First introduced to the U.S. in 2008 as a non-California compliant 49-state model, Kawasaki’s Versys 650 immediately earned praise from journalists, experienced riders, and commuters who could appreciate its practical blending of a nimble sporting motorcycle – and – a truly comfortable chassis. Motorcycle.com’s loudest complaint about the original Versys was merely that it wasn’t legal in California, and even that fact couldn’t stop it from earning 2008 Motorcycle of the Year honors from one of the largest U.S. print mags.
Kawasaki made the Versys legal everywhere in 2009 when it achieved California compliance. The 2010 update saw numerous small tweaks aimed at taming vibrations and minor cosmetic changes with the styling of its headlight while also eliminating an area of the upper fairing that loudly resonated, causing its panels to vibrate against each other at certain revs. The 2013 model Versys 650 gained ABS brakes in North America, a feature the rest of the world got in 2012.
2008 Kawasaki Versys Debut
This brings us to the rugged Italian island of Sicily for the press launch of the upgraded and significantly re-styled 2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 ABS and 650 LT sport/adventure motorcycles alongside their bigger brother, the Versys 1000 LT.
Upright seating and relaxed footpeg positions yield an accommodating ergonomic triangle suitable for commuter use or touring jaunts. The LT version pictured here adds saddlebags and hand guards to the standard Versys ABS.
The 2015 Versys 650 LT was a hugely entertaining motorcycle to hustle along the tight, twisty Sicilian roads that are so familiar to older race fans, being the actual surface and several segments of the original route used for the legendary Targa Florio. Unsurprisingly, the new LT also remained comfortable and unflustered over the cobblestone streets, rough country lanes – and everywhere else on the island – something a modern superbike could never hope to achieve.
I’ve always suspected that the Versys’ riding position, particularly the bend and positioning of its handlebars, was just about perfect for transitioning back and forth through tight curves, making it seem like the Versys has honest sporting prowess baked right into its soul. That is something Versys class competitors like the Honda NC700X or Suzuki V-Strom really can’t offer, as they simply lack the nimbleness, feedback, and outright pace when the going gets truly fast. Those performance traits seeped-through every pore as we flogged the 650 LTs over the serpentine volcanic roads along the slopes of Mt. Etna.
The face of the new Versys is much more handsome than the awkward schnoz of the previous version. Additional wind protection is provided by a larger and adjustable windscreen.
Kawasaki wisely decided to update the homely face of the Versys 650 with a new upper fairing and sleek side-by-side headlights inspired by Kawasaki’s Ninja models. The new “Kawasaki Face” effectively transforms both the 650 and the (previously hideous) Versys 1000 directly into, dare I say, pretty motorcycles. As an added bonus, the new fairing upper is larger than the outgoing version and mounts a taller and wider windscreen that can now be height-adjusted without any tools.
The added protection of the larger fairing and screen were much appreciated, as the press ride took our group through chilly temps and a fairly heavy rain shower. Weather management was fairly effective, diverting water into areas of the slipstream that channeled around instead of splashing-into me. Also appreciated, were the LT model’s standard hand guards which reduced the soaking around my hands and wrists, as well lessening the wind-chill factor. That’s a pretty good deal if you ask me: better looking and more effective.
Kawasaki switched to a new one-piece exhaust design that they claim boosts high-rpm power. I really didn’t notice much of a difference in thrust during our ride; what I did notice was that the 2015 model’s redline has actually been lowered by 500 rpm to 10,000, a fact Kawasaki didn’t mention in the technical briefing. Another one they didn’t mention: the 2015 engine’s compression ratio is now listed as two tenths higher, from 10.6:1 to 10.8:1. They did, however, mention that the bike’s ECU tuning has been tweaked to improve fuel efficiency, but they did not have details to share.
Definitely worth sharing is the fact the 2015 model received a half-gallon fuel capacity boost thanks to a new tank with a wider top section. Coupled with the ECU tweaks, Kawasaki claims the 2015 model’s 5.5-gallon tank will take it farther than ever. I average right around 140 miles between fill-ups on my own 2009 (5-gallon) Versys, but I’m a very aggressive rider. The average commuter or tourer should see close to 200 miles or more between fill-ups on a 2015 model.
The Versys received a rubber-isolated upper-rear engine mount for the 2010 model, but Kawasaki has now isolated the pair of front mounts in a continued attempt to quell the natural vibes of the 180-degree crank in its 649cc parallel-Twin powerplant. While they were at it, they swapped the handlebar mounts to rubber-equipped units as well. The 2010 modification was of only minor benefit, as it made marginal difference to overall vibration levels.
Vibration-reduction strategies on the new Versys nicely shield a rider from objectionable tingles.
However, it took less than a mile of riding to discover that those two new rubber engine mounts and the isolated bars have taken the Versys 650 ABS and LT models into entirely new territory: parallel-Twins that actually feel smooth in the real world. The overwhelming impression compared to previous models is one of refinement – no rattling noises, no tingling body parts, just nice, usable thrust easily accessible for whatever a rider desires.
Speaking of rattles and rider annoyances, older Versys models seem to suffer from overly notchy shifting that could occasionally even be described as clunky. Kawasaki didn’t make any claims for gearbox refinements, but I and a couple fellow editors believe our 2015 test bikes were noticeably more smooth and quiet when shifting compared to any previous Versys we’d ridden. So that’s a definite positive.
2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 LT Preview
Now for a definite negative: The bikes we tested were all equipped with a full complement of Kawasaki accessory items, including electric grip warmers with three heat levels. The problem is that the right grip gets much warmer than the left grip. In high-heat mode the right grip got uncomfortably hot during our rainy 55-degree test ride, while the left grip felt nicely warm. The disparity remained consistent at other heat levels, the right grip comfortable at medium heat with the left grip barely warm, etc. It’s an issue that several other editors noticed as well, so it’s tough to blame it on a one-off or poor installation.
read More Here: 2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 ABS/LT First Ride Review + Video