Of the 3.3 million kilometres of total roads, only about 650,000 km are actually fit for the country’s fast growing leisure motorcycling space. Now, this may sound small to you but when you consider that the total road network of a developed country like the UK is less than 500,000 km, things are put into perspective. Of course, the geographical size of our country has a lot to do with the number of kilometres but clearly there is no dearth of roads for motorcycle touring. And, indeed, two-wheeled touring is the national pastime of riders nationwide.
For a long time there was nothing but the Enfield Bullet that served as the touring workhorse of such enthusiastic riders. Then came a sporadic spattering of machines that could venture beyond commuting or sporty riding and manage touring duties. Of late, however, the Indian leisure motorcycling market has seen the influx of purpose-built touring (adventure touring and cruising) motorbikes and the latest entrant into this growing touring range is Kawasaki’s Versys 650.
Visually, there’s very little to distinguish the smaller Versys from its larger sibling, the Versys 1000, which, of course, is a litre-class machine as its name suggests. The smaller bike sports the same 650-cc unit as in the Ninja 650, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Back to the visuals, it’s only when you look at the bike closely that you realise that this is slightly more compact, the 1000 badging is missing and so are two exhaust pipes (the Versys 1000 has an in-line four while the 650 is a parallel twin).
Dimensionally, the Versys 650 measures 2,165 mm in length, 840 mm in width and 1,400 mm in height. Saddle height of the Versys 650 at 840 mm is identical to that of the Versys 1000, so shorter riders may have a bit of an issue with getting a sound footing from the saddle. Even for someone of my height (I’m just a tinge over six feet), I could just about plant both my feet on the ground but with hardly any leverage to push the bike back out of the parking. The Versys 650 tips the weighing scale at 216 kg, which isn’t much heavier than other 650- cc touring motorcycles available in the country, but on the Versys 650, you can feel the weight in action a little more than on the other bikes.
Instrumentation comprises a single digital-analogue dial, not unlike that on the Ninja 650 but on the Versys 650, the dial is white backed and more compact. Swing a leg over the motorcycle and you find yourself planted on a well-padded and comfortable seat; not too firm, not too soft but just right for comfort on both short city rides as well as on mile-munching long-distance journeys.
The handlebar to seat to footrest relation is upright, thus making it less tiring to ride over long distances. The windscreen can be adjusted by up to 60 mm, which is enough to make a big difference while touring. In fact, on our photo shoot when we lowered the screen to its least height (thus far I had been riding with the windscreen at its highest), the wind blast increased noticeably.
On the go, the 649-cc parallel twin nestled in the Versys 650’s diamond frame puts out 69 PS at 8,500 RPM and 64 Nm of peak torque at 7,000 RPM. Transmission is via a fairly slick six-speed gearbox. The engine is a refined unit and there aren’t too many vibrations worth talking about. Although capable of getting up to speed quite rapidly, the bike is tuned more for touring than outright performance and has strong low- and mid-range grunt that allows the rider to overtake other vehicles on the highway by a simple action of the right wrist.
In fact, the bike pulls cleanly from as low as 35 km/h in third gear all the way up to a triple-digit cruising speed. Speaking of cruising, the Versys 650 is quite comfortable cruising anywhere between 130 km/h and 150 km/h. It is also quite capable of pottering through a town or two en route to your chosen destination.
The Versys 650 gets 41-mm Showa forks up front that are adjustable for rebound damping as well as preload, and a single off-set Kayaba monoshock with remote preload adjustment. The setup of the suspension is very conducive to touring, especially in India where roads are seldom perfect. Ride quality is such that the bike cushions road shocks to a point where you just know that you’ve gone over a rough patch without the shock really being felt.
This even at the softest preload setting that I was riding on. Twist the remote controller to opt for a harder setting and things do get a bit fidgety. With its 170 mm of ground clearance you could even venture slightly off the beaten path but this middleweight Kawasaki tourer is much more at ease on the familiarity of black top.
On the handling front, none of the bike’s aforementioned weight is really felt on the move. Instead it proves itself a capable handler. It feels confident round turns and holds its line very well indeed. The thing to remember here is that because you’re sitting fairly high up the sense of how far you’re actually leaned over tends to get exaggerated. However, at no point does the motorcycle feel nervous.
To come to a standstill, the Versys 650 is equipped with a pair of 300-mm diameter petal discs with Nissin two-piston callipers up front and a single 250-mm diameter petal disc with a Nissin single- piston calliper at the rear. Thankfully, unlike the Ninja 650, ABS is standard kit on the Versys 650. The brakes have enough bite all right but feel a bit squishy to operate; a bit more feel of progression would have been welcome. The ABS rises to challenges with alacrity and, when not in use, adds to peace of mind tremendously.
The Kawasaki Versys 650 ABS was launched in India around Christmas with a tag of Rs 6.6 lakh, ex-showroom in Mumbai. For that kind of money your only other similar middleweight tourer is the Benelli TnT 600 GT or Kawasaki’s own Ninja 650 and even though both are cheaper to buy, neither offers ABS. The Kawasaki Versys 650, therefore, is a good value for money offering thanks to its refined and powerful powertrain, comfortable ergonomics, touring-friendly features, a good balance between ride comfort and handling and the much needed ABS.