2010 Kawasaki Versys launch test review

Dependable do-it-all gets a facelift and a suspension twaeak. Mark Forsyth rode the new version to bring you chapter and verse

Click to read: Kawasaki Versys owners reviews, Kawasaki Versys specs and see the Kawasaki Versys image gallery.

The 2010 Versys has had a lick of paint, a wash and scrub up. The model’s been around since 2006 and has proved to be a hit with riders who want a do-it-all runabout. The Versys snared a lot of sports bikes types fed up with dodging speeding convictions and even trail bike riders who, when they were honest with themselves, never actually used their bikes off-road at all. Practical and versatile is never a sexy sell but the Versys was fun to ride and those who took the plunge weren’t entirely disappointed.

You may recognize the 649cc, 63bhp engine from films such as ER-6n and ER-6f and indeed, the 1st version of the Versys. It’s effectively a ZX12 motor chopped in half and is a lesson in compact packaging. Features like the semi-dry sump, cassette-piggy-back gearbox, integral crankcase water galleries and ultra compact, oversquare, electro-plated bores make this 180-degree parallel twin physically diminutive.

The team behind the redesign have sensibly left the engine well alone. Well, the mechanical bits anyway. Any parallel twin is going to suffer from vibration and Kawasaki’s answer was a gear-driven balance shaft. This took the edge off the vibes but Versys owners still complained of pesky tingles getting through to the bars and pegs. A new rear rubber engine mount has sorted this out although, oddly, the left hand mirror blurs while the right hand one doesn’t. Other mods are just cosmetic like the LED tail-light and redesigned headlight assembly and the redesigned side exit exhaust end can.

A combination of a short wheelbase (1415mm) and a mere 108mm of trail means the Versys is keen to change direction. There are factory superbikes running more conservative figures than that. On the roads – particularly twisting, grippy, bumpy Sardinian ones – the Versys flicks from side to side with nothing more than a gentle counter-steer and a quick flick of the hips.

And with 150mm of front wheel travel and 145mm of rear wheel travel (now softer sprung and damped than the previous model) and wide-section 17-inch Dunlops, it doesn’t really matter what the road surface is up to. I’m not sure whether it’s the low footrests, the wide bars or the long travel suspension but the feedback from the tyres is immense – the total opposite of a firmly sprung sportsbike. I had a few floaty-rear tyre moments but the warning you get is so progressive it’s almost encouraging you to make it break traction on purpose.

Normally I’d be complaining about softly damped long travel suspension but it really does work in harmony with the chassis and engine characteristics. The engine has fantastic throttle response at small openings and at low revs – not a trait that blessed the ER-6 I rode last year. From 3,000rpm to an indicated 7,000 the Versys grunts like a hungry boar.

On the switching twist-backs among the Sardinian mountains this meant maintaining one gear – usually third – for mile after mile. In this sort of environment a well-ridden Versys would be hard to keep up with unless you were riding another Versys, of course. It runs softer inlet and exhaust camshaft timing than the sportier ER-6 and coupled with the re-mapped fuelling this gives much more low- to mid-range torque.

Because the elastic power delivery allows you to maintain one or maybe two gears along vast stretches of road, it makes ‘getting a move on’ drama free and smooth – just the job if you don’t want to frighten your passenger too much. Just smoothly roll the gas on and off and time this with flicking gently from bank to bank as the suspension soaks up the loadings. Even the most nervous passenger would hardly notice you were on the edge of adhesion.

It’s the same deal in town – not that Sardinia has much of that to offer. The lofty ER-6-on-stilts riding position lets you peer over the top of traffic and even cobbled streets don’t faze the suspension. But it’s here where I started to notice the gearshift’s reluctance to play ball. Unless you remove your foot completely from the pedal it sometimes takes two stabs to select a gear, like the return spring on the selector drum isn’t quite strong enough. It’s a problem exacerbated when the engine speed doesn’t perfectly match road speed – as it often doesn’t at town speeds. I soon found a way round that. Just always allow the lever to drop again (completely) after each shift.

In town, for the shorter-legged rider the tall seat height can be a bit of a pain – particularly swinging your leg over the towering pillion seat – but at least the thicker, softer padding is kinder on the butt. There are a couple of seat options for new Versys, too. A taller and shorter gel saddle is part of an extensive option list that includes heated grips, hard panniers, top boxes, screens, brush guards, GPS, crash bungs, wheel-stands and power sockets.

And that list of extensive options points at the market Kawasaki are targeting with the new vibe-free Versys. The leisure time tourer and occasional commuter are right in the marketeers’ cross hairs. Pillions don’t get forgotten either and that, bearing in mind they’re probably half of the purchasing decision, could be key for the new Versys’ success. Pillions enjoy a larger, softer perch and in standard trim they get decent grab handles and from the list of options a top box to lean back against. The view from the pillion seat is good too, without being stuck right up in the wind blast.

The brakes are about as strong as you’d want for a bike with such massive suspension travel. Those who might be a bit eager to grab a big handful of front brakes without first allowing weight to transfer might find it all too easy to lock a front wheel. However, for an extra £400 customers can also specify Kawasaki’s Bosch ABS system.

I spent a long time top speed testing the Versys. According to the handlebar mounted Garmin system the highest figure I saw was 111mph. Now that might sound a bit piss-poor, but does it matter? No. Kawasaki have thrown everything at tuning the Versys for every day, real world riding and 111mph seems fine to me for a bike that’s so well suited for blatting about, two up on twisty mountain roads.

2010 Kawasaki Versys Specifications

Price £5,999 (ABS - £6,399)
Top speed 111mph
Engine 649cc, 8-valve, liquid-cooled inline twin
Power 63bhp at 8,000rpm Torque 45ft.lb at 6,800rpm
Bore & stoke 83 x 60mm Compression ratio 10.6:1
Front suspension 41mm upside-down forks Adjustment compression and rebound
Rear suspension monoshock Adjustment rebound and preload 
Front brakes 2 x 300mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear brake twin-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Wet weight 209kg Seat height 845mm Fuel capacity 19-litres
Colour options Yellow, Black