2010 Kawasaki Versys Review

A Swiss Army knife among street motorcycles


The 2010 Kawasaki Versys is an updated rendition of an already capable bike – one that is overwhelmingly purchased by experienced motorcyclists – but which could hit the hot buttons for many more younger riders, if only they knew what they were missing.

Since its introduction four years ago, some have grappled with defining this competent but somewhat ambiguous 649cc parallel-Twin all-round sport motorcycle, which even Kawasaki once listed on its website under “Dual Purpose.”

Its name is contrived from the words “versatile” and “system,” and offers some clues.

The Versys takes elements from dual-purpose bikes, standards, adventure-tourers and sportbikes; sharing characteristics of all, but neatly fitting into the category of none.

See the stylistic family resemblance between the Versys and shorter travel ER-6n? The Versys has more sophisticated suspension and stronger midrange power, and is every bit as much the sporting machine as the ER.

In fact, it is essentially a longer-travel ER-6n, albeit with a more sophisticated inverted fork, an asymmetrical “gullwing” aluminum swingarm, retuned engine for broad midrange power, and with unique looks.

The Versys is led by the ER-6n and followed by the Ninja 650R. Don’t let the green bike’s racer looks deceive you. The Ninja has nothing on the Versys when the roads get twisty.

The Versys and ER-6n also share many features with their fraternal-triplet sibling, the Ninja 650R. But while the Ninja 650R and ER-6n have identical, peakier versions of the same engine, the Versys has revised intake and exhaust cams, a 10.6:1 compression ratio instead of 11.3:1, and redline set 500 rpm lower at 10,500.

While officially considered a “worldwide bike,” the Versys was designed first for the European and Canadian markets, and launched there in 2006. Then after many requests from U.S. riders, Kawasaki brought it in, at first as a 49-state 2008 model. California got its Versys in 2009, when a required evaporative emissions canister was fitted.

Even so, the bike is still much better appreciated in Europe, as evidenced by its sales performance.

“We also have to realize that the lion's share of Versys are purchased in Europe where they understand and embrace this type of motorcycle and where it is ridden enthusiastically,” says Kawasaki’s Public Relations Supervisor, Russ Brenan.

The American motorcycle press never underappreciated the Versys, however, and some publications loaded it with accolades, saying it is well suited for anyone, be they new or experienced or somewhere in between.

The asymmetry of the Versys is an exercise of form follows function. Note right-side mounted offset laydown shock, and the wide side of the alloy gullwing swingarm On the left side, the exhaust and shock are nowhere to be seen, whereas the swingarm looks like a traditional braced unit.

This leads us to wonder whether this hearty and unanimous recommendation was received just like a lot of advice so often is from an experienced elder – disregarded by the kids who know better!

To wit, Kawasaki says 64% of U.S. Versys purchasers are age 45 and older, and 62% have more than five years riding experience.

In contrast, riders under age 25 comprise just 2% of U.S. Versys buyers, and those age 25 to 34 represent a mere 8%.

We might euphemistically attribute this to different priorities between younger U.S. riders and their European counterparts, including possible objections over its “funky” appearance.

But whether its looks will enhance the image you think you represent, or not, the Versys is aptly named.  

Its is good at nearly any kind of on-road riding you can throw at it – from grocery getting, to commuting, to sport riding, to exploring even the roughest of roads nearby, or on tour.

The 2010 Versys received a styling overhaul while leaving its functional aspects – engine, 6-speed cassette transmission and brakes – intact.

Plastic Surgery

This year’s model received mostly stylistic bodywork tweaks, which while subtle, are not few.

A new stacked headlight leads the way for the 2010 Versys.

The Versys’ face is as distinctive as ever, now with dual stacked headlights. Its semi-double-cradle, high-tensile steel frame is adorned with new plastic, ranging from a re-sculpted fairing, radiator shroud, engine covers and rear fender.

Blocking the wind is a bigger three-way adjustable windscreen which protects the rider surprisingly well. Kawasaki also offers a “Tall Windshield” for $159.95, and a “Vario Windshield” with a wider, taller base, and adjustable spoiler for $199.95.

This year, new mirrors, turn signals and an LED tail light from the Z1000 are also included.

The counterbalanced engine is reasonably smooth, but rigid rear engine mounts were replaced with rubber mounts, and the footpegs now utilize hollow rubber inserts to further quell vibration.

Ortlieb Motorcycle Luggage Review

Waterproof means waterproof!

We decided the Versys would b a great bike to ride up the Pacific Coast Highway from LA to the TTXGP in Sonoma, Calif. from May 14-16.

We’ve previously enjoyed Kawasaki’s accessory hard luggage for the Versys, but it wasn’t available in time for this trip. So we went looking for durable, serviceable alternatives.

Upon calling Ortlieb USA in Washington state, we were pleased to learn we could get a full complement of waterproof soft bags on short notice.

Complete ensemble: Pair of saddlebags, duffel-shaped “Rack-Pack,” tank bag, base, and clear cover. All 100% waterproof. These bags are available in high-visibility colors. I chose the Johnny Cash look to match the Versys.

Their design may not include outside pockets for you to lose your do-dads in, but that’s what small extra bags are for. And when the going gets tough, these large-volume primary bags are otherwise hard to beat.

For example, if you’ve ever had ordinary coated pack cloth bags and gotten caught in the rain, you may know how easy it is to get water into your clothes, gear, and anything else you might have packed.

Ortlieb’s Euro-designed bags prevent this by using the time-honored method that whitewater kayakers and their ilk use to keep their stuff dry. They are made of tough waterproof coated fabrics specially designed to Ortlieb’s specs, and assembled using a high frequency welding process.

The bags are highly effective and have a solid reputation among serious outdoor travelers of all sorts. They resist water infiltration by having no zippers to leak, and only one opening per bag – which closes utilizing the roll-top method to make them air-tight to the point that they could float if they had to.

They are made to resist up to 100,000 folds (to the roll-top), and meet stringent engineering criteria Ortlieb sets for water-tightness, tear and abrasion resistance.

Assuming you roll them closed correctly, any splashed or falling water should have no effect on their dryness-factor, and this means rain covers are unnecessary.

As experienced riders may know, rain covers can leak, blow off, or get lost. It was a relief for us not to have to deal with them.

Brief assembly required for the saddlebags only. Essentially, the inner stiffener panels are connected by rust-resistant steel screws through black plastic buttons. It took 10 minutes to put them together.

For main luggage duties, we strapped on a set of basic black saddlebags ($203.50) that can hold 47 liters of stuff.

Since we needed extra storage for camping gear and equipment, we also got a Rack-Pack – essentially a roll-top, waterproof duffel bag. Prices range from $77 to $104.50, depending on which of four sizes (24 to 89 liters) are ordered. We selected the size large 49-liter version that retails for $93.50.

Additionally, a basic 15-liter Tank Bag was procured. The rectangular tank bag is also an internally stiffened drybag. It buckles via quick-connect plastic fasteners to a flexible base lined with several strong magnets.

Although the Versys’ steel gas tank was shrouded by plastic fairing sides, the magnets that did touch steel were strong enough to secure the bag, but we augmented the system with an additional bungee to the bag’s front, just in case.

The tank bag’s large, clear, roll-top map pocket is equally waterproof, and buckles either to the top of the tank bag, or to the magnetic base alone, if you want to travel light.

Also, just to keep everything extra secure, we added bungees and straps all around. These were probably over-doing it, but better too much than not enough

All dressed up, and everywhere to go. The Versys was back in black, posed momentarily heading the wrong way alongside the beautiful Pacific on the road just south of Big Sur.

So did the stuff work?

Sure did. Coming back via I-5 from Sonoma, we left in rain. Nice, steady, penetrating rain. It pretty much fell on and off for most of the 430-mile trip down to L.A.

Upon finally reaching home, everything in the bags was dry, despite occasional hurricane-level rainy wind blasts.

What more could you ask for? These bags are great, and we’ll be using them any time we want reliable soft luggage to venture near or far. –JC

Synergy on wheels

In recent weeks we’ve thrashed this bike while strafing corners with some very aggressive motojournos, and heavily loaded with bags and gear on a frenetic, full-speed-ahead 1,100 mile round-trip tour.

Loaded with enough weight to feel like a passenger was on board, we cranked rear spring preload up high, and the bike worked predictably while twisting up the fine ribbon of asphalt along the way to Big Sur, Monterey and beyond.

That combined with satisfying around-town usage lead us to agree with Brenan, who says, the Versys is, "the bike that most riders don't know they've always wanted."

Or, as Kawasaki’s Sr. Media Relations Coordinator, Jeff Herzog says, “It's similar to the Z1000. You have to ride it to understand it and find out how much fun can be had on one.”

Sure, these guys want to sell motorcycles, but they speak the truth.

Kawasaki now correctly calls the Versys a “sport” bike. As such, it does not readily run out of cornering clearance, despite respectable grip from the stock Dunlop D221 Sportmax rubber, and its wide handlebar aids and abets riders to snap it into corners.

If the road turns rough, the Versys suspension inspires more confidence than its
ostensibly more sporting stablemates.

Out back its offset laydown Showa shock provides 5.7 inches of travel, compared to the Ninja 650R or ER-6n’s 4.9 inches. All three bikes offer stepped spring preload adjustment, but the Versys adds 13-position adjustable rebound.

Up front is a likewise longer inverted 41mm fork cycling through 5.9 inches of travel, and offering stepless adjustable rebound and preload, compared to the Ninja 650R’s or ER-6n’s basic non-adjustable 4.7 inch standard hydraulic fork.

The Versys’ front and rear spring rates are progressive. The result is an initially soft and very compliant feel over stutter bumps, chewed up pavement, or patched and seamed sections of roads. But when speeds get competitive, the spring rates firm up, and the bike feels planted and secure.

This bike likes to corner. The twistier the better.

Our dyno run for the same engine in 2008 revealed nearly flat torque from 3,800 to 8,100 rpm, with a peak of almost 60 hp at 8,400 rpm. And while the midrange is fatter than that of the Ninja 650R or ER-6n, the engine still eagerly winds to just shy of redline.

Its breadth of torque also means the narrow, 454-lb machine feels more powerful at lower rpm and rewards the rider with all the drive that’s needed for tight twisty corners.

Your inner hooligan will be further gratified to learn that the Versys likes to wheelie with throttle only in the low-ratio first gear, and in second gear with a little clutch slip to its wide ratio, cassette-style transmission. It’s much tamer than trying this on an intensely powerful literbike, but the effect is the same, just at two-thirds the usual miles per hour.

Further, if you levered on some primo sport rubber, this bike could reveal another dimension to its personality. We wouldn't hesitate to take a Versys to a track day.

On track or street, bigger bikes will run away from it on fast sweepers, but the Versys more than holds its own in the tighter stuff and is stable at all speeds.

That’s not bad for a bike that’s equally at home fully loaded, on tour or pressed into mundane duties, or as a beginner bike for new riders – assuming they respect the power that should be good for nearly 120 mph or so.

We would recommend up-rated brake pads and possibly stiffer brake lines. The front two-piston Tokico calipers pinching 300mm petal-type rotors are adequate but lack the degree of whoa-power we’d prefer. Out back, the 220mm rotor clamped by a single-piston Tokico caliper is up to the task.

And while the counterbalanced engine is now partly rubber mounted, mirrors still blur slightly with resonance through the handlebar. The view can be discerned, but if absolute clarity is needed, one has to either pull the clutch and let the engine idle, or rev past 7,000 rpm at which point the buzz diminishes.

The stock saddle has limited range for taller riders but is tolerable.

The standard saddle, while comfortable, pretty much offers limited range for riders with longer legs. On extended rides, some might wish for more room to scoot back, just to change positions.

Minor nitpicks aside, this bike is good enough to where it’s not an overstatement to say it transcends the sum of its parts, especially considering that at $7,599, the Versys is priced as entry level.

As such, it does lack advanced features found on more expensive bikes, such as traction control or multi-adjustable ECU maps. Anti-lock brakes are also not available stateside, as they are in other markets.

A 2-inch lower gel saddle is available for $519.95 for those challenged by the standard 33.1 inch seat height.

Observed fuel economy from its 5-gallon tank ranged from a low of about 37 mpg during some heavily loaded, high speed, into-strong-wind riding, up to 54 mpg.

If the candy colors of previous years had anything to do with some U.S. riders sticking their noses up at the Versys, we think this year it looks techno-cool in Metallic Spark Black, and maybe more younger riders might consider it than in previous years.

Stopping to look at America’s bread basket while packing everything but the kitchen sink.

In any case, we think the fact that some overlook this bike is too bad, and possibly revealing.

Just as the Euros were first targeted as recipients for the Versys, more of them understand something about what constitutes a desirably functional street bike, while it takes longer for most U.S. riders to arrive at a similar sensibility.

Eventually U.S. riders do come around, but you’d be wrong if you thought it was because this is a bike suited for the geriatric set. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If faced with a budget for only one mid-sized street bike, a lot of riders – old, young or in between – might want to take a closer look at the Versys.

Related Reading
2008 Kawasaki Versys First Ride
2008 Kawasaki Versys Road Test
2010 Kawasaki Middlweight and Dual-Purpose Roundup
2010 Kawasaki Ninja 650 vs. 2009 Suzuki GSX650F vs. 2010 Yamaha FZ6R
2009 Naked Middleweight Comparison

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2010 Kawasaki Versys DSD_7138
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2010 Kawasaki Versys DSD_7195
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2010 Kawasaki Versys DSD_7307
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