You may have noticed that we’ve been on a bit of a sports tourer journey of late. So when Kawasaki suggested we review the LAMS approved 2021 Kawasaki Versys 650 L – we jumped at the opportunity.
Part of the Versys range that also includes the 1000 S, and off-road biased Versys-X 300, the 650 L is an approachable option for new riders looking for a bike in this segment. And what better way to test a bike in this segment than a couple of weeks of urban commuting, followed by a 400 km loop from Sydney to Singleton and back on some exceptional country roads?
Powered by a 649cc parallel twin engine, the Versys 650 L is good for 41.3 kW and 55 Nm of torque – the former peaking at 8,000 RPM and the latter much earlier in the rev range at 5,500. Restricted in the Australian market as part of the Learner Approved Motorcycle Scheme (LAMS) the Versys 650 is available in a full fat version in other markets where it puts out 49 kW of peak power and 61 Nm of torque – a noticeable increase.
The parallel twin has plenty of character, especially early in the rev range. It’s only once you reach peak torque at 5,500 RPM that you start to notice the restrictions, meaning you really need to keep the engine spinning and bang up the gears if you’re looking to get a move on.
Braking is fine front and rear and easily matches the performance of the bike. The dual 2-piston callipers on a 300mm disc up front, and single-piston calliper on a 250mm disc bringing up the rear provide just enough stopping power. Unlike its big brother – the Versys 1000 S – the 650 L doesn’t suffer as much from front-end dive under heavy braking and for a motorcycle geared towards new riders, this is obviously a good thing.
Handling is very good, with the Versys 650 L light and flickable and more than happy to tip into corners and hold its line through entry, apex and exit. But it’s no sports bike, with the front-end prone to squirm a little when you push the 650 L outside its comfort zone.
Speaking of comfort zone, when dropping down the gearbox to set up for corners I found the rear a little too keen to lock up under compression from time-to-time. This is particularly an issue as I didn’t think I was being too hard on the little guy, yet on one left hander I was pushed wide as I was forced to straighten the bike slightly and apply the front brake before trying to find the apex again.
This issue could be resolved with the inclusion of an assist and slipper clutch, and as a LAMS bike, I’m surprised it’s not equipped with one. The 6-speed gearbox on the other hand is perfect for the inexperienced rider. Exceptionally smooth, the gearbox is incredibly easy to negotiate. You could find neutral with a wooden leg – in fact it’s so easy to find you’ll occasionally find it instead of first if you’re not careful – making for some embarrassing if not hilarious moments when setting off from a set of lights. Ahem. So I’m told.
Gearing is a little odd however for use around town, with second very short and third far too long, meaning you always feel as if you’re in the wrong gear. But perhaps that’s just me.
Overall the ride is OK.
The comfort seat from the Versys 1000 S is noticeably absent, and I definitely found that my caboose needed a break after anything more than an hour in the saddle. As a sports tourer – this obviously presents an issue.
Vibration is also a major factor, with a noticeable buzz through the seat, bars, foot pegs and tank. At the end of a 400 km day trip, I felt as if I had spent the day working a jackhammer with the nerves in my hands, arms and derriere buzzing like a bee. The screen is also rather useless with lots of turbulent air coming off of it regardless of its position. I’d look to swap it out for an aftermarket option or see if you can ‘bush mechanic’ fit the far more capable screen from the Versys 1000.
More or less a carbon copy of its big brother.
Styling is sharp like most other sports tourers on the market. As if function of bikes in this segment dictates form, the Versys 650 L both looks and functions like a Swiss Army knife. Clean lines, symmetrical contours, you get the picture…
The dash however doesn’t benefit from the same styling cues and may have been lifted directly from 1995. Sure it’s functional, but the analogue tac and digital display share all the character of a Casio calculator and are well out of date in an era of TFT screens the size of iPads.
Likewise the little rubber nipples that let you flick through the basic functions of the bike – odometer, trip A and B, range and average fuel consumption – are functional, but ugly as sin and in the wrong spot. This forces the rider’s hands off the bars and on to the fiddly nipples with all the dexterity of a 16 year old boy on prom night.
Sure this might have been the point – but the reality is that every rider is going to try and change settings on the fly, and the closer the rider’s hands are to the bars, the better. Especially on a bike specifically for beginner riders.
- Parallel-twin has plenty of character
- Corners exceptionally well
- Gearbox is rock solid
We didn’t like:
- Windshield is rather useless
- Dash is less-equipped than a Casio calculator
So after more than 500 kilometres on the bike, what did I think?
Kawasaki themselves state that the 650 L is: “Difficult to explain and impossible to categorise” and I would agree. Sure it looks like a sports tourer, but sadly lacks some of the fundamental requirements of this category. With a hard seat, poor wind protection and minimal functionality, it’s a tough day at the office on long tours.
However the parallel twin is a ripper of an engine, the gearbox rock solid and cornering is a blast. Difficult to explain and impossible to categorise indeed.
The reality of the Versys 650 L is that it’s a fantastic LAMS bike for new riders looking for a reliable commuter and maybe the occasional short tour at the weekend. And that’s OK.
With exceptional range from the 21L tank, a confidence inspiring up high riding position and plenty of power on tap for around town and through country B roads, the 2021 Kawasaki Versys 650 L is a good option if you’re looking for your first bike.
2021 Kawasaki Versys 650 L Specs/Features:
- Engine displacement: 649cc
- Power: 55.4 hp (41.3 kW) at 8000 RPM
- Torque: 55 Nm at 5500 RPM
- Engine type: Parallel twin, liquid cooled, DOHC 8 valve
- Clutch: wet, multi-disc
- Gearbox: 6-speed with Positive Neutral finder
- Final drive: chain
- Fork: 41 mm inverted telescopic fork with adjustable rebound damping (right-side) and adjustable preload (left-side)
- Suspension: Offset laydown single-shock with remote spring preload adjustability
- Front brake: Dual 300 mm semi-floating petal discs with dual 2-piston callipers and ABS
- Rear brake: Single 250mm petal disc with single piston calliper and ABS
- Weight: 216 kg (wet)
- ABS: standard
- Fuel tank capacity: 21 litres
- Seat height: 840 mm
- Price as tested: $12,198.00 AUD (ride away – based on postcode 2000)
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