Apart from the post-modern Euro-funk styling, nothing about the $6899 Versys really stands out, but maybe that's its real strength. The counterbalanced, 649cc parallel-twin churns away tirelessly, delivering seamless, linear power from 2500 to 10,000 rpm. There's ample torque to play with if you're lazy, and plenty of revs for a sporty thrash up and down the tach. All of which gets delivered with a reassuring if uninspiring twin-cylinder thrum, some of which sneaks through the cushy seat. The riding position is pleasantly neutral and comfortable, although taller riders find the pegs a bit high for long-distance comfort. That tiny screen does a fair job of parting the windblast, though the tallest of its three adjustments delivers more turbulence than we'd like. Still, knocking out 500-plus freeway miles between breakfast and dinner is cake. Aside from a bit of vibration-induced fuzz between 4500 and 5000 rpm, the mirrors give a great view of what's going on out back-just as they should.
The Versys' handling, like its engine, is remarkably unremarkable which, for most mortals, is a very good thing. Kawasaki deliberately made it easy and forgiving to ride, even if it is a little top-heavy with a full tank. You feel the bike rocking side to side almost imperceptibly at red lights, as if somebody forgot the slosh-squelching baffles. It's a nimble, willing mount in snarled traffic. Stir the pot a little out in the twisty bits and the Versys will prove a proficient dancing partner-and don't bet against a well-ridden version showing a clear rear boot to a napping sportbike pilot, either.
Versys maw incorporates an exceptional headlight.
There is one significant fly in the Kawi's ointment. Actually, make that two. The twin-piston front calipers and 300mm discs trade initial bite and power for a beginner-friendly feel. We bled the OE fluid for fresh stuff, but the improvement was minor. Changing pads for something more aggressive and binning the cheapo rubber brake hoses for a steel-braided set would help. More significant improvements would be pricey and effectively pointless. After a month of hard use among five pairs of hands, our Versys was beginning to look a bit frayed where boots and leather come into regular contact with metal and plastic.
Lon Rozelle, Copy Editor
Off The Record
The Beemer is too tall, too uncomfortable, too underpowered and too much money. The Suzuki is a nice enough bike, and has a fizzy little engine, but give me the SV650 for $100 less any day.
I could see owning the Kawasaki if you can only have one: powerful engine, nice ergos, and a comfy seat. With some luggage, it's a tourer.
But the Triumph trounces the other bikes here and holds its own against any bike's overall fun factor with one of the sweetest engines in motorcycling. With loads of power, comfy ergos and quick steering, it so far tops my Motorcycle of the Year list.
Height: 5' 10"
Weight: 165 lbs.
Inseam: 33 in.
From one innocuous yet extremely sorted example of sporting practicality, we move on to something quite the opposite: Triumph's $7999 675 Street Triple. Now here's a bike to torch the soul and/or driver's license. It's a raucous, rabid little terrier and, to a man, our band of brothers fell for its bare-knuckle approach. This is a one-trick pony, mind you, but that trick's a belter.
The Street Triple is all about its engine, which from the moment you first twist its tail feels like its punching way above its weight. Your attention is demanded instantly and the Trip' leads off with a gravel-soaked rush of bottom-end power straight off idle, charging through the midrange and into the upper reaches of the rev range with a smoky, metallic yowl. The Triple is unique in any crowd. Lined up against this bunch, it's yoke-and-bars above second place in terms of engagement, character and gratuitous gratification. Plus the thing yanks lurid power wheelies, if you're so inclined. And 91 bhp at the rear wheel hammers the point home. A hint of driveline slack when getting on/off the throttle is the only noticeable flaw in an otherwise tidy package.