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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
KAWASAKI VERSYS 1000
Engine: 1043cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, fuel injection
Power: 116hp @ 9,000rpm
Torque: 75 ft.lb @ 7,700rpm
Top speed: 145mph (est)
Weight: 239kg (dry)