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Story by Dustin A. Woods, Photos by Rob Stimpson and Dustin A. Woods
Spending merely a weekend on a new motorcycle that you haven't had any experience with prior to that point may not give you much of an impression of what it would be like to live with long term. After traversing over 1,300 kilometres on the 2010 Kawasaki Versys through blistering heat, intense rain, fog as dense as soup and frosty temperatures across a variety of terrain over three days, I think I can safely say that I have a pretty good idea of what it's capable of.
Treated to a myriad of changes for the 2010 model year, including updated mirrors, sharper styling, new rubber engine mounts and footpegs, a revised adjustable windscreen and new tie-down hooks under the tail section, a new fairing, stacked Cyclops headlamps, front fender and low-mounted muffler, these significant changes were needed to keep up with the competition. The updated headlamps and bodywork were both welcome changes, but not nearly as much as the incorporation of rubber engine mounts, which significantly increased the comfort of the ride over the previous generation which had a vibrating seat that bordered on explicit at certain rpm.
Attempting to leave Toronto's downtown core anywhere near rush hour is never a good idea. Attempting to do so at five o'clock pm on Friday is downright chaotic. My only concern that afternoon was escaping the office and beginning what would be a long, grueling journey on the seat of the new-for-2010 Versys. My intended destination for the trip was The Waterfront Inn on Lake Temiskaming in New Liskeard. Located roughly two hours past North Bay, the community is composed of the three former municipalities of Haileybury, New Liskeard and Dymond who amalgamated back in 2004. Each offering their own unique benefits and charm, New Liskeard is a quaint little town that attracts thousands of riders every long weekend in July for the annual Biker's Reunion. Consider it the Port Dover of the North.
Frustrated by the sheer amount of people and traffic obstructing my last few outings in the city, I decided to head North after hearing from several former attendees that the area had a great deal to offer. And yet here I sat, baking in the afternoon sun while crawling in rush hour traffic. Due to the aforementioned traffic impediment and an additional slowdown near Bracebridge due to construction, I was far behind my schedule but decided to stop in North Bay for the night since the air grew frigid and fog rolled in as the temperature sunk to the low single digits. A four o'clock am start the next morning was initially a difficult proposition but proved a worthwhile undertaking as it resulted in witnessing a truly beautiful sunrise. Mental note: Summer gear is for summer riding, buy warmer gear.
Designed for low to mid range grunt, the Versys is quick out of the gate which came in handy not only while battling weekend traffic but also climbing rugged trails and crossing rocky streams, The six-speed transmission mated to the 649cc mill assists in offering spirited acceleration when starting from a standstill or even at triple digit speeds. Thanks to the 180mm ground clearance and suspension with adjustable damping and preload front and rear, the Versys may be ready to tackle anything but the 17-inch tarmac-friendly tires wrapping the six-spoked wheels may stifle a rider's plans to challenge more daunting trails. Swapping them for a pair of knobbies would prove easy enough and would allow riders to tackle far more challenging riding conditions.
The instrument panel has an analog tachometer and digital readout for the speedometer, fuel gauge, odometer, trip meters and a clock along with white LED backlighting for increased visibility at night, which certainly came in handy for me as much of my trip took place after sunset and prior to sunrise. One missing element, on this trip in particular, was the availability of heated handgrips, which are standard on competitors such as the BMW F650GS. It wouldn't be too much of an investment in time or money to add aftermarket ones though.
Venturing off the main highway a number of times in search of the squiggly lines on the map, I discovered some incredible roads with tarmac as smooth as ice and not a tail light to be seen anywhere. Sparsely inhabited by cottagers, native peoples and year-round inhabitants, on several occasions I rode uninterrupted for over an hour without even coming into contact with another soul. Offering a veritable playground for bikers, Northern Ontario boasts smooth, wide open highways that wind their way through pristine forests, along sandy beaches and rocky shores of rivers and lakes for as long as you have to invest. Without a word of a lie, the scent of the fresh air that wafted through my helmet was literally intoxicating at times for a city slicker like me.
Not only was the Versys competent and comfortable across long stretches, but it is also a heck of a lot of fun to ride too! While I was initially concerned that the 649cc powerplant may not be potent enough for highway passing, the thinly-padded seat wouldn't be supportive enough for long stretches, and the windscreen wouldn't offer enough protection, it turns out that my reservations were without merit and I couldn't have chosen a more appropriate companion for the trip. So much so in fact, that after returning home from the 1,300 km ride and ditching the bags, I went out for an evening ride in the city. I don't think I can give more of a compliment to the new Versys than that.
The biggest challenge standing in the way of the Versys' continued success is inevitably the strength of its competitors, which have managed to secure themselves a loyal following. Most riders who favour this substance-over-style segment likely already reside steadfastly behind either the Suzuki V-Strom or BMW's F650GS. The former is a comparable yet less expensive alternative, while the latter is lighter and more refined so it's up to Kawi to scope out new riders and brand them green. Both the Suzuki and Beemer offer more standard equipment and ABS, so it seems that Kawasaki certainly has their work cut out for them. The Versys has proven relatively popular so far, but whether it will manage to carve out a significant market share in this competitive and loyal segment, only time will tell. One thing is for certain though; it has my vote.
For more information on riding in Ontario, check out http://www.GoRideOntario.com
Sharper styling and smoother ride than its predecessor
Comfortable, upright riding position
Well-balanced powerplant is responsive through rev range
Competitors offer ABS
Competitors offer heated handgrips