The Kawasaki Versys 650 is exactly what the name suggests, a versatile system. My 2008 Versys is at home on curvy roads and is an absolutely splendid sport touring motorcycle. The Versys is not a great off-road adventure bike, mostly due to the 17” front wheel and street tires. It is common knowledge in the Versys community that a Suzuki Vstrom 1000 front wheel will fit on the Versys with a little bit of work. It took a fair amount of scouring the internet and the various pages of information on Advrider and the Kawasaki Versys forums, but the information is not in one place. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about adding a 19” wheel to the Kawasaki Versys 650.
This is the stock Versys in all of its street-worthy goodness-
The most important part of the wheel conversion is, of course, the wheel. A 19” front wheel from a 2002-2014 Suzuki Vstrom 1000 with a 20mm wheel bearing (the same size as the Versys 650). There are other wheels that will fit or can be made to fit, but the DL1000 wheel from this range will for sure work with little problem.
There are many other wheels that will work with the right size bearing and there have also been aftermarket spoked wheels produced in the past for the Versys that would be a good choice if you can track them down. A custom wheelset for my bike was around $2000, so this was a no-brainer.
You also need the Vstrom 1000 wheel spacers or similarly sized wheel spacers from a machinist to fill the gap between the wheel and a flat spacer to lift the front fender.
In order to use the DL1000 wheels with stock Vstrom brake disks in the Versys forks/brakes, the disks need to be turned down from 310mm to 300mm. The brake discs are slightly closer together so a small washer was placed between the caliper and mounting lug to move them in.
The “crossover” brake line needs to be replaced with a longer one once the mudguard is moved up in the next step. Some users have been able to simply move their fender up and zip-tie their brake line out of the way. I had no record of when my bike with 17,000 miles on it had last had the brake fluid changed, so I replaced the line and fluid. Try to save the plastic clips that attach the brake lines to the fender, they make tidying up later a much simpler process.
The front fender/mudguard needs to be relocated to accommodate the taller wheel and tire. A simple flat stock bracket makes quick work of this. Some modifications might be needed to make the lower hole work with your stock forks. I simply mounted the top hole, marked the lower hole, drilled into the fender mount, and attached it with a zip tie for now. I will eventually get a longer bolt and secure it properly.
Raising the fender is good practice for Versys owners regardless of wheel size. The stock fender location is begging to be filled up with mud if you ever encounter it. Looking at the photo, this bike is begging for a skid plate. A new skid plate will be installed before the next big trip.
I purchased my front wheel without a tire, so I scoured the interwebs for an 80/20 tire that would improve my bike’s performance in the gravel and loose dirt, but still behave on the pavement. I found the Shinko 705 tire in 110/80/19 on Revzilla and had it mounted quickly with tire levers. I will report back on the performance of this tire, but so far, it looks like a solid choice.
I chose to mount my tires myself and used a simple set of tire irons and some soapy water. Mounting a tire by hand in the driveway is not the easiest way, but it is cheap and a faster process overall. I highly advise changing your own tires a few times just to know how the process works so you can do it on the trail when things get hairy.
My initial impression is really good. The bike is much easier to ride over rough and potholed roads and traction is greatly improved in gravel and loose dirt with the new tire. I also find the slightly higher front end helps to not push me forward on my seat as much, which is a plus. The handling on the road is slightly less “street bike-like” but it still handles really well. The ride with the bigger wheel reminds me of the Wee-Strom Vstrom 650.
Obviously, I will post a follow-up blog article with my opinion of the conversion after a few hundred miles and some trail rides.
This article would have been impossible without the information already posted on ADVrider forums by user JDROCKS. You can check out his build thread here: https://www.advrider.com/f/threads/v649hp-kawasakis-new-gravel-runner.644390/