2015 Kawasaki Versys

First Ride Review

Using the same engine in multiple motorcycle models makes good economic sense. The 649cc parallel twin that debuted in the Kawasaki Ninja 650 found its way into the Versys 650 (read our review of the 2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 LT) and the new Vulcan S cruiser. Likewise, the 1,043cc in-line four in Kawasaki’s Z1000 and Ninja 1000 powers the new Versys 1000 LT, a street-focused adventure tourer that makes its U.S. debut for 2015. In previous tests, we praised the liter-plus engine for its smooth, generous power, maxing out at 127 horsepower and 76 lb-ft of torque on Jett Tuning’s dyno, and it suits the Versys 1000 to a T, with spot-on throttle response and torque as broad as the horizon.

The liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4-valves-per-cylinder engine inhales fuel through four 38mm Keihin throttle bodies with oval sub-throttles, and exhales spent gasses pass through four interconnected headers and an under-engine pre-chamber before exiting through a single silencer, foregoing the quad pipes found on the Z1000 and Ninja 1000. Power is transmitted to the rear contact patch through a cable-actuated Assist and Slipper Clutch, 6-speed transmission and O-ring chain. Two power modes, Full (100 percent) and Low (75 percent), and Kawasaki Traction Control (KTRC), with three modes plus Off, provide flexibility and a valuable safety net.

The Ninja 1000 sportbike was designed for the real world, with usable performance, reasonable ergonomics and optional saddlebags. The Versys 1000 offers the same level of performance in an even more touring-ready package, with better wind protection, more comfort and ample passenger accommodations, along with standard saddlebags, a luggage rack, hand guards and a centerstand. Like its sportbike brethren, the Versys is built around a stout twin-spar cast aluminum frame that uses the engine as a stressed member, with two of the four engine mounts made of rubber to reduce vibration. A heavy-duty subframe handles the weight of a passenger and 28-liter Kawasaki Quick Release saddlebags loaded with gear. The color-matched, Givi-made bags are able to swallow a full-face helmet in either side and they’re keyed to the ignition. The bikes we tested were fitted with factory accessories, including a 47-liter top case ($582.75), grip heaters ($289.95), a gear position indicator ($206.95), LED lights ($514.95) and frame sliders ($279.95). Many other accessories will be available, including a larger windscreen, gel seat and 12V socket.

Kawasaki co-launched the Versys 1000 LT and Versys 650 LT on Sicily, perched less than two miles from the toe of Italy’s boot. Rising steeply out of the sea, the volcanic island is crisscrossed by a tight maze of roads built and rebuilt over thousands of years. After negotiating an obstacle course of traffic-choked streets and roundabouts, we ascended the south face of 10,990-foot Mount Etna, a snowcapped, lava-spewing volcano. The higher we went, the wetter the pavement became and soon ice was visible along the road’s edge. Because the Versys doles out power smoothly, handles predictably and wears good Bridgestone Battlax T30 sport-touring tires, I took the sketchy conditions in stride.

Although not as agile as its lighter, shorter 650 stablemate, the Versys 1000 is a surefooted corner carver nonetheless. Today’s tall adventure bikes, with their upright riding positions and high, wide handlebars, make it easy on riders. Stay relaxed, put a little pressure on one grip or the other, and dive into or climb out of corners with ease. The Versys’ 17-inch front wheel helps it change directions more easily than similarly sized adventure bikes with 19-inch fronts, yet it remains perfectly calm in the high seas of speed. Road-hugging help comes courtesy of KYB suspension with 5.9 inches of travel front and rear, which absorbed Sicily’s worst road conditions without complaint and provided a plush, well-controlled ride. The 43mm inverted fork’s long outer tubes reduce flex, and its rebound and compression dampers have special valves to provide consistent damping performance when the fork changes direction. Both the fork and horizontal back-link shock are adjustable for rebound and spring preload (via a remote knob on the shock). Triple-disc Tokico brakes, with a pair of four-piston calipers gripping 310mm petal-style rotors up front and a single-piston caliper gripping a 250mm petal-style rotor out back, provide ample stopping power, and ABS is standard.

The Versys 650 and 1000 share the same Ninja-like styling, with a sharp-edged upper fairing that features twin cat-eye headlights, a chin spoiler for stability and side channels for better airflow. Two knobs on the front of the windscreen allow it to be moved up or down over a 3-inch range. Wind protection is good, on par with other adventure bikes, but less than that of full-boat sport tourers such as Kawasaki’s Concours 14. Rugged-looking instrumentation features an analog tach and an LCD display with speed, fuel level, clock and other functions. Two color choices are available, Candy Burnt Orange or Flat Ebony, both with Metallic Spark Black on the steel fuel tank.

The Versys 1000 LT is a welcome addition to the touring market, blending impressive performance with practicality and good value. It is well suited to any type of riding, from daily commuting to long-distance, two-up touring and everything in between. During our last Ninja 1000 test we averaged 37 mpg, and similar fuel economy would yield just over 200 miles from the Versys’ 5.5-gallon tank. Putting it in Low power mode and relaxing the throttle to keep the ECO indicator illuminated will further extend range. Power, weight (549 pounds wet, claimed) and seat height (33.1 inches) are similar to that of other liter-class adventure tourers, but the Versys’ $12,799 base price is well below that of most of the competition, even before factoring in the standard hard saddlebags. We’ll soon start testing the Versys 1000 LT on home turf, and we’ll have comparison test with the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 soon.