Kawasaki Versys 1000 : Is Bigger Always Better ?

Real Riders loves the 650, So the Kawasaki Versys 1000 must be 54% better. Right ? What I want from a bike has changed many times over the years. For a long period it just had to be fast and cheap. Several CBR600s fitted that bill. There were brief stints with off-road bikes, big old trailies, tourers… even a little supermoto pit bike. I still like something quick, but I’m not worried about going really fast anymore. I want to be able to get anywhere I want, and I’m rubbish at packing. That means lots of luggage.

My wife – Helen – and I have recently discovered Unseen Tours in London, and as we really enjoy days out like this, I now want a motorcycle that can get us both in and out of the capital, with plenty of space to store our riding gear while we’re there. The Versys 650 does that well, and it’s great value. But occasionally I’ve found myself wishing for just a bit more power, a slightly more positive gearbox, and a comfier seat. The Kawasaki Versys 1000 has, on paper at least, everything I could wish for. It’s styled much like the 650, has plenty of space, and it’s very good value for money.

I had a Z1000SX last year, so I already knew the engine should be good. It is – the Kawasaki Versys 1000 motor puts out 20bhp less than the Z1000SX, but it does so at 9.000 rpm – a useful 1.000 rpm earlier than the sports-tourer.

It makes 75 lb-ft at 7.500rpm, which is down compared to 82lb-ft at 7.300 rpm. Trust me… It’s more than enough. And of course, the 1000 has the incredible induction roar that Kawasaki often tunes into its airboxes. Without riding the same route back-to-back, it’s impossible to say if the Kawasaki Versys 1000 is more economical than the Zed, but it appears to be, if only ever so slightly. With the aerodynamics of the sports tourer, it almost certainly would be.

The Kawasaki Versys 1000 ‘s gearbox is a joy after the 650, which can feel a little vague, and the clutch, while still cable operated, is much lighter. The only addition to the clocks – besides indicators of full or reduced power modes and the three-stage/off traction control – is an engine and external temperature gauge. But it’s the access to the display that’s a real pleasure; rather than having to reach over the yoke to select or reset the info, a rocker switch on the left bar is a great improvement.

Versys 1000 – Carrying The Load

This Versys 1000 came with the standard Kawasaki panniers, so I fitted the great Givi aluminium rear rack to pop my Trekker box on (Helen wouldn’t be without her backrest). While the OE kit panniers look good, they’re wider than my 33-litre Trekkers; add that to the already much wider four-cylinder machine and filtering becomes a problem.

Strangely, the Kawasaki Versys 1000 has a sticker on the back saying its carrier plate is rated to just 6kg. My top box weighs 5.5kg when empty, so I had to just assume that was a safety rating that took into account the heaviest possible rider and pillion on the worst possible roads. In the end, with Versys behaved well. I’d say that – surprisingly – the 650 is slightly more stable when fully laden, but I expect that’s more down to the fact that the Versys 1000 delivers a lot more power, so is unloading the front more during hard acceleration.

We tend to park right in the centre of the city – usually in Q-Park’s Hyde Park facility, but this time in St John’s Wood; it’s free for bikes, but it can mean picking your way through a lot of traffic. The size of the Versys 1000, along with its 34kg of additional weight made this a lot less fun. It was to be expected really, and not every rider will be doing this kind of journey too often. What did surprise me though was that Helen found the peg position less comfortable than the 650 – it’s the first time she’s had to stretch her legs out on the 110-mile ride home, so as with any bike, make sure you both go on the test ride – I know other passengers have no complaints with the thou.

We spent the night with friends, and after two days I realised the extra power hadn’t really come in that useful. It was fun to have, but it didn’t make any real difference to our journey. On back roads, without the luggage or Helen, the Kawasaki Versys 1000 handled almost as well as the 650. It feels more solid, but with that comes a greater mass to slow down. On tight, twisty roads, I found it very hard to justify the 52 bhp and 28 lb-ft advantage over the smaller bike, so while on a long motorway trip it’s nice to have a bit more grunt, it’s far from a deal-breaker.

The Kawasaki Versys 1000 is 45% more expensive than the 650. It’s still an excellent value machine – but it comes back to what I need from a bike right now. The seat is only about 5% better than the 650’s, but the gearbox is probably 30% better, the exhaust (more the induction) note 50% better and the clocks 10%. Okay, it’s 76% more powerful, but it turns out that – where I ride – there’s just not the chance to use that.

It’s also 25% wider at the back and 16% heavier, which is a disadvantage for city riding, and Helen found the pillion seat 20% less comfortable. With some very dubious calculations, I make that 171% of positives and 106% of negatives. Mathematicians please don’t write in, but I reckon the Kawasaki Versys 1000 is 65% better than the 650. By my reckoning then, it’s undoubtedly worth the extra money, and it’s a very, very good bike, but as I need something small, light and as inexpensive as possible, the 650 is still the most – oh dear, that word again – versatile.

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