Road Tests


Thursday 12th July 2012


Kawasaki's Versys 1000 leaves PH2 wondering if sports tourers are a thing of the past...

Another day, another adventure bike - it seems as if there is no stopping these on/off road bikes at the moment. But with its new Versys 1000, Kawasaki has taken a different path.

Traditionally, big capacity adventure bikes are twins. We are talking the benchmark BMW GS, Honda's oddly named Varadero, Suzuki's even more oddly named V-Strom, Ducati's Multistrada, Aprilia's Caponord, Buell's Ulysses, KTM's SMT and Adventure; the list goes on. Apart from the oddball Benelli Tre-K triple, two pots was par for the course should you wish to circumnavigate the world. However 2012 has seen this change.

Versys almost covers trad sports tourer role
Versys almost covers trad sports tourer role
Honda unveiled the V4 Crosstourer, Triumph the triple Explorer and Kawasaki the inline four Versys 1000. Both Japanese companies will certainly claim various benefits of motors that aren't twins, but the truth is that they are simply making the most of existing motors to save costs rather than develop a new twin - and who can blame them for that?

First impressions
There is no denying the Versys is a strange-looking old fruit. The insipid brown colour does it no favours at all (the white one looks much better) while the face is an odd thing that reminds us of a Dr Who baddie. By using a trellis subframe, Kawasaki has tried to make it look a bit rugged, but it doesn't quite work. With 17-inch wheels and road tyres this is no adventure bike as such; it is much more akin to a big supermoto.

Odd name, intriguing bike
Odd name, intriguing bike
Good vibrations?
Sitting on the Versys it is very much traditional adventure bike. The bars are wide (although the top yoke seems miles away, which is odd) and the seat is deeply padded. We like the fact the bike has a relatively low seat height of 845mm; with a 21-litre fuel capacity the danger of low speed drops due to the weight tipping a bit too far are high. Anyone who has ridden a fully fuelled GS Adventure will be more than aware of how quickly the weight of all that fuel can catch you out at low speed, but even when fully fuelled the Versys lacks this top-heavy feel.

There are problems aside from the odd looks, however. There is clearly a space for a power socket; it is marked in the plastic, so why isn't there a socket in there? Adventure bikes require such things as standard and not putting one in is just tight-fisted. And the dark red backing to the rev counter is unnecessary - nothing else on the bike is red so why are the clocks?

Lack of power socket irritates
Lack of power socket irritates
Niggles aside, as soon as you push the starter the Versys feels odd. It is a weird feeling to sit on an adventure bike that isn't vibrating due to the twin-cylinder motor. The inline four Kawasaki is super smooth and ticks over without the hint of a vibration, but it's not what you expect to feel in a bike of this style.

On the road
Get over the lack of 'character vibrations' and the inline motor is a beauty. Inline fours usually require revs, but the 1,043cc engine is stacked full of grunt and despite the 10,000rpm redline I found myself hardly ever bothering to go above 6,000rpm. You can sit on the motorway at 80mph at 5,000rpm with no worry at all and simply roll on the throttle to overtake. Through towns I only dropped one or two gears at most for 30mph limits and unlike twins, which get very upset when the revs drop too low, the Versys's inline four shrugs off low revs without a stutter. As you would expect from a Japanese bike the gearbox is slick, the fuel injection spot-on and the clutch nice and light.

Why the red revcounter?
Why the red revcounter?
My first proper trip on the Versys was a 200-mile round trip to Grimsby and back. Naturally, it was raining. Sitting on the A1, the Versys devoured the miles with the fuel gauge hardly wavering. It wasn't until I passed 120 miles on the return trip that the first bar dropped and the reserve light didn't make an appearance until 190 miles - so that's around 55mpg, which isn't bad. Kawasaki has fitted the Versys with its 'eco mode' thingy, which helps improve fuel economy, mainly as on dull rides trying to get the 'eco' display showing is quite entertaining...

Comfort was also very good. We have no grumbles over the seat or riding position although the screen, which is adjustable, could possibly be a little larger.

Is that a dry road?
It is quite a rare sight lately, but one day this week I did manage to actually ride the Versys on a relatively dry road. During some enthusiastic riding I was once again really impressed. As it has 17-inch wheels and not odd-sized adventure ones (which in my book makes it a big supermoto) the Versys can handle the corners. The suspension is firm enough to allow you to brake hard and corner without too much pitching, while the ABS and traction control don't seem to get in the way.

A rare moment of dry weather
A rare moment of dry weather
After a week with the Kawasaki we werer left wondering if sports tourers have any place in the modern motorcycle market. The Versys is more comfortable, better for a pillion and more adept at carrying luggage than a sports tourer and, while it may not be quite as sporty, there isn't much in it when it comes to spirited riding. If we had the choice we'd certainly buy a practical big supermoto such as a Versys, SMT or Multistrada over a sports tourer such as the Sprint ST or VFR800.

Where does the Versys fit into the big supermoto/adventure bike market? Pretty high up. Against the sporty vehicles it's not as good as the Multistrada or barking as the SMT, but it is far cheaper than the Ducati and a better all-rounder than the KTM. Compared to the adventure bikes it simply isn't designed for off-road use, so world explorers can forget it, but it handles better than the Explorer and BMW thanks to its wheel sizes, it just lacks the rugged look or image.

If you like the quirky look and want a day to day sports tourer that is great with a pillion and excellent fun in the corners then take a Versys 1000 for a test ride - it certainly surprised us.

Engine: 1043cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, fuel injection
Power: 116hp @ 9,000rpm
Torque: 75 @ 7,700rpm
Top speed:
145mph (est)
Weight: 239kg (dry)
MPG: 55
Price: £9,499


Author: Jon Urry