Kawasaki Versys 650 (2007-current): Review & Buying Guide

Kev Raymond
By Kev Raymond

Kev's been riding since acquiring half shares in a CZ175 field bike back in the seventies, passed his test in a blizzard on Christmas Eve 1985, and got his first job on a bike mag in 1990. Likes: long distance touring and short-distance twisties. Currently owns a 1987 GSX-R1100, a 1992 Ducati 400SS, a 1973 Honda SS50, a 1978 Honda CX500, a 1988 Honda Bros special, a 1957 Mobylette and a 110cc pit bike. None of them work.

Kawasaki

 

With the rise in popularity of the adventure bike in the noughties came the realisation that 99% of off-road styled adventure bikes never went off-road in their lives. In which case, why bother with knobbly tyres, spoked wheels and massive ground clearance? Why not just build a pure road bike that combined the best bits of adventure bikes (upright riding position, pothole-surfing suspension, easy power delivery and torque-tuned engine) with the best bits of road bikes (proper tyres, easy-clean cast wheels, decent brakes and sleek styling)?

Kawasaki decided to do just that with the Versys 650 and 1000, although opinions were divided on the 'sleek styling' part – the early versions were never particularly easy on the eye, although they were pretty easy on the wallet, which counts for a lot. Most people (and Wikipedia) will tell you that 'Versys' comes from 'Versatile' and 'System'. Which is odd, since Kawasaki themselves say it comes from 'Vertex' and 'System'. Wherever the name comes from, the 650 version of the bike is a belter – easy to ride, easy to maintain, easy to thread through traffic or fling round twisty back roads, as the mood or need takes you. The Versys 650 is based squarely on the well-proven ER-6 platform, which as well as being an outstanding commuter bike and all-rounder, has also been the basis of countless race bikes in the Minitwins and Supertwins classes, proving reliable even when tuned to the max and revving far higher than in road form. In Versys form the engine's re-tuned for more low down pull at the expense of a little top end, but it's better for it, with far better flexibility which means less gearbox-dancing. 17in cast wheels take sensible-sized tyres, giving a wide choice of price/grip, and relatively plush suspension and decent brakes complete a versatile package.

The original 650 ran from 2007 to 2009, then a mild cosmetic update for 2010 (still with the stacked headlights) sufficed, until a major update in 2015. That brought sportsbike-style lights, beefier forks and KYB rear shock, a bigger fuel tank (21 litres, up from 19) and a tiny bit more power. Alongside the base bike, from 2011 there's been a Tourer version (sometimes called the LT), with additional panniers, hand guards and tank pad as standard. From 2015 that was joined by the Grand Tourer (or LT SE), which added a top box, spotlights, pannier inner bags, gear indicator and 12V accessory socket. ABS was optional on earlier models, but standard from 2016.

 

 

Kawasaki Versys 650 (2007-current) Price

The first Versys of 2007 retailed at £4995 – four hundred quid more than the ER-6N on which it was based, and the equivalent of around seven grand today. By the facelift in 2010 it was up to a quid short of six grand – exactly the same price as its stablemate, the excellent Z750 – and by 2018 full retail was over seven grand, so it was never a particularly cheap bike. But over the years they've held their values pretty well (in fact used prices have barely changed in the past 2-3 years), and you'll struggle to find a clean early one in a dealer for under £2500, although you'll see high mileage (and usually pretty scruffy) examples on private sale for under two grand.  If you can stretch to it, we'd recommend holding out for a good 2010-2014 model – nice ones start at around £3200 for a 2010 base model with reasonable miles, and go up to around £4000 for a late 2014.

There doesn't seem to be a big difference between the prices of ABS or non-ABS models. From 2015 on, there's a bit of jump in prices, with good ones starting from about £4500 and some dealers asking over six grand for a low miles 2019 model at time of writing. Shop around though – you can get a new one for £6500 with delivery mileage only.

Touring and GT models attract a premium of around 10%.

 

Power and torque

With just over 60bhp hauling more than quarter of a ton of bike and rider, you might expect performance to be a little flat, but it's not. Partly that's down to the re-tuned engine, which means you don't need to wring its neck like the ER6 on which it's based, but mainly it's lower gearing which means you lose a bit of theoretical top speed (if you 'need' to be doing more than 130mph on the road you're probably not looking at a Versys anyway...) but gain a lot of low down acceleration. That makes it a hoot in town, where dodging for gaps in traffic is pretty much squirt and go, and it also means less gearbox action out on the road, and especially powering out of tight bends. The downside of the lower gearing is a slightly 'busy' feeling at motorway speeds – you sometimes feel as if you'd like an extra overdrive gear.

 

 

Engine, gearbox and exhaust

The Versys engine is tough. Very tough. Tough enough to be tuned for racing and thrashed mercilessly round the TT course without giving trouble. So given a bit of regular maintenance it'll go on more or less forever as a road bike. That said, you should still check a used bike carefully and make sure you see it started from cold, as it's not unknown for neglected examples which have been thrashed from cold every day on short commutes to burn a fair bit of oil – a good one should rarely need topping up between changes. Otherwise problems tend to be related to peripherals – failing electrics, poor connections etc.  If there's a fundamental complaint it's vibration – not a surprise with a twin, but it can be very noticeable, especially on early bikes (2010-on had better engine mounts and suffer less). Kawasaki fitted foam pads to later bikes to reduce panel rattles – worth renewing or replacing if they've disappeared over the years. The gearbox rarely gives trouble in normal use, although you might catch the odd false neutral if you try and shift too fast or without the clutch.

The exhaust system has always been a weak point – corrosion is very common and complete collapse not unknown. Some owners treat that as an excuse to fit a new aftermarket exhaust, and there are several contenders offering replacement downpipes, slip-on silencers or complete systems. Black Widow are well worth a look, with full systems from just over £250 (genuine Kawasaki downpipes are £390 and silencers £535!).

 

Kawasaki Versys 650 (2007-current) Economy

Decent fuel economy has always been a Versys strong point. It's easy to get 50+mpg and quite possible to get over 60mpg, and even if you're heavy-handed you'll struggle to get much worse than mid 40s. Combined with a decent sized fuel tank that means a range of 200 miles is achievable even on the earlier models (19 litre tank) and easy on the 2010-on version with its extra couple of litres. Some owners of later bikes reckon they get 240 miles from a tank on a regular basis.



Kawasaki

 

Handling, suspension, chassis and weight

Despite a kerb weight over 200kg, the Versys is stable and easy to manage at low speeds, and once rolling properly the weight just falls away – it's really very nimble and quick to change direction. The suspension's pretty soft on all models. For most riding that's not a problem, but if you start pushing in the bends like you would on a sportsbike, or pushing well past motorway speeds, it all gets a bit wobbly. The damping's a bit crude as well, managing to be soft half the time, yet still to crash over sudden bumps. You can make a huge difference to the front end by playing with oil weights and air gaps – you can nearly double the air gap with good results, and dropping to a good quality 5W oil is popular. There's a lot of good advice available on the owners' forums, including an excellent how-to guide for modifying the fork damping shims on versys.co.uk. There's not a lot to be done with the standard rear shock though. Hagon do a very good budget replacement at £299 and Wemoto offer a YSS version for £290. It's also possible to fit a shock from a mid-noughties Yamaha R1, but it has to go in upside down, and it will need a stiffer spring and a rebuild by a specialist to tailor the damping to your needs.

 

Kawasaki Versys 650 (2007-current) Brakes

The Versys is designed to be easy to use, and novice-friendly, so that means a relatively soft braking set-up, designed more for feel than outright power. Swapping to harder HH-rated pads will give a bit more of a positive bite to the action, while changing the original rubber hoses for braided steel items will harden up the feel at the lever, at the expense of a bit of fine control. From 2015 the four-piston calipers offer a bit more outright power, but on ABS-equipped models you may find the system kicks in a little earlier than you might like.

 

Kawasaki

 

Kawasaki Versys 650 (2007-current) Electrics

There's nothing very complicated about the Versys' electrical system, and no really major flaws, except maybe the voltage regulator. It's a very basic, old-fashioned item, and it's unknown for them to fail, taking the battery and generator with them. Long term owners swear by changing it even if it's not currently (ha!) giving trouble, with the Compufire 55402 being a popular replacement, although you can also use a Shindengen Mosfet reg/rect as fitted to late model Yamahas and Triumphs in particular. Either way you'll probably have to change the main connector to the generator, but that's no bad thing as the original is a weak point. Otherwise no major dramas. Early bikes are shopwing age-related woes, as you might expect – poor connections, corroded wires, bad earths. There are some examples of wiring rubbing at the headstock area as well, potentially damaging insulation and/or breaking wires.

 

Comfort over distance and touring

It's no armchair, but most owners seem pretty happy with the comfort level, even with the handy 200+ mile tank range available.The riding position's fairly upright, but not so much as to load your bum and spine too much, and the little flyscreen is surprisingly effective at legal speeds.  It's maybe a little cramped for long distance two-up touring but most owners seemed to do most of their mileage solo. If you do decide to nip off for a two-up trip you need to be careful about overall weights – up to 2014 the max permissible payload was just 180Kg, so most or all of that will be taken up by two adults in full kit, leaving little or nothing for luggage. From 2015 the limit went up to 215kg thanks to the revised model's beefier subframe. The seat height's pretty tall as standard, and there are plenty of options for kits to lower the rear suspension, usually by around 40mm. If you go down this route, you really need to lower the front suspension too, by dropping the yokes over the forks by around 30-40mm. If you don't lower the front as well, you'll really screw up the otherwise sweet steering. Once lowered, you may find you need to shorten your sidestand to suit. The other option for the vertically challenged is Kawasaki's own low gel seat – as well as being lower it's a bit narrower at the front, which makes a huge difference.

 

Rider aids and extra equipment / accessories

There's only the one rider aid – ABS. It was an option on earlier bikes, becoming standard for 2016. It's a fairly basic system and experienced riders might find it cuts in a bit early, but that's better than cutting in too late... Few Versys owners heavily accessorize their bikes, although heated grips and a properly fitted chain oiler are worth having (although not worth paying extra for if you don't have to...). Top boxes are also popular, both for slimline commuting and as a useful addition to the Tourer's panniers. Beware though – Kawasaki say you shouldn't use a top box and panniers at the same time on 2007-2014 models, although many owners do with no problems. From 2015 the subframe's stronger, as already noted, and it's not a problem to have panniers and top box. If not already fitted, it's well worth investing in a front mudguard extender and a rear hugger – makes a big difference to the amount of muck that gets thrown about.

 

Kawasaki

 

Kawasaki Versys 650 (2007-current) verdict

Despite being viewed with a bit of bemusement when it first appeared, the Versys 650 has gradually attracted a dedicated following, and it's not hard to see why. It's a proper do-it-all bike, just as happy commuting all week as it is carving a few backroads or heading off for a weekend fully loaded. There are plenty to choose from, so we'd advise buying the best one you can afford, and be more concerned about condition than mileage – although the finish is pretty good, once they get furry it takes a LOT of effort to get them looking sweet again, so bear that in mind when you're looking at a potential buy. With such a long model life there are plenty of sources for parts, both aftermarket and second-hand, and lots of knowledgeable owners out there, keen to share their experience. We'd suggest versys.co.uk and kawasakiversys.com for starters.

 

Three things we love about the Versys…

  • Outstanding reliability
  • Easy maintenance
  • Low running costs

 

Three things that we don’t…

  • Suspension's a bit soft
  • Vibration on some earlier bikes
  • Easy-rust exhaust

 

Kawasaki Versys 650 (2007-current) spec (2010 model featured)

Original price

£5999

Current price range

£2500-£6000

Capacity

649cc

Bore x Stroke

83x60mm

Engine layout

Parallel twin, four stroke

Engine details

DOHC, liquid cooled, fuel injection

Power (claimed)

63bhp (47kW) @ 8000rpm

Torque (claimed)

49.4 lb-ft (61Nm) @ 6800rpm

Top speed

130mph

Transmission

6 speed, chain final drive

Average fuel consumption

53mpg tested

Tank size

19 litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

220miles

Reserve capacity

Approx 40 miles from fuel warning flashing (no reserve tap)

Rider aids

ABS (optional)

Frame

Steel diamond

Front suspension

41mm inverted forks

Front suspension adjustment

Adjustable preload and rebound damping

Rear suspension

Monoshock, direct operation

Rear suspension adjustment

Adjustable preload and rebound damping

Front brake

300mm wavy discs, twin piston Tokico calipers

Rear brake

220mm wavy disc, single piston Tokico caliper

Front tyre

120/70 ZR17

Rear tyre

160/60 ZR17

Rake/Trail

25°/108mm

Dimensions

2125mm x 840mm 1315mm (LxWxH)

Wheelbase

1415mm

Ground clearance

180mm

Seat height

845mm

Kerb weight

206kg

 

Looking for motorbike insurance? Get a quote for this bike with Bennetts motorcycle insurance

 

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