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2011 Kawasaki Versys Project Part 1

Tuesday, September 27, 2011
The Versys is one of Kawasaki’s great do-all bikes. We snagged a 2011 model as a last-minute fill-in for a Pacific Coast Tour from Southern California. Little did we know the 650 Twin would start to grow on us, and so it was decided to keep the Kawasaki street bike and find some products to help accentuate its capability.

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Take a look at the 2011 Kawasaki Versys now that we've installed some touring and protective accessories.
As the name implies, versatility was high on the list when Kawasaki designed this motorcycle. An upright, comfortable seating position allows the rider a solid platform and excellent view of their surroundings. Immediately we decided this bike could be a useful touring mount if it had some carrying capacity. Strapping a duffel bag to the passenger seat wasn’t quite what we had in mind, so our first call went in to the Italian company, Givi. This accessory manufacturer produces luggage and protection with a 24-month warranty on all of its products.

The newest hard cases from Givi are the Trekker series. Compared to Givi’s traditional streamlined, smooth edges, the Trekker bags are much more utilitarian looking. The square cases are black plastic with an aluminum finish on top and have a rugged appearance similar to what you would find on a BMW GS or comparable adventure touring machine. The top case is available in 33-liter or 46-liter capacities, both rated to hold 22 pounds. Ours came as part of the TRKPACK3, which includes the larger top case and a pair of 33-liter side panniers for $925. We easily fit a full-face helmet and our jacket in the top case. The entire luggage is capable of holding a large laptop case and they all have internal straps to help keep items from bouncing around.

One of the best features of the Trekker bags is the mounting hardware. The racks are sturdy and the connection is simple. Givi equipped the Trekkers with its patented MONOKEY technology which allows a single key to open the case as well as remove it from the racks. Each bag comes with two keys, and all six keys are matched, which means it only takes one to access all the bags. We’ve got plenty of spares!

2011 Kawasaki Versys Project Bike
The Givi Trekker hard cases add some bulk to the rear of our Versys, but they are extremely useful for commuting and touring.
Using the latching mechanism is simple and secure. It only takes a single use to get the hang of it and there are no complicated or hard-to-see connecting points. The only complaint we have is that the bags are locked every time. It would be nice to have the option of leaving them unlocked. The key must be inserted every time the rider wants to open a bag; however, we’re happy with the security it provides and are willing to cope with such a small gripe.

We have not ridden the bike in rain yet, which leaves the question of waterproofing, but the Trekker bags have a recessed, waterproof foam seal which runs around the inner edge of the lid. It looks like it will be a secure seal, but we’ll have to wait for some inclement weather before knowing for certain.

After spending a couple weeks with the latest crop of mega-adventure touring bikes in the 2011 Adventure Touring Shootout, we had plenty of experience with different sets of luggage. For the most part, there were glaring errors in most of the designs. This surprised us considering that the OEMs built the cargo specifically for their own machines. So far the Givi Trekker bags are outperforming virtually all of the ones we recently sampled. Since they were all factory accessories and cost in the neighborhood of $1000, we’d rather equip all of the bikes, except for the KTM, with the Givi Trekker bags.

Loading up for a long-distance trip is going to be nothing but a struggle if the rider has to fight for every mile. We installed Givi’s model-specific windscreen to make sure that isn’t the case. The windscreen is 18.9 inches high and 14.6 inches wide; much larger than the standard unit. Compared to Givi’s 2006-09 Versys model, this screen is about three inches narrower, but is taller and has less taper at the top. Kawi’s stock screen cannot funnel air over the rider, but the Givi shield creates a turbulence-free cockpit for riders at least 5’11.” Straining to sit up higher reveals the path of airflow, but we’re able to enjoy a quiet ride while seated comfortably without slouching. The thick plastic is slightly convex and does not have any wild contours. As a result it has no distortion and doesn’t refract light in a distracting way. Considering the amount of protection afforded by the stock windshield, this is a bargain at $120.

2011 Kawasaki Versys Project Bike
The extra weight of the luggage has lightened the front end and we're running out of shock preload settings.
One product that we haven’t gotten to fully test are the crash bars. Givi makes model-specific tubular engine protection which is designed to save the bike’s minimal but delicate bodywork, and engine cases. The $200 investment will seem like chump change if we wind up tossing this thing. We’re doing our best not to fully evaluate them, but we can say that they fit extremely well. All of the Givi components mounted without issue, including the luggage racks and top plate. The directions for all of the hardware are very sparse, but we managed without issue thanks to the high-quality fit.

The extra weight of the bags and brackets is noticeable by itself and it affects the Versys’ handling. The Kawasaki’s preload-adjustable shock only has a few more notches of adjustment and we might need to upgrade the suspension in order to help support the added weight. The front end pushes through corners and offers less precision for the rider. Fully loading the bags makes the sensation even worse and adding a passenger further complicates the handling. We won’t be riding with passengers very much, but weekend supplies and a tent are to be expected. A heavier spring rate looks like the first option.

Now that the Versys has taken the first steps as a project bike, there are several more ideas we have for sprucing it up. First are more aggressive tires. We already have a set of Pirelli MT 60-R dual sport tires which have been receiving star-studded reviews from Motorcycle-Superstore.com customers. We anticipate having good luck with these motorcycle tires as well though wonder how they will affect the suffering front end feel. Since our goal is to make this bike capable of dirt roads, the Pirellis were a simple choice because they are one of the only tires that match the Versys’ stock sizes. 

2011 Kawasaki Versys Project Bike
We'll be exploring more off-road potential with a set of dual sport tires from Pirelli.
Shifting is the Kawi’s biggest flaw. The transmission is clunky and takes serious effort on the lever. Rapid, multiple downshifts can get hung up and refuse to engage. The Versys likes to be shifted deliberately, one gear at a time while the bike is in motion. Stopping at a light and trying to tap down into first/neutral requires rocking back and forth and dabbing the clutch. Mostly we’re able to ride around these quirks, but the general hard shifting is unavoidable. An oil change and swapping to some high-spec lubrication might help take some of the edge off.

We’d also like to do something about the skinny footpegs, but the mounting brackets are the real concern according to some Kawi insiders. With the pegs slightly high, standing up is a bit uncomfortable. Bar risers and a motocross-style handlebar would help get us upright and also allow for hand guards. Poor weather and off-road riding in our future means full wrap-around bar protection would be a good idea. Another is finding some coverage for the Versys’ unprotected belly. The exhaust headers and muffler are all dangerously exposed.

For now the Kawasaki project has shown some great improvement. Not only has the added storage made it better for long hauls, but it’s more realistic as a commuter as well. We’ve been getting around 45 miles per gallon when ridden primarily in town, even with a passenger, and will continue to evaluate this entry-level street bike in the coming weeks.
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VersysGuy   December 15, 2011 03:44 PM
As a Versys owner I can tell you this is a great, even fantastic, all around bike. It however is not really much of an off pavement bike even with aggressive tires installed. The firm suspension which is great on pavement limits speed to first gear off road. It makes your teeth chatter on a bumpy road. IMO engine/crash bars make this bike almost invincible and are a must have option. The Givi luggage racks work well but are MUCH heavier than alternatives from SW-Motech.
Poncho167   October 5, 2011 03:37 PM
I have seen this bike in person. It may have a large fender clearance in the rear but this is just a street bike. One could put a high pipe on most any bike and call it a dual sport/adventurer tourer if you want to go that route.

It is a purpose built street bike of a slightly different nature just like the naked bikes that are out and about.
JC   October 5, 2011 10:01 AM
Also, if you want more info, check out the MotorcycleUSA Facebook page. I've loaded a photo gallery there for the Versys and randomly update it with new pics and thoughts. They're usually just phone pics and kind of informal, but it'll keep you up to date with our project.
JC   October 5, 2011 09:58 AM
RE: rmblbee - The footpeg concern isn't the mounting location, it is the strength of the actual brackets while standing on them. We know people who have snapped them off. The trouble is that the brake and shift levers attach to the brackets, which makes limping the bike home very difficult. I can't say directly that this is a problem since ours are working fine at the moment. However, owners who plan on aggressive riding might want to consider this. I have not been able to find any aftermarket bracket replacements.

The footpegs themselves are skinny and there are options for upgrading. We like the Pivot Pegz. Check out Altrider.com for a good look at them. I'd like to go this route.

Unfortunately, the new oil is not helping. Occasionally I think I can feel a slick gear change, but it's not repeatable and probably just wishful thinking on my part. The transmission shifts as roughly as ever. I used Torco's 100% synthetic T-4SR 10w-40
rmblbee   October 5, 2011 06:45 AM
Great review! I'm curious to know what the real concern is about the foot peg mounting brackets. Is it just that they're mounted 'slightly high' or is there a concern over the strength of the mounting brackets when standing on the footpegs? I'm also interested to find out if the oil change makes a difference in the shifting of the tranny. Looking forward to the updates. I'm trying the read everything I can on this bike as I plan on trading my M50 for either the Versys or a Vstrom.
adam   September 30, 2011 09:52 AM
bikerrandy that is nothing new from moto usa lately. who knows what is going on with moto usa ...
JC   September 30, 2011 08:55 AM
Yes, we've thought of that! Seriously though, this bike is similar to the Suzuki V-Strom 650 in that it inspires owners to take it further. Take a poke around any Versys forum and it's obvious that riders have been trying to make these into dual sports since the day it was introduced. We're not looking to make a hard-core trailie out of it. Kawi already makes one of those, the KLR650. But we do want to give it a bit more range. We aren't really bagging on the stuff like footpegs and weight distribution, just pointing out our next wave of challenges and/or limitations. That's what makes projects fun! I'm having the Pirellis mounted this afternoon.
bikerrandy   September 29, 2011 08:51 PM
So you take a street bike, then want to make it into street/dirt road bike, then complain about some of the things that it has that aren't really there to be a dirt bike. From what you say about adding luggage capacity to your liking, doing it makes the weight distribution unacceptable. Ever think that this bike model isn't designed for your new use of it?