Kawasaki Versys 650 (2015): First Ride

Author: Roland Brown Posted: 15 Dec 2014

Revised styling & a new screen for 2015

Kawasaki isn’t a firm that could be accused of doing things by halves, but it seems a bit that way with the Versys 650. The original go-anywhere parallel twin was practical and fun to ride on its launch back in 2007, but looked a bit strange and didn’t sell particularly well. So three years later it was restyled and given a new screen for improved wind protection, plus revised suspension and a partially rubber mounted engine to reduce vibration.

Now the middleweight Versys has been revamped again for 2015 with – sounds familiar? – fresh styling, a new screen giving even better wind protection, revised suspension and additional rubber mounting. The result is the bike that the Versys should perhaps have been all along.

2015 model sees an increase in bhp up to 68

This time Kawasaki have treated the 650 to a complete restyle similar to that of the latest Versys 1000. Other updates include an extra 5bhp that takes the 649cc parallel twin’s output to 68bhp. That larger screen also gains 65mm of vertical adjustment. The fuel tank is two litres bigger, there’s a remote preload adjuster for the shock, plus an uprated brake system. And you can fit both panniers and top-box simultaneously, which couldn’t be done with the old model.

That last feature and the lengthy accessory list has allowed Kawasaki to offer three different models. Alongside the standard 650 there’s a Versys Tourer that includes hand-guards plus hard panniers with internal bags (costing £7299 to the base bike’s £6749), plus a Grand Tourer that costs £7999 and adds to the Tourer’s spec with a top-box and driving lights, plus a gear indicator and 12V socket in the dashboard.

Charging down a twisty and not particularly well surfaced road running round the base of Mount Etna in Sicily on a white Tourer (alternatives are black and yellow) towards the end of the launch ride, I’m not sure which spec I’d opt for but I’m pretty sure that Kawasaki have made it third time lucky with the Versys 650. It was obvious before climbing aboard that the twin-headlamp styling’s much better: sharp and dynamic, in contrast to the tall faces of the previous models.

Over 200 miles from the 21-litre tank

That dohc eight-valve parallel twin unit that the Versys shares with the ER-6 models has always been good. This latest version, mildly tweaked with new cams as well as injection and exhaust, was respectably flexible, pulling happily from below 3000rpm, yet it felt lively if not exactly thrilling at higher revs. The 5bhp power increase was probably balanced out by this better equipped bike being slightly heavier, at 216kg wet. I found the Kawa entertaining enough although a couple of riders said they thought it a bit dull.

It’s certainly smooth, the extra rubber mounting helping ensure that I had no tingles after a day’s ride that included a blast back down the autostrada. That stretch confirmed that the 650 is happy to cruise at three-figure speeds, and can sit at an effortless 85mph. The twin is economical too (Kawasaki say two per cent better), averaging 54mpg despite some fairly enthusiastic use of the throttle. That combines with the bigger, 21-litre tank to give a useful range of well over 200 miles.

And the Versys is pretty comfortable at speed too, thanks to that substantially bigger screen, which can be adjusted after loosening two knobs on the front. Being very tall I got a bit of turbulence even on the highest setting, but less than with plenty of more expensive bikes. Footrests that are slightly lower and further forward gave plenty of room for long legs. The only comfort related complaint concerned the seat, which had begun to make itself felt after a couple of hours’ riding. A gel seat is available as an accessory, and might be needed for longer trips.

Chassis performance was well up to the job. The steel main frame is unchanged but the rear subframe is beefed up to give extra carrying capacity, and suspension is revamped, mainly to suit the extra load-carrying capacity. High-speed stability was excellent, and ride quality good even on some very bumpy Sicilian roads, thanks to the generous 150mm and 145mm of respectably well damped travel at front and rear.

With its panniers loaded the Versys was hardly light and agile by middleweight standards but it cornered enthusiastically enough, tending to run slightly wide if I entered a turn with the revs very low, but steering well and holding a tight line if I made sure to keep the motor spinning above about 5000rpm. Adding some shock preload with the handy adjuster helped. Dunlop’s Sportmax D222 rubber gripped sometimes dusty roads as well as could be expected, and ground clearance wasn’t a problem. The brakes had adequate if not exceptional power with plenty of feel, and ABS is standard fitment.

Tourer and GT spec get hand guards and heated grips

Of course the Versys has always been built to be versatile, and this model is better than ever. Along with the bigger screen and tank the Tourer and GT come with hand-guards that were useful on a chilly day, as were the accessory heated grips. The luggage is colour-matched, respectably large (one full-face in each pannier; two in the top-box), unlocks with the ignition key and is easy to remove.

It adds up to an enjoyable, respectably stylish bike that will pretty much do what you ask of it, provided you don’t expect searing acceleration or plan to take this more road biased Versys off the tarmac.

Kawasaki's Versys 650Promotional Video:

TECH SPEC

 Engine

 649cc, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke Parallel Twin, 8 Valves, DOHC

 Frame

 Diamond, high-tensile steel

 Performance

 Power: 51 kW / 68 BHP @ 8,500 rpm

 Torque: 64 Nm / 47.2 ft lbs

 Brakes

 Front: Dual semi-floating ø300 mm petal discs; Caliper: Dual 2-piston

 Rear: Single ø250 mm petal disc; Caliper: Single-piston

 Suspension

 Front: ø41 mm inverted telescopic fork with adjustable rebound damping (right-side) and adjustable preload (left-side)

 Rear: Offset laydown single-shock with remote spring preload adjustability

 Tyres

 Front: 120/70ZR17M/C (58W)

 Rear: 160/60ZR17M/C (69W)

 Dimensions

 L: 2,165mm

 W: 840mm

 H: 1,400/1,450mm (high position)

 Fuel Capacity

 21 litres

 Seat height

 840mm

 Weight

 214kg / 216kg (with ABS)

 Colours  White, Black or Yellow
 Price

 Standard: £6,749

 Tourer: £7,299

 Grand Tourer: £7,999

Close-up of Kawasaki's Versys 650

Click here for the 2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 road test

Photo credit: Double Red and David Reygondeau

Does the 650 version of the Versys appeal?