Test: Kawasaki Versys 1000

Kawasaki Versys 1000 review
Bondo puts the Versys through its paces.
Kawasaki Versys 1000 review
Words: Steve Bond   Photos: Steve Bond, unless otherwise credited



With very few exceptions, (and as Zac postulated recently) modern adventure touring motorcycles are like sport utility vehicles – extremely comfortable and great around town or on the highway, but take them to where the going gets dirty, and they start to unravel.

I mean really – who is actually going to take a 550 lb, one litre motorcycle off-road? Someone not especially fond of keeping their femurs in one piece, that’s who.

Despite Kawasaki listing the Versys as an Adventure Touring motorcycle just like the 650 version, the new Versys 1000 actually has no real off-road capabilities. It’s shod with 17-inch wheels front and back and the tire pattern is strictly pavement.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 test
The Versys is at home on the pavement. Photo: Kawasaki

What’s New?

Pretty much everything is new, as the Versys 1000 was a brand new model in 2012. There was some parts bin scrounging however, as the engine and frame were both lifted from the Z and Ninja 1000s and then slightly modified to suit.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 test
Here’s a close-up of those 17-inch wheels. Note the tire tread pattern.

Thankfully, the incredibly ugly mufflers on the Z and Ninja were shelved in favour of a nicely styled four-into-one exhaust system, although the welds and connectors on the headers are rather industrial looking.

The frame was given some extra bracing and a stronger rear subframe added, which was necessary as the Versys was designed to be fitted with hard bags and a topbox, something not advised on the other two bikes.

The bodywork is definitely new; let’s just be charitable and call the styling “unique.” It’s not totally hideous – you won’t cringe like a vampire being confronted by a crucifix, it’s just that when you walk away from the Versys, you won’t be casting any wistful glances over your shoulder. Besides, if you’re riding it, you don’t have to look at it.

The Ride

The Versys 1000 may look like a dirt bike on steroids, but the wide, flat seat, comfortable upright riding position and more than 100 horsepower certainly make up for the quirky styling.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 test
Bondo likes the upright seating position on the Versys.

In detuned Versys guise, the 118 horsepower with 86 ft-lbs of torque from Kawasaki’s 1043 cc four-banger has a really strong midrange, as well as a big kick on the top end. Vibration is minimal, although slight buzzing through the bars and pegs can be felt after a couple of hours on the freeway.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 test
The rear subframe was beefed up to carry luggage.

Kawasaki fitted the Versys 1000 with the same three-way adjustable power mode and traction control system found on the flagship ZX-14R hyperbike. Modes 1 and 2 are best for everyday riding, while “rain” mode is totally anemic and will only be useful under very slippery conditions – like if you’re towing a broken Zamboni while clearing off the local arena. In any mode, throttle response is seamless, smooth and excellent.

Steering is light and neutral and the high, wide bars give lots of leverage, although in high speed sweepers, the front end feels a bit vague – something that could be sorted out by using the preload and rebound adjustments. The rear shock has an easily accessed preload knob that allows almost instant adjustment at the back end – a nice touch if you’re carrying a passenger or loading up the bags and topbox for a week away.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 test
The long-travel suspension makes for a comfortable ride. Photo: Kawasaki

The long-travel suspension makes for a very comfy ride, although on stretches of bumpy pavement, it tends to get a bit choppy.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 review
Luggage does not come standard with the Kawasaki.

As you’d expect with such suspension, seat height is a somewhat lofty, though not unmanageable, at 845 mm (33.2 inches). Even those slightly under six feet tall should be able to put both feet down at a stop. Legroom, even for taller riders, is above average.

Twin 300 mm semi-floating discs in Kawasaki’s familiar petal style bring up the front while a single 250 mm disc is at the back. The brakes are simply excellent and, seeing as the ABS is the same system used on the ZX-10R sportbike, feel and feedback is exemplary.

The manually adjustable screen works very well and should accommodate riders of varying heights. I kept it on the highest setting and it provided a large, still air pocket that was relatively turbulence-free.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 test
While the bodywork isn’t exactly pretty, it’s not totally hideous. Photo: Kawasaki

The instrumentation covers just about everything you’ll need to know as you tootle on down the highway. An analog tachometer is inset by a large digital speedo with peripheral information including ambient temperature, a bar type fuel gauge, twin tripmeters and odometer.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 test
The gauges have all the information necessary when you’re on the road. Photo: Kawasaki

My press unit was a really unfortunate colour – sort of a dark brown root beer, and even the tiny metal flakes in the paint (that really gleam in the sunlight) couldn’t disguise the fact that brown motorcycles look dull and uninspired under virtually every light condition you’ll encounter. The ‘orrible colour didn’t exactly compliment the styling either, but then I’m wondering what colour would.


It’s fast, comfortable, handles pretty well and with a 21-litre fuel tank and my measured consumption in the 5.2 – 5.4L/100km range, it has a very good fuel range. It’s a great city bike or day tripper, and throw in the optional Kawasaki hard bags and topbox and you’ve got yerself a pretty decent long-distance cruise missile that won’t wallow and lurch its way through the twisties.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 test
If you want to ride off into the sunset, the Versys will do the trick, as long as the road is paved. Photo: Kawasaki

Even at that, the Versys 1000 is a bit of a puzzler to me. I like that, unlike others in the class that sport 19-inch front wheels, it has no off-road aspirations whatsoever. More sporty tourer than adventurer.

But overall, it doesn’t do anything that a 1250 Bandit, a Honda CBF1000 or even Kawasaki’s own Ninja 1000 doesn’t do. And at $13,999, it and the Ninja carry the highest sticker price of that group. The 1250 Bandit and Honda’s CBF1000 are a significant two grand less.


Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.


Bike 2012 Kawasaki Versys 1000 (unchanged for 2013)
MSRP $13,999
Displacement 1043 cc
Engine type Inline four, DOHC, four-valve heads, 6-speed
Power (crank)* 118 hp
Torque* 86 lbs-ft
Tank Capacity 21 litres
Carburetion EFI
Final drive Chain
Tires, front 120/70 ZR17
Tires, rear 180/55 ZR17
Brakes, front Dual 300 mm semi-floating petal discs
Brakes, rear Single 250 mm semi floating petal disc
Seat height 845 mm (33.3 in.)
Wheelbase 1520 mm (59.8 in)
Wet weight* 229 kg (527 lbs)
Colours Steve’s test model was brown – 2013 models available in black or orange.
Warranty One year
* claimed


  1. I think it’s a great bike, if a little fugly. But drawing a comparison to the GSX1250FA and the CBF1000 isn’t really fair. Neigher of those two bikes have the comfort for the passenger that the Versys does. The real comparison should be to the V-Strom DL1000, who should be super excited about this bike…finally one uglier than itself…how do you make an ugly person look good, stand them next to an even less attractive person…

    All joking aside, these are the types of bikes that might get me off my MT-01…but not quite yet.


  2. What is this bike supposed to be? Marketed as an ‘adventure/tourer’ but with zero off road capability. As to styling, nuff said already except to add that the 17″ front wheel looks completely out of proportion re the adventure styled front end and that rad looks so big it could have come from a 1976 Chevy!

  3. It could be the best bike ever, but no way I could ever get over the looks of that thing. Theft probably won’t be a factor though!

    • Bondo, the SUV comparison is very apt, that is what an ‘adventure’ class bike is these days (regardless of manufacturer) and should be reviewed in that context. I your adventure requires more off-road ability then you need an off-road motorcycle modified to be capable of travelling longer distances. Most of those motorcycles are also ‘unique’ looking.

  4. Hi Bondo & fellow readers:
    I was thrilled to see you guys posted a review of the Versys 1000 and read the article with glee, just to be disappointed in it by the way you present the bike. Yes, I admit I absolutely dig the Versys 1000, maybe because I had a 650 for 3 years. What bothered me (and does so in other magazines) is the fact you went on and on about its looks. This does nothing for anyone, as it is totally subjective and a more objective approach in writing about a bike may be better. This doesn’t mean you should withhold your “personal” opinion on its look, but just note it and move on instead of overshadowing this report with this information. As the old saying goes: “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all”


  5. Does Kawasaki actually employ a designer? seriously! when was the last time you herd someone say ” wow that new kawasaki looks amazing” Their bikes often perform as well if not better than the competition but they seem to have zero clue how to add an ounce of style. Could we start with not making the bags look like they were bolted to the side of the bike by a guy named Biff in his shed.

    • Hey, Biff happens to be a very good friend of mine! What it is you got a generation of college graduates who have never touched a wrench. I had one of my bikes for sale and some kid called, he was 17 or 18, didn’t know the difference between a 2 stroke and a 4 stroke.

  6. In principle this bike has everything I’ve asked for – torquey, yet reasonably powerful modern inline-4 engine, comfortable riding position, adjustable suspension, etc. Unfortunately, it’s been badly beaten with the ugly stick, and I say that as a V-Strom owner (the Strom is downright handsome by comparison). Also, the seat did not strike me as a very comfortable place to spend time when I tried it out at the bike show.

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