2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 12,000 Mile Long Term Review

In Conclusion

If you're like me, you want to cut to the chase and if you're like me only two questions really matter.

  1. Would you recommend this bike to someone you knew? Yes.
  2. Would you buy it again? Yes.

Introduction/Background

I bought my 2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 LT used from a dealership in Oregon in October 2016. You can read about it here. It had 3K ish miles on it, was in perfect shape with a slightly squared off rear tire that was 50+% worn indicating a big guy, a couple and/or someone whole rode on the freeway a lot.

I was looking for a bike that would be more comfortable for my wife to ride as pillion. Last bike was a bit cramped and everything I read said how great this bike was for the passenger.

The Specs

Numbers don't mean much to me and I'm going to assume you already know everything about this bike so I won't rehash it all here. You can read/watch any number of articles/videos/reviews on it to get all the information about it and how it's different from the pre-2015 version.

The Bike Itself in General

Fit and finish are actually pretty good. It's clear the parts aren't as high end as many other bikes, but as far as value for money there is nothing cheesy about it. The paint is really quite good and I have been complimented a few times on it. It really does look nice in the sunlight #GoTeamGreen.

What does a BMW or KTM cost again? You can do a lot of riding with the difference in cost not to mention cost of ownership. 7K mile oil change interval is pretty nice if not a little hard to get used to. It was just a little disconcerting passing right over the normal oil change marker and running a couple extra thousand miles!

Maintenance I have done

To give you an idea about me: I clean the bike any time it gets at all dirty or bugs on it. I wash with glass cleaner and furniture polish and rags. I do not wash it like it's a car (spray and sponges).

The work I've done to the bike since owning it (remember, 12, 000 miles for a total of 15K).

  • Two oil changes
  • Both tires
  • Chain and rear sprocket. I'm not 100% sure this was required quite yet, but it just seemed like it was pulling a bit farther off the rear sprocket than when I got it and because I can do the work myself it was just the cost of parts.

But what's it like to ride?!

Power?

It's a pretty spunky little bike. It's not what I'd call "powerful" but you'll hit 80-100 passing cars and if you fling it into a corner at twice the posted and you'll be keeping up with everyone else doing the same thing.

Fundamentally the biggest difference between the Versys and the other machines I've had with more grunt is the passing speed. A big bike with a big chunk down between the legs will fling you passed the cars more quickly, no question. I still pass everything I need it's just a matter of planning the move accordingly.

I won't get into all the details as to why, but I've spent the last five years working my way back down from bigger more powerful bikes to smaller ones because they are just a lot more fun to ride in a lot more circumstances, not the least of which is I no longer have any fear of braking the rear tire loose getting on the throttle early in corners.

It leaps when you crank the throttle at the power band (5-7K range up to 8 is pretty much the sweet spot). I tell people, if you want to feel it's soul, ride it like a small sport bike, not a big touring bike. She likes to wail a bit from time to time so indulge your inner idiot when road gets twisty.

Cornering?

This bike inspires in the corners. Toss it in hard and get on the throttle and the Versys will respond. If you're a ride and brake hard kind of person I recommend using a lot of rear brake to keep the bike flatter as the front end will dive quite a bit if used alone. If you're more of a throttle/engine braking kind of person you're fine.

On long mild corners I find it's not as neutral as I would like. The bike always feels like it wants to keep falling in (turn tighter) slightly. On twisty roads the Kawasaki Versys 650 is quite nimble for such a tall upright bike. When I'm particularly in the mood, I slide forward plant my opposite knee against the tank and hang off the inside and the bike rails. Flip up and over and repeat all the while loving that intake sound.

The one thing that I will say is a negative is additional hard/medium braking mid corner. Depending upon your preload/rebound setup not withstanding the bike does tend to try and stand up more than my others did/do. That can be a big crappy if your hard on it turning and having to make major adjustments. How often does that come up? Ok, not that often, but it's something to be expecting to happen so you're not taken by surprise.

All in all my advice is to trust the bike. Corner it firmly with confidence and you'll love it. Corner it tentatively, unsure and timidly and it wallows about. Remember, it thinks it's a sport bike.

Braking?

They work. Next subject. Ok, ok. They aren't great, they aren't crap. The biggest issue is the lever feels a bit mushy. Most of the time you don't notice/care, but if you just sit there pulling it, you think, "This should be more solid feeling.", and sometimes after a tough section of road your hand is doing a bit more work than it would if you had better binders.

I have the stock pads on, and they are wearing well.

Power is fine for most riding conditions and I can modulate it ok, but I do think if I end up keeping it past my usual two year ownership cycle I'll probably try steel lines and double-h sintered pads to see if I can get more positive bite out of it.

Brakes is clearly one of the areas most noticeably different in mid price/cheaper bikes as compared to their high end brethren. This isn't news.

Wind?

I'm 5-10 185 -ish and I find the wind protection very good. Windscreen in the high position and my chest feels nothing, helmet only a little. Arms get a fair amount of air which is a good way to stay cooler on hot days even if the screen is blocking everything else. In the lower position my upper chest and helmet get a bit more air. I actually road most of the summer this way in an attempt to stay as cool as possible. I prefer naked touring over fully screened touring (my preference in how I experience riding) so in some ways the wind protection is too good

Hands are find on cooler days (with wind/hand guards). I added heated grips as well.

Seat?

I really like the seat more now than I did a few months back. As I have eluded I like to ride what I'd call more of a speed touring/dynamic ride so I like to hang off and more around a bit. The seat is a bit flat for that, trying to support you when you just sit bolt upright/slightly leant over. You can't sit back against the pillion bump and slide your ass off, it just doesn't work. I have found, however, that I can hump the tank and slam the corners like I want to. So while it's not how I road my BMW, I have found something that works. That said, when cruising back roads and highways the seat and corresponding hand position is fantastic.

Like a lot of bikes, if you just cruise the freeway in one position the seat is going to suck pretty quickly. I've never had a bike that cruised well on the freeway...but I try and avoid the freeway as much as possible so no big loss there.

I did add a pair of padded cycling shorts a couple of months ago that really has helped extend my riding (IE: when my ass starts to hurt and how badly, etc). I tend to plan 7-7.5 hour days.

Freeway Cruising?

This is a weakness of the Versys. At least at and above 70 mph steady on the freeway. It just isn't great. The bike seems to transmit a lot of vibration. It's not a buzz, but feels more like a kind of turbulence. I am still trying to figure out if it's the tires, the road, the wind or all three together. At 60 it's smooth as silk, but as you get it up it gets to be a bit much. Of course it might also relate to fatigue and riding freeways at the end of a long day versus early in the day. If you ride a Kawasaki Versys 650, I'd love to hear about your experience with freeway riding.

The Experience?

Any time I have the 'what bike' conversation, I answer the same way. Buy/keep the bike that turns you on. I tend to follow that up with, buy a bike, ride it for a year or two and if you don't like it enough to keep it sell it and buy another one. Heck, even if you do like it enough, there are lots of bikes out there all with different character/feel/strengths/weaknesses. Why not try them?

I couldn't care less about the performance of my bike compared to other bikes. It's not relevant at all because I don't own all four bikes in the latest shootout so how will I be able to feel the difference? Some semi pro racer level guy telling me bike A is better coming out of the corner or mid corner grip is only possibly noticeable if I'm able to push the bike that hard which I wouldn't do on the street anyway.

I do look to see if any testers have said things like this quote from Motor Cyclist

As expected, I have no shortage of wonderful things to say about theĀ Kawasaki Versys 650 LT. It continues to make me laugh, smile, and question the seemingly loveless nature of all of my previous motorcycle relationships.

Reading that from an experience Journo in an establish moto rag peaks my interest.

What I will say about the Versys is that it's pretty close to the feeling I got when riding my Triumph Bonneville SE. It's playful and fun and seems eager to go and explore. The light steering, fantastic turning radius make it easy to whip around and 'go back to check that out' whether a photo opportunity or a road you've not been down.

I can lean back and riding like I'm sitting in an arm chair or lean forward when I was to be a bit more sporty, which of course brings me to cliche' that this bike really is versatile (in expression) and in riding.

I'm not someone who says this bike or that is a touring bike or a sport bike. For me, it's all about what you do with them. I've toured on my Bonneville, but would any magazine include that in an article about touring bikes? I've ridden my Suzuki GSX650f and Triumph Sprint ST on the track but neither is a sport bike being featured in a shootout. Yes, I understand magazines want to compare like for like and often at the very edge or pinnacle of what is possible. My point is simply that I am not going to say the Versys is "this" kind of bike and not good for "that" kind of riding.

It's a great bike and I'm enjoying it but I have also realized that if I don't want to murder someone or give up motorcycle completely, I cannot ride for hours on I-5 north heading home at the tail end of a long day. Take the back roads, smaller highways and the Versys is a phenomenal way to go.

Final Thoughts?

During the summer I fell in love once again with my Suzuki GSX650f converted into a street fighter. It reminded me of my enjoyment riding a naked bake. It's a smooth inline four that is just a visceral ride especially with the slip on exhaust my sons bought and installed from.

That said, the Kawasaki Versys 650 eats miles, is way warmers on cold days, better gas mileage and easy/more comfortable to carry a little bit of stuff needed for a few days nights stay that I like to do often. It's just such a good all around package. Maybe not the most passion enrapturing bike, but it's a fun little scooter that I can ride 30% longer am far more comfortable doing it. I'll just keep my naked bike for days I want to feel the wind.

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