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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
The long-travel suspension makes for a very comfy ride, although on stretches of bumpy pavement, it tends to get a bit choppy.
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.
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.
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.
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)|
|Engine type||Inline four, DOHC, four-valve heads, 6-speed|
|Power (crank)*||118 hp|
|Tank Capacity||21 litres|
|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.|