’16 Kawasaki Versys 1000
This segment of motorcycles has been growing over a number of years, into a very popular style; call it “middle-weight adventure touring” if you must. From afar the Kawasaki Versys 1000 may draw on some Dual-Purpose characteristics, but in fact are far from it.
Honda’s VFR1200X (Cross Tourer) and S1000 XR, for instance, may officially be filtered into the same buying group, but labelling both adventure tourers is a bit like calling both Mmusi Maimane and Jacob Zuma Democrats. One is a well-balanced master of many trades and balances, the other a furiously slapdash superbike with odd styling and a partiality to the overstated.
Indeed, like so much of modern life, the adventure touring segment is getting increasingly polarized. On the one hand, one has the earthy GS, and Honda’s new Africa Twin that remains faithful to the original concept of a go-anywhere, do-anything endure touring motorcycle. On the other, you have the XR and Ducati’s Multistrada trying to convince the masses that unless they embrace MotoGP-like horsepower and handling, they will never experience true adventure. As always, lost in the middle are the ‘independents’ like the Aprilia Caponord, Suzuki’s V-Strom and the subject of my report, the Kawasaki’s Versys 1000.
Before I continue; a quick word of thanks to East Coast Motorcycles, for an opportunity to yet again test a most accommodating motorcycle.
Take but a quick glance at Kawasaki’s adventure-ish 1000 and it might look a little like a clone of the aforementioned S1000 XR. Both pack four-cylinder motors with inverted front suspension, superbike sized wheels/tyres and discreet bodywork. Even the styling is remarkably similar.
The comparison doesn’t survive closer scrutiny; however, Kawasaki’s version is much more mildly tuned, more softly suspended and geared for comfort rather than outright speed. Indeed, so moderated – reduced compression, shorter camshaft duration, etc. – is the ex-Ninja motor that it’s better to think of the Versys as a four-cylinder version of Suzuki’s mild-mannered V-Strom. Though Kawasaki makes no official claims, its 120 or so horsepower is much closer to the V-twin Suzuki’s 100 horsepower or so than the BMW’s 160+.
If that sounds like a condemnation, believe me when I say it’s not all about the horses; comfort plays a huge roll when heading out on the long a lonely. In fact, Kawasaki’s 1,043-cc is the smoothest and friendliest of inline-4s, its vibration minimal and its low-end torque remarkable. Indeed, from idle to its redline of 10,000 rpm, the engine’s response remains decisively potent-like, as linear a powerband as I have ever tested in my time on motorcycles. It may not yank your arms off, but neither do you have to constantly row the gearbox to get its best. And, as a side benefit, the low-end pulling power lets Kawasaki gear taller – 5,000 rpm equated to 130 km/h in top gear, resulting in a calm ride, unlike say the ill-minded S1000 XR that always seems to be looking for a fight.
The ride is similarly contained. Kawasaki’s suspension is fairly basic – a single shock system in the rear and an inverted front fork, both with rebound damping and preload adjustments – but it serves its purpose well. What it lacks in sportbike-like precision it more than makes up in tourer-like comfort.
It’s all in keeping with the Versys sport-touring intent. Factor in the typical reasonable seating position of an adventure bike and the broad, flat seat that is not just well padded but stepped enough to provide some rear support and you have sport-touring-like comfort. Throw in some easily accessible panniers and topbox and you have an excellent tour hauler.
That said, as it comes from Kawasaki, the Versys 1000 isn’t quite a long distance mount. First there’s the smallish windscreen – easily replaced, of course – that offers little upper body protection despite its mechanical adjustability.
Some road test reports will cry over the Versys’ lack of electronic gizmos. I do not. As delivered, however, the big Kawasaki has all the rider’s aids needed, namely a three-step traction control system and ABS. Since the suspension is well calibrated in its stock form, there’s little need for the electronically-adjusted suspension systems that are flooding the adventure segment, especially if it keeps the Versys’s price down. The throttle is light enough that cruise control seems unnecessary. Heated hand grips might be nice, but they’re available as an accessory. The one high-tech item that would be worth paying a little extra for is an electronically-adjustable windscreen. Having to stop to twiddle with knobs every time you want to adjust the fairing’s coverage seems a little archaic. Nonetheless, while some may moan about Kawasaki’s back-to-basics motif, I appreciate its simplicity.
Indeed, the Versys 1000 is a classic example of the difference between wants and needs. For one of the lowest prices in the segment, you get everything you need; perhaps the most civilized engine Kawasaki has ever produced; excellent comfort, decent luggage options and surprisingly agile handling.
So do you really want to pay more for stuff that will do little more than clutter up your dashboard and switchgear, or do you want a motorcycle that will serve your body well? I don’t know about you, but my body decides what I ride.