A year with the Versys 650

I’ve managed 9000km and almost zero close calls. I’ve hit speeds higher than 150kmph with so much ease on the National Highways. Contrary to my fears,  I didn’t put the bike down for rest of the year after putting it down on the first day. I’ve done three 1000+ km rides. I even ended up riding 4 days back to back with (almost) no pain or fatigue.

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The first time I saw the Versys in person. Stunning & massive

I’ve spent a lot on accessories: paddock stand,  side stand extender, handguard, LED lights, radiator guard, frame sliders, and rear tire hugger. Such a hypocrite! Although I have a pretty good soft-saddlebag, I’m still very tempted to buy the stock hard luggage bag just because it fits so beautifully. Not all accessories I bought fit seamlessly – I really wish I had gone with stock handguard & a radiator guard that would allow more air to flow. Even got myself an entire tool kit that I hope to use one day to service the Versys myself.

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All accessories fitted. Slowly becoming the LT version

I’ve done 2 services ( 1.5K & 6K km) and have mixed experiences from them. There is this whole apprehension around Kawasaki moving out of its partnership with Bajaj/KTM and the concerns around lack of spare parts and service centers for a few months. Just 3 water washes in a year. Can you believe that? Chain cleaning & lubrication every 700km that I did myself. Honestly, there’s very little to worry about this motorcycle.

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My first picture of the Versys. En route to Srisailam (Jyotirlinga 1)

Rides to two (Srisailam & Bhimashanker) Joytirlingas completed. Two more (Trimbakeshwar & Grishneshwar) planned. Another eight more to go after that. This was the real reason why I got a tourer. To travel around this amazing country and visit the most iconic and mystical places. I’ve got a flavor of it  and like what I’ve experienced so far.

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True test: Ride to Bhimashanker (Jyotirlinga 2). It handled rains & bad roads so effortlessly.

I rode around with a messed up suspension setting for 3000km. A period where I was wondering how did I end up investing so much for a motorcycle (a question I keep getting asked every time I quote the price of the bike) and that the RE Himalayan feels like it has a better suspension and amazing value for money.  But once I got the suspension sorted back to its stock setup, all those thoughts fell through and I had enough reasons why this decision was a good one. On days I couldn’t ride or didn’t want to ride it to the office owing to city traffic, I’d be happy just watching this video.

The Versys brought with it changes in my lifestyle and opportunity to meet new people. I had to move to a better place where parking it was safe and ended up in a wonderful house with a fantastic view. Better still, it has easy access to highways. I’ve met some wonderful people along the way to ride with and new stories to hear every time we stop for a chai or for that highway breakfast.

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Ride with Avi & Sunder. When weekend breakfast rides became the norm. First trail riding and it was scary as hell.

Although I did a lot of rides (some alone, some with my wife, and some with friends), the best moment of the year was when we were riding as a group somewhere near Telangana-Chhattisgarh border in a forest area with some wonderful curves. 5 superbikes riding in perfect harmony and following exactly the same line at a wonderful pace. Damn, this could have been anyone in any part of the world but hey, it’s us and we are riding in India! Such a dream come true moment. Riding a big motorcycle in my own country on some scenic roads.

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By far the best ride. #kawa #triumph #kawa #triumph #kawa

Enough weekend morning rides and weekday evening spins. If I have to sum up the year I’ve spent with the Versys 650, it’s definitely a mixed bag filled with serious doubts about my ability to ride and maintain such an expensive buy. But all those apprehensions aside, every time I rode the Versys, it brought a big smile on my face. Every time I got the gear change right, it reminded me how far I’ve come in terms of my riding skills. Every time I park and admire it after a ride, the question that runs my mind is, “where am I going next and when?” The roads have never been more inviting…

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My favorite picture of the year. This one tells a story of a very memorable trip.
  • Issues with the Versys 650: None
  • Service charges: Nominal (about 3-4K INR per service)
  • Current odo reading: 9010km
  • Top speed I managed: 185km/h (was too afraid to push any further)
  • Maximum distance in a day: 600km
  • Perfect riding speeds (from 75km/h to 120km/h)
  • Ideal RPM for gear changes 3K to 3.5K

What I love the most: insanely smooth engine and a fantastic suspension that makes any road a pleasure to ride on.

What I hate the most: the seat height. Because if it was even slightly lower, I know I would take this motorcycle virtually anywhere at any time of the year. The seat height makes me think twice before taking it into a potential high traffic zone or on challenging routes.

Coming to terms with Showa’s SFF

SFF = Separate Function Fork. One of the biggest reasons why the tag of being a ‘versatile machine’ actually makes sense for the Versys.

The stock set up: It’s true that Kawasaki has got the suspension setting spot on for the Versys 650 in India. When I went out for my first few rides, I was thrilled about how planted and supple it felt on the good and bad roads. My confidence in the suspension grew so much that I stopped caring about small pot holes and sometimes even the smaller speed breakers. The true joy of long-travel suspension and an insane stock set up. This is easily what makes Versys a special experience.  

Service time: When I gave my motorcycle for its second service (6000km), there were some issues as to whether Kawasaki or KTM should do it and finally KTM service center did it. I was 100% sure that it was the first time the mechanic was servicing a Versy 650 but wasn’t left with much choice. I had to ride to Bengaluru that weekend. Plus, what can one really mess up if it’s just about washing and topping up the lubricants?

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Apparently, it can be messed up. For some reason, the mechanic had adjusted with the front and rear suspension. (God knows for what reason as it’s not a part of the service requirements). He didn’t bother to let me know. During my ride to Bengaluru something started to feel off-color.

The not so comfortable ride: It was my second ride to Bengaluru and this one seemed to hurt my shoulders and the bike wasn’t taking the bad roads too well. In fact, it was reminding me of how I felt when I was riding my R15 on the same roads a few years ago (except, that these seats were really comfortable).   On my way back, it became very obvious to me that something was wrong with the suspension. Dammit! It just killed the joy of that entire trip. Only reprieve being this beautiful picture my friend took when I was there.

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Understanding the adjustable suspension: It became very apparent that I had to fix the suspension. That meant asking someone for help or trying to fix it by myself. I decided to go to Louis (the only guy at Hyderabad KTM service I trust these days) and we started going through the service manual together to figure out how to get it back to stock set up that I loved so much. What we immediately identified was that the fork spring preload  & rebound damper (tension) were set to the hardest.

After hunting around the service manual, we put it back to stock setting. It felt much better but it was still nowhere close to how it felt when I first rode it. Emotions that followed were disappointment, frustration, and finally helplessness. What seemed to be the biggest comfort had become my biggest grudge. With every passing day, the resentment kept increasing.

What I didn’t realize at that time was that I didn’t read the instructions as carefully as I should have. The rebound count is from fully clockwise position but the preload was actually from fully counterclockwise position. In my frustration or maybe excitement in getting it fixed, I counted both from clockwise position. Stupid me!

Still the same bad feeling: No amount of reading or asking around got me there. The only good thing that came out of it was that I was forced to work on the suspension even if I didn’t want to. I tried again and again but no progress whatsoever. Some days, the bike was jumping off every speed breaker and other days, it didn’t even respond to them. Sadly, the feeling of riding an exotic bike wasn’t there anymore.

A friend indeed: All this continued until a dear friend from US gave me surprise visit and was kind enough to teach me how to adjust suspensions. The same friend who once took me to Moto Guild, the place where he fixes and rebuilds his own motorcycles.

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2 hours later, my friend confirmed that the suspension is closest to it’s base setting. The most amazing thing was that he was able to set it up for my weight and riding style even without riding the motorcycle. He even guessed it was a little stiff and I should play with it after every ride until I feel the suspension it just about perfect.

Riding after the manual set up:  Two weeks and several 5-10km rides and a couple of long rides later, it is almost close to the best set up it’s been and I don’t even know how many clicks/rotations in or out it was at. However, on my next long trip (about 300km), I realized that both the front and rear where just too stiff and I was still continuing to wear out faster than usual. I had learned how preload and dampening worked and what turning left or right really did to the motorcycle. But, I still wan’t getting to the same feeling as the stock no matter how many times I tried.

A day full of researching: One fine day, after reading as many articles as I could about Versys 650 suspensions including a stunning post called “The science & black magic of suspension setup“, I decided it was time to play around and this time start from the stock set up all over again.

Eureka: Then just like that, the Eureka moment. As I read the stock set up on the service manual again,  I realized the clockwise and counterclockwise blunder I had done. By now, with the number of settings I had tried, I was a pro at turning in or out. I did exactly what the manual said:

Rebound: 2 1/2 turns out from the fully clockwise position.

Preload: 6 1/2 turns in from the fully counterclockwise position.

Rear preload: 1 click from fully counterclockwise position

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3000km later: I finally felt light headed and cheerful on my most recent trip. So much for an adjustable suspension. So much for well trained mechanics. So much for owning an expensive motorcycle and not having peace of mind. Sigh!

The first service blues & greens…

One of the big worries of buying a recently launched or even a higher capacity motorcycle is what really happens after it’s been purchased. It’s more like a relationship – days leading to the proposal are always more exciting than what really happens post that. No one around you actually cares from then on. They just assume a fairytale ending.

I’m continuing to have a tough time trying to keep my KTM Duke 200 running and was definitely concerned about it when buying a Kawasaki Versys 650 considering both are run by Bajaj. But hey, how can one miss an opportunity to be the psychotic rickshawalla of one’s dreams.  The sales experience was surprisingly smooth and some wonderful people through the entire process.

A service at 1000km was going to be my first experience on how things would look like in the coming years. Booked an appointment. Went in early. Waited for everyone to turn up and then the service manager took over. While I was waiting for the work to get done, I couldn’t stop drooling over the greens in the showroom. Were they trying to indicate something?

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The overall experience was impressive and I wish it continues to be so. Guess it helps when you are still an exclusive customer.

Washing was clean. Oil and filter changes were swift. The final checks were thorough. I loved that they allowed me to watch the work being done and even answered some curious questions. They were full of smiles, excited, and willing to listen to my concerns. Such a joy! (Note to self: Get a paddock stand)

I was taken aback when the service manager decided to fix a broken indicator himself (remember I put it down on first day?). He ensured it was all sorted and even asked me not to bother changing it. All this, more than enough for me to feel that I could be in good hands.

When I was riding back after spending a few hours, five thousand rupees, and some good discussion , I knew it was all worth it. At least for now, the blues have gone and the green lights are in!

6000km or 6 months from here… Something tells me that the kilometers will come sooner.