Kawasaki Versys 650 | Doin' Time

Staffers' Rides

Photography by Joe Bonnello

Ringleader: Marty Estes
MSRP (2010): $7599
Miles: 9426-12,985
MPG: 46.2
Mods: None lately

Is less really more? If you’re talking about Kawasaki’s Versys 650, absolutely! The relatively meager sum of $7699 (up $100 for 2011) buys you one heck of a competent all-rounder right out of the box. Over the course of nearly 13,000 miles, my long-term Versys was content with little more than 87-octane unleaded, chain lube and fresh oil in the crankcase.

Every oil change should be this easy: All that’s needed is 2.5 quarts of oil, a filter, a funnel, a 17mm socket and a few minutes. Everything is out in the open. The most time-consuming part of the process is waiting for the old oil to drain. Slip in a clean K&N oil filter ($14.95; www.knfilters.com) with a 17mm hex on the end to make the job even easier. I used 100-percent synthetic Maxima Maxum4 Extra ($14.99 per liter; www.maximausa.com) for all of my oil changes. A less expensive lube might have done the job, but keeping this little revver happy is worth a few extra bucks.

There’s no major maintenance scheduled until the first valve inspection at 26,250 miles. Spark plugs should be replaced every 7500 miles, but some owners on the Kawasaki Versys message board (www.kawasakiversys.com)have reported going far longer without issue. Kawasaki recommends changing the brake fluid at 15K, and the coolant and cooling system hoses at 22.5K. Other than that, it’s just regular inspections and minor adjustments. High-mileage riders on the board generally report anvil-like reliability. Mine, with nearly 13,000 miles on the clock, feels as fresh as when I took delivery, suspension included.

At first I thought the brakes would need work, but I ended up living with the stock setup. Those two-piston front calipers are a definite weak point for an aggressive rider. To increase leverage, I slid the brake lever assembly inboard so that I grasped the outer part of the lever. This can be done on the clutch side for an easier pull, as well. The only downside is this also moves the mirrors inboard, but that can be remedied with aftermarket mirror extenders. So set up, braking power improved, but steel-braided lines and/or aftermarket pads would have been worth the relatively modest effort and expense.

The Avon Storm 2 Ultra tires ($158.33 front, $198.86 rear;www.avonmoto.com) mounted at 4200 miles exceeded my expectations, lasting well over 7000 miles despite lots of freeway work mixed with aggressive daily canyon commuting. Traction and feel survived until about 500 miles shy of that mark, when the front squared-off and things started to get sketchy. That’s about twice what I typically get out of more sporting rubber—a good money-saver.

I tried to keep the bike near stock, but of the mods I did perform, my two favorites were the aftermarket seat ($390 with core exchange; www.motorbikesaddles.com) and the revised gearing ($79.95; www.supersproxusa.com). If you plan to change the position of the adjustable windscreen often, it’s exponentially quicker and easier if you spend a little money. The screen is held in place with four bolts, and to change the position you need to remove all of those and relocate the threaded rubber grommets (called Well Nuts) into different holes. Digging those suckers out of the soft, thin plastic without causing damage to the cowl is an exercise in frustration, adding minutes to what would otherwise be a 60-second procedure. It’s worth the money to buy six additional grommets. The OEM parts are more than $6 each, but I found Windscreen Bolts Kits from Hong Kong on eBay for $9 total. Either way, this is money well spent.

So? The Versys proved to be a flexible multi-purpose ride that’s inexpensive to own and operate. It will do 50 miles per gallon if you’re prudent with your right wrist (I averaged 45 mpg), and 200-plus miles between fill-ups. I found myself wishing for an engine-temperature gauge, but that’s nitpicking.

While not exceptional in any one area, the Versys has no glaring faults either. In the year I had mine, I routinely chose it over other, more glamorous bikes in our test fleet. Heading into this long-term test, I was afraid the 650 was too basic and limiting to be truly enjoyable for an experienced rider on a daily basis. Au contraire! You can commute, tour, scratch the canyons, even take it to a track day. And for novice riders, it’s even more appropriate. Living with the Versys also confirmed that Motorcyclist absolutely got it right in naming it our 2008 Motorcycle of the Year. The Kawasaki Versys is the Swiss Army Knife of motorcycles.

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