Jun 19, 2023
Ready To Ride? Kawasaki’s Versys 650 LT Is A Versatile Bargain Bike
Sleek, stylish and capable, the Versys 650 LT includes quick-release side cases. When I review any motorcycle, I always consider who I think the bike would best suit. There’s really no limit to the
Sleek, stylish and capable, the Versys 650 LT includes quick-release side cases.
When I review any motorcycle, I always consider who I think the bike would best suit. There’s really no limit to the “kinds” of riders out there, but for each bike, I do wonder: Would this be a good motorcycle for a beginning motorcycle rider? Some are, most really are not as they are often focused on the enthusiasts and experienced riders. Recently, I spent several months on the 2023 Kawasaki Versys 650 LT and discovered it is one of the most capable, fun and affordable full-size motorcycles I’ve ridden to date.
I first swung a leg over the $10,099 Kawasaki Versys 650 LT after Kawasaki’s Good Times roadshow swung through town and I spent a couple days riding the venerable (and newly/finally updated) KLR 650 Adventure dual-sport around Oregon and Washington for two days with Kawasaki’s Brad Puetz. After handing the KLR 650 back, I was given the Versys 650 LT to review, so for a short time I had some KLR “versus” the Versys (sorry) chatter in my head.
Key impressions? To me, the obviously adventure-focused KLR 650 is better off-road than the Versys, while the Versys is better than the KLR everywhere else and in almost every other way possible. That’s to be expected given the price difference (about $2,000) between the two and the different approach Kawasaki has taken with the Versys as opposed to the long-running KLR. Both are “650s” but they are far apart in almost every other way.
Versys 650 LT Tech Overview
A color LCD with Night Mode and other options will also connect to a smartphone.
The primary distinguishing aspect of the the two 650s - the KLR and the Versys - is in the engine department. The KLR 650 has made do with its single-cylinder liquid-cooled thumper of a motor for almost four decades now, and it continues to serve riders well, many of whom have taken the sturdy bike around the world on epic adventure rides.
The compact P-twin 650 is smooth yet powerful, and the low-exit exhaust keeps things uncluttered.
But for the Versys, Kawasaki went with the latest flavor, a parallel twin with a pair of 325 cc cylinders. The result is a more modern, more powerful and smoother-running power plant that makes nearly 70 horsepower compared to the KLRs 40 - a huge increase. It also makes more torque: 47 instead of the KLR’s 39 pound-feet of twist.
Beyond that, the Versys also comes with a long list of not-on-the-KLR features, including triple disc brakes as standard, traction control, six-speed gearbox, color LCD display with phone connectivity, bright LED lighting, and adjustable levers. There is an accessory mounting bar for GPS, phones and such in the cockpit, and my bike also had wind-deflecting hand guards. The rear shock has a handy pre-load adjuster for setting up the rear suspension without tools, but the front forks are not adjustable.
With the cases off, the Versys 650 is slimmer and looks even sportier.
The LT version I reviewed also included spacious hard side cases (commonly referred to as saddlebags or “panniers”) that feature “KQR” quick-release mechanisms that don’t require ugly brackets. Additionally, the low-exit exhaust means neither case has to accommodate a bulky muffler, so both cases hold a full 28-liters worth of gear or a size Large full-face helmet. When the cases are removed (photo above), the sharky Ninja-like styling of the Versys 650 (which is the base model) comes through even more. The LT version weighs in right at 500 pounds ready to travel.
On The Road
Kawasaki was kind enough to let me review the Versys LT for a long stretch, and it gave me time to get acclimated. At first - again in comparison to the KLR 650 - I felt the seating space on the Versys was a bit more cramped in terms of leg room than the KLR, but only just. With a more off-road focus, the KLR is a bit taller than the Versys, so it affords a bit more legroom. After awhile I acclimated and found the seat, riding position and air deflection made for a comfy perch that I was able to enjoy for long rides.
The standard LT cases hold 28 liters worth of gear or a helmet. Very useful and they look decent as ... [+] well.
I had dedicated street tires on my Versys 650 LT, but I’ve seen enough in the wild to know that some owners spoon on some more dirt-worthy skins so they can at least head down a gravel or forest road with a bit more bite. That makes sense, as the Versys does have a hint of ADV in its posture. It’s no long-travel rock crawler, but give it some new shoes and you can at least broaden your horizons beyond the asphalt. For those that care, ABS is not defeatable on the Versys like it is on many ADV bikes. But on balance, the Versys should live up to its name, a mashup of “Versatile System.” Just don’t point into the deep desert or up a snowy Himalayan pass.
I DID point the Versys down a lot of twisting two lane roads that would often lead to dirt tracks or gravel byways, and even with street tires, the Versys acquitted itself well, as long as the conditions were dry and I minded my speed, the longish suspension soaking up most of the big hits and small bumps. But it’s out on the open road and in the urban grid that the Versys really shined. I currently have two 650 cc bikes in the garage, and for real-world riding, “650” seems to be the magic number, a displacement that allows for spirited acceleration, calm highway touring, torque-boosted corner exits, plus lighter weight and excellent fuel economy.
Twin discs up front give ample stopping power.
Sure, my 150-horsepower sportbike is a hoot to ride, but the vast majority of time, all that potential is wasted as I sit at stoplights, putt around town at 30 mph or watch for radar-gun wielding LEOs doing their job on the open road. But a 70hp 650? It always seems to be in the sweet spot, no matter if it’s threading traffic in town or doing the speed limit plus 10 or so on the open road. Plus, it’s nearly half the cost of its 1,000cc big brother that I rode a while back (review below).
Need to pass? Click it down to 5th gear and roll on the gas. The acceleration is sufficient and the motor makes great sounds as the tach climbs to 10,000 rpm, and pass complete, you’re not doing Go To Jail velocities. Back in sixth, the twin putts down the road without any heavy breathing, and it also didn’t seem to mind lugging a bit when I forgot to downshift.
As I noted early on, I always consider beginning riders when I review motorcycles. The Kawasaki Versys 650 LT would make a great first bike - with a few caveats. It’s tall, so those short on inseam should make sure they can get their feet down. And at 500 pounds, it’s not heavy for what it is, but 500 pounds can be tricky at parking lot speeds for new riders. But with practice (as in, ride it a lot), those skills will come.
Those that do choose the Versys 650 LT - newbie or veteran riders alike - will find it to be a comfortable, stylish, powerful, and yes, versatile mount that can knock out the daily commute or a cross-country tour without any major modifications. If anything, I’d add some heated grips for winter riding, and while I found the stock windscreen to be effective, others way want something larger - or smaller. Easily done. For really long trips, a rear rack with a tail bag or box would increase cargo capacity and maybe give a passenger a backrest of sorts. And cruise control would be welcome either as a standard feature or as an option. Otherwise, the Versys LT as a whole is a comprehensive, capable road machine that is a different set of tires away from light off-pavement wanderings.
Kawasaki set out to make a do-most-things motorcycle with the Versys concept, and they have continued to refine the recipe. The result is a fun, practical and robust all-rounder that can serve as transportation as needed - and as a way to escape the grind in the best way possible. I’ve recommended it to several people who said they are looking for their first bike.Versys 650 LT Tech OverviewOn The RoadConclusions