The previous Kawasaki Versys 1000 wasn’t regarded as a pretty looking motorcycle, nor was it a compelling choice as a dual-sport for which Kawasaki originally intended it as. That’s all changed for 2015, with the 1,043 cc inline four powered bike getting not only a big cosmetic makeover but a host of other changes that make the Versys a real option for those looking at a comfortable, powerful and relatively nimble tourer.
Apart from its awkward looks, the previous Versys biggest issue was that Kawasaki designed and marketed it as an off road capable machine. Suspension was tuned to cater for both bitumen and dirt and the tires fitted attempted to cover both bases, too. The trouble was that it was far too heavy to take off road – coming in at 239 kg and with a high centre of gravity, the Versys was therefore a jack of all trades, master of nothing sort of bike.
In a sensible change, Kawasaki is now positioning the bike as a comfortable tourer with an upright riding position but with sporty characteristics. After spending some time of the updated Versys 1000, we’d say Kawasaki has got the bike right now.
As before, it uses the same 1,043cc inline four as featured in the Z1000 and Ninja 1000. Like so many engines in Kawasaki’s current lineup, it’s a fantastic unit that’s been designed for real world application. Where the engine differs from those two other bikes is mainly where power is available. Peak power is down slightly but there is more torque in the low and mid-rpm range. Similarly, first gear has been shortened, second remains the same as before while 3rd through 6th have been lengthened.
It’s a potent engine but only if you want it to be. It’s quite happy to bubble along at 3-4,000 rpm, but there’s around 120 hp on tap at a moment’s notice. We found ourselves shifting at no higher than 6,000 rpm most of the time, just because there’s no need to wring its neck. At the same time, the bike has enough grunt to power wheelie even in third gear should your inner hooligan want to be let loose for a while. In fact, third gear proved to be the sweet spot for a lot of our riding, especially in twisty roads. The engine sits on around 5,000 rpm at 80 kph in 3rd gear which allows the bike to launch into a sprint when existing the corners or needing to overtake.
Other than the cosmetic changes at the front of the Versys, the biggest modification is probably the bike’s suspension. No longer having to cater to such a wide variety of surfaces, the Versys 1000’s suspension is properly sorted for the road only. Brand new 43mm inverted forks are upfront and are 20 mm longer than before. Rebound and compression damping has been reduced by about 30 per cent. Front end feel is very good and confidence inspiring.
At the rear, the previous horizontal back-link suspension has been retained, though the spring has been stiffened slightly while there’s around 30 per cent less compression damping. The remote rear preload adjuster has been retained and both front and rear rebound damping is adjustable.
The suspension set up, along with the upright riding position and wide bars make for a very enjoyable ride. While not as quick as a sportsbike to flick from side to side, it’s all too easy to lean the bike into the corners thanks to the leverage provided by the one piece bar. In fact, the Versys 1000 has no right to be as enjoyable to ride as it is given its size and weight.
The weight of the Versys 1000 is both a positive and negative. As a tourer, there’s definitely some benefit to a heavier bike. It’s much more stable on the open road and less prone to buffeting from the wind. But with a curb mass of 250 kg, it’s not agile at low speed. Given the seat height of 840mm and it’s width, those of shorter stature will struggle to move the Versys 1000 around the car park.
Part of the increase in weight from before is due to the standard inclusion of a center stand which in our opinion is an excellent addition. Also standard is both an assist and slipper clutch. The front windshield is now adjustable vertically by 75 mm – more than double than before. Everywhere you look on this bike you can really see that Kawasaki has gone to great effort to make this machine as comfortable and easy to ride as possible.
Brakes have been slightly upgraded with 310 mm discs up front and a 250mm diameter unit at the rear. ABS is standard and has received an upgrade as well. Just like the engine, the brakes are of excellent quality and did a great job of slowing the bike – they provide good feel as well. There’s a three mode traction control system and two engine power modes, but the fueling and throttle response is so good that we’d surprised if you really needed to change any of the settings from standard.
Overall, we think Kawasaki is onto a real winner here. Ironically, the some of the biggest competitors to this bike are other Kawasaki’s – the Ninja 1000 is obviously another touring option, but while they both fit the same segment, the Versys probably offers more in comfort and ease of riding. It’s a motorcycle that is easy to ride, allowing you to enjoy the scenery but at the same time, can turn into a rocket when needed. What was once an ugly duckling that really didn’t fit into its segment is now an attractive motorcycle that excels at what it was designed for.