Kawasaki Versys X-300: You little beauty
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The compact adventure class has its road warrior in the form of the Kawasaki Versys-X 300. With the class scattered across the adventure touring spectrum, this Kawasaki places itself firmly at the more road-biased end of the spectrum.
Based around the brilliant 296cc parallel twin from the Ninja 300, the Versys-X is a whole lot of motorcycle if the idea of a bit of adventure on a tight budget takes your fancy.
Entering the market at the sharp price of $8995, there’s a lot to like about the baby Versys. You’ve got a tried-and-true engine, proper touring ergonomics and decent rider protection, all wrapped in a manageable package for even the entry-level riders.
Producing 29kW at 11,500rpm, the powerplant resting between the steel backbone frame loves to rev and, with a ceiling above 12,000rpm, if you love the sound of a motor on song, the little Versys will not disappoint.
Its peak power number may not sound like a lot, it has to push only 175kg of the bike (plus you) and, if you opt for the official Kawasaki luggage to strap to the sturdy factory rear rack, all your gear, too.
I would wager the little Versys is even slightly more capable in a variety of situations than its larger-capacity stable mates. With a spoked 19-inch front wheel, hitting a gravel road isn’t the same daunting handful as the sports touring-focused Versys 650 or 1000.
Although Kawasaki has made it clear this is no GS slayer — the little Versys is “not designed for off-road use” as they say — it does mean coming across a gravel road won’t cause you to look for other options and, as I found out during my all-too-short time with it, the little Kawasaki is more than happy to keep going when the road gets rough, and then some.
It does, however, look the part, and Kawasaki has designed the bodywork to keep the rider comfortable.
The windscreen keeps a decent amount of air off you, while the cowling around the engine not only shields your legs from wind but directs away heat, so you won’t cook on longer rides.
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Being a road-focused machine, with a modest 130mm of travel up front and 148mm out back, you’d think the Versys-X would shy away from anything more than a gravel road — and to be honest, it probably should with its modest 180mm of ground clearance.
However, it didn’t take long before we were riding it in the mud, through puddles and over small muddy banks as if it were an all-conquering global traveller.
Sure, as much as it’s fun to muck about in the gravel with, I don’t see too many riders opting to take on the gravel roads of the world with the Versys-X.
Where I think it will shine however, is as a well-mannered daily commuter which, as soon as the clock strikes 5pm on Friday, becomes a weekend mile-muncher.
With a seat height of 815mm, the Versys-X is an accessible adventure tourer for even the short legged among us and positions the rider down into the bike, allowing most use of the non-adjustable screen.
Seat comfort is not as great as I had hoped and I would find it hard to put in a long day with the saddle as it is, out of the factory, without the aid of a sheepskin or a gel seat pad.
During a ride around the lower half of the Coromandel loop, it was soon apparent that the little Kawasaki loves to dance through corners.
The narrow bars sit at a nice height for when you’re sitting down, and despite the slightly uncomfortable seat, I was still feeling fresh at the end of the ride.
Clicking through the 6-speed gearbox revealed that despite its touring look, it is geared from the factory quite low, with over 7000rpm appearing on the analogue tachometer while cruising in top gear.
It wouldn’t hurt the bike to swap to a slightly larger rear sprocket if long-distance touring will be your bread and butter.
Although it is a fun little revvy motor, which is sure to be enjoyable in the city, you do get a bit weary of the high rpms out on the highway.
For ease of use, Kawasaki has fitted the Versys-X with a slip-and-assist clutch just like the Ninja 300.
Although it performs the same function of preventing unwanted rear-wheel lock-ups on downshifts, for some reason I felt it was too intrusive on the Versys-X for my liking and as a result seemed to mess with my rhythm when the riding got spirited.
Regardless, riders new to motorcycling will surely like the lack of rear-wheel lock-ups as they get their head around downshifting.
All-in-all, it’s a well-thought-out little machine. Despite missing the mark in a couple of places, it is more than capable to be a daily-cum-weekend warrior for many. Who said you need a big capacity engine to have a capable tourer?
2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300
Price: $8995 + on road costs
Engine: 296cc Parallel Twin
Pro: Perfect road-biased entry into the Adventure Class
Con: Seat could do with more padding