True blue adventure-tourer or Ninja 650 on stilts? Ravi Ved puts the Versys 650 through its paces to find the answer!
The Kawasaki Ninja 650 has been one of India's favourite sport-tourer. The neutral riding position, coupled with the engine's thrilling yet approachable performance made it brew up quite the fan following. However, many found the need to blend these core values with the ability to take on the rough stuff.
Enter the Versys 650. Launched in December last year, the Versys 1000's baby brother garnered some criticism for its premium pricing. The bike's upright seating position, plush ride and touring capabilities though, worked well to overshadow the monetary drawback.
But one question remained. Can this adventure-tourer really take the beaten path? We put it through a rugged test to find out!
Design and features
Aesthetically, the Versys 650 isn't a thing of great beauty and looks like a scaled down version of its more powerful sibling. The quarter fairing, windscreen as well as the tall stance make it look like a reflection of the Versys 1000, but the beak-y front end is a bit of an acquired taste.
This is however a machine for riders who don't mind getting down and dirty and that emanates through the form over function design. You get mounting points for hard panniers and a fuel tank that is flat enough to accommodate a tank bag. The overall packaging doesn't have universal appeal but, as adventure-tourers go, this is a decent looker.
Engine and performance
The Versys 650 is powered by the same 649cc parallel twin-cylinder motor you get in its Ninja counterpart and the ER-6n as well. With a power output figure of 69PS and a peak torque of 64Nm it makes about 3PS less than the Ninja 650. The difference however is about as noticeable as a sneeze in a hurricane and it doesn't feel under-powered either.
This bike isn't about constantly teasing the red-line so Kawasaki has reworked the engine's characteristics to offer good low-end and mid-range grunt delivery. The torque is well spread through the rev range which makes it extremely usable.
The acceleration isn't overwhelming, but the bike picks up the pace quickly enough to keep you entertained. The digital fuel injection ensures that the fuelling is precise and the throttle response is crisp too.
As expected, it is heavier than the Ninja 650 and has a greater fuel tank capacity (21 litres vs the N650's 16 litres). Raw numbers may give you the impression that it's slower off the mark, but honestly, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference. As a tourer though, it is less taxing to use, since it vibrates less than the Ninja.
The 6-speed gearbox is a straight lift from the Ninja 650 too. Gear changes are slick enough, but get a little spirited with your riding and you'll probably feel the need for a slipper clutch. Thankfully, the clutch action is soft, with the reach adjustable lever making life that much easier for the rider.
Ride, handling and braking
Spread over two days, we put the Versys through a good amount of city and highway riding. Adventure-tourers are generally a little daunting to ride, but while the Versys 650 has a tall seat height of 840mm, as someone who is 5.9 ft tall, I didn't find it difficult to manoeuvre at slow speeds in the city.
City riding is of course something you have to deal with before hitting the open road, where the tall handlebars, wide seat and marginally rear set foot pegs ensure good comfort for long distance riding. The windscreen's height can be adjusted without any tools and it manages windblast well.
As far as handling is concerned, the Versys is easily better than its middle-weight siblings thanks to the Showa separate function forks. The setup can be adjusted for pre-load and damping which in effect helps the Versys 650 maintain its composure over bumpy surfaces.
However, while the long travel suspension helps improve the bike's bad road credentials, the trade-off is evident nosedive under heavy braking. The Versys 650 gets an adjustable shock absorber at the rear too and the bike gets a remote knob to adjust the damping, making the Versys fantastic to attack a series of bends.
A major selling point is the ride quality that is impressive on good roads and bad. In fact, even mid-corner bumps don't upset the bike's stability.
Stopping power comes from the same 300mm petal discs up front and the 250mm single disc at the rear that you get with the Ninja 650. However, it gets ABS which continues to be a big miss on the N650. The brakes offer enough bite even under panic braking situations, with the bike maintaining its line and composure.
Off the road:
Now, while this motorcycle's ride comfort and impressive dynamics will help you ride from dusk to dawn, chances are you won't buy this to stick to just tarmac. Get onto rough surfaces and Versys feels a lot lighter than its litre class brother, since it's over 30kg lighter. It's nimble enough to make those quick directional changes too.
Ride standing up and the seat is easy to grip with the inside of your knees and the tall and wide handlebar provides good leverage. The 170mm ground clearance further helps ensure that the underbelly doesn't scrape while riding hard off road, though a bash plate is recommended.
The Dunlop Sportmax tyres that wrap around the 17-inch wheels though, are road focused and feel unsure off the tarmac. We would have loved it if Kawasaki gave the Versys a 19-inch wheel up front and dual sport tyres, though this would call for some re-engineering and an eventual rise in cost.
Price and verdict:
Kawasaki launched the Versys 650 at Rs 6.6 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi). Sure, it feels a bit greedy for a motorcycle of this class, but for the amount, you get separate function forks, a remote adjustable rear monoshock, ABS and superior riding dynamics.
Moreover, Kawasakis are known for their reliability, build quality and hassle free ownership experience. So if you are looking for a motorcycle that can do 1,000 km in a day without breaking a sweat, look no further. For those of you who wish to take the road unexplored, a bash plate and dual sport tyres will help drive the deal home.