Kawasaki Versys-X 300
Does the baby Versys hold its own?
The very first versys was added to the Kawasaki lineup back in 2006 as a replacement for the ageing KLe 500, the Japanese brand’s dual-purpose bestseller for over a decade. Powered by Kawasaki’s proven 650-cc parallel twin mill, the original versys 650 made a healthy 60 Ps, could hit close to 200 km/h on the highway and, with a pliant suspension and generous ground clearance, wasn’t shy of the rough stuff. While the old KLe was more capable off-road, the versys always had a clear on-road bias, making it more appealing to a wider audience; one that wanted a toughlooking, capable motorcycle, but wasn’t necessarily interested in serious off-roading.
the moniker is a play on the words “versatile” and “system”, and the versys 650 has since personified this character, equally at home commuting within the city, touring on the open road, or tackling the occasional trail. the popularity of this motorcycle led Kawasaki to introduce the massive versys 1000, an upright sport tourer with the fourcylinder engine from the Z1000; both bikes have since become popular fixtures in the company’s line-up in india and abroad. this year, team Green have set their sights lower and introduced the versys-X 300, powered by the 296-cc parallel twin from the Ninja 300, and the subject of this review.
As i approached the baby versys for the first time, it quickly became clear — with its 180-mm ground clearance, rugged 41mm fork, spoked wheels, 815-mm seat height and that tall screen — that this is a bike with purpose; hardly a baby. the wide bodywork that ensconces the headlight, front end, and radiator is designed to keep the rider shielded from the elements as well as the engine’s heat, while that tall, blacked-out handlebar puts
Kawasaki have built a very capable motorcycle that can hold its own in a variety of situations
you in an upright and commanding riding position. A pair of auxiliary lights are suspended from tough-looking crash bars that protect the fairing in case of a tip-over and, at the rear, the pannier mounting rails and luggage rack make this bike’s touring intentions clear. Kawasaki provide one pannier on the right side when you buy the bike, while the left is embellished with a sari-guard to conform to indian regulations.
it doesn’t take more than a few moments to appreciate the quality of the parts and fittings that Kawasaki have lavished on this motorcycle, resulting in a bike that feels solidly built. As i swing a leg over and straighten the bike off its side-stand, i feel the pliant suspension settle under my weight in a manner similar to a larger adventure bike. With 130 mm of travel up front and 148 mm at the rear monoshock, the suspension isn’t really what you would call long-travel but, as i soon found out, it is sufficient, extremely well set up and capable of handling a wide range of surfaces and riding conditions. the stepped seat is flat, roomy, and supportive with the pegs directly below, and the comfortable rider triangle is typical of what you would expect of an adventure-tourer. Unfortunately, in an effort to maintain an approachable seat height, the rider’s perch is padded quite thinly and starts feeling hard and plank-like after a few hours on the road.
the dashboard is the attractive unit from the Ninja 400, with a large round central tacho, small inset digital display for engaged gear and clock, and a larger LCD display to the right for speed, range, fuel economy, odo, and trip meters. two small bar-type
displays are smartly incorporated for fuel level and coolant temperature, while to the left of the tacho is a panel for all the tell-tale lights. the textured plastic surround is punctuated by an easy-to-reach 12v charging socket on one side, while, on the other, we have the switch for those powerful auxiliary lights. the entire cockpit area is user-friendly, stylish, and modern, although the dash does not get that reverse LCD effect that we’ve seen on the Ninja 400, Z650, and Z900.
in the city, the versys-X 300 was a revelation. the worst potholes, largest illegal speed-breakers and just about anything else Pune’s unpredictable roads could throw at us did little to faze this bike, and i found myself practically flying over those obstacles with the throttle open. the relationship between pegs and bars lends itself perfectly to standing up and riding over rough stuff, although, with rubber inserts for comfort, those footpegs won’t offer the same grip levels as the heavily-toothed, machined pegs you see on proper off-road bikes. in the urban setting, this elevated riding position also gave me a clear view over most cars, allowing me to easily pick my way through traffic. throttle response is flawless, while braking, courtesy the 290mm petal disc up front with two-piston caliper and 220-mm petal disc at the rear, is a fuss-free affair.
A crowded metro is no match for this lean, green machine and the extremely generous steering lock ensured that we could snake our way through stationary cars to the front row at every red light, where we were usually at the receiving end of several admiring glances and enthusiastic questions.
As the traffic thinned out and the speed increased, the liquidcooled 296-cc twin settled into a relaxed rhythm. it seemed happy loping along at 5,000 to 7,000 rpm. At these revs the engine feels super smooth and there is a noticeable amount of torque on tap, although hardly what you would expect from a twin-cylinder motorcycle with adventure-touring aspirations… then it dawns on me! this is that sweet, high-revving, shortstroke 296-cc unit from the Ninja 300. Although Kawasaki have
modified the air-box and exhaust for a little more torque early on, in addition to reworking the final drive ratio, this is still an oversquare engine and, as such, it loves revs. A quick look at the spec sheet confirms that the peak 25.7 Nm of twist comes into play at 10,000 rpm, with a maximum 40 Ps coming online at 11,000 rpm. some greedy throttle action on empty stretches of highway confirms this; the powerplant comes alive above 9,000 rpm and pulls whole-heartedly to the 12,000 rpm red-line before hitting the limiter at around 13,000 rpm.
Keeping the revs in the sweet spot and snapping up the next cog at just the right time to keep the surge of acceleration going well into the triple digits was absolutely addictive and almost felt like chasing the powerband on a rev-happy two-stroke machine. i was smiling wide inside my helmet as i left the city far behind me, the tacho needle hovering close to the red and no sign of protest from that enthusiastic engine as it sang away underneath.
Curves are handled confidently and the bike doesn’t feel sluggish to turn in, in spite of that tall front end. fast side-to-side transitions involve some effort, but the frame and suspension work well with the irC tyres; the bike feels stable leant over and is always willing to carve a set of corners. Kawasaki have given their latest versys an assist and slipper clutch, ensuring a light pull every time you need to call for another cog and keeping the rear wheel in contact with the ground under aggressive downshifts as you slow for the next corner, while trying to find the correct gear for that perfect drive out.
for the touring inclined, the versys-X 300 can cruise comfortably all day at 80 to 110 km/h with the engine spinning no higher than 7,000 rpm in sixth gear and absolutely no
vibrations coming through. however, if you are cruising at, say, 80 to 90 km/h in top gear and want to make a quick overtake, you will need to have a downshift or two ready to take advantage of the peak power and and make the pass swiftly. As engine speeds close in on 9,000 rpm, some minor vibes make their way through the handlebar and seat, but it didn’t bother me too much; the enthusiastic way this little engine starts pulling at high revs is enough to keep you smiling and not worry about things as petty as buzzy fingertips. this high-strung nature may appeal greatly to the boy racer within me, but covering serious distances at speed, with luggage and, maybe, a pillion could get tiring without the ever-present torque of a bigger engine.
Positioned as an entry-level adventure tourer, this test ride wouldn’t have been complete if we hadn’t left the tarmac for a bit of an adventure; the ADv-style bodywork, larger 19-inch front wheel, generous ground clearance and wire-spoked rims also had a hand in our decision to hit the dirt. On some trails just outside Pune, the versys-X 300 seemed absolutely at ease and, when speeds picked up, the suspension proved that it was up to the task. i was concerned about the irC road-biased tyres at first, but they never gave me cause for worry and i was soon riding along at a decent pace, all my weight on the pegs, the rear sliding around in the dust. sudden rough bits, ditches and even a couple of small jumps were dispatched effortlessly by the capable suspension. i even noticed that there’s enough torque at idle in first gear to crawl over tricky bits or up slopes with the throttle closed. the relatively light 184-kilogram wet weight is an added advantage and inspires confidence when riding off-road.
After spending a couple of days with the new versys, i am of the opinion that Kawasaki have built a very capable motorcycle that can hold its own in a variety of situations. in stock form it is sufficiently specced for the city, highway or some light offroading, and i’m sure i’m not the only person to have considered slapping some off-road rubber on to those spoked wheels to make her even more capable in the dirt. if you want to go all the way, switch out the conventional mudguard for a higher dirtbike-style one, install a tough bash-plate and metal footpegs, and you have a proper dual-sport on your hands — one that will tame all but the harshest terrain. With a lofty exshowroom price of rs 4.6 lakh we do think that Kawasaki could have positioned this excellent motorcycle at a more accessible price point; pay 60 grand more and you can have the Z650 in your garage, and that’s considerably more motorcycle. As things stand, the versys will be out of reach for many, although i’m sure she would be a very attractive proposition for affluent bikers who already own larger machines, as a weekend trail toy.
Sudden rough bits, ditches and even a couple of small jumps were dispatched effortlessly by the capable suspension
Can’t stop staring at those snakey exhaust headers
Tough-looking front end looks ready to take on the world
That liquidcooled twin loves to be revved outSlim upswept exhaust fits in with the rest of the bike
Dash is modern and attractive
Auxiliary lights really do light up the night
Ergos are spot-on, mirrors work well
Wish the rider’s seat had a little more padding
IRC road tyres stood up to the trails