The Versys is an important bike for Kawasaki in terms of capitalising on the success of the ER-6 and increasing its share of the sizeable European market. Kawasaki are keen to make the point that the Versys has been designed specifically for Europeans, and that they have worked hard to capture the 'any road' principle. And what is that, exactly? In French, Spanish and Italian the translation for 'any road' is 'multistrada'. Sounds catchy doesn't it, (if not a little familiar). If space was any tighter I could wrap this test up now by saying the Versys is a Japanese Multistrada.
At first glance, from head-on, the headlight looks like it has been borrowed from some weird 50s American car. Not ugly, but not exactly endearing enough to glance back at longingly after a ride. Elsewhere there are touches of ER-6 but it is by no means the same bike pulling a funny face.
Luckily enough the Versys makes up for the questionable aesthetics by being a cracking bike. The riding position is classic sit up and beg, while the bars are wide enough to provide loads of leverage yet aren't so wide as to prevent you from filtering through tight spots in traffic. The engine has been specifically designed to provide peak power and torque in the middle of the rev range. It doesn't instantly perch itself on the back wheel when you gas it hard in the lower gears, but it does provide a surprising amount of crisp, linear power that's perfect for rapid traffic light getaways and firing out of tight corners.
The Versys has fully adjustable suspension front and back, however the base setting is for 80kg Europeans not wafer thin Japanese blokes. So while the adjustment is there, the standard settings felt really good. The 41mm forks have quite a long stroke, which works really well, coping with bumps, ruts and general road imperfections easily. Even when pushing hard on smooth surfaces the amount of feedback feels magnified. They move a long way when worked hard, but they always let you know exactly what the front is doing. The Versys has been designed to transmit to the rider as much feedback as possible, and I found that I could pick up on the tiniest of details from pretty much any part of me that was in contact with the bike.
The brakes are a bit of a let down. Plenty of stopping power is available, but most of it was when the lever was almost back to the bars.
A quick feel of the brake lines while pulling the lever revealed some flexing. Braided lines would be a remedy, but it seems an oversight when Kawasaki has fitted quality suspension and tyres. We tested an ABS model which had a similar lack of initial bite but worked really well, nowhere near as obtrusive as other systems that I have used.
The comparisons between this and Ducati's Multistrada are easy to make; a back-to-back test will show which is the best. I suspect it could simply come down to a matter of taste. Which do you prefer? Sushi and sake or salami and sauvignon?
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