By Surj Gish, with Max Klein
Photography: Angelica Rubalcaba
Rider: Surj Gish
It’s no secret that I love Kawasaki’s Concours 14. It’s fast, fun, has great wind protection, a great seat, and lots of space in the luggage—just about the whole package. Actually, it’s more like 130% of the package—I’d be all over that thing if it wasn’t so porky, and if it had better range. Hell, I’d throw a milk jug of gas in one of the cavernous sidecases if it were 100 pounds lighter.
I was hoping the Ninja 1000 would be closer to my ideal, or perhaps could be made to be—but alas, it’s a great bike, but lacks the travelin’ talents (wind protection, seat, riding position) of Big Connie. Of course, Max had no issues riding our Ninja damn near halfway across the US in a couple days (“Ninjas Among Us: 2015 Kawasaki Ninja 1000” – September 2015). Well, maybe one small problem, or rather a pair. Wink, wink. Or maybe winky, wink, if you get my drift.
But now, here’s the 2015 Versys 1000 LT. I’m not sure what LT stands for (if anything): light truck, as the inline-four Beemer guys used to say. Or maybe light touring. Lieutenant Tom, before he was a Major? Whatever, I don’t even care—the versatile Versys 1000 is the mutt’s nutts.
If you’ve managed to suffer through more than one of my bike reviews, you’ve probably noticed that I have a thing for these tall-rounders. You might even be rolling your eyes, like, “Oh, here’s a freakin’ surprise. It’s a tallish bike with sidecases, and this jerk likes it. He’s even using that stupid “tall-rounder” term. Mind, blown.”
But the Versys delivers. Loads of cargo? Check—tons of space. Smiles? Yep, for miles—it’s a blast to ride, in no small part because the intake makes a glorious racket when you twist the throttle with abandon. Loud exhausts are dead—long live intake whoosh. Comfort? Almost as good as the Connie—in fact, the only thing holding it back from mad dash, Iron Butt-miles-in-your-sleep style distance riding is the size of the shield.
Funny story: the handguards on this thing, a 17”-wheeled bike with no hint of dirty intentions, are burlier than the guards included on the last two adventure bikes we’ve tested (one of them in this very issue). They’re not quite at the post-apocalyptic toughness level of a set of Highway Dirt Bikes guards, but at least there’s some metal in there.
I’d been riding a Tiger XCx in the rain for a couple days when I picked up our Versys 1000. That incarnation of the Tiger is a fine machine, but I was exhausted from fighting the stormy winds on it, and strangely, it looked like the rain was going to continue (yes, in California), so I was ready for something with just a bit more coverage. Call me a pansy, but I was secretly hoping, maybe just a tiny bit, that I’d get to Kawi-land and they’d say, “Oh, sorry—surprisingly, a moto-journo that doesn’t work at CityBike crashed the Versys we were gonna give you. But guess what? We’ve got a bright green Connie for you.”
I would have ridden that thing home by way of Montana, cackling the whole way—even on the freeways, in between the first couple of 120+ MPH tickets I would have almost certainly picked up somewhere between southern California and Jellystone.
But instead, I had the Versys I’d been promised, so I lashed my dry bag on the back and headed west to the coast. On the way, I stopped to have coffee with my pal Dirck, who runs motorcycledaily.com, and (of course) we discussed the Versys 1000. He’d had one just before us (maybe even the same bike) and had experimented with stripping as much stuff as possible while still leaving it rideable and not totally ridiculous looking. He ditched the rack, the luggage mounting, and a bunch of other stuff, which he then weighed. His shenanigans resulted in the bike shedding about 40 pounds, quickly.
Of course, then it’s a day ride kind of bike, and part of the beauty of the Versys is its do-it-all nature.
No, I’m not gonna keep using the “V” word. Versatility, you pervs.
Anyway, point here is that it’s easy to make a sportier, less touring-y bike out of this thing in about the same time it’ll take you to whip up your pre-ride oatmeal. Abandoning all those pieces of your ship will almost bring the Versys under 500 pounds, wet, at least according to Kawasaki’s published “curb weight” of 549 pounds.
Remember what I was saying about the Connie being just a hundred pounds shy of a love connection? Remember my stupid idea of spare fuel in milk jugs, which—just to be clear—falls very clearly into the “really bad ideas that should be left to those idiots at CityBike” category? The Big C’s curb weight is 690 pounds. Actually, 690.2, as published by Kawasaki—and trust me, you can really feel that last point-two pounds.
That means, even with all the good stuff bolted on, versatility intact, the Versys comes in a whopping one hundred and forty pounds lighter than the almost-perfect Concours 14. 141.2, actually—as I said, you can really feel that last point-two, or one-point-two in this case.
You know that means, right?
Yep, the Versys is the perfect motorcycle. It’s the Connie, become perfect by subtraction—like how Steve Goodman made David Allen Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” the perfect country western song by addition: a few bits about momma, trains, trucks, prison, and let’s not forget getting drunk.
You guys have no idea what I’m talking about now.
But I can hear some of you asking, “But Surj, you said back in March that Yamaha’s FJ-09 was bike of the year!” It’s true, the ’09 is a damn fine bike—we’ve heard from readers who bought one on our say-so, and our man Aaron chose the FJ-09 over the Versys 1000, which you can read about in “CityBike Of The Year, Reloaded: We Get To Work On Yamaha’s FJ-09” on page 29.
But I’m here to tell you; I may have made a mistake, at least as “perfect for me” goes. You’re gonna want to relish this moment—it’s rare that I actually admit to any of my multitudinous mistakes, so you won’t catch me in this position again any time soon. Probably not till next year’s BOTY prediction.
Check this out: the Versys 1000 is good enough that I’m even willing to let the whole inline-four thing slide, which is incongruous with both the “V” in the name (seems like it oughtta have a V-twin in there, you know?) and my tendency to like bikes with a couple o’ big jugs. Bikes, you pervs.
Here’s why—that liquid-cooled 1,043cc inline four is excellent. We talked about how great this motor is last month, tuned slightly different in the Ninja 1000. It’s smooth, quick, and delivers plenty of kick-in-the-pants. The six-speed tranny shifts nicely, the slipper clutch is a nice addition (especially at this price point) and remember what I said about the intake honk? The Inline-sys is the first bike in recent memory that made sounds that, in stock form, moved me.
Anyway, back to my westward ride to the coast. I’d planned to make it to Santa Barbara or thereabouts, hide out in a cheap hotel, catch up on email, and get to some serious riding the following day. The weather was gray, with occasional sprinkles, punctuated by occasional actual rain, making for slippery roads and poor visibility. The LT’s switchable (on, really on, or off) traction control, presumably similar to that of the Ninja 1000, that was so effective for Señor Sam Devine on the Ninja 1000 at the dragstrip last month, took away any unintentional drama without taking away my ability to induce some intentional drama of my own. Floating the front out of corners, skimming the surface of the road? Yep.
I tooled around for a couple hours more than I’d planned, enjoying the bike, and holed up for the night in Lompoc, a sleepy little town west of Solvang with not much to offer beyond cheap, decent rooms and greasy fish ‘n’ chips.
The next morning, I got up early and headed north on 1, aiming to make time up the coast before the constipation of those damn slow-rolling tourists jammed up the highway. There’s a lot of good riding in and out of the coastal mountains, but I had a specific goal—Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, which is always empty and always fun.
I hit that 140 degree right turn from 1 to Nacimiento-Fergusson mid-morning, and fortunately (for me, at least, never mind the rest of the state for now) the rain had stopped, so the tight, sloppy turns of Nacimiento were sort of dry, which is about as good as they ever get.
The Versys not only didn’t disappoint; it thrilled. It’s a little beefy for the really goaty stuff, but was in its element everywhere else, especially out near Fort Hunter Liggett, where the road opened up and I could roll on the throttle more —or whack it open—and power out of the sweepers.
The 5.9” of travel front and back was just enough to shrug off all but the nastiest of the bumps, and I hadn’t even twiddled with the adjusters yet. There are preload and rebound dealies fore and aft, and the rear sports an easy to reach remote adjuster on the right side. I’d ultimately stiffen things up some at both ends, but even in “whatever the hell the previous moto-journo set it to” mode, the Versys took good care of this big boy’s back end, and kept everything on track.
The brakes—dual 310mm discs and four-pot calipers up front and a 250mm disc with a single piston out back—modulated speed well as I cut through the hills, and brought the black beauty to a stop post haste when a Biting Bastard Bug (native to the California coastline) somehow got into my helmet and started chewing its way to my brain.
Bug splattered and helmet back on, I rode through King City and began the trudge up 101. Just as it’d been in SoCal, the Versys was equally at home on the freeway as it’d been banging in and out of the damp corners of Highway 1 the previous afternoon.
The upright riding position—like a big dirtbike—is comfortable for the long haul, behind the reasonably-sized, adjustable windscreen, and provides enough space to move around, whether you’re looking to adjust your spot to stay fresh on the freeway, or move around on the bike as you throw it in and out of corners. The seat is broad and supportive, and overall, the cockpit is very good. All it lacks for comfort is heated grips.
Sure, it doesn’t offer the same level of coverage of a bigger ST like the Connie and its ilk, but the Versys’ other charms make it a fair trade—and it still gives you enough protection from the elements to make long, long days very doable.
Is it really perfect? Nah. It doesn’t come with a topcase, which is easily fixed by simply saying, “Why yes, Mr. Dealer, I am happy to give you $274.95 for a color-matched, keyed-alike topcase and $144.95 for a carrier plate on which to mount it.” And such a bike really ought to come with heated grips, which is of course also easily rectified at the dealer, or in your own garage. The 5.5 gallon tank doesn’t break 200 miles when ridden like… well, when ridden. Of course, we’ve already established a solution for that, which none of you are going to try at home, or anywhere else, ok?
If I had my druthers, it’d have a few more ponies hiding somewhere under that obviously Kawasaki, kinda Ninja-looking fairing, maybe a bit more torque, and shaft drive, just ‘cuz (since we’re dreaming now).
And it’d be proper Kawasaki green.
But as delivered, the Versys 1000 LT is a seriously kickass, very versatile motorcycle, one that I’d have no qualms about accepting as my one and only, to have and to hold, for better or worse… at least for a few years. That’s a whole lot of love for $12,799.
Max Versus, Well, The Versys
I was not sure what to make of the Versys 1000 LT when I first saw it. I had to ask twice if it was the right bike—too my eyes, it looks nothing like the Versys 650. And that’s a good thing.
“Didn’t Kawi make the Ninja 1k more like a sorta-touring sporty bike?” I asked.
“Kinda?” Editor Surj replied.
“Isn’t that what this is? Don’t the bags make this a sporty touring-esque bike?”
That’s not actual word for word, but the spirit is there. I perceive the Versys 1000 as fitting into a broad interpretation of the “adventure” category that we can thank (or blame) Ewan Mcgregor for. But it’s got 17” wheels.
I was not alone in my confusion. I had similar conversations at fuel stops, and everybody I spoke to agreed that the styling was leaps and bounds ahead of the 650.
But beauty is only fairings deep.
The seat is pretty damn comfy, at least for me. My wife rode pillion once, and never wanted to get on this bike again. She was comfortable enough on the seat, but despite good airflow management up front, she was tossed around like a crouton in a salad at speeds above 55 MPH. I’m not sure if it was exceptionally windy, or if that is just the way it is back there.
I took the Versys on some of the goatier East Bay roads and was impressed with the adjustable suspension. The power comes on strong and predictable through most of the powerband, and much like our other Kawasaki 1000 (Ninja!), it gave me the warm fuzzies with every spirited launch. Not an earth moving, first kiss, fireworks kind of experience, but more like a long hug from an old friend. You know, smile inducing, but you can still get up and walk around without embarrassment.
The bike is comfortable at cruising speeds, with no excessive buzzing—easy to ride a couple hundred miles at a time in relative comfort. As I said, the rider triangle is upright and the seat itself is fairly plush. The windscreen kept my head in clean air.
Although a “new to me” machine, the big Versys felt like a familiar pair of pants—no, not humiliating if dropped in public (although I guess that applies too), but comfy fit, plenty of room in the pockets, and breaking wind makes things uncomfortable for those behind you. I loved the all day comfort and also the fact that it didn’t make my butt look big.