You think the manufacturers don't listen to their customers? With an increasing number of European riders leaning toward the "adventure tour" segment of motorcycling-bikes patterned in a pseudo-off-road-style, sporting a higher ride height with longer-travel suspension, upright seating positions and high-set handlebars, but with decent wind protection-Kawasaki decided to get in on the action at the ground level by introducing the Versys in Europe and Canada last year. Based on the 649cc parallel twin Ninja 650R, the Versys was intended as an entry-level introduction to that bike genre. A much more refined package than the little Ninja, the Versys sports adjustable suspension, a slightly better chassis and a retuned engine to go along with the more comfortable upright adventure tour ergos, all at a very affordable price. It was an instant hit across the pond, and many American riders looked on with envy, wondering why we couldn't get the same model over here.
Apparently the marketing people at Kawasaki U.S.A. thought that stateside riders wouldn't be interested in the somewhat unorthodox-appearing Versys, but they soon found out otherwise. "We received more letters and e-mails asking about the Versys than any other model in our company's history," revealed Jan Plessner, Kawasaki U.S.A.'s public relations manager. That was all it took for the American arm of Kawasaki to lobby the factory in Japan about getting a U.S.-legal version of the machine for its '08 lineup.
We recently had the opportunity to spend a day on the '08 Kawasaki Versys in and around the hills above San Diego, California. And we came away from that experience thinking: For all of you who wrote in to Kawasaki asking to bring the Versys to these shores-good on ya!
Versys Vs. Ninja 650r
Kawasaki reps went through great pains to emphasize that the Versys and Ninja 650R are "two completely different motorcycles," even though it appears that the only shared parts are the engine, frame and wheels. "The Ninja 650R could be considered an entry-level sportbike, while the Versys is basically an entry-level motorcycle," said Karl Edmondson, product manager for Kawasaki U.S.A. However, a close look at the Versys' hard parts reveals it to be much more than a re-clothed Ninja. And riding the Versys showed it to be far more than any entry-level motorcycle.
The 649cc parallel twin engine is basically the same as the 650R, with the exception that both intake and exhaust camshafts sport less duration (intake drops from 272 degrees to 260 degrees, while the exhaust is reduced from 260 degrees to 252 degrees) for better low-end and midrange power. The same style under-engine exhaust is used, but a connector pipe has been added between the two header sections to aid exhaust scavenging. The radiator is 40mm wider than the Ninja's unit, increasing cooling capacity by a claimed 12 percent.
Although the steel-tube frame is nearly identical to the one on the 650R, the steering geometry has been relaxed slightly (rake has been increased 0.5 degrees to 25 degrees, with a corresponding 0.1 inch increase in trail) to adapt to the Versys' higher stance and wider range of intended riding environments. The aluminum swingarm is all new, however, with a more substantial-looking curved box-section design on the right side and braced square-tube construction on the left. The rear subframe has also been reinforced with additional bracing, in order to handle the increased loads of a passenger (which was more of an afterthought on the Ninja) and the optional hard luggage.
Big changes are apparent in the suspension, with the 650R's somewhat wimpy/ cheap-looking conventional fork replaced with a longer-travel (from the Ninja's 4.7 inches to 5.9 inches) 41mm inverted fork. Spring preload and rebound damping are fully adjustable (unlike the Ninja's non-adjustable units), although rebound is only adjustable on the right-side fork leg, probably for cost reasons. The rear shock is still mounted in a cantilever setup (no linkage) but now has rebound damping adjustability to accompany the spring preload adjuster. Wheel travel has also increased in the rear, going from 4.9 inches on the Ninja to 5.7 inches; internal gas pressure has been doubled (up to 284 psi) in order to deal with the increased suspension travel. Wheels are the same, as are the dual two-piston sliding calipers and 300mm petal discs; the discs themselves, however, are 0.5mm thicker for improved fade resistance.
As you'd expect with the high handlebar, the ergos are substantially revised from the 650R. The footpegs are actually lowered and moved forward compared to the Ninja, with a much better and thicker padding on both rider and passenger sections of the seat. The handlebar is not only 3 inches wider than the 650R, but also 4.25 inches higher, offering up a much more suitable riding position for longer rides. Adding to that aspect is a larger fuel tank on the Versys, which holds a full 5.0 gallons instead of the Ninja's 4.1-gallon unit.
A small quarter-fairing covers a new instrument panel with centrally mounted analog tachometer flanked by warning lights on the left and an LCD panel on the right sporting a digital speedometer, odometer/tripmeter, fuel gauge and clock. The windshield can be mounted in one of three different positions (in 20mm height increments).
The Versys' aluminum curved...
The Versys' aluminum curved box-section swingarm, rebound/preload-adjustable rear shock and reinforced subframe add up to upgraded performance over its Ninja 650R sibling.
A 41mm inverted Showa fork...
A 41mm inverted Showa fork with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping is a definite upgrade over the Ninja 650R's non-adjustable convention fork. Brakes are identical except for slightly thicker petal discs.
The Versys' upright cockpit...
The Versys' upright cockpit is very comfy, with a plush seat and decent wind protection from the adjustable windscreen. Dashboard with analog tach and LCD digital display is simple and easy to read at a glance.
The 649cc vertical twin powerplant...
The 649cc vertical twin powerplant from the Ninja 650R features cams with less duration for better low and midrange power. Because there is no bodywork to deflect the radiator airflow, the rider's knees can get a bit warm on hot days.