Too much Sicilian sun? Kinda sounded like it in Senior Editor Greg Drevenstedt’s sunshine-laden first take on Kawasaki’s heavily revised Versys 650 LT (Rider, April 2015). Following a brief press ride in Italy, Greg wrote: “The Versys is putty in your hands, a flexible, user-friendly machine that will do whatever you ask of it.” Really? Whatever you ask? Also: “The Versys is playfully light and easy to toss back and forth through tight corners.” Playfully…hmmm. Finally: “Few bikes are so fun yet so affordable.”
OK, that sounded maybe a bit blue-sky. So to prove a point, we lived with a Versys 650 LT for a good while back home, riding it hard on roads we know and love, testing loops that reveal the true character of a motorcycle. And now, point proven: Greg was right! The Versys 650 offers all the fine qualities he discovered, and even more.
Versatility and fun-factor run huge in the smaller of the two Versys models; this bike takes to longer freeway cruises, tight back-road mad-dashes and just about everything else you toss its way. We even checked its dirt-road manners, something most riders would avoid, given the first-rate pure-street Dunlop Sportmax tires. All good within the usual limits. This 650 indeed proved itself an impressive package.
Much credit goes to its light weight, 496 pounds fully gassed. Such lightness bestows an inherently agile nature, abetted by plenty of cornering clearance; the 650 dances down twisting roads with intuitive ease, the tighter the turns, the better. The man/machine mind-meld works overtime as the bike chides, “I told you we could have taken that corner faster….” It also allows the suspension to do its job without becoming overtaxed. The 5.9-inch-travel Showa fork and 5.7-inch-travel KYB shock deliver more suspension throw than most street-going setups, and that generous allowance allows for more leeway in loads and riding conditions.
Example 1: On the freeway, the 650 returns a firm yet comfortable ride while reserving enough travel to deal well with broken-pavement secondary roads. Going long with a heavy load? Feeding in more shock spring preload is simplicity itself, thanks to the handy remote adjuster.
Example 2: Trail-brake lightly with one finger through a corner supermoto-style and the long-travel front-end snubs down, effectively shortening chassis geometry to quicken steering and turning. However, if you’re ham-handed doing so, the fork may pop back up a tad too quickly. So just dial in more rebound damping—a dime works perfectly in lieu of a screwdriver. The “TEN” marking on the right-side fork cap stands for “tension” or rebound damping. We did so to help compensate for rider weight and aggressive use. Very nice.
Over time, a very refined nature emerges; the 650’s rough edges were honed smooth, yielding a well-damped, very controlled feel for a more expensive, luxurious character. Well-managed engine vibration, firm yet comfy freeway ride, confidence-inspiring brakes, smooth and linear power application; all build up the overall whole. There’s no obvious cutting of corners, nowhere that the product-cheapening department took charge. The 28-liter saddlebags extend versatility and convenience; they’re roomy—big enough to store a helmet—yet not too bulky. So there’s no need to make any excuses about riding a bike that runs only $8,699 as tested.
Gripes? The seat’s slight forward slope grows irritating and the big step halts rearward movement, making seating a bit cramped. A flatter, taller seat would be better but then it would challenge shorter riders, we suppose. Given my 31-inch inseam, I easily flat-footed the bike with both feet. The windscreen has doubled in size to create a shoulders-wide still air pocket. The lowest position created irritating buffeting for this 6-footer, but the easy-adjust screen pops up a couple inches to solve that.
Power production is good but not overwhelming, yet it’s really all you need, even for a cross-country tour. The engine spins up smoothly and stays comfortably calm even at elevated freeway speeds, with enough roll-on grunt to make downshifts optional. And steady cruising tops 50 mpg for a range of more than 250 miles. That’s big-boy legs.
Understand, I love big engines and lean toward liter-plus machines. My failing. Because the Kawasaki Versys 650 LT serves as stark reminder that a well-executed light and compact bike can indeed be a joy all the time, everywhere.
And Greg, kindly forgive me for ever doubting you….
2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 LT
Base Price: $8,699
Warranty: 2 yrs., unltd. miles
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel-twin
Bore x Stroke: 83.0 x 60.0mm
Compression Ratio: 10.8:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 15,200 miles
Fuel Delivery: DFI w/ 38mm throttle bodies x 2
Lubrication System: Semi-dry sump, 2.4-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Ignition: TCBI w/ electronic advance
Charging Output: 372 watts max.
Battery: 12V 10AH
Frame: Tubular-steel double pipe diamond frame w/ box-section aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 55.7 in.
Rake/Trail: 25.0 degrees/4.3 in.
Seat Height: 33.1 in.
Suspension, Front: 41mm USD fork, adj. for rebound damping & spring preload w/ 5.9-in. travel
Rear: Single shock, remotely adj. for spring preload w/ 5.7-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 300mm discs w/ opposed 2-piston calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 250mm disc w/ 1-piston caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 4.50 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Wet Weight: 496 lbs.
Load Capacity: 443 lbs.
GVWR: 939 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gals., last 1.5 gals. warning light on
MPG: 87 PON min. (low/avg/high) 43.7/47.1/52.3
Estimated Range: 259
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 4,500
“Much credit goes to its light weight, 496 pounds fully gassed.” Is there a punchline here?
It’s certainly light compared to the big ADV bikes everyone likes to exclusively tour the asphalt roads on…
And you did not mention the benefit of 87 Octane Gas!! A real benefit in touring.
My Versys 1000 works fine with 87 octane too, even though it calls for premium. It pings a little when its hot, but actually much less than my FJR did and it was spec’d for 87.
I run mid grade in the Versys as I did with the FJR to prevent the mild pinging present in hard acceleration and heavy load.
My ’08 Versys 650 is set up much like this new LT. Great bike for carving twisties and exploring back roads and unpaved roads. Did a track day on it, too. Sending my seat to Spencer for a long-distance upgrade solved the seat problem for little coin. Bike is stone-ax reliable, efficient, cheap to maintain and a hoot to ride.
Regarding 496 lbs fully gassed, it’s not a replica racer, which your back and wrists would be glad you left at home after a distance where the Versys feels like it’s just getting started for the day.
Simple fun on two wheels.
sounds like a great bike, but as always the seat height is to high for us older riders. your legs get shorter as you age due to wear and tear. I had bought a suzuki v-strom 650 and loved it except seat to high. Here in Tn. we have leaning roads, and if you can’t reach the ground on the low side you fall over. It happened with my wife on the back, so that was the end of that bike, she wouldn’t get on it anymore so i had to find it a new home. I don’t like a cruiser, but thats the only thing that has a low seat height. So for now i’m just seeing what comes out that will fit us older guys. There are thousand of us all looking for the same thing, to bad the bike builders don’t realize or don’t care they’re losing out on thousands of sales. Once you retire and want to do some travling on a bike, you’re out of luck unless you’re over 6′ and a 32″ inseam.
I would like a showdown v-strom 650 aventure , versy 650lt , and honda new 750 x whit hard bag. Let see wich one is the best !
Any idea what the forward lean angle is like on this one? A lot of bikes in this category tend toward 0 degree forward lean angles which my back is not at all fond of. A small bit of forward lean (somewhere over 10 degrees) makes for a lot more comfortable bike for me over the long haul.
The seating position is fairly neutral (i.e. straight back), but a lot will depend on body size, arm length, etc. The handlebars may be able to rotate forward to add more forward body lean. Your best bet is to go to a Kawasaki dealership or one of the International Motorcycle Shows and throw a leg over the bike to see how it fits you.
It looks like cycle ergos updated their database and lists the new Versys 650 as 0 degree forward lean. I like the knee and hip angle, but the 0 degree forward lean will not do it for me. I did go to one of the Progressive shows last weekend and the riding position felt too upright to me. These are sportyish bikes so it always puzzles me when they do not go with a moderate degree of forward lean like the big STs use (the Concours for example is 13 degrees).