2011 Kawasaki Versys Project Part 2

December 6, 2011
JC Hilderbrand
JC Hilderbrand
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Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA’s Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn’t matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

Videos Our Sponsor

See the new Pirelli MT60R-shod Versys in action with the Kawasaki Versys Project Bike Part 2 Video.

Kawasaki’s Versys has a lot of varying expectations to live up to, but as it evolved into the current state, technicians opted to go the commuter, easy-going street bike rather than a capable dual sport or light adventure touring machine. Check out our Kawasaki Versys Project Bike Part 1 to see how we added to its touring capabilities. The biggest giveaway for anyone looking at the Versys on a Kawasaki dealership floor are the 17-inch wheels. It’s not uncommon for AT bikes to sport the 17 out back, but it’s generally dismissed for use up front on machines destined for dirt. Sure, the Versys loves that front end when blazing through country backroads and tossing side to side along ribbons of pavement, but it’s a major pain in the butt for an owner with visions of distant, dusty horizons.

Our Versys wasn’t going anywhere near a legit trail with the OEM tires, and it didn’t have much inclination for tackling even improved gravel truck roads. Not only were the Bridgestones entirely road-biased, but the 3100 miles of wear was enough to slow the handling on pavement and add to the poor off-road performance. We didn’t fully notice until spooning on a new set of Pirelli MT60R dual sport tires, and the difference was immediately obvious on just our 10-mile afternoon commute.

2011 Kawasaki Versys Project Bike
2011 Kawasaki Versys Project Bike
The Pirelli MT60R tires offer much better performance than the stock treads, particularly off-road. They are not the best choice for extreme terrain, but they are a good match for what the Versys is capable of doing.

The 17-inch wheel diameter is the most limiting factor when searching for replacement treads – there just isn’t a whole lot available. The Pirelli scores major points simply for the fact that it’s a direct swap and is readily available without sourcing obscure importers who carry lesser-known brands.

Pirelli describes the tire as 60% on-road and 40% off-road. I’d consider that pretty close, maybe a bit more off-road credit than it deserves, but a very good all-around tire. On the pavement it meets or exceeds the stock rubber in the corners. It’s especially impressive when riding conditions are warm. The tread depth gets a bit shallower toward the edge of the tire and the block spacing tightens up, making for a larger contact patch. This allows for a bit less bite on dirt corners and the rear likes to step out. Smooth throttle control and extra weight on the rear end courtesy of the Givi luggage helps keep the rear end from pitching while accelerating through corner exit.

Radial carcass construction places steel belts wound circumferentially around the carcass ply, which is laid at a 90-degree angle. The steel belts offer high rigidity and I’ll be letting more air out for off-road riding in the future. Performance in the dirt is much better than the stock tires, but these aren’t full-blown knobbies by any means. Straight-line acceleration and braking is much improved and the front tire grips very well in particular. Heavy braking or aggressive downshifting leads the rear to skid, and that goes for pavement riding as well. The V-rated tire (149 mph) easily handles our Versys’ top end.

It’s great that the Pirelli slips right on the 17-inch front hoop, and the traction isn’t bad, but the small-diameter tire suffers with bump absorption and also when crossing ruts. Even shallow indents pull the wheel into them and the 17 has a hard time avoiding them. Overall, the Pirelli MT60R tires are a good match for what the Versys is capable of.

Ongoing Evaluation

Videos Our Sponsor

Watch the 2011 Verysys in action with its new components in the Kawasaki Versys Project Bike Part 3 Video.

Givi Windscreen
We professed our love for the Givi windscreen in Part 1 thanks to its durable build, smooth lines and far superior wind and water protection. However, now that we’re able to take the Versys off-road more often, the screen is showing a flaw. It’s just too tall for dual sport riding. Standing on the pegs in a crouched or aggressive position puts the top of the screen uncomfortably close to the rider. I’ve had it hit my chest when pulling on the front end for a nice rolling wheelie.

While we are bummed to discover that it’s just a little too tall, after racking up more saddle time in the dirt we’ve come to terms with the fact that the Versys is still best ridden sitting down, even off-road. The combination of wimpy footpegs, low handlebars, soft suspension and (relatively) sketchy front end have me enjoying its excellent seat and tooling along at a more sedate pace. Anything that is gnarly enough to require standing is going to raise issues with more important components than the windscreen. So, we’d like to try a screen that’s a few inches shorter, somewhere between the stock unit and the current setup, but generally we’re more than willing to admit realistic limitations of the bike and stick with the wonderfully protective Givi shield.

Givi Trekker Luggage

2011 Kawasaki Versys Project Bike
The dual-hinge feature is one of our favorite things about the Give Trekker side cases.

The Trekker hard panniers and top case are still blowing our minds. We started using the secondary hinge system which allows for only the tip of each box to be opened. For the panniers its pure genius. When packed with several heavy items, opening a bag from the side allows everything to spill out. On the flip side, panniers designed to open from the top make it difficult to access things buried at the bottom. Givi offers the best of both worlds with its dual-hinge design. A pair of interior hooks lock and unlock the top hinge to transform the bags from one style to the other.

The dual hinge has less benefits for the top case, but we did discover that leaving the secondary hinge unlocked allows it to flop open when the full lid is raised and it acts as a counterbalance to keep the top open while you rummage around inside. The short retainer straps were an original complaint of ours, but this counteracts it.

We still struggled with the single base hinge pin that liked to back out, but fixed that minor issue permanently by coating

2011 Kawasaki Versys Project Bike
2011 Kawasaki Versys Project Bike
We’ve installed a skidplate and handguards to
protect against bad weather and nasty obstacles.

it with roofing cement and slipping it back into the joint. Any general gooey stuff from the garage would probably work such as window caulk, gasket sealer, etc. I chose roofing cement because it’s black and blends in with the plastic base.

We’ve ridden in the rain and left the bike sitting unprotected under day-long deluges and moisture has not penetrated the boxes.

Next Phase
Barkbuster Storm Handguards 
Twisted Throttle is the importer for the Barkbuster brand and it makes a specific Versys mounting kit that bolts onto the stock handlebars. Without heated grips, we needed something to help block cold wind, rain and possibly mud if we dare venture that far. The Storm shields come in only one color but offer the largest coverage around the Barkbuster aluminum bars, which are great for crash protection.

SW-MOTECH Skidplate
The Versys has one of the most vulnerable underbellies we’ve ever seen. The engine is suspended without any frame rails underneath and the exhaust headers and muffler are also tucked underneath. It’s a recipe for disaster when the first high-clearance obstacle comes along. We enlisted Twisted Throttle again and sourced the German-made SW-MOTECH skidplate. It’s heavy-duty aluminum and uses a cool riveting system to join the metal plates. Mounting was an interesting process since it uses the same attachment points as the Givi crash bars, but we managed to squeeze it on there. More details on the Twisted Throttle items in the next installment.