According to our long-time Off Road Editor JC Hildebrand, “Versys” is an appropriate name for the 650 Twin because “versatility was high on the list when Kawasaki designed this motorcycle.” He should know after using it for a project bike in the past, outfitting the Versys for more touring-oriented duties with the addition of Givi panniers and beefing up its off-road protection by adding dual-sport tires, Barkbuster Storm Handguards and a SW-Motech Skidplate. Managing Editor Bart Madson also said it was “Plenty fast and sporting for the street, its versatility makes it a noble all-rounder,” after a 1000-mile journey up Pacific Coast Highway in California to our HQ in Oregon. For our 650 Twin Shootout though, we put the standard 2013 Versys to the test.
Hopping into the saddle of the Versys, one of the first things we notice is how tight and compact the rider’s triangle is. Being down and in behind the tank feels more sporting than the perch aboard the Honda. The reach to the handlebars is fairly short, the foot controls leave a rider’s feet slightly back and under, and the upper body is at a slight forward lean. Its trellis frame is compact and the Versys is the slimmest of the bunch. This allows riders to really snug up to the bike when hustling through corners.
And the Versys will hustle. This is no surprise considering it sources the same liquid-cooled, 649cc Parallel Twin powering the Ninja 650. The 2013 Versys is the king of the dyno chart, winning the power-to-the-back-wheel wars with 43.21 lb-ft of torque coming on at 7100 rpm. Its horsepower numbers are almost identical to the V-Strom (63.71 to 63.73hp), the only difference being the Versys reaches that plateau 100 rpm earlier. Out on the open road, it doesn’t have the same low-end punch as the V-Strom, but definitely surges in the mid- to top-ranges and has a wonderfully wide powerband. It’s so wide, you’ll almost run through two of the middle gears on the Honda before you have to shift the Kawasaki.
With the biggest bore and the shortest stroke, the Versys’ engine is the most compact of the bunch. Vibrations are nominal in the lower rev range thanks to rubber bushings on the rear engine mounts and hollow rubber inserts atop the footpegs, but a noticeable buzz creeps into the bars and saddle at higher rpm. During our 650 Twins test, the liquid-cooled engine with digital fuel injection won over test rider Madson who had this to say about the Versys powerplant.
The 2013 Kawasaki Versys has a compact trellis frame and is the slimmest motorcycle in our 650 Twins Shootout.
The 2013 Kawasaki Versys has a splendid Parallel Twin with a lively midrange and top-end and a powerband that riders can really wind out.
The 2013 Kawasaki Versys won the battle of the dyno charts in the torque category and put up an almost identical amount of horsepower as its nemesis the Suzuki V-Strom.
“The Kawasaki’s Parallel Twin is the most pert of the bunch. The V-Strom is smoother and has a more pull on the bottom end, but the Versys zings up in the mid-range and top-end. It sports the liveliest throttle and most exciting performance,” said Madson.
Heading out of town on our favorite twisting roads that spider throughout the mountains surrounding our southern Oregon HQ, the 2013 Versys grips the asphalt and is sure-footed at lean. At 25-degrees, its front end is set at the tightest rake of the bunch. Its 17-inch cast aluminum front wheel doesn’t carry much unsprung weight so turn-in requires little effort from the rider. Overall it is the lightest of the 650 Twins with a curb weight of 454 pounds.
The Versys has the shortest wheelbase and narrowest frame, too, while the condensed engine package allowed Kawasaki to slap on a longer-than-average gull-wing swingarm so it remains stable when you’re on the throttle. The Versys’ lower center of gravity gives it an edge in handling on Suzuki as it’s able to transition quicker than its counterpart. Here’s our man Madson’s opinion of the Versys’ handling.
“It contrasts the Honda’s low center of gravity, carrying its weight up higher. But that said, to me it feels the lightest on its toes. I wonder if that’s because it’s noticeably more slender than the wider Suzuki and low-to-the-ground Honda. Either way, handling on the Versys is sharp and sporty.”
This handling gets an assist from its capable suspension. A 41mm inverted fork allows riders to dial in spring preload and rebound damping as well as adjusting for height. At 5.9 inches, it has plenty of travel without feeling squirrely when pushed hard. The Showa shock has 13-position adjustable preload and rebound damping. Free piston and two-stage damping valves help it plunge smoothly during initial compression while firming up near the end of the stroke to accomplish the steady ride it exhibits. Unlike the heavily shrouded Honda shock, Kawasaki made sure preload and rebound on the rear suspension on the Versys is easy to access.
When it comes time to scrub speed from Kawasaki’s middleweight, dual 300mm petal-style discs with two-piston Tokico calipers on the front have a solid bite but feel at the lever doesn’t match up to either the NC700X or V-Strom. Grab a handful of the front and the fork of the Versys dives considerably. Overall the braking package is effective, but as Madson states, “Braking isn’t a highlight for the Versys. The front brakes are powerful enough, but the lever feels wooden and unresponsive. The Honda’s stoppers are weaker but offer a lot better feel, while the Suzuki’s braking package far outshines the rest.” On a bright note, the Versys is the only one of the 650 Twins to have five-way adjustable levers.
Banging through the gears on the Versys reveals another one if its shortcomings in comparison to its competitors. While the slight click in the Honda transmission isn’t bothersome, the clunk of the hard-shifting Versys’ gearbox is more pronounced and isn’t as easy to modulate at the lever. The tranny on the Versys just doesn’t quite match up to the no-hassle gear shifts of the V-Strom either. Engagement isn’t terrible, but it is notchy and less refined in comparison.
Even though styling on the Versys is the most tenured of the bunch, it continues to have a sporty disposition. Its pipe is routed down and away, good for centralizing mass and for keeping the look of the back end airy and open. The stacked dual headlights are one of its easy-to-recognize signature traits, the windscreen above them three-position adjustable. Behind the screen, its analog tach is its most visible feature, the digital speedo smaller and more challenging to see. It’s not as easy to glance at as the higher-positioned cluster on the V-Strom. Petal-style discs, six-spoke wheels and a swingarm that matches the angle of the single rear shock give it the looks that match its sporty performance.
After spending many miles in its saddle, the differences between the Versys and V-Strom are nominal. The Versys is buzzier in the saddle at high rpm, it’s brakes don’t quite stack up to the even stopping power of the V-Strom, and it doesn’t have the same low-end punch. But the Versys definitely surges in the mid- to top-ranges and we love its wide powerband. The Kawasaki’s power does come at the price of efficiency as the Versys scored last in the miles-per-gallon battle, yet still gets a respectable 45.265 mpg average. But the buzz can wear on riders a bit during longer stints in the saddle and overall the V-Strom is a more refined package, which relegates the 2013 Versys to second in our 650 Twins Shootout.