What do you call an agile, open-minded, 60-horsepower twin capable of everything from 12-second quarter-mile sprints to 48-mpg commuting, and everything in between? Kawasaki calls it the Versys: a sweet deal at $6899 when it debuted in the sour economy of 2008. We called it our Motorcycle of the Year.
An eclectic, 457-lb. fusion of sport and standard, with a whiff of all-surface adventure to keep things interesting, the Versys is just about anything you want it to be. Powered by a massaged version of the Ninja 650R parallel-twin, the Versys makes 5 fewer horses. On the plus side, its more accessible 44 lb.-ft. of torque are more obliging in daily urban combat. Compliant Kayaba suspension and decent wind protection leave a twinge of vibration around 5000 rpm as the only irritant to long days in the saddle. One 5-gallon tankful can cover 220 miles or so under a discreet right wrist.
Accessible thrust lets you concentrate on the road instead of the tachometer. The 41mm fork and linkless shock perform beyond their price-point roots when the going gets twisty. Add dead-neutral steering along with ample cornering clearance, and leaving the stronger, allegedly sportier Ninja 650 behind is easier than you’d think. The six-speed transmission is excellent, though short overall gearing makes the twin feel a bit breathless approaching triple digits. Nissin dual-piston front brake calipers that come up short on power and feel are the only sporting impediment.
There are better choices for track days and off-roading, but the Versys is a capable tool for just about any other adventure you can dream up. If the original version’s aesthetics don’t do it for you, Kawasaki tweaked form and function in 2010 with stacked headlights, a better windscreen, rubber engine mounts and footpegs as well as new passenger grab handles.
Reliability is almost anvil-like. Stators can fry in overheated engine oil, and the instrument pod and bodywork can develop an annoying vibration-induced buzz over time, but that’s about it. Otherwise, the only problem will be deciding what sort of motorcycle you want the Versys to be on any given morning.
A world of choices in one inexpensive, economical motorcycle.
Styling that slots in somewhere between eclectic and extraterrestrial.
Charging system problems, hard starting, buzzing bodywork.
The one bike that really can do it all!
2008 | $4250
2009 | $4800
2010 | $5590
2009 | $7550
A 650 in name only, the least expensive version of BMW’s 798cc Rotax-built twin comes with a seat height that can be dialed all the way down to 30 inches from the floor.
Ducati Hypermotard 796
2010 | $7525
For aspiring urbane supermoto types on a budget, the 796 delivers inimitable Italian style, roomy ergos and convincing perform-ance for less money than you might expect.
Suzuki V-Strom 650
2009 | $5650
Having earned a cadre of devoted fans over the years by putting economical function first, the omnivorous version of Suzuki’s immortal SV650 is more capable off-road.