Some love it, some hate it. Some get it, some don’t. I’ve found that sentiment to be the bottom line after spending some time with the 2010 Kawasaki Versys. Some folks commented on how alien it looks. Others complained the riding position was too cramped. After sharing the Versys around the office, some staffers threw the keys at me after just one day, others wouldn’t let me pry the keys out of their clinched fists. Yet this 2010 version of the Versys is not far removed from the very same motorcycle that won Motorcycle Of The Year honors a few years ago from one major motorcycle pub. It’s been mistaken for a GS-style, dual-sport/adventure bike knockoff from across the parking lot, while others describe it as completely capable. Just goes to show you can’t please everyone.
It’s not really a naked standard, but it’s not fully faired. It’s not a sportbike, but it handles great. It’s not exactly a dual-sport, but it has long suspension travel and upside-down forks. It doesn’t have a big engine, but it pulls wonderfully in every gear. And it’s not a decked-out luxury machine, but it has some cool features.
No matter what your first impressions are, I encourage you to read on and, if ever given the chance, take a ride on a 2010 Versys. When you do, I doubt you’ve ever ridden a motorcycle with a more “sit-up-and-beg” seating position than this one. While the 33″ seat height may be a stretch for some, it does combine with a down-in-the-bike seating position and some high footrests for seemingly endless lean-angle potential. I found my thighs to be almost parallel with the ground. Tall handlebars reach up to meet the rider, and help raise the rearview mirror position to boot. After riding the Versys, I encountered no backaches — perhaps a slight case of leg cramps, but I’m long-legged. It wasn’t enough to outweigh the fun of riding this machine.
Aside from a few cosmetic changes, the 649cc twin is essentially unchanged from previous years. There are new rubber bushings at the rear engine mounts to help reduce vibrations, and revisions to the muffler, clutch cover, sprocket, alternator covers, and radiator shrouds change up the visible engines appearance a bit. The engine has been called the most compact in its category and helps reduce the dimensions of the entire motorcycle. The twin is tuned to deliver smooth, responsive power in the low to middle rpm range for exceptional roll-on response; I would call it almost unboggable. It’s ideal for negotiating city traffic or tight backroads and lends to keeping the engine less busy. It’s a smooth pleasure to ride. Stick it in just about any gear, and you’ll be good to go. The under-engine muffler with three-way catalyzer cleans up the looks and aids in mass centralization for nimble handling. A pair of 38mm Keihin throttle bodies with ECU-controlled subthrottle valves below provide sharp ridability. The automatic fast idle system makes starting and warm-up easy without engine racing. The wait for a warm-up was always minimal.
The look of the Versys is something from ’50s science fiction. I can imagine this is what folks back then thought a Martian lunar lander would look like. The Ducati Monster-esque frame pulls off the look, yet it doesn’t plagiarize the Monster’s trellis appearance. The Versys frame is narrow at the knees and pegs for excellent comfort and control. On that note, hollow, rubber-covered footpegs are new for 2010 and reduce vibration transmitted to the rider. A distinctive, aluminum, gull-wing swingarm pushes on a lay-down Showa shock visible through the distinctive frame layout. It does grab stares from onlookers. The rear shock has adjustable preload and rebound damping, and for 2010 the swingarm pivot covers, rear fender, and taillamp have been updated. Paired to the rear shock the 41mm inverted fork up front has long travel and is tunable in fork height, spring preload and rebound damping. Those are the most important adjustments, and they come standard on this totally affordable, do-it-all motorcycle.
Sitting atop the front end is a new fairing with stacked dual headlight, and a new front fender and mirrors round out some 2010 changes. The larger, three-position-adjustable windscreen is intended to provide more protection for the rider, but you’re pretty much exposed to the wind with that upright riding posture. Behind that windscreen is an instrument cluster with a large analog tachometer and a digital panel with speedometer, fuel gauge, odometer, dual trip meters, and clock. Large, bold numerals make everything easy to read. Other creature features in the cockpit often found on Kawasakis, but not on other brands, are the hazard flashers and flash-to-pass button. They’re nice to have.
The new year also brings revised passenger grab rails, new seat cover material, and a little fine-tuning of the passenger seating position, making the Versys even more rider — and passenger — friendly. There’s a small amount of underseat storage available. After a quick peek under the rear bodywork, it appears as though that large, rear-hanging, fender monstrosity could be easily removed for a cleaner look.
The dual Ninja sportbike-styled 300mm front petal brake discs are of a floating design and are acted upon by two-piston calipers. Out back there’s a single 220mm rear petal disc with a single-piston caliper. All combine to provide plenty of stopping power. Likewise the wheels look like ones you’d find on the Ninja ZX-6R and ZX-10R. The six-spoke wheels use less material between spokes so rim thickness is reduced along with overall wheel weight, aiding in handling, acceleration, deceleration, and initial turn-in.
Perhaps the name Versys is a play on the word versatile. Or perhaps it’s a word meaning joy ride from an alien civilization. Folks often make fun of things they don’t understand. For 2010, Kawasaki made some mild changes to a misunderstood bike, yet didn’t change it enough to make it fit any particular bike category. It’s just as misunderstood as it ever was. Although you have to acknowledge it’s a bargain in today’s market. There’s no doubt it’s still fun to ride and looks as quirky as ever. I think if you meet one, you’ll understand.
By Steve Lita, Photos by Bob Feather
Name: Jon Langston, Associate Editor
Height: 5′ 11″
Years Riding: 11
Personal Bike: 1983 Kawasaki KZ 1100 LTD
I was the guy who eagerly tossed the keys back to Steve after one measly day aboard the Versys. I grew up on dirt bikes and have spent significant time aboard sportbikes, dual-sports, and sport-tourers, and I have never, ever ridden a nutcracker as ball-busting as this. The Versys constantly pitched me forward. I tried to push myself back on the seat, but the midsets provided no leverage. So I tried to hold myself back by pinching my knees against the tank. Again, no luck because every time I dumped a bit of speed, let alone braked, I was thrust into the tank. After 10 minutes, I was praying for a stop sign so I could stand up and shake myself out, as it were. But that didn’t work either, for with the 33″ seat height, my toes barely touched the ground and the hard seat was still snug against my crotch. I finally tried to stand up on the pegs, but the bike’s so tall it’s top-heavy, and I didn’t feel stable at speed.
And did I mention I hated the pencil-thin handlebar? It did nothing to dampen the vibration that buzzed my hands into paralysis.
Moving on, I also have to wholeheartedly disagree with Steve’s assessment that the Versys is ridable in any gear. That’s true if you do most of your riding in residential neighborhoods or school zones. But by the time I got to 40 mph, I was in fifth. Sure, there’s a lot of throttle left after that, and redline is super-high, but using the gears is part of my riding style, and the Versys had my left hand and ankle bored.
Name: Matt Kopec, Online Manager
Height: 5′ 11″
Years Riding: 3
Personal Bike: Suzuki SV650
As a youth I learned many things from the elders in my tribe: how to hunt and fish, how to build shelter, what plants help cure sicknesses and relieve pain. The ’80s were years of discovery and growth for me and living in a town 40 miles north of New York City, I was basically on my own. I’m usually prepared and equipped for whatever life dishes out, so while riding on one of my favorite upstate routes, I decided to veer off the beaten path and explore. I found myself smack dab in a situation I’m usually, as I said, well prepared for, and again I was. Being astride the 2010 Versys, I was in the wrong place on the right bike. An unfamiliar series of pothole-ridden, gravely switchbacks seemed to go on for miles. After being able to comfortably negotiate the situation, I realized the Versys turned what should have been a white-knuckled experience into a capable blast down the road less traveled.
All kidding aside, this bike’s great! Basically the bike sticks to choppy, undesirable roads like a fish takes to water. The power’s plentiful and smooth, you do need to get the rpm up to feel the power, which creates a slight buzz that sticks with you awhile after things slow down, but it’s nothing to dwell on. I was simply impressed with the Versys capabilities and performance. At 5′ 11″, the bike seemed a little tall, I wasn’t flat-footed at stoplights, but the seating position was good, set me up where the pegs and bars were at a comfortable position, and made quick maneuvers or standing on the pegs over large bumps easy.
For the money, I think it’s a no-brainier; If you’re in the market for an adventure bike but don’t want to break the bank, you have to check it out. You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t. Great bike, good looks, and completely capable in whatever situation you may ride into.
LIST PRICE: $7,599
ENGINE: Liquid-cooled parallel twin
VALVETRAIN: OHC four valves per cylinder
BORE X STROKE: 83mm x 60mm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 10.6:1
FUEL SYSTEM: DFI
MFR HORSEPOWER: N/A
MFR TORQUE RATING: N/A
FINAL DRIVE: Chain
OVERALL LENGTH: 83.7″
RAKE/TRAIL: 25 degrees/4.3″
SEAT HEIGHT: 33.1″
FUEL CAPACITY: 5 gallons
ESTIMATED MPG: 43mpg
CURB WEIGHT: 454 pounds
WARRANTY: 12 months, unlimited mileage
2010 COLOR: Black