2017 Kawasaki Versys 650 LT vs 2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 | Comparo Review

Versys 650 V-Strom 650
We’re in search of The One bike, and these two 650cc adventure-sport tourers are at the top of many a rider’s list. Inexpensive, versatile and fuel-efficient, they do a lot of things well. But there can be only One… Photos by Kevin Wing.

In his Rider Test of the 2017 V-Strom 650, Rider’s Senior Editor Drevenstedt mentions The Question: “If you could only own one motorcycle, what would it be?” After the requisite moaning and gnashing of teeth, for many riders (including some of the Rider staff) the answer comes down to one of these two: the Kawasaki Versys 650 or Suzuki’s V-Strom 650. Inexpensive, versatile and fuel-efficient, they are the Swiss Army knives of the motorcycling world.

Versys 650 V-Strom 650
The Versys 650 LT comes standard with color-matched hard luggage and black handguards. Tall and compact, it’s more street-oriented than the V-Strom, with 17-inch wheels and Dunlop Sportmax tires. While it feels physically smaller than the Strom, it’s actually about 30 pounds heavier.

With the V-Strom 650 getting a facelift and updates for 2017, and our last comparison test between the Strom and the Versys having taken place back in November 2012, we figured it’s high time to pit these two do-it-alls against one another in a one-on-one, mano a mano showdown. Given how closely contested the 2012 comparison was, plus the glowing reviews the Versys 650 LT gathered from staffers in 2015, it promised to be an interesting matchup.

Versys 650 V-Strom 650
The Versys’ display (left) now includes a gear indicator, along with fuel consumption data, range, time of day and other useful info. The V-Strom 650, meanwhile, gets instrumentation and handlebar switchgear (right) that are carried over from the V-Strom 1000, and a standard 12V socket is located on the lower left side of the dash (not shown).

In the first corner, wearing Pearl Glacier White trunks we have the Suzuki V-Strom 650, which seems to be gradually settling further into its role as a bona fide adventure-sport tourer. It was always the more dirt-oriented of the two, with a 19-inch front wheel, 90/10 on-/off-road tires and uncanny balance. For 2017, its rock-solid 645cc V-twin was tweaked for Euro4 compliance and more power, and it has new features like 3-position (two modes plus off) traction control, Easy Start and Low RPM Assist, new optional quick-release hard luggage and a redesign that includes an ADV-style beak.

Versys 650 V-Strom 650
For 2017, the V-Strom 650 accepts the quick-release hard luggage previously only available on the V-Strom 1000. Unfortunately, Suzuki was unable to get us a set in time for this test, so we made due with a large Nelson-Rigg tail bag.

In the second corner, wearing Metallic Flat Raw Titanium trunks we have the Kawasaki Versys 650 LT, which comes standard with color-matched quick-release hard luggage and black hand guards. Arguably the better looking of the two, the Versys is sporty and compact, with street-oriented Dunlop Sportmax-shod 17-inch wheels and a dual-headlight fairing that bears a strong family resemblance to Kawasaki’s Ninja sportbike lineup. Much of the Versys’ compactness can be attributed to its 649cc parallel-twin engine, which remains unchanged from previous models. It’s relatively short on electronic aids and whiz-bang features; there’s no traction control, although the analog tach/LCD display now includes a helpful gear indicator.

Versys 650 V-Strom 650
The Versys’ small seat slopes the rider forward. Passengers will appreciate the large grab handles.

For two bikes that look so different, it’s no surprise that they also feel different from the moment the rider swings a leg over the seat. The V-Strom, thanks to the 90-degree V-twin slung beneath it, feels long and narrow, with a wheelbase that’s more than 5.5 inches longer than the Versys. Although its seat is 0.2 inch lower, it feels more spacious, and the longer reach to the handlebar means smaller riders might feel more comfortable on the Versys—if they can handle its 33.1-inch seat. Speaking of seats, neither bike’s is particularly comfy, with the Suzuki’s being too hard and the Kawi’s too soft. I found that I could more easily live with the Strom’s, however, since the Versys cants the rider forward with no support, making me feel like I was perpetually rolling forward on my pelvis.

Versys 650 V-Strom 650
The longer Suzuki gives the rider more room to stretch out and adds stability, while the Kawasaki locks the rider in an upright position, with the bar-footpeg-seat triangle much more compact. Rider on left is 6 feet tall, rider on right is 5 feet 9 inches.

Both the Versys and V-Strom have remote preload adjuster knobs for the rear shock, a real convenience especially when loaded with side luggage. The Versys’ fork features preload and rebound damping adjustment but preload only at the rear, while the V-Strom is the opposite, with preload only on the fork and rebound and preload at the rear. Neither bike’s suspension could be called “great,” and considering their modest power output they’re probably at their best on one-up touring rides anyway. That said, Drevenstedt remarked that the V-Strom maintained its composure even at his…”spirited”…pace, and EIC Tuttle was pleased to find that the rear shock on the Versys had enough preload to comfortably handle him and his wife on a two-up day ride.

Versys 650 V-Strom 650
The Versys’ hard luggage is large enough to swallow a full-face helmet on each side.

As we droned north along Interstate 5 on our way to the deliciously twisty Caliente-Bodfish Road near Lake Isabella, California, each bike’s road-going personality became clear. The Versys needs some prodding to keep up with the typical SoCal lead-foot freeway traffic, and the resulting buzz from its parallel twin is tamed somewhat by the rubber-clad footpegs and large bar end weights. Meanwhile the Strom holds both a power and torque advantage, besting the Versys’ 61.2 peak horsepower at 8,300 rpm with 68.7 at 9,100 on the Jett Tuning dyno, and reaching its 44.2 lb-ft peak at 6,500 rpm compared to the Kawi’s 42 lb-ft peak at 7,300. Its V-twin is smooth, full of character and sounds great, although at higher speeds (around 80 or so), some vibes creep into the grips.

Versys 650 V-Strom 650
The Suzuki has the edge in both power and torque.

Wind protection on both bikes is adequate, with the V-Strom’s wider windscreen creating less buffeting around the rider’s head but allowing more air in around the torso, and the Versys’ toolless screen being easier to adjust and providing better torso protection at the expense of more head buffeting. While we weren’t able to get Suzuki’s optional quick-release luggage for the V-Strom in time for the test, we can say that the Versys’ luggage is one of the most well designed, easy to use systems out there. Our only complaint was that the plastic internal strap fasteners aren’t as robust as we’d like; one broke on day two of our test.

Versys 650 V-Strom 650
The Versys isn’t as user-friendly as the V-Strom, although it’s far from a poor handling bike.

It was when we exited the Interstate and hit the twisties that a clear winner began to emerge. On the Versys, the rider is forced to juggle the smooth, gentle inputs required of a grabby clutch and an abrupt open/closed throttle response with wheezy mid-range power that demands plenty of wrist twisting. It’s also challenging to balance the compact Versys’ flickability with its tendency to fight the rider when ridden hard, as it wants to stand up under heavy braking into corners. Meanwhile the V-Strom, with its baked-in user friendliness, is a willing and confident mount. Everything about it is reassuring and easy, from the positive gearbox to the smooth clutch and throttle. Mid-corner corrections? No problem. And if the rear end decides to come loose, the traction control is there to step in. Should you find yourself staring down a gravel or rocky dirt road, the Bridgestone Battlax Trail Wing tires, 19-inch front wheel, long wheelbase, low center of gravity and decent suspension travel (5.9 inches at the front, 6.3 inches at the rear) make the V-Strom a capable adventurer.

Neither bike is perfect; both have suspension and brakes that are “OK,” and neither one comes with a centerstand. Electronics and rider aids are basic—heated grips are optional on both and cruise control isn’t available at all. But these are Swiss Army knives, built to be attractive in both price and utility. And if we had to choose one—and only one—the adventure-ready, canyon-carving, freeway-flying, fuel-sipping 2017 V-Strom 650 would be it.

Jenny’s Gear
Helmet: 
Nolan N84
Jacket: iXS Finja
Pants: Joe Rocket Alter Ego
Boots: Tour Master Trinity

 

2017 Kawasaki Versys 650 LT Specs

Base Price: $8,999
Warranty: 2 yr. limited warranty
Website: kawasaki.com

Engine

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel-twin
Displacement: 649cc
Bore x Stroke: 83.0 x 60.0mm
Compression Ratio: 10.8:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 15,000 miles
Fuel Delivery: DFI w/ 38mm throttle bodies x 2
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 2.4-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch & Positive Neutral Finder
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Electrical

Ignition: TCBI w/ digital advance
Charging Output: 372 watts max.
Battery: 12V 12AH

Chassis

Frame: High-tensile steel trellis frame, steel gullwing swingarm
Wheelbase: 55.7 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/4.3 in.
Seat Height: 33.1 in.
Suspension, Front: 41mm USD fork, adj. rebound & preload, 5.9-in. travel
Rear: Horizontal back-link shock, adj. preload (remote), 5.7-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 300mm petal-type discs w/ 2-piston calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 250mm petal-type disc w/ 1-piston caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17
Rear: Cast, 5.0 x 17
Tires, Front: 120/70-R17
Rear: 160/60-R17
Wet Weight: 496 lbs.
Load Capacity: 443 lbs.
GVWR: 939 lbs.

Performance

Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gals., last 1.0 gal. warning light on
MPG: 87 PON min. (low/avg/high) 40.5/51.3/56.0
Estimated Range: 282 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 4,500

 

2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 Specs

Base Price: $8,799
Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles
Website: suzukicycles.com

Engine

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 90-degree V-twin
Displacement: 645cc
Bore x Stroke: 81.0 x 62.6mm
Compression Ratio: 11.2:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 14,500 miles
Fuel Delivery: DFI w/ SDTV & 39mm throttle bodies x 2
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 2.7-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Electrical

Ignition: Electronic
Charging Output: 390 watts max.
Battery: 12V 10AH

Chassis

Frame: Cast aluminum twin-spar, cast aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 61.4 in.
Rake/Trail: 25.3 degrees/4.3 in.
Seat Height: 32.9 in.
Suspension, Front: 43mm stanchions, adj. preload, 5.9-in. travel
Rear: Single link-type shock, adj. rebound & preload (remote), 6.3-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 310mm discs w/ 2-piston calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 260mm disc w/ 1-piston caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 2.50 x 19 in.
Rear: Cast, 4.00 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 110/80-R19
Rear: 150/70-R17
Wet Weight: 467 lbs.
Load Capacity: 448 lbs.
GVWR: 915 lbs.

Performance

Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gals., last 1.1 gals. warning light on
MPG: 87 PON min. (low/avg/high) 41.0/46.9/58.5
Estimated Range: 248 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 4,400

11 COMMENTS

  1. The suspension and brakes on the V-Strom are just “ok”!!! If it weren’t the truth, I’d consider that both condemnation with faint praise and blasphemy.

    Over the last 50 years I’ve ridden and owned many bikes, including three new V-Stroms. My present ’15 ‘Strom sits beside my beloved ’09 VFR, but it gets three times the use of the Honda. The Wee’s a great bike that feels like comfy slippers every time I put my ass on it. Mixed metaphors aside, the only thing I’d love Suzuki to consider is to market a fully jazzed up ‘Strom ( i.e.: excellent brakes, wheels, tires and suspension) for a few thousand dollars more than the base model. Toss in the new “VVT” system they’ve patented and I’d be pathetically quick to make it my fourth ‘Strom.

  2. I have owned my 2016 650LT for over a year. Your description does not even come close to my experiences on this bike. I have owned 26 bikes and ridden more than a million Smiles on those bikes. I feel that the torque,and handling are terrific on the san diego back roads that I travel.

  3. Seems odd that your dyno numbers are different on the versys compared to everything else I have read.
    Actually, your entire article seems very suzuki centric. A bit biased, even by how it’s written.

    • We can’t speak to others’ Dyno figures, but we use Jett Tuning exclusively for all our Dyno tests, to try to maintain consistency. That said, the smallest things like humidity, altitude, ambient temperature and even tires can have an effect on the results. We tested the Suzuki and the Kawi back-to-back, and the numbers don’t lie. As for the review being “Suzuki centric,” that may just be because the V-Strom was my pick (which, incidentally, was backed up by both Senior Editor Drevenstedt and Editor-in-Chief Tuttle). You may prefer the Versys, and that’s okay. But a comparison test will always involve some subjectivity and opinion, and for me the Strom was the better bike. I hope you don’t hold that against me! 🙂

      • I suppose that makes sense.
        I personally haven’t rode either yet, but I am planning on buying , likely, one of those two in the next year. I had to sell my old bike due to a cross country move, Suzuki Boulevard C50.
        Much of your experience actually just contradict the majority of reviews of the bikes that I have read. For instance, the versys has always come out ahead on the handling.
        Either way, all information it good when doing research, but in the end it’s all about the ride.

  4. I owned a first gen versys for over 5 years. I found its back roads and twisty handling very good. The suspension is overly stiff and harsh. But the motor did not feel Wheezy at all .It had a pretty good mid-range Rush.mpgs avg 45 to 55. Front brake was decent rear brake terrible.

  5. Another disgruntled 2015 Versys 650 owner here 😉 Most of the rest of the motorcycling mag world seems to say there is no comparison between the Versys and the Strom. Versys being the better by far. Surprising review.

    • All those other reviews are not of the new 2017 V-Strom. I have the 2015 Versys and I feel this article is spot on. I installed a Power Commander V recently, and now the Throttle Tamer is on order. Hoping to settle down this jumpy, over-sensitive throttle. The 2017 V-Strom may be what I need.

  6. Seems as the VStorm has improved a lot since 2015. Everything I read on the 2015 models gave Kawi an advantage in most every category. What about 2016 models. Which of the two would take best bike head to head.

  7. As another Versys owner, I have to agree the versys has abrupt throttle though, and the lack of traction control is galling (even if I’d probably only need it in the wet).

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