Monday, September 7, 2015

12,000 Mile "Comprehensive" Review

Update:

I wrote this blog post back in September 2015 after completing 12,000 miles. By the end of the year 2015, the Versys 1000 LT and I had accumulated 20,000 miles. I've re-read through this post and can report that everything I wrote back in September continues to hold true at the 20,000 mark. I have four and a half decades of riding and touring experience and, among my rides, the Versys 1000 LT stands out as one of the finest. We're looking forward to a big 2016 season.
__________________________

Original Post:

It's hard to imagine, but in five months and as many days of ownership, I've passed the 12,000 mile mark on my 2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT.

Being between road trips on this milestone, I thought I'd sit back and reflect on my experiences riding and wrenching the Big Versys; a comprehensive review, so to speak. Certainly, after 12,000 miles the "new bike" emotions have worn enough where I can make some objective observations.


129Slayer.com photos, Tail of the Dragon, North Carolina, May, 2015

Background

As this post is intended to be a review of the bike, it may be helpful to get a little background on who's doing the riding, how it's being ridden and where all the miles came from.

First, you might ask how I can pull off 12,000 miles in five months. The simple answer is, I'm retired. However, even before my retirement a year ago, I accrued a long, 4+ decade history of motorcycle riding, touring, vintage restoration and general/rudimentary wrenching. I've toured most of all the lower, contiguous United States. Several years ago I got heavily into the Adventure Touring craze and attended many events throughout the country and Canada and even have a trip up the Haul Road (Dalton Highway) to Deadhorse, Alaska under my belt. Then, a couple years ago I literally burned out on motorcycling. 

I sold off my principal touring bike and my dual sports and just about everything motorcycle-wise I had at that time and purchased a new 2012 Kawasaki Versys 650, the "Bumble Bee" as I used to call it. With no touring plans the Little V would simply serve my commuting and weekend hooligan riding needs, to the extent any were left, and that it did to some extent. But I only put a measly 4,200 miles on the odometer in the 2+ years I owned it. That is quite uncharacteristic considering I put over 25,000 miles on the motorcycle that I owned immediately before the Little V...in less than one year!


Anyway, earlier this year, following my first full year of retirement, I decided it was time to get back into the saddle and hit the road and accumulate some serious miles again. My motto was (and is) "it's not the destination, it's the journey," and consistent with that motto I always make the best attempt to plan out the routes to be as fun (and as long) a possible.  As for the equipment, this go-round I wanted a good sized, liter-equipped sport touring model, although not really big FJR or Concourse. Rather, I was looking for something that would be fun on roads like the Cherohala Skyway but not bust my ass ... back, neck, shoulders, knees, etc. ... on the highways getting there and back. Fortunately, the market was starting to offer models in the Light Touring ("LT") range that would seem to fit this bill.

Now, not to digress too much, but if there's one brand that I'm most keen on its Yamaha. In my long lineup of motorcycles owned, Yamaha models top the list and stand out as my favorites. So naturally, I thought for sure that I'd fall all over Yamaha's new LT sport-tourer, the FJ-09. On paper I got quite excited scanning photos and studying the details of the little beast. But when I got up close and personal, it left me with little more than a blank stare. It struck me as a potential stand-out canyon carver, but it just seemed physically too small to be seriously considered a long-haul touring model. In addition, the ergos were totally wrong and, when facing forward in the saddle, I felt badly exposed to the potential wind and other road+weather snot from a lack of faring and screen. Add to that the fact that the saddle was frighteningly hard and uncomfortable. It's one thing when buying a motorcycle not to know how a saddle is going to feel after 200, 300, 500 miles; it's another thing to know that it absolutely does not feel good sitting on the showroom floor at 0. 



On the other hand, the 2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT unexpectedly answered on all bells. Out of the gate I took notice of a factory equipped luggage rack and a pair of decent sized, 28 liter side cases (with matching colors and keyed, to boot). The factory equivalents for the FJ-09 would have been another $1,145 pushing the suggested retail pricing to $12,780. That was only $19 less than the Versys that had the bigger and Ninja-1000 proven 1,043cc inline-4 that throws off 110 horses. Beyond that, plopping in the seat confirmed what was visually apparent; the Versys was a much more stout candidate for high road travel. So, I purchased and took delivery of the Versys from Barneys Brandon Motorsports (near Tampa, Florida) on March 31, 2015. My out-the-door price was $12,600. Oh, one other thing; as they only had the black in stock, I made them go find me an Orange Model!



12,000 Miles

So, where did all the miles come from? Well, since I don't work, certainly not from commuting and hardly much in the way of city riding. Most of the miles arose on planned rides and/or trips ranging from 250 miles around Florida to 5,000 miles around the country and covered 19 states, as follows:

As a side note, one of the few states I've never, ever rolled a tire through is the state right in the middle of this travel map ... Oklahoma. Looks like I'm not going to get it this year either, LOL.

Anyway, many of the ride reports have been provided in this blog, but over the five months the Big V and I have seen about all the conditions that would be expected to provide a well rounded report on its performance. Out of the gate, we've had one of the wettest Summers here in the history of west central Florida. We've ridden many, many miles in the rain this year, on wet roads and even through some flooded areas. Traveling across the mid-west, we experienced day-in, day-out triple digit temperatures. We even saw freezing temperatures and snow at an elevation of 14,000 feet while navigating Pikes Peak.


Touring naturally requires a lot of highway and Interstate miles, which I don't mind when planned out properly. But a true test of a sport touring model requires some element of testing on curvaceous roads of the like that, unfortunately, we don't have here in Flatistan.

Prior to my two year mini-sabbatical from motorcycling I used to frequent the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina for that; a place with some actual creativeness in the way roads were designed and built. Home of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Cherohala Skyway and, of course, the Tail of the Dragon among many fantastic roadways. In the past I always tried to get at least one trip up to the Smokys. This year, the Big Versys and I went twice ... and the year is NOT over. 


Killboy, Tail of Dragon, Tennessee, August, 2015


Killboy, Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina, May 2015


Factory Equipment + Accessories

Let's start with a look at the functionality and operation of some of the factory equipment on the Versys 1000 LT.

Cluster Display/Dash:

Here's a stock photo of the cluster display. Some say it's ugly, archaic, uncreative. Well, maybe, but it does the job. It pretty much provides the standard fare of instrumentation in a combination of digital and analog displays and two multi-function meters (one along the top of the digital display and one along the bottom). The top meter provides: odometer > trip A > trip B > current mpg > average mpg > range to empty > clock. The bottom meter provides: coolant temperature > outside temperature. Scrolling through both meters is provided by (i) the meter buttons on the left side of the cluster and (ii) a thumb switch on the left bar.

Overall, I find the display highly visible from the cockpit, day or night. I also find the bar mounted meter controls both convenient and a much safer method to scroll to the desired reading.



A few specific observations...

Speedometer: The digital speedometer/odometer have the same disparity/error that most Japanese motorcycles have these days. It seems that only Harley Davidson offers an accurate speedometer anymore. I have compared the digital speed readout to my TomTom Rider SatNav and find that the digital speed read out is higher that actual, generally by a margin of 2-5 miles per hour. Speedo/SatNav for a couple mph readings: 52/50; 63/60; 74/70; 85/80.

Actual miles traveled in both the odometer and the trips are higher than those accurately reflected on the SatNav by an average of 1.026% (as tested in a series of 500+ mile trips).

Personally, I don't buy into any of the explanations for speedo/odo discrepancies. In this day and age it would seem that if anyone can get accurate instrumentation it would be the Japs.

Fuel Gauges/Meter: The fuel level display is a traditional six-bar-type gauge. This is accompanied with a "range-to-empty" reading in the top meter array. I (and other V1000 owners) have found that the fueling bars do not start disappearing until 100-110 miles (about 1/2 of the range on a tank). From reading the posts of others, I understand that this discrepancy has to do with the shape of the tank relative to the mechanism to calculate fuel level. In other words, apparently if the tank were round or square the meter could read fuel level correctly. Notwithstanding, understanding the multiple functions of the bike's fuel metering will keep you from running dry.

First off, the lowest single bar begins to flash when there is one gallon left in the tank (45 miles using my average mpg). Second, the multi-meter provides a range-to-empty reading. Based upon miles traveled and and over 50 fuelings, I have found that the low-fuel flashing feature and the "range-to-empty" meter reading are spot on. Using those two features + Trip B (that I have dedicated for fuel range) and my overall knowledge of achievable range, I am able to effectively manage fuel usage.


US129 Overlook, Tennessee

It should be noted that the range meter goes blank with under 25 miles of range left while the bar gauge will continue to flash. I don't know why that is, but it's probably a good idea to have found a fueling station by then.

Side Cases/Luggage Rack:

It goes without saying that luggage and a luggage rack are necessary components on a touring model, so it was damn nice of Kawasaki to include them as standard equipment on the Versys 1000. The side cases are side-opening, removable 28 liter boxes. Smaller than the gold-standard in cases, Givi 35s, but the cases provided with the Versys seem to have an abundant amount of room to carry everything I need for solo travel.

I've read some comments about the awkward shape of the cases. They're shape is a little odd, but it's not awkward in actual use. In fact, when carrying my roll bag on the back, I leave one of the cases empty to toss my jacket in if it gets too hot.




On the time honored question of side and top case design, "Can you put a full face helmet in it?" Well, yeah, and one with a visor at that!


The two side cases are keyed to the ignition key and can be opened at the same time using one key. I have not experienced a leak of any sort. The cases are easily removed with no unsightly brackets as can be seen in the stock photo below:
On the downside, the side cases seem to rattle a little. They are fitted securely and I don't question that they're going to come flying off. However, they could be fitted a little tighter for purposes of making them less noisy. This issue has been noted by other owners. I'm sure that there is something I can do to remedy the rattle such as a shim or buffer, but it's not that bad and I wear ear plugs so I don't have to listen to it.

The Versys also comes with a factory luggage rack. At a little over 12 inches wide and 7 inches long at the longest point, it's definitely on the smallish side, but it doesn't necessarily look too far out of place. I carry a 33 liter Motocentric Mototrek Roll Bag with built-in bungee cords on the rack and it fits great!



Kawasaki does offer a 47 liter Top Case Option ($275) that requires a make-specific luggage rack ($145) and another $30 to have it keyed. 

Overall, the luggage offered in the stock model of the Versys 1000 LT has provided everything that I need for solo riding in terms of size, security and convenience. If you're planning two-up, you might want to consider the top case to which a convenient back rest can be fitted for your passenger.


Along the Ozello Trail in the St. Martins Aquatic Preserve.

Screen:

The factory screen was so close to working for me and I tried to make it work, but alas, it just didn't. The factory screen is adjustable up/down by 3 inches. The total screen height is 14 inches; however, it rises only 11.75 inches above the dash line at it's highest setting. In other words, you only get 11.75 inches of wind protection. Add to that the fact that the width at the very top of the factory screen is only 9 inches. Bottom line, the screen didn't provide enough touring protection for me at 5' 10" and I certainly don't see it working for anyone taller (unless you like a lot of wind in your face).

After reviewing a few options (more and more keep coming online), I purchased the Puig Touring Screen (Part No. 5999F; $133 from Revzilla, after a $5 credit). The Puig has the same adjustment travel as the factory screen, but provided an additional 5.50 inches in height over the factory screen for a total height of 19.5 inches and 16.5 inches of screen above the dash line. Here's the actual comparison photo.

  
The Puig Touring Screen comes in clear, smoke, dark smoke and black. I purchased the dark smoke version because I simply think it looks better. Installation is under five minutes. The installed screen does not interfere with the bar, hand guards or any other component. 

Although my personal need for a larger screen was on the fence, post-acquisition I can say that the addition of the Puig screen was by-far the best improvement that I made to the Versys 1000. It looks great, it eliminated virtually any hint of buffeting, it set the bike up for real touring in any condition that you could imagine, AND I saw no decrease in my fuel economy after putting it on!


One of many tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.

I have a blog post with lots of specs and details on the Puig Screen. Give it a look and keep in mind that there are other aftermarket offerings.

Seat:

The Versys seat height is 33.1 inches and is non-adjustable. It has a locking mechanism in the rear (near the tail light) that is keyed to the ignition. Under the seat pan there is a good sized storage area for tools: over 12 inches in length and nearly 3 inches deep. In addition to my tools, I also keep a slime air compressor and tire repair kit. The air compressor is hardwired.




When it comes to motorcycling comfort, seats are such a gamble, especially on dedicated touring models. There's just no way to anticipate how you and your seat are going to get along. It may feel great on the short test ride, but may be murder after 100, 200 or even 500 miles. I actually got rid of a motorcycle once because, after three aftermarket seat attempts (including a Corbin), I simply gave up on trying to correct the discomfort. I remember being in Lexington, Ohio at the 2009 AMA Vintage Days and actually thinking about having the bike shipped back to Tampa and taking a plane home. Then I sucked it up, rode it home and sold the motorcycle on Craigslist.

The good news for me is that the Versys 1000 seat and I get along fairly well from a comfort perspective. The biggest positive aspect is that the seat has lots of room on top to move around on; forward-back and side to side. Moving around (even when you don't need to) helps relieve the pressure points and extend the riding time. I also like the shape and contour of the seat as it dips forward to let me slide up close to the tank on long treks to reduce the reach I have on the bars. That reduces back and neck fatigue and it lets me get my feet better planted on the ground at stops. Going back to the Yamaha FJ-09, that seat was virtually flat to the ground; same seat height as the Versys but I didn't like that at all.

To cut to the chase, for my riding purposes the Versys 1000 seat is a 200-250 mile seat. That doesn't mean I'm done for the day at 200-250 miles. On the contrary, I've got several 500+ mile days in its saddle. Rather, somewhere in that range I need to pull over, get off the bike, relax and give my rear a break. Ironically, that's the same range as my fuel tank so it works out pretty good. In summary, I don't see myself investing in an aftermarket seat. However, I always keep my Airhawk on board!


Now, having addressed seat comfort, let me take a moment and comment on my seat mechanics. My seat is currently my only outstanding warranty issue. The problem is that it doesn't stay latched down.

As previously mentioned, the seat has a locking mechanism in the rear. For as long as I've had the bike, the seat has randomly comes unlatched at that rear point. To make matters worse, I can't replicated it! I secure the seat in the latch, then bounce up and down, side to side, while riding around, while on the center stand ... I can't make it come unlatched.

Don't let me give you the impression that the seat comes flying off or something like that; not the case! Rather, it sits perfectly fine in its place, does not move a bit and doesn't even look loose. However, sometimes it's simply unlocked! Someone could come along and pick it up and take off with it. Or they could steal my tools and compressor under there. While on my travels (all 12,000 miles of them) I've come out of my hotel room in the morning a few times to find the seat unlatched ... because I forgot to check it the night before. It's not a big deal but definitely annoying.

I am not the only owner with this issue and, as best as I can tell, no one has found the fix.

My dealer has been working with Kawasaki on this issue since about the first month I purchased the bike. Kawasaki believes that it's an adjustment issue and my dealer has adjusted the locking mechanism once, but it did not cure the issue. I'm going to give them one more shot at it because, after all, it is a warranty issue. However, if they don't get it fixed I'm taking matters into my own hands.


The Green Swamp Loop, Webster, Florida.

Tires:

Motorcycle oil and motorcycle tires have one thing in common; talking about them gives one a headache. Issues abound within this subject matter for which there will never, ever be a consensus.

To be certain, riding conditions, rider styles and rider preferences are as diverse as the international ownership group itself. Some cyclists, like me, prefer endless journeys and an occasional curvaceous intervention. Others stick to the canyons, sweepers and hairpins. Others just roll around, often two-up, enjoying the sites. There are different tire designs for these (and other) different uses. Yet, the discussion commentators always seem to assume that all motorcycle owner riding preferences are the same as theirs. Such as, "Oh, this tire sucks because I slipped in a curve once," or "Oh, this tire sucks because I only got 6,000 miles out of it." Hey, some people may not take curves so aggressively that a slip here and there is an issue. Hey also, tires designed with soft compounds to grab lean angles don't hold out over eleven thousand Interstate miles. So take this part of my review for what it's worth. My tires, my riding style, my views on the stockers.

The Versys 1000 LT comes equipped with Valentino Rossi endorsed, Bridgestone Battlax T30 dual-compound sport-touring tires. A Rossi endorsement should not be interpreted to mean that these tires are ready for the track. On the contrary, when compared to pure-play sport tires, the design of sport-touring tires such as the Battlax provides a less rounded contour and a bit of a denser rubber compound. These aspects provide for better touring performance, while still offering some degree of sport performance. So, what does this mean? Well, it means that if you're the rider that's aggressively carving up canyons all day, you're probably not going to like these tires.

The front tire is 120/70x17 and the rear is 180/55x17. These seem to be very reasonable sized tires for heavy weight Versys and the life that I got out of them was nothing short of amazing. The rear tire required replacement as I rolled in home from my most recent trip up to North Carolina with 11,700 miles on the odometer. The front appeared to be able to handle another couple thousand; however, I decided to change it out along with the rear.


The Battlax really did a great job. First and foremost, they weathered the absolute wettest summer that we've had in Florida in a long time. I developed a great degree of confidence in these tires on wet, slippery and flooded roads. They also held their form pretty well on thousands upon thousands of high-speed highway miles. Finally, on those occasions where we found the twisties they held their lines in the leanest of angles that I could put them through.

Honest, I didn't shop replacement tires too much. I went ahead and replaced the burned out tires with another set of Battlax T30s, except that I went with the GT-Spec version of the T30s. Generally, the GT-Spec are designed for larger/heavier motorcycles, but my research indicated that they were also better suited for extended highway experiences than the basic T30s. So far, as I break in the new tires, I can't tell the difference in performance...which is good I suppose as the base T30s did it all for me!

Will the T30s serve every owner's needs? Certainly not. However, let's go back to what the Versys 1000 is all about ... it is a sport touring motorcycle. Hey, Kawasaki makes a more sport oriented Ninja 1000 and a super sport ZX10r for the true sport bike enthusiast and I'll bet they have a tire most appropriate for sport biking. So, it's hard for me to take seriously people saying the T30 is the wrong tire for the Versys 1000 when, in fact, the real issue is that the Versys 10000 is the wrong motorcycle for them. Onward...

Headlights:

In my view, Kawasaki really hit a home run with the distinctive front-end styling of the Versys 1000 LT. However, like many of today's sport bikes, they only lit one of the dual headlamps in low beam and then configured the left high beam to overlap the low beam (i.e. a low beam and a high beam on at the same time). The problem is, aside from looking stupid, that the Versys is not a sport bike at all. It's a tall, heavy sport touring bike and, as I've discussed many times in this blog, it's design characteristics and rider technologies clearly place it in the category of "touring motorcycles." In other words, it's a darn big bike designed for long hauls along America's (and elsewhere's) highways. Therefore, it would seem that a properly functioning set of headlights would be in order if not, in fact, demanded by the other users of those same highways!


On a side note, the headlight assembly also has two continually operating 5 Watt City Lights. The city lights are not running lights or fog lights. They're nothing more than nice accents, so don't expect too much from them. Some of the owners have replaced the City Lights with different color bulbs to personalize the lighting. Keep in mind local regulation may take issue with some colors.




Having designed the head lighting with the single low beam and overlapping high beam, the stock 55 Watt H7 halogen lamps are a weak excuse for a set of headlights in either position. In particular, low beam is pathetic.

I upgraded the bulbs to better quality halogen 55 Watt H7 lamps. I installed Sylvannia Silver Star Ultras which provide a clearer whiter light, slightly wider peripheral illumination and a little further down road illumination. It was only a $30 upgrade and provided some benefit. Next will be a 65 Watt upgrade. However, the issue is not the bulbs; it's the poor design of the headlights.

On a scale of 1 to 10, the unique design of the Versys nose gets a 10 and the functionality of the headlights get a 2 ... and I'm being generous.

Accessory Outlets:

Accessory outlets are a useful items on touring motorcycles although hard wiring accessories may be more practical in some cases. While Kawasaki provided an accessory outlet port in the dash (and a dedicated wiring connector in the harness) they didn't go the next step and actually provide the outlet ... although they did offer it for sale as an option for a whopping $85. Apparently, they don't know that you can buy marine grade, waterproof receptacles just about anywhere for $8.50. Maybe they just got the decimal in the wrong place.

The accessory outlet port is on the left side. The round cover is removed via a single screw from underneath to expose a 1 1/8 inch (28mm) hole, the exact diameter for universal receptacles.


I purchased two 12V receptacles from 12VTechnologies for $8.50 each. I installed one in the left accessory outlet port. I installed the other on the right side of the dash in a port for an optional gear indicator light (something I wouldn't have a use for anyway). Just for the record, the port for the gear indicator light turned out to have a diameter of 1 3/8 inches (35mm) so I had to design and cut some heavy plastic washers for the front and rear side of the panel. A simple black CD case laying around served the purpose and the installed receptacle is shown in the photo below.


Initially, I wired the accessory outlets to the dedicated connector on the wiring harness which is right under the left accessory port. However, I subsequently decided to make use of that connector as a switched circuit for my new TomTom SatNav. The two accessory outlets are now wired to the battery on an unswitched basis. Also, I have on my to-do list to replace the right receptacle with one for USB charging, which I'll get to one of these days.

Kudos for setting us up for some accessory outlets. I've had other bikes that I had to cut up dashboards, so having the ports factory cut was extremely appreciated. So much so, I'm not going to complain about having to buy the outlets.

Immobilizer Security Key:

Nope, this isn't an accessory or feature that Kawasaki tossed out to us 'mericans. Only the whole rest of the world gets it.


Colorado Springs, Colorado

When I purchased the bike, I was told by my dealer that it had the immobilizer. When I purchased a spare key blank from them, they gave me a deal on an immobilizer blank ... $26.00 ... but cut it for free. Then I found out that the U.S. version does not have the immobilizer and the key blank is a $3.00 eBay purchase. Crikey!

For future reference, apparently the immobilizer system is indicated by wording to that effect on the actual ignition key cylinder.

Oh, the key blank is KA34.

Helmet Lock

Nope, another accessory not included although, as previously mentioned, the side cases can hold a full faced, visor helmet.

For those days that you don't have the side cases on, you could purchase the Optional Keyed Helmet Lock ... for $170 ... or you could do what I did, get the same thing, unkeyed from Motion Pro for $23.99. Onward...

Warranty and Maintenance Experience

Warranty:

The 2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT came with a two year warranty. The 2012 Versys that I had and the Yamaha Super Tenere I had before that each had only one year of warranty coverage. One year or two years, personally I believe that it's time for the motorcycle manufacturers to better stand behind their products from a warranty term perspective. In the much more complicated automobile industry, the minimal three years of warranty protection is considered pathetic in this day and age with three such manufacturers offering customers 10 years. Oh, but I temporarily forget that extended warranty contracts are a profit center for these same motorcycle manufacturers.

So far, I have had three non-mechanical warranty issues:

  1. The color panel on one of my side cases had a small but deep scratch that apparently happened in transport. The panel was replaced.
  2. The key cylinder on one of my side cases did not properly fit in the hole. It worked, but it wasn't fitted properly. The cylinder was replaced.
  3. The seat randomly comes unlatched (discussed under "Seat" above). We're still working on this issue.
As I monitor the International Versys 1000 Forum, I'm not seeing any really major warranty issues. But keep in mind, the Versys 1000 has been in Europe for several years now and the 1043cc inline-4 power train has been around even longer. It would seem that most of the major bugs would have been identified and corrected by now.

Maintenance:

I perform most all of my routine maintenance. In that regard, be advised that the owners manual is woefully insufficient for even the most minor maintenance. For instance, Kawasaki apparently believes we are capable of changing our oil ... but not the oil filter. That's now a "dealer" service pursuant to the owner's manual. Pffft!

I normally purchase the complete Service Manual for motorcycles that I own and that's what I did for the Versys 1000. With that, I acquired the super secret oil filter removal and installation procedures.

In the process of performing routine maintenance thus, I haven't run into any difficult maintenance scenarios or issues. The Versys was clearly engineered to be worked on. Although there are a bunch of them, the fairings and panels that normally get in the way of things are all fairly easy to remove when necessary. In addition, I even found the area underneath the fuel tank spacious to work in. Yes, you can even get your torque wrench on all 4 spark plugs!

The only issue that I'll toss out is on the service intervals on a few items. I don't want to second guess the guys that designed this motorcycle (too much :)), but there are a couple service intervals that give me pause.

Spark Plugs: First relates to the 7,600 mile replacement interval on the spark plugs. The Versys 1000 uses NGK CR9EIA-9 Iridium Plugs. Iridium spark plugs are generally considered top shelf stuff and they are expensive, like three times a traditional plug.


Iridium itself is six times harder than the next in line, platinum plugs, meaning that iridium plugs are supposed to resist wear that much better. In addition, iridium plugs are supposed to tolerate and ignite the leaner fuel mixtures in today's engines better, which further improves their longevity as residual deposits are more efficiently burned. Wherever iridium plugs are sold, the claim is always that they offer owners an exceptionally long life. Heck, I have iridium plugs in my 2007 Toyota Rav4 that has a replacement interval of 120,000 miles! That's not totally comparable given the higher compression that bike plugs are subjected to, but I can tell you that 7,600 miles doesn't make sense either.

Here's a peek at the plugs that came out when I did the change. They don't look anywhere close to requiring replacement.




Air Filter: Second relates to the 11,400 mile replacement interval on the air filter element. When I replaced the air filter at 10,000, I felt like putting the used one back in and letting it fly for another 10,000 miles.


Air filter element replacement is highly  dependent upon conditions and I think Florida is one of those places that require more frequent replacement, but every 11,400 miles?

Valve Clearances: I haven't checked clearances yet because it's not due until 15,400 miles ... or is it 26,250 miles? You won't see this in the Owner's Manual, but the Service Manual provides for valve clearance's at 15,400 for the US models and 26,250 everywhere else! WTF?


Honestly, I wouldn't even have mentioned valve clearance intervals, accepting it without question, had I not seen the interval disparity between US and everywhere else. Now I'm wondering why the same engine in Europe gets an extra 12,000 miles. It'll be very interesting to see what the clearances are when I get in there to do it.

I've done valve clearances many times and four cylinders means 16  valves; a lot more work than what I'm normally used to and I really didn't like the procedural write up in the Service Manual. On the other hand, having been in there already with the plug replacement, I'm expecting plenty of room to work in.  Someone on the forum said their dealer quoted them $500 to check clearances. Egad!

Update ... I checked valve clearances at 18,500 miles. No shim replacement was necessary. Overall, it was a straight forward process, although time consuming. Check my post on the clearance check in this blog.

Chain Maintenance: When I had my tires replaced by my dealer, I got a boat load of shit from them about not keeping up on my chain maintenance. They're probably right, but the lube interval is only 400 miles. Heck, I go on trips and ride more than that most days!

On the other hand, the replacement chain is $413 on BikeBandit ... motivation to get and keep after it. I use a chain brush like the one pictured above; recommended for use by my dealer and seems to work pretty good. Every so often I have to get on the rear sprocket with a wire brush to beat the crud off.

On another chain note, I've only had to adjust the slack once. At least once is expected, so we're doing good on that item.

Watch the Rubber Bits:

It may be the heat of summer, but some of the rubber parts on the 2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT seem to have a hard time staying glued in place. The first rubber bit that came unglued was the seat buffer on the back of the fuel tank In this case, I found that it had slipped downward below the glue line. I ripped it trying to get it realigned. That part has been on back order now for months suggesting I may not be the only one experiencing that issue.


The second series of rubber part problems popped up under the tank. Much more problematic was the left rubber block that buffers the tank against the frame and another buffering rubber bit on the rear of the tank. Like the seat buffer, these two bits had shifted along the glued spot to the point that they weren't doing their job. That's a serious problemo!


Heat? Bad glue? I don't know. I reaffixed the parts with some epoxy and hope that holds them. I'll take another peek when I change the plugs and filter again. Not sure if I'll ever see the tank buffer come off backorder. Just a heads up though to keep a keen eye on these as other rubber bits as you're doing your routine maintenance.


Natchez Trace Parkway, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi.

As an update on this item, at 18,500 miles once again had to lift the fuel tank for plugs, air element and valve clearances. Sure enough, the rubber tank buffer on the other side (right side) had come totally loose. At this point I may recommend pulling them both off first time under the tank and properly gluing them in place. The epoxy job on the left held perfectly fine.



Fuel Economy and Range

There are many, many things that affect fuel economy and range. Other than how far you turn the throttle, a good solid head wind or tail wind, for examples, will have a big effect. I keep close track of my fuel economy and record it on Fuelly. So far I have logged 55 fueling stops.

Below is a summary of information from my fuelings. Note that I always have my side cases installed, so these amounts give effect to the resistance from the cases. Also, while I have not had the Puig screen installed the whole time, it's been on long enough to conclude that it's effect is reflected in my numbers. Here they are:

The average miles per gallon = 45.1 mpg
The highest miles per gallon = 51.6 mpg
The lowest miles per gallon = 39.5 mpg

The Versys 1000 has a 5.5 gallon fuel tank.

The average number of miles per fueling = 214.3 miles
The highest miles per fueling = 245.6 miles
The highest number of gallons in any one fueling = 5.429 gallons

Yes, I do try and take the tank range to its limit.

The recommended grade fuel is Premium 90+ octane. So was the recommended grade on my Tenere and little V and regular worked perfectly fine. In the case of the Tenere I never understood why Yamaha would make a motorcycle to tackle the remotest places in the world and then require Premium. Some  of those remote places are lucky if they can get watered down regular. Anyway, given that the price of gas has dropped considerably, I've only run premium in the Versys 1000. For a few pennies more, at least you get a cooler burn from premium which is good for summer pulls.

Pike National Forest, Jefferson, Colorado

Personally, I think that a 214 average range on a tank is pretty decent for a touring motorcycle and, as reflected above, I've gotten as high as 245.6 miles. In my case, the range lines up pretty closely with my distance tolerance level, which is about 210-225 miles. At that point I usually need a break anyway, so doing double duty (rest and fill up) works out pretty well. Also, it's going to really be hard to get in trouble finding gas with this level of range. That is, unless you're heading north out of Coldfoot, Alaska.


As it relates to that sign, I was on my Yamaha Super Tenere that had a range of up to 260 miles. However, I got to screwing around on side roads along the Dalton Highway to the point that I ran out of gas within visual sight of Deadhorse on the Arctic Ocean. Good thing I was carrying a couple Rotopax fuel cells.

Suspension and Stability (Traction Control, Power Modes, Slipper Clutch and ABS)

In my simple mind, stability represents a motorcycle's ability to keep its tires in contact with the road surface (at any "reasonable" angle) while firmly tracking or holding a line (whether a straight line or a curved line, such as through a sweeper). Suspension and stability seem to go together, but certainly there are many other things that affect a motorcycle's stability other than simply the suspension; things as simple as air pressure in the tires, for example. Rather than go through all those many things though, I just want to focus on the features of the Versys 1000 that seem to contribute to the bikes overall stability.

Those features include the Traction Control, Power Modes, Slipper Clutch and Anti-lock Brakes. But, let's start with the suspension components cuz everything rides on those.

Suspension: The Versys is equipped with 43mm KYB inverted front forks with (i) spring preload adjustment and (ii) rebound dampening adjustment in the right fork only; no compression adjustment. The forks have 5.9 inches of travel.


The rear mono-shock provides for (i) remote preload adjustment and (ii) rebound dampening adjustment; no compression adjustment, as well. The rear suspension provides 5.9 inches of travel.


Getting suspension dialed in is a personal thing and takes a little trial and error. I've generally followed the RaceTech Approach. I started by dialing in on the front and rear static sag and found both to be within the range of 30-35 mm at my weight of 185 pounds. Standards provide 30-35 mm for road and 25-30 mm for sport/racing. As a result, the preloads on both the front and rear were left at the factory setting which subsequently proved out. Rebound dampening took a little more time but I got it dialed into my liking. Here are the details of my suspension settings:

Front Forks
Spring Preload Range: 4mm/harder to 19mm/softer; factory setting 14mm.
Rebound Dampening: 0 clicks/harder to 12 clicks/softer; factory setting 7 clicks; my setting 6 clicks.
Rear Shock
Spring Preload Range: 0 clicks/softer to 24 clicks/harder; factory setting 2 clicks.
Rebound Dampening: 0 turns/harder to 3 3/4 turns/softer; factory setting 1 1/4 turn; my setting 1 turn.

Those changes off factory settings don't seem like much, but there really/truly is a difference that I dialed into. As a result, I feel like I'm getting the maximum potential out of the suspension that came on the Versys.


Power Mode: The Versys engine is mapped in two modes. Full Power Mode and Low Power Mode. The selection of either is performed via the meter switch on the left bar handle (same switch that adjusts through the top and bottom display meters) and is reflected in the lower left of the digital display window as either F or L. According to the manual, about 75% of the highest engine power output is achieved in Low Power resulting in milder throttle response than in Full Power Mode.

Power mode adjustment can be adjusted on the fly by coming fully off throttle. There is no start up default; the mode in effect upon start up is the same mode as when the bike was shut off.

Traction Control: The Versys also has a traction control module that calculates the slip level of the rear wheel/tire during acceleration and controls the optimum slip ratio to suit the riding conditions as determined by the rider. The module provides three levels of slip control (1-3, where 3 is the greatest control over rear tire slippage). The traction control can also be turned off. Selection of the level is performed via the meter switch on the left handle.

Similar to Power Mode, Traction Control can be adjusted on the fly by coming fully off throttle. There is somewhat of a start up default in that upon start up, the setting will be the setting at shut off only if the last setting was 1, 2 or 3. If the setting upon shut off was "TC-Off" it will default to 1 upon start up.


Power Mode and Traction Control are generally supposed to work together and be used together. The diagram below derived from the owners manual indicates how they may work together in Sport Riding, City Riding, and Wet/Slippery Conditions:


Slipper Clutch: Kawasaki incorporated its Assist and Slipper Clutch Technology into the Versys 1000. Generally, slipper clutches help reduce rear wheel hop and skid during downshifting (including 2-3 gears down at a time) by allowing the clutch to slip a little until the higher engine speed matches the motorcycle's speed. To be clear, slipper clutches are a technology that was inspired by motorcycle racing. They were determined to be helpful on higher displacement track bikes where the engine braking force is much greater and may cause the motorcycle to go out of control and crash (BikeAdvice Article). For us road warriors, the technology effectively becomes a safety feature to keep our rear tires in place and tracking (i.e. Stable) in sharp corners or hard stops.

Anti-Lock Brakes: The Versys 1000 is equipped with dual 310 mm front rotors and two four-piston Tokico Calipers. The rear brake is a 250 mm single rotor and a single-piston Nissin Caliper. These brake systems are regulated by an anti-lock brake wheel sensor system on both wheels. Simply put, anti-lock brake systems reduce brake pressure when a lockup is about to occur.


Overall Stability Comments: Okay, I wasn't going to go into all the "things" that affect stability, but there is one that I think is worth mentioning; weight and size. It should be noted that the Versys is a big ass motorcycle and weighs in at 550 pounds, By the time I hop on, fill the tank and crankcase and load my underwear in side cases, I'm probably rolling 800 pounds down the highway.

I make this point because there have been some comments about buffeting and wash coming off large highway vehicles that cause the Versys 1000 to become unstable and travel uncontrollably off of the intended riding line. In the absence of a harsh cross wind, that's just not my experience and I've put it to the test to prove it to myself. For example, on my recent trip up to North Carolina I purposely rolled in behind and to the side of large trucks and other highway vehicles (e.g. RVs) at all ranges of speed over many miles and never had the wash or buffeting force me off my line. If I had a throttle lock I believe that I could have taken my hands off the bars and still track a straight line. Bottom line, I've been riding the Versys 1000 for 12,000 miles, many of which were highway miles in many different densities of traffic, and it does not get pushed around.

Back on the features ... first, I think it's fair to say that Kawasaki didn't give us the best of suspension components to work with. However, those shortcomings have imo been overcome by the the stability and safety enhancing features noted above.

As is relates to the Power Modes, I find  that the bike is best operating in it's Full Power Mode until the specific circumstances requiring Low Power are encountered. Trust me, you DO NOT want to be in Low Power during an attempt to pass other vehicles, merge into traffic on the on ramp of an Interstate Highway or anything similar! However, when the road is wet or potentially slippery, Low Power Mode is going to be your best bet and you can adjust to it on the fly. The other condition for Low Power Mode may be a leisurely run through twisty, curvy roads. As previously mentioned, the Low Power Mode produces a milder throttle response which I prefer in that situation. However, in my experience more aggressive runs on those same twisty curvy roads are better accomplished in Full Power and lower gears. I ride the 11 miles of the Tail of the Dragon in 3rd ... let it scream while the slipper clutch does its job!

As it relates to the Traction Control, having experienced one of the worst Florida Summers weather-wise and rain-wise (and it doesn't seem to be over yet), I'm glad to have the Traction Control and can tell you, from first hand experience, that it works great in poor road conditions. It's also a useful feature to have when violent cross winds try and knock you off the road. In those conditions, you go straight to Level 3.

By reference to the owners manual, Levels 1 and 2 are for sport riding. In fact, the owners manual says "Mode 1 gives maximum acceleration for sport riding." I can tell you that when the 3rd level of traction control kicks in, it feels exactly like hitting a rev limiter. What the traction control is actually doing in Level 1 (and Level 2 for that matter) I honestly can't really tell. I guess this is just were you need to trust the autopilot.

Anyway, putting all this together in summary, over 12,000 miles I've found the Versys 1000 to be an extremely stable motorcycle. If anyone sez anything different, they have mechanical problems that require attention. In my experience, given its weight and operating features, it holds its lines on all conditions on the open road and where it doesn't do that automatically, it offers unique features and on-the-fly adjustment to get you there. No, it is not as nimble as a sport or super sport in the curves, but when properly operated it still holds its lines and makes for an enjoyable motorcycle riding experience.



Powertrain Observations

The Versys 1000 LT is equipped with Kawasaki's fuel-injected, 1043cc in-line 4 cylinder engine. It's almost the same engine that has been used in the Ninja 1000 for years; the differences being a modified cylinder head that reduced the compression ratio from 11.8:1 to 10.3:1 and modified cams to create more mid range torque.


Similarly, the six speed transmission used in the Ninja 1000 has been fitted to the Versys in a slightly modified form; the modifications being a shorter first gear ratio and taller gear ratios in three through six (second gear ratios are the same). Kawasaki, quoted in some reviews I read, indicated that these differences in the engine and tranny configuration result in lower peak power than the Ninja 1000 but more torque in the low to mid rpm range, resulting, in part, in better touring performance.

The primary drive ratio is 1.627 (83/51). The transmission and rear wheel are connected with a sealed chain running on a final gear ratio of 2.867 (15/43).


In Full Power Mode the engine pulls strong and shifts smoothly through the gears and can get you moving pretty fast as with most any liter bike. I personally think the final drive gearing of 15/43, coupled with the primary gearing changes from the sister Ninja are spot on to make for a smooth and comfortable touring model, while the low-mid range torque prove plenty of oomph for lively riding in the lower gears.

I've noticed some owners have changed over to a 16 tooth front sprocket (and/or 41 tooth rear) suggesting improvements in top-end smoothness. However, changing the gearing in that direction is naturally going to work against the low-mid-range torque benefit that was built into this power train as described above. Such a modification will translate into bogging down when passing and on hill inclines, more shifting in the lower gears, and poor acceleration. Don't try and say it won't or you don't feel it ... it's simple physics and it will.

It's not that changes in gearing are always the wrong thing. I've done many gearing changes in the past and have developed a very simple way to make the decision. It goes like this:

Gearing changes become necessary when the engine tells you its necessary, 
not when you tell the engine it's necessary

I assure you that the Versys engine has no idea why you're looking for seventh gear when it gives you everything you need to know what gear you are in. The Versys engine runs and shifts perfectly fine (and smoothly) on the stock gearing and stays within a narrow range of RPM in which the engine works its best in terms of torque and horsepower and, in fact, well below the manufacturers Redline. I prepared the table below from my own riding experience (it differs from Gearing Commander). Bottom line, while in touring operation, the motorcycle simply is not calling out for any change in the final drive gearing.


Also as a final note on gearing changes, it has been reported that changes from stock gearing cause the gear indicator (an option) to become inaccurate and may cause sprocket whining, the later a condition I'm not familiar with and don't want to be.

Equally important, coupling those engine characteristics with rubber engine mounts, rubber mounted bars and rubber pegs, I have experienced many thousands of miles without major vibes imparted on any parts of my body. The engine runs smooth and it shifts smooth. To quote Motorcycle Daily's Review of the 2015 Versys 1000 LT, "vibration is not an issue." I suppose that shouldn't be interpreted to mean that vibration doesn't exist; on the contrary, it does. However, I don't encounter any serious vibration of the type that produces numbness in the hands or feet.

Of course, all these experiences are my own and I fully understand that we are all different. I have no doubt that some people are more tolerant to vibration than others. It's no different than the known fact that some people have more iron in their butts than others. If anyone has a weakness or intolerance on either point, I'd suggest that they go find something other than motorcycling to do.

Summary

I've heard the Versys 1000 called a rocket. I wouldn't go that far. I do think it has the design, speed, power, engineering and functionality necessary to make for an economical, practical, comfortable and dependable sport touring motorcycle. I've ridden it over 12,000 miles and the performance has been nothing short of brilliant.


Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, Florida.

As motorcycle pricing goes (which is to say they're all overpriced), I think I got my money's worth in the 2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT. A $12,600 OTD price is a fairly low price point in this range of motorcycles and I think other owners have even gotten a better deal. While yes, I did purchase several accessories, the Versys really only needed a slightly larger screen to make for better touring and then, just barely. Otherwise it's robust size, ergos and body style set it up for effective, efficient and extremely comfortable touring. On top of that, Kawasaki threw in all kinds of useful rider technologies, and a set of side cases to boot!

 Mechanically, the operation of the motorcycle is near perfect. Kawasaki really needs to improve the lighting on this motorcycle. Otherwise, the only hiccup that I ever encountered was hard starting and stalls while at a the 14,000 foot summit of Pikes Peak; seemingly to be expected as I was spitting and sputtering a little myself up there. I've run the bike for long days on end in triple digit temps and stops only for fueling. It just keeps rolling.

Lastly, the unique striking appearance of the Versys 1000 seems to get a lot of  positive looks and comments. I don't know how well they're selling, but I have only heard positive comments about it's size and body style while out on the road.

Rides great and looks great. Let's get on with the next 12,000.

17 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Great blog. I hope my retirement is as much fun! I have the 2013 Versys 1000 and pretty much agree with every word. It does everything with ease, better than the dozen bikes I tested before buying this. I love the look of the new bike but have grown to love the butt ugly older model like a faithful mongrel. But with ex demo bikes going for AUD13000 I am tempted by the new model.

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  3. Hey Bill - was great talking with you today at Barney's. Look for to reading your blog and gaining knowledge.

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  4. Good to see you Carl. If you have any questions lob me a note in here or on my email which is wpl5559@gmail.com.

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  5. Bill - Great review. I have to agree. The price paid is well worth the fun. I love the big Versys

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  6. Bill,
    This is awesome, much more insight thru an actual owner who has done some miles than the "professional" reviews that miss a lot of information. I'm wanting to get one in February/March and was looking to see what might need to be upgraded and how it feels riding long distances. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you for the compliments, Iceman. The Versys 1000 LT will definitely take care of you whether touring across the country or navigating the winding roads in the Smokys.

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  7. Thanks for this write-up. I've been riding cruisers for several years but had decided I wanted/needed something different. The internal debate has been "traditional/heavy" sport-tourer (Trophy, FJR, Concours) or something like the Versys, V-Strom,or FJ-09. The thorough recounting of your experiences has given me, I think, the final push needed toward the Versys: talking with my local dealer now about their last one in stock!

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  8. Bill - very nice review. I also have the Versys 1000 and love it. I have no real complaints. I am still tweaking the front suspension a bit and will compare what I have to your settings as I weight nearly the same as you.

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  9. Your review is Spot on. I went to buy the 650LT when the salesmen said they just got a 1000LT in the first one. He said take it out before you buy the 650. He was right for my commute of 74mi round trip.On SOCAL freeways at 4:00am 85 to 90 is the norm.I'm rolling up on 60 with 45 years on the road. So this my be my last bike But I won't be Sorry for buying the Versys 1000 LT

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  10. Good information, I am just retired and ride a 650 V Storm and while I am happy with it I am looking to try a 1000cc bike. I live in New Zealand, we have roads to suit the Kawasaki. I will go for a test ride to see if it fits my needs, comfort is my first priority.

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  11. Bill, I enjoyed reading your review. I live in Sarasota and have a 2015 1000LT in Burnt Orange on layaway. I will be picking it up in the next two weeks. It is brand new, and I paid a fair price for it. Prior to riding it, I intend to have the dealer install Denali DM daytime running lights and Denali D2 dual Intensity auxiliary lights. In addition, I am also having a Denali two tone horn and an Admore Lighting rear LED light system installed. I am coming back to motorcycling after a two-year hiatus, and want to do what I can to be noticed out there.

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  12. Thanks so much for the review. They are offering a good deal on them here in Thailand and I think I will upgrade. I have a 1500 Vulcan which is getting long in the tooth so I'm not keen on long trips with it but will keep for around town riding. I also currently have a 2014 Honda Cb500F which is a great little bike as well but just doesn't give me enough juice, especially two up. I miss the liter bike rush as I had with my 1983 Suzuki GS1100E, 1998 Suzuki Bandit 1200, and 2003 Honda CB1100XX. You have confirmed what I wanted to know. Thanks again! Brian

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  13. Thanks for all this explanations and pictures. Do you have an email due to get some information about the Versys 1000?

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  14. Well this is great timing ..i pick up my new Versys this Thursday , its a "new" 2015 model...with full warrenty
    this is a great introduction to what appears to be a exceptional motorcycle
    Cheers

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  15. Good thing I came across this blog, very helpful as I was devating between the Yamah Siper Tenere and the Versys 1000. For what I intend to use the bike which is 97% paved roads the Versys since to be the right choice.
    Thanks

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