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Kawasaki’s multi-purpose middleweight offers LAMS buyers a heap of motorcycling options

Contrary to the opinion of a lot of hard-core Kawasaki enthusiasts, there’s more to the brand than its bitumen-burning in-line fours. The fact it has some competent 650cc LAMS-approved twins in its line-up is great news for motorcycling newbies who are fans of the ‘Big K’. In this review we’ll check out the most versatile model in the 650 LAMS range, the Kawasaki Versys 650L ABS model, which was launched in 2010 and ran through to 2014.

The Versys 650L’s twin-cam, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, 649cc engine and six-speed transmission are carried in a tubular-steel perimeter frame. The fairing, with its stacked headlight set-up, gives this Kawasaki a touch of KTM’s distinctive styling, while the welded-truss subframe adds a bit of BMW HP2 GS to the brew. Both of these visual cues add gravitas that suggests – accurately as it turns out – that the Versys is a tough and purposeful machine.

Details like the underslung Buell-style exhaust, the ‘petal’ brake discs and the serpentine bends of the exposed header pipes add to the bike’s presence. The Versys is a modern, distinctive-looking bike that is easy on the eye.

Ergonomically this stylish middleweight accommodates a wide range of rider shapes and sizes quite well. The comfortable seat’s 840mm height is ideal for taller folk while its tapered-width front section assists shorter riders to get their feet on the ground. Span-adjustable levers are nice on a keenly priced bike. The fairing and adjustable screen provide decent protection from the elements.

The Versys is a sweet, user-friendly bike to ride. The light and progressive clutch action and surge-free throttle response combine with a smooth and accurate gearshift to ensure take-offs and acceleration are easy and drama-free.

The upright rider posture behind wide handlebars gives you great authority over the bike whether you’re threading through urban logjams or tipping into bends on the open road. Brake performance is well matched to the bike’s many applications, with the added benefit of a decent ABS system.

Clever engineering involving revised ECU mapping and a throttle-opening stop has blunted top-end performance. Torque and power curves for the LAMS and unrestricted engines are quite close up to 5000rpm – which equates to just over 110km/h in top gear. Above that mark the LAMS engine’s output softens progressively to meet the restriction rules.

As a result, the Versys 650L rider enjoys performance that feels pretty close to the unrestricted version for most city riding and even a lot of highway work. Certainly there’s more than enough mid-range output for the Versys to be a reasonably lively ride.

The long-travel suspension gives the bike a measure of ‘soft-roader’ unsealed-road ability and offers a decent range of adjustability. It matches well with the bike’s compact 1415mm wheelbase, 17-inch wheels and great cornering clearance to make it an eager and competent handler that’s a joy to ride swiftly on twisty mountain roads.

It’s an economical bike, delivering a safe highway touring range of over 360km from its 19-litre tank.

As well as being economical to own and operate it has a great record for reliability. It’s a worthy competitor to that other excellent middleweight LAMS twin, the Suzuki V-Strom 650A, with the Kawasaki finishing a nose in front of the Suzuki for bitumen-road sportiness, while the Suzie shades the Kwaka once you leave the bitumen for the dirt.

Much of this review is equally applicable to the heavily restyled 2015 Versys model, easily identifiable by its conventional twin-headlight fairing design.


The Kawasaki Versys 650L ABS is a well-engineered, trouble-free bike. No pattern of particular problems has come to my notice.

The ideal buy will be one with a well-documented service record and no signs of neglect or abuse.

Examples with very high kays are best avoided for obvious reasons.

Always remember to factor into your buying decision the cost of any steering-head bearings, chain, sprockets, brake pads and disc rotors that will soon need replacing. And always check wheel rims for damage.


The Versys 650L ABS is a reasonably straight-forward bike to work on. Access to major components is good. DIY owners can readily tackle routine servicing like oil/filter changes.

Work on its engine-management and fuel-injection systems is best left to technicians who have access to the required equipment.

Full services including oil and filter changes are required at 12,000km intervals. I would be checking valve clearances every 24,000km instead of the factory interval of 42,000km seen in some manuals.