describe adjustments it needs beyond setting static sag and routine damping changes. I’m just an enthusiastic rider on the bumpy backroads of western Colorado and the Versys makes me grin.

Kawasaki Versys

FWIW: On forums, I see riders saying they would like to get different tires and try riding good unpaved roads on the Versys, the implication or stated opinion being that one can’t ride off pavement on street tires. This certainly is not true and I’m doing what I can to dispel this myth by example. Were talking good roads here — graded gravel or dirt, not rough muddy trails.

My Versys has seen indicated speeds of 105MPH to 110MPH frequently with a high of 113MPH on such roads, first on the OEM Dunlop tires, now on Dunlop Roadsmarts — sticky, dual-compound, sporty rubber. Long a fast rider on good unpaved roads, this is the fastest I’ve ever gone on gravel roads. The sporty street tires were in no way detrimental to this activity but they are comforting when well leaned over in a 100MPH paved canyon sweeper.

There is no way I would compromise the Versys’ excellent pavement capabilities with dual sport tires. If I never rode fast on paved canyon roads I guess it wouldn’t matter. But I do ride fast in the canyons. I also ride fast on unpaved roads.

When a rider claims a Versys with street tires is spooky on gravel (assuming the bike is stock, in good shape and the tires are premium), I assure you it’s the rider, not the bike or tires.

Adjustable Windshield Mount December 24, 2008: 10,371 miles. Installed MadStad Adjustable Windshield Mount .

Purchasing a motorcycle windshield is as close as I come to gambling. I want to believe I will pick a winner but I’m usually disappointed. I often modify what I buy and sometimes end up throwing it away.

My needs seem reasonable. I want upper-body wind and weather protection with only a modest amount of turbulence and wind noise. I refuse to look through a windshield while riding and therefore don’t seek the elusive still air pocket. I would like to keep at least 80% of bugs off my face shield.

It’s almost impossible to know if an unseen, untried windscreen will comply with my wants and even if I find one that does, saying so has little value to another rider as we all have different requirements due to torso height, posture, climate and tolerance of wind noise and turbulence. On the Versys, I found wind and bug protection unsatisfactory with the stock shield in any of the 3 positions. A Givi windscreen helped but not enough.

What would work? What I needed was an easy way to experiment with height and angle without buying additional windshields.

The MadStad Adjustable Windshield Mount provides that flexibility. The Madstad bracket allows 3 inches of vertical adjustment (twice what the stock Versys brackets provide) and 25 degrees of angle adjustment from stock upright to farther back than you would ever want (the stock bracket provides no angle adjustment without imaginative use of shims or spacers). MadStad adjustment consists of twisting a couple knobs, positioning the windshield and tightening the knobs.

Easy and quick without tools. This range of adjustment, with a mid-sized aftermarket windshield (MadStad advises the stock Versys windshield is too small for effective adjustment), is like having several windshields to try. The MadStad bracket is a proven concept, having been used by many V-Strom riders.

I ordered the MadStad brackets on a Thursday, choosing USPS because it was the least expensive rate, expecting it to take a week to get to western Colorado. It shipped on Friday with the Tampa Post Office acknowledging receipt shortly before midnight. I received it in remote western Colorado on Monday afternoon.

This kind of service from USPS is just short of astonishing.

The bracket assembly is made with precision and installs easily with clear instructions. I quickly found air flow more to my liking with endless possibilities yet to try. No more wondering if an inch or so higher or lower would be better or worse. No more unsatisfied curiosity about changing the angle.

I’m indecisive about windshields. Now I can change my mind as often as I like. Even if I could find no setting I liked I would value this product for letting me experiment with what I think might work. Additionally, I ride all year here in western Colorado and the ability to adjust for different seasons is a plus.

I’m impressed with the usefulness of this product. Be aware, I’m seeking only an acceptable reduction of wind, noise and bugs; if I wanted a cocoon of still air I would get a Toyota.

The MadStad Adjustable Windshield Mount works as advertised and Mark Stadnyk of MadStad Engineering has been a pleasure to deal with. I had a couple questions and Mark responded promptly with thoughtful consideration and good advice. What more could a consumer want?

MadStad Adjustable Windshield Mounts are available for the V-Strom and Versys.

Motorcycle stands September 26, 2008: 6014 miles. After having the Versys suffer cosmetic damage from a topple off an old ill-fitting swing arm stand while my back was turned, and two near-falls while I was close enough to catch it, I decided to purchase new front and rear stands. Famous brands notwithstanding, modest research on the Internet suggested I would be happy with front and rear motorcycle stands and swing arm spools from T-Rex Racing for a total of $147.40 including shipping.

The stands were shipped promptly, seem well made, were nicely packed and are easy to use without an assistant.

Givi windscreen August 1, 2008: 2099 miles. Installed Givi windscreen, ordered through Davis Service Center in Montrose, CO. Excellent quality with professional detailing superior to most alternatives.

Less expensive than most homemade-look alternatives. Airflow above helmet visor (this was mostly about bugs on visor), wind noise different but not louder, buffeting not an issue.

Givi side racks and Givi E21 side cases July 22, 2008: 1437 miles. Installed Givi side racks and Givi E21 side cases. Excellent quality, close-fitting racks. Less expensive than alternatives. I used the E21 cases from my previous KLR650.

I like top loaders and the small E21 cases are big enough for me and seem esthetically appropriate for most bikes I’ve used them on.

2008 Versys details

Kawasaki Versys
Kawasaki Versys
Kawasaki Versys

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