2011 Kawasaki Versys Project Part 3

February 1, 2012
JC Hilderbrand
JC Hilderbrand
Off-Road Editor|Articles|Articles RSS|Blog |Blog Posts |Blog RSS

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.

Straight-line acceleration and braking is much improved and the front tire grips very well in particular.
MotoUSA’s Kawasaki Versys Project Bike received final updates with a SW-MOTECH skidplate and Barkbuster hand guards.

Our 2011 Kawasaki Versys Project has been coming along nicely as an adventure-touring mount thanks to components installed in Part 1 and Part 2. The Givi Trekker side cases and top case are some of the best we’ve tested, and the Givi windscreen and crash bars do exactly as advertised. Once the Pirelli MT60R dual sport tires were spooned on, the Versys really started to get moving. But, we were a bit ahead of ourselves. Before the Kawasaki was going to get any further away from its regular pavement duties, there needed to be an additional level of support and protection.

We were put in touch with Twisted Throttle and found a slew of imported and domestic items that fit our project bike. We were most interested in the SW-MOTECH skidplate from Germany and the legendary Barkbuster hand guards. The Versys uses an underslung 2-into-1 exhaust system that keeps the upper portion of the bike uncluttered. The tradeoff is that it dangles right where it’s most likely to be impacted. The same goes for the large oil filter. Both are dangerously ripe for the picking and one decent-sized rock would spell disaster for our trusty project street bike.


2011 Kawasaki Versys Project Bike
Though difficult to install, the skidplate offered heavy-duty protection for exposed exhaust on the Versys.

The first step was to get rid of the small plastic fairings and three associated mounting brackets. Once they are out of the way it’s time to start bolting the SW-MOTECH into place. Four brackets hang down from the engine mounts to attach the two-tone aluminum skidplate. The black and unfinished aluminum sections are held together with heavy-duty rivets and come pre-assembled. The rivets look unique and proved their durability despite our early concerns.

It was immediately clear that the install was going to be even more difficult than anticipated. SW-MOTECH recommends on the packaging that the components be installed by a qualified mechanic. Now, I’m not a MMI graduate, but my toolbox gets a regular workout and I’m not one to back away from simple bolt-ons. Initially I scoffed at the idea, but it was honestly about five times harder than I expected. The wordless directions take a few extra glances, but the biggest issue was that the SW-MOTECH uses the same mounting points as the Givi crashbars. The skidplate comes with a variety of spacers needed for regular installation, but with the Givi brackets taking up space, none of them fit correctly.

Videos Our Sponsor

MotoUSA’s off-road editor walks through the installation and overall performance of the SW-MOTECH slidplate in the Kawasaki Versys Project Bike Part IV Video.

We were able to mix and match for three of the four connections. A longer bolt and replacement nut was required for one of the upper engine mounts, which we picked up at the local hardware store. On the lower mounts, the Kawasaki uses a single piece of all-thread which extends through the entire base of the engine. With our mismatched spacers, it was possible to over-tighten the nuts and pull the all-thread out where it interfered with the shift lever’s connecting arm. We were able to loosen the left side and tighten the right in order to even it out. Eventually, we got it all buttoned up and the fit was snug and secure.

Coverage is exceptional. It’s designed to wrap around the exhaust and extend up toward the engine. This helps deflect debris and obstacles out toward the crash bars. The SW-MOTECH reflects engine noise which had us looking down at every stoplight until getting used to the extra racket. Access to the filter drain plug is possible by removing the lower rubber-mounted bolts

2011 Kawasaki Versys Project Bike
The skidplate’s tight fit to the
underbelly means that a hard hit
can still damage components. 

Even with the rubber grommets, the skidplate does deliver some vibrations. Also, the tolerances are very tight, which means it hugs the underbelly and maximizes ground clearance. It also means there’s not much room for the plate to bend without coming into contact with the pipe. We managed to smash the skidplate hard enough to bend it into contact with the midpipe. This created much more vibrations and noise, but the product definitely did its job. There’s no doubt that without the skidplate the pipe would have been ruined, if not ripped completely off the motorcycle.

As soon as the skidplate was installed we headed straight for a new logging road which had been beckoning. The road had dozens of short, steep waterbars about 12-16 inches high. We had been forced to avoid them previously, but we bounced, slid and ground the SW-MOTECH across them all the way to the top of the mountain. That’s where we discovered another of the Versys’ shortcomings. All of the bouncing and crunching sloshed fuel out of an overflow which dumped it into the charcoal collection canister on the left side of the engine. By the time we reached the top of the mountain it was running out of the canister and collecting in the bottom of the skidplate, against the exhaust pipe. I had to quickly wipe it down and then step away from it until the fuel could fully evaporate. It just goes to show that even though we could now jump and bash the bellypan up remote mountains, the rest of the Kawasaki design isn’t necessarily up for aggressive dual sporting.



Videos Our Sponsor

The Versys gets its final touch of armor with wrap-around hand guards in the Kawasaki Versys Project Bike Part V Video.

Aluminum wrap-around hand guards are more of a dirt bike thing, but they’re also very popular for ADV bikes. The Versys had no way of keeping our mitts safe from brush, protecting the levers from crashes, and worst of all, let the wind and water blast our fingers unabated. There are a number of guard options, including flag-style and oversized waterproof enclosures, but we wanted the durability of aluminum. Barkbusters is one of the original names and they happen to make special mounting brackets specifically for the Versys. The brackets pinch the 7/8-inch bar securely and have a pivoting joint that allows it to easily reach the aluminum protection. The stock bar end weights are removed, which leaves the threaded inserts available to mount the Barkbusters. A specially designed teardrop weight takes the place of the stock piece and fits directly over the aluminum wrap-around bar. Once the bar was attached, the Storm plastic pieces are screwed into place. These were the easiest-mounting solid handguards I’ve ever installed. Not having to cut the end of the grips off or modify the throttle tube saves a ton of hassle.

Right away the benefits are obvious. The Storm shields are the largest in Barkbusters’ catalog, and the coverage is considerable. Our hands are completely protected from the wind and we immediately started commuting on rainy mornings which normally forced the Versys to stay at home. It’s possible to ride short distances without insulated

2011 Kawasaki Versys Project Bike
The addition of Barkbuster hand guards provided considerable protection against cold weather.

gloves. The addition of heated grips would make the comfort level even higher, but we no longer wish for them since installing the Storm guards. The aluminum bars are far enough away to allow the rider’s hands to grasp or release the handlebar without interference. We never crashed, but the mounting bracket and all the bolts never required tightening throughout months of testing.

Our 2011 Kawasaki Versys Project reached as far as we wanted. The add-ons we sourced were successful at adding a greater level of touring capabilities as well as the ability to explore mild off-pavement routes. Not only did our Kawasaki project become a more functional motorcycle, but it turned out to be better looking and a lot more fun as well.

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