BOAL: 2009 Kawasaki Versys – Ugly is as Ugly Does

When the police came Mrs DougD was very helpful. She hollered upstairs; “Douglas! The police are here! What did you DO??

I came downstairs and the officer told me that my 1993 Concours had been found crashed and abandoned.  “It’s not mine, I just sold it last week!”  Luckily I still had the text history with the purchaser, so I was not on the hook for the recovery costs.  I gave him the contact details and he presumably went off to have a conversation with Pete.


Great, I had kept that bike in beautiful condition for ten years and the new owner ruined it within a week.  So now I had a hole in my garage, and a bad taste in my mouth.  I had intended to wait a few months to look for another motorcycle, but I began to consider a replacement.

The Concours was a transcontinental guided missile sort of motorcycle, and that was not suited to the kind of casual local riding I’d been doing.  And a new consideration was that following a meniscal tear my right knee was becoming increasingly unhappy with deep bends, which ruled out sportbikes and most smaller machines.



I found that the Kawasaki Versys 650 offered a good compromise between smaller size and an acceptable knee angle.  It’s also a fairly common machine, the first generation being made between 2007 and 2014.  I wanted to find one pre-equipped with plastic touring cases, lowered footpegs and highway pegs.  Such item are known as “farkles”  in the motorcycling world, and buying a bike that the previous owner has farkled is often cheaper than doing it yourself with new parts.


I found one an hour away from home, made a deal and borrowed a trailer for the collection.  Usually in this situation I just bring a plate and ride it home, but in this case there were issues.  The previous owner had lived in an apartment complex, and the Versys had been the subject of a theft attempt.  The thieves had smashed the lock out of the steering head, and tried to pry the filler cap out of the tank.  The price was $3,000 but I figured it would need $500 worth of parts and be worth $4,500 once fixed.  Once again I could not resist the siren call of a project vehicle, I just can’t help myself.


I bought a used steering head and gas cap, and a new set of locks from the dealership (ignition, tank, and seat) so everything would work on the same key.


Repairs completed I went to local legend John the foul mouthed motorcycle mechanic for the mandatory safety check.  John noticed that one of the fork seals was weeping a little oil, and launched into a tirade about what a pain the repair job was.  The Versys has an inverted fork (the smaller diameter part is at the bottom) and the muffler is located under the motor, so you can’t support it from below when the front wheel is off.  He ended his tirade with “Keep a &%$# eye on it, and don’t ask me to &^@# fix it when the seal gives out!”


And so I was on the road.  As on the test drive I found the Versys very different than the Concours; upright riding position, long handlebars for easy control, and surprisingly good wind protection from the little fairing.  But not too much protection, one of the things I’d hated about the Concours was how engine heat accumulated behind the lower fairings.  I’d thought the digital speedometer might be annoying but I got used to it very quickly.


The bike was also farkled adequately, and a trio of 46 litre Givi hard bags gave lots of luggage space.  I’d kept the top one from my Concours and keyed all three the same.   Whereas riding my old motorcycle on gravel roads had been quite terrifying, the Versys felt stable even with street tires.


Without the bags attached the various bracketry does not enhance the appearance.  Not that it’s much of a looker anyway, upon introduction the Versys 650 was roundly criticized for it’s stacked headlight treatment up front.  The 650cc parallel twin is a detuned unit from the Ninja 650 sportbike, and atypically uses a 180 degree crankshaft (which means as one piston rises as the other falls).  Between the resulting uneven firing order and the large muffler the exhaust note is uninspiring, listening to it idle you’d think it was a single cylinder machine.


Sure enough, within a few weeks the fork seal gave up and puked it’s oil onto the floor.  I made a deal with John, he would reseal the forks if I brought him just the tubes.  It’s hard to see in this photo, but I suspended the front of the Versys from an engine hoist in order to get the front wheel off.  This work was done in my very cramped single garage over the winter, on days when it was above 5 degrees Celcius.


This past summer I rode the Versys quite a bit, and did an overnight trip with Mrs DougD to visit a nephew living near lake Huron.  In this photo you get a sense of how small the machine is, yet I still have a good knee angle.  500km with two people was a bit tight, but the bike performed well.  I’m hoping to venture further afield next year, maybe central Pennsylvania which has some great motorcycle roads.


Is it perfect?  No, as with many things in life I’ve compromised some benefits in order to get others.  My Harley Davidson and sportbike riding friends are not impressed with the Versys, but I don’t care because it does exactly what I need it to do.  Ugly is as ugly does, and this ugly bike can do quite a bit.