A few days ago, I got a cool birthday surprise from my dearest wife. She sent me a Wicked Ride reservation for a Kawasaki Versys 650. It was to be mine for a day!! Read on for some first impressions.
The model I got was from 2016, all black and missing the green livery and newer bits and bobs from the current model. The bike is tall and gangly, no matter how you look at it, with that rear overhang tad longer than it should be. Seat height at 840mm will be a struggle for short riders, and the screen on centre stand was higher than my Himalayan’s. The good thing though, is the incredibly rider friendly nature of the bike. It felt familiar within the first 20 minutes. Ergonomics are great, the seat has enough room for movement and tall ride height, a boon in traffic. I would have preferred a wider, taller handlebar, which would have helped maneuverability and standing on pegs while negotiating potholes.
Rolling around in the city, on a public holiday, proved to be effortless. I was worried that the engine would start cooking my legs in stop and go traffic situations. When that failed to happen, I realised that the large tank, tall seat and rear set footpegs keep your legs away from the heat. The only thing to be careful with then, was the throttle. A slight rev on the throttle would pummel the motorcycle towards triple digit speeds, instantly. Ten odd kilometres later, with the art of throttle control mastered, I was flicking through traffic, having a ball. Later, trundling along at 60kph on a traffic free flyover, I decide to gun the throttle. The bike darts like a hooligan! Over the crest, in the next instant, I see the speedo flash 120kph, and know that I have crossed the speed limit set by the hiring agency. This transpired in a few seconds, without the need to down-shift. Ample torque figures of 64NM and 68/69 PS, from a refined twin cylinder, crafted out of the Ninja lineage, take credit for this performance. The bike measures the same as my Himalayan, length and breadth wise, so carving up traffic was all about getting used to the extra power on tap. The brakes, with ABS, were excellent.
As a commuter then, the bike is pretty desirable. But an entry level tourer is best tried outside the city. Next stop, the highway!
Out on the freeway towards Krishnagiri, I’m constantly aware of one nagging reminder- stick to the 120kph speed limit. It seems impossible to do this, especially on straights. And on wide sweeping curves, I had some trouble understanding how to keep to the centreline. The front felt heavy and there was quite a lot of understeer. Now this may have been an issue with the rental bike- I don’t recall reading anything of the sort while going through reviews on the bike. Well, that was a downer, as a lot of the stretch from here till Krishnagiri has these long winding curves.
Everything else, was just dandy. The bike excels as a mile muncher. Covering large distances, at speeds around 120kph, all day long, with an unstressed engine, is this bike’s forte. The seat is gloriously comfortable. Hepco and Becker, in addition to Kawasaki, have a full range of luggage accessories for this bike in India, and mounted up, its a formidable tourer. I did not get much sense of the mileage, but I was told its in the range of 23-25kpl, which I thought was pretty decent.
So is this something, I’d like to lay my hands on in the near future? I won’t deny its a tempting proposition. The pros outweigh the cons- its got a super smooth, terrific engine, good torque and power figures, great brakes and ergonomics. Most importantly, its not ridiculously expensive, like say a Triumph or a Ducati. I’m not a hard corner hugging rider, nor have any experience on the race track, to comment on the bike’s track abilities. But I wouldn’t bat an eyelid about it’s excellent touring capability.
At the end of the day, however, I think I would look further for two reasons. For starters, I’m not entirely sure, how well this entire package handles off road. The bike’s weight tops 200+ kgs, which will be higher still when loaded with luggage. The tyres are not really dual purpose, and from the reviews I read, not very inspiring, even on flat dirt tracks. Suspension travel or the handlebars aren’t great for off road manoeuvres either. And I reckon, in real off the grid conditions, the bike will feel top heavy. I’d strike out the ‘adventure’ prefix from the bike’s ‘tourer’ moniker.
Reason number two, has simply to do with how ungainly the bike looks. I’ll get to the point- it does look like a pelican on two wheels. And I’d rather not be seen riding a pelican, don’t you think?