2008 Motorcycle Of The Year

Taking stock of a changing landscape

MOTORCYCLE OF THE YEAR

KAWASAKI VERSYS

What is it? What do you want it to be?

WORDS: Tim Carrithers PHOTO: Kawasaki

What is that thing? That depends. Literally? Mechanically? Practically? Don't waste your time looking in the dictionary, Versys is an amalgam of "versatile" and "system" cooked up in Kawasaki's marketing department; a portmanteau to students of linguistics. The hard parts are an unlikely mix as well, bolted up to bring us a broadband sequel to Kawasaki's '06 650 Ninja. Power comes from a more flexible version of the same basic liquid-cooled, eight-valve, 649cc parallel-twin. But once you move beyond that engine and the unassuming steel-trellis skeleton it inhabits, the Versys shares only a set of wheels with its sportier stablemate. The Ninja is a perfectly serviceable little sporting twin, but the Versys is a whole lot more than that.
Styling doesn't give away the plot. Upright ergonomics and minimal bodywork allude to post-modern urbane adventures on the cheap, but this one skirts all the tidy buyer's guide categories and transcends its parts manifest more than most anything else we could name. Where the superficially similar 650 Ninja is typecast as a beginner's econo-sport, the Versys has an irrational appeal to anyone who's tired of coloring inside the same old lines.
You're commuting? It's tall enough to provide a strategic view of threats and escape routes in the urban tableau, and agile enough to dissect 6:00 p.m. traffic with minimal stress. Feeling sporty? With most of the 650's 60-horse heard huddled in the midrange, thrust is immediate. The Versys carves up tight roads like a #11 surgical scalpel at speeds that would flummox a bargain bike's chassis. Track days? You won't be the fastest, but lever on some sticky rubber and you'll have fun. The in-laws need a house-sitter at the Kennebunkport beach compound Saturday morning? No worries: It'll inhale 240 miles of I-95 on a 5-gallon tank of regular unleaded in one painless sitting. Repeat as necessary.
Suspension is compliant without feeling mushy, and that skimpy-looking potato chip of a windscreen does a lot more than you'd think. It's not quite up for Adventures with Ewan and Charlie, but the Versys does better on a graded dirt road than a citified SUV. So pack a fly rod and reel in a few unsuspecting Moose River brookies on Sunday afternoon.
What's a Versys? It's not exactly naked and entirely too weird to qualify as a standard, supersport or sport-tourer. And it's way more than a bargain bike, though that $6899 sticker price certainly qualifies it as one. It breathes new life into an idea that started with Edward Turner's first 40-inch twins nearly half a century ago. Two cylinders. Two wheels. Add inspiration. Shake well. The result is more impressive on the road than it is on paper, in the showroom or at the curb. The most impressive thing about the Versys is what it can do. That would be just about anything, and for a lot less money than anything else out there. Call it whatever you want. We're calling it Motorcycle of the Year.

"The Versys has an irrational appeal to anyone who's tired of coloring inside the same old lines."

You're commuting? It's tall enough to provide a strategic view of threats and escape routes in the urban tableau, and agile enough to dissect 6:00 p.m. traffic with minimal stress. Feeling sporty? With most of the 650's 60-horse heard huddled in the midrange, thrust is immediate. The Versys carves up tight roads like a #11 surgical scalpel at speeds that would flummox a bargain bike's chassis. Track days? You won't be the fastest, but lever on some sticky rubber and you'll have fun. The in-laws need a house-sitter at the Kennebunkport beach compound Saturday morning? No worries: It'll inhale 240 miles of I-95 on a 5-gallon tank of regular unleaded in one painless sitting. Repeat as necessary. Suspension is compliant without feeling mushy, and that skimpy-looking potato chip of a windscreen does a lot more than you'd think. It's not quite up for Adventures with Ewan and Charlie, but the Versys does better on a graded dirt road than a citified SUV. So pack a fly rod and reel in a few unsuspecting Moose River brookies on Sunday afternoon.
What's a Versys? It's not exactly naked and entirely too weird to qualify as a standard, supersport or sport-tourer. And it's way more than a bargain bike, though that $6899 sticker price certainly qualifies it as one. It breathes new life into an idea that started with Edward Turner's first 40-inch twins nearly half a century ago. Two cylinders. Two wheels. Add inspiration. Shake well. The result is more impressive on the road than it is on paper, in the showroom or at the curb. The most impressive thing about the Versys is what it can do. That would be just about anything, and for a lot less money than anything else out there. Call it whatever you want. We're calling it Motorcycle of the Year.

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