Sometimes you just want to break away, stop your daily grind and do something different. Go away somewhere you haven’t been before. Ahaaa…. Sounds like a plan! I got a text message from my editor, asking me to register for Kawasaki’s Malaysia Press Introduction for the brand new Versys 650 model. Nice! I filled in the registration and got the info emailed to me, surprise, surprise, it’s in Johor, at the splendid Pulai Springs Resort, for 3 days! Really, really what the doctor ordered!
The itinerary for the program started on a cold rainy morning on Sunday. It was really pouring so of course all of us who were waiting at Kawasaki Glenmarie did the proper thing, have nasi lemak for breakfast, with hot coffee, as we waited for the bus to depart. There were 11 of us going on the bus, while others would ride or drive to the event. 400km away, I’m glad I’m snug and warm in the bus, with the screening of the latest Avengers movie installment; Age of Ultron.
The journey started at around 8am, and 4 hours later we arrived at the awesome tropical-esque nature styled Pulai Springs Resort! Not your usual resort, PSR is set in luscious tree-lined settings and is surrounded by acres of tree and premier golf greens. The buildings are of local Malay wooden architecture, and is really a welcome eyesight from the stone jungles of KL. Already lined up for us are the bikes, but most importantly for now, lunch!
After the splendid feast, all of us retired to our rooms, and again I must say, a splendid accommodation as well. Huge 4 roomed unit apartment with a superb view, I’m beginning to feel pampered! For the next hours we rested and at 5.30pm all of us assembled at the hall for the product introduction. The big boss, Dato’ Jeffry Lim, gave a welcoming speech, and Mr. Julian Kong, Head of Marketing gave us a run-down on the new model.
First impression- this bike is a beauty! The new sharp beak ZX style front end is really a fresh departure from the blunt style of the old model and it makes the Versys look fast and athletic, even standing still! Spying closer, the fit and finish seems really good, the paint quality and all instrumentation looks and feels top notch. I’m impressed with the red colored castings on top of the new front Showa upside downies, adjusters for preload in one tube and rebound in the other. Also taking note was the preload adjuster for the rear shock, external knob for on-the-spot adjustment, no tools necessary. All the other usuals like the indicators are nicely sized and placed, and upon sitting on the Versys, the rear view mirrors are really good, showing the rear scenery with nary a turn of the eye. The digital meters have all the usual gauges, and even an economy indicator. However, the temperature gauge is missing; maybe the Versys doesn’t need one?
The info during the intro states some very interesting new features for the new bike. A larger volume fuel tank holds more fuel, letting you go further without frequent fuel-up. 21 liters is estimated to get you nearly 500kms. Wow, thats really quite a distance. The reinforced rear frame and wheels are now stronger to take on extra payload, as well as designed to take on panniers and top case to be installed at the same time. For comfort the engine is now rubber mounted along with the handle bar and foot pegs. The engine is updated with higher revs and torque, with a healthy added dosage of 5 ponies. Brakes featuring new calipers (Nissin), revised master cylinder settings, new pad material and larger rear discs gave improved stopping power front and rear. Another feature I loved was the adjustable front windscreen- up and down by 60mm
So that was the product intro done, we flocked to the model to take pictures of it. Dinner came at the beautiful and serene coffee house by the large borderless swimming pool, and after eating a tummyful, all of us retired to our rooms. I for one, can’t wait for the arrangement tomorrow; a 260++km ride across Johor state!
Woke up early, had breakfast, got my riding gear ready and assembled at the hall. The bikes are all lined up, ready to go! Beautiful swarm of black army robot insect looking machines, my heart is thumping! We had a brief of the route that the marshals had laid out for us, and boy-oh-boy, was it ever a good one. Starting off with a 100km highway ride, followed by what seems challenging curves, reaching Kluang by lunch and then on to urban roads. Plenty of everything, I guess, plus the weather is really beautiful today!
After the route briefing, we were treated to some warming-up exercises. Stretching and a little bit of poco-poco dangdut awoken our bodies and got the old muscles nicely stretched and ready to go. I drew bike no 24; a nice one with Kawasaki accessory, a gear indicator! Nice, and it looks like a quality piece of kit to me. For sure it will be a good add-on, navigating roads I’ve never been on before.
We were released one by one and I got to familiarize myself with the Versys. Mind you, I’m an amateur racer and very used to riding ergos of cramped and crouch types of bikes, so the Vesys with its up-right and close reach position feels so good initially. The bars are angled just nicely, my feet placed oh-so comfortably, and the mirrors show every action behind me at an easy, no-need–to–even–turn-your-head glance. The levers, both adjustable, thank God, allowed me to fine tune the reach I wanted to be comfortable with my fingers. Well, let’s go! Initial ride impression for the first few miles; really strong front brake! Bite is really aggressive it will lock the front no problem! I adjusted the lever on setting 3 so that it grabs later. Screen, I prodded fully up, again really easy, I was still on the bike doing it, just loosen and tighten the big knobs. Voila, instant wind protection for this 5’11 riders! The seat feels roomy and has a nice cushioning feel to it, with a grippy texture that makes your bum feel secure.One thing I was really concerned before was the weight of this new model. Weighting 8kg more than the weight of previous model, and also experience of my 94 ZXR750L (which is actually lighter than this) made me cringe thinking about the maneuverability of the Versys. Top heaviness, rolling side to side on its tyres, and wallowing at any chance of non-smooth terrain is the uneasiness that I thought I’ll be experiencing. What I can say, those fears are unfounded, totally!
The Versys is really balanced, and riding at slow speeds coming out of the resort and morning traffic reaching the highway revealed a very nimble and easy to hustle bike. I was pleasantly surprised! The suspenders feel very well damped and on the standard settings, were good enough to make me feel immediately at home. This point was proven on the highway where speeds of up to 170kmh cruising felt calm and comfortable. No hints of instability through the long straights and sweepers. The absorbers stayed in an optimal stroke, giving me a relaxed and undulated ride. The 60mm added height of the screen, gave good wind resistant, although some buffeting can be felt and noise can be heard. The clarity is top notch, and it doesn’t vibrate throughout the 100km ride on the highway.
Soon we reached the Kluang exit and stopped at Yong Peng for a short rest and refreshments. I must add to the comfort of the Versys, the seat is really good! No numbness reported by my butt and the upright and close reach position had me still fresh after the near 1 hour ride. I heard before about buzziness of the older model, but I didn’t feel anything that was an issue. Sure a twin will vibrate at some point in the RPM range, but to me it was well within comfortable reason, and maybe the cluncking of the two pistons were more noticeable rather than any annoying buzz. The bike’s rubber mount and other vibration quelling design seems to work nicely, where cruising at a speed of 130kmh in sixth gear can make you feel a slight buzz. About the engine, it will pull in any gear nicely, trademark of twins, but don’t expect any miracles. It will accelerate and roll on nicely and linearly, just that you don’t have superbike levels of torque. The throttle is really linear, so easy to modulate that it makes the handling easy to control. However, it does feel a bit heavy if you accelerate it hamfistfully, the bike not picking up sharply but rather gradually rolling on.You won’t feel this if you just keep the throttle constant.
After some nice traditional food and drink, all of us are refreshed and ready to go. This part of the route is the curvy roads about 80km to our next destination. I can’t wait to test the cornering abilities of the Versys, and I already adjusted the super easy to reach knob of the rear shocks, while still on bike! No need for knowing what number or position of the setting, just twist the knob until you feel comfy, and when the road condition changes, just twist the knob again. Of course, it being on the right side requires you to let go of the throttle, but the action is very intuitive and straight forward that you don’t spend too much time on it, and you don’t even have to turn your vision from the road ahead to look at it. Simple and effective.
The corners are coming up, and the rear suspenders are feeling good. I didn’t adjust the front as I felt they were quite good, but stiffening the rear preload has stopped the comfortable wallow, and stiffness in the rear has made the front move less. The preceding curves were mainly taken in 3rd to 4th gears, and most were blind ascending and descending. Attacking with 7k to 10k RPM, the bike is a joy to ride in the twisties. Mechanical grip is superb and the Dunlop Sportmax behaved really predictably and grippy in every radius and lean angle. Lean? Yes, although not sport bike lean, it leans gradually according to your intensions. It was easy to correct lines mid corner, and at tighter curves, the bike felt nimble and light! You want sportly riding? The Versys sure has it in spades. Just the mirrors were slightly in my view as I gave the head–on-the-side- of-fairing, elbow and knee out antiques. One word to sum up the sporty side of the new Versys: SWEET!
Another hour later we reached Kluang Town, again another sumptuous meal awaited us. Lunch was a Tudung Saji Restoran and the food was just bellisimo (beautiful). Local treat of rice, fish curry, soy sauce chicken, sambal belacan, telur dadar and iced grape juice gave us superior energy and motivation for the next stage of our ride. This time though it’s up and down hilly areas culminating to suburban and urban roads to JB. A good test of the engine’s flexibility and town manners.
The first 40km we cruised in environments of ascending and descending hilly roads. Stayed in 5th gear most of the time as the power of roll on was nicely felt in this gear, keeping the engine 3K RPM and above gave good and steady acceleration on climbing. You could really stay in 6th if you wanted to, but the clunking and heft of the bike will be felt. As it is, 5th gear wasn’t buzzy at all and moves the bike well up the hill while giving good grip through the engine going downhill.
The final 40km we were in some urban areas where rush hour traffic is starting. The JB folks are all coming home from work and this is a good test that I wanted to be in. I was really curious how in the real world, as a commuter the Versys would fare. Many intersections came up and traffic lights dotted our route. Even though we had out-rider marshals to guide us and even police car escort, the traffic did cut us of our riding continuity. Perfect, just like the daily commute, where zigzagging cars forced us to zigzag as well. The Versys height made it easy to maneuver in traffic as I could see really far ahead, anticipating traffic before they had a chance to block us. The mirrors and handlebars are cleanly out of the way of car’s mirrors as these are clearly above in height. Again the Versys portrayed light and easy handling characteristic, and at traffic lights the smooth and precise clutch, with the solid gearbox helped gateways become clean and quick. This is the part of the ride I was most concerned, but the Versys proved my concern is for nought. It’s just an easy bike to ride around town!
Soon we were at the familiar main road leading to the resort. 260++km of almost every type of road environment has been traversed, and to me, the Versys passed with flying colors. The bike felt at home and familiar almost immediately, removing any uncertainty and unwanted attention from my ride, and upon finishing a whole day’s ride, made me felt it was custom set-up for me. Really low learning curve needed here, even from someone who’s never ridden the Versys before!
The instrumentation are easy on the eyes and hand, the ergos super comfy with a great seat and screen, mirrors really work and indicators positioned well. What’s there not to like? I do have some complaints though. Like I said, I’m a tall rider, but I had to tip-toe on the Kawasaki Versys, and it was quite difficult should you require reversing the bike while on it. The seat, while very comfy, is a bit wide at the front, good for comfort, but spread your legs when you want to feet down. Maybe I’m nit picking, but if the seat’s frontal area was narrower, navigating while feet on ground situations would be more comfortable.
At the start of the press intro, Dato’ Jeffrey called this bike the SUV of motorcycles. After 2 days and nearly 300km later, I have to agree with him. The 2015 Versys is clearly more beautiful than the older one, great handing and oh yeah, we still had about a third tankful of petrol left! With an affordable price tag of just below RM 39k, I’m pretty sure Kawasaki will sell boatloads of it…