Drinking the Kool-Aid
Ok, let me get this out of the way...I LOVE my Kawasaki Versys 650. I can totally see why all the reviewers say such good things about this bike....but let me start at the beginning.
It's important to know the context from where the reviewer is coming. I won't go over it here, but feel free to read about it here.
Joining Team Green
You might have read that I sold my BMW Rockster and bought the Kawi Versys just recently but those first few miles were really the usual tentative, figuring things out and also trying to get the bars angled just right, lever position, etc. Bike was clearly comfortable and a hoot to ride, but I wasn't about to push it....not yet.
Taking advantage of the weather
It's fall here in the Great Northwest so you spend a lot of time tracking the rain to find opportunities. Sometimes it's just a few hours around home, other times you get lucky and a couple of days appear. I found just such a gap. Two days of blue sky and sunshine and low 60's temperature....time to ride down to Oregon and back.
I really wanted to hit some good curvy roads that I've done before. My idea was that knowing the roads would allow me to get an idea of how the Kawasaki compares to the BMW Rockster. Not that I'd be riding back to back mind you but having a good understanding of the roads instead of learning new ones would let me think more about the bike.
Ok, Enough Talk
Heading south, I set out mid morning. It was chilly (mid 50's) but sunny and gorgeous. The first stint was I-5 south bound which is boring freeway but it does eat up the necessary miles in the time allotted so that I could spend more time on some really good roads later.
With windscreen in the highest position, cruising first around 60 then around 70 south of Olympia in sixth gear the bike was smooth and simply nice. It IS a 649cc parallel twin so it's up a bit higher in the RPM range. You might think it sounds busy or whatever because I was cruising around 2000 RPM more than my B-M would have been, but with ear plugs in, I couldn't hear it at all and there was no vibration other than road surface related.
Wind protection is great (I'm 5-10) allowing me to wear my winter jacket with just a long sleeve shirt under instead of multiple layers I used to wear so overall the whole experience is more comfortable (wind/cold-wise).
Finally off the Freeway
Hopped off took a break, did some work and headed along some smaller 'highways' to begin the "real" part of the ride (the twistier back roads).
The first twisty section of road was also a bit on the rough side (pavement but patched, lumpy, scruffy). The Versys handled the rough stuff well. I had added a couple turns of pre-load front and rear to eliminate any wallowing, which worked a treat, but I did wonder if the bike would smooth out more lumps if I backed it off. Maybe that's why expensive bikes have them switchable modes.
Throughout the two days of riding, I found the bike did eat more of the nasty stuff than my Beemer and Bonneville which in turn meant the bike felt comfy a lot longer. I was able to ride quickly without worrying as much about the road surface knowing the bike could handle it and even though I haven't been doing a lot of long rides of late, 7+ hours each day didn't kill me.
Turning me on
I am no knee down guy (not on public roads) but I do tend to do my best to rid the tires of their chicken strips. I lean off the bike a bit and prefer going more on the quick side than slow whenever the road gets curvy. The bike tracked really well any time I was on the gas. That's really the key I found. The bike is light and the rear tire narrower (160 vs 180) than what I had been riding the last two years. It quickly falls into corners and moreso than my other machines responded quite nicely to getting on the gas early. The bike settles and carves through the corners like it was on rails. When I was uncertain enough to not get on the gas the bike reacted to that and felt nervous. This is true for all bikes, but I think I noticed it more because of how well balanced this bike is and how lightly it enters and leaves corners.
I will say that if you have to get back on the brakes mid corner after releasing the bike can feel a bit like it's pogo-ing. The longer travel suspension showing itself. It wasn't long before I just kept the front brake on to the apex and upon releasing was on the gas straight away. Ridden like this the bike was a dream.
The Versys changes direction really well and in the right sequence of corners the bike was fantastic left right left right and I found myself getting on the power very early. I have no stopwatch back to back comparison from which to draw this conclusion, but it sure feels like I'm cornering faster (overall speed into, through and out of corners).
When you do it right and everything comes together, it is significantly better than the other bikes I've ridden.
The LT comes with ABS, but I try hard to not need it. This time of year the roads tend to be damp all day in the shade and I must confess I liked knowing there was some engineer in there ready to help me out if I needed it. When the bike is cold (start of the ride not temperature) the brake lever seems a bit mushy, but once it's warm (heat in the brakes and lines) and everything firms up nicely. I'm not sure I can say good or bad feel yet because I am still getting used to being on standard forks again and with the Versys you get a lot of travel therefore a decent amount of dive when braking hard. That said, they are plenty powerful enough and I was able to brake comfortably to corner apexes.
The rear brake ads a lot to the slow down effort and does a great job settling the bike on corner entry. Without using the rear brake my ass felt like it was shooting up into the air when hammering along and braking hard (did I mention I like to carve corners and ride.....in a spirited way?). Using the rear brake kept it under control.
The engine, as I mentioned earlier, is a twin 649cc. Because of this, you cannot treat it like a big twin. My BMW Rockster was a big twin (1150cc) that had a bunch of torque so you'd come out of a corner twist the wrist and the bike would lurch forward, but you'd shift when it hit 6k and conversely you had to get down before corners so that you weren't bogging it down. I often found myself in first gear so that I wouldn't be bogged down.
With the Kawasaki Versys 650 what you're really riding is a long legged comfortable sport bike. It LOVES to be spun up and left there. When riding a spirited section of corners, get it up between 5k-8k and leave it there. Out of corners, wind it up to 8k and roll off gently as you enter the next corner (sounds and feels like a sport bike motor)...no need to shift up and down constantly until you have longer straight sections requiring a little more speed.
Current conclusions and issues?
This was just two long days of riding and I've only ridden around 1200 miles so far so cannot give you my real feelings (I like to really get to know a bike including maintenance).
The bike has a lot less power than a lot of bigger bikes (duh) and I have not felt like I missed that power at any point except possibly in passing cars. It's not hard to pass cars (you're not struggling) but it does take longer and you need to make sure you get your timing right if you don't have a long stretch. With my B-M (50% more torque) you could blow past a line of cars easily. The Versys 650 just requires more pre-planning...but how often do you really do that compared to all the things the smaller Versys does better?
What I can say about it is that this Kawasaki Versys 650 is the best all around bike I've had (see the about section for my list of bikes for context). It is really really good and I find myself wanting to ride regardless the weather.