Kawasaki’s Versys-X 300 exists for one simple reason—to take away your last excuse. Now there isn’t any reason you can’t put an adventure bike in the garage between your motocrosser and your trail bike. The Versys is legitimate, long-haul hardware capable of crossing continents alongside your Multistrada-mounted buddies. You might not get to any given destination at the exact same time, but it’s unclear who will be waiting for whom.
There’s a trend towards microadventure that’s gaining momentum. Most aging dirt bike riders are drawn to the adventure riding concept, but not at the cost of selling off everything and going all in. The barriers to entry, however, are tumbling down this year. BMW has the G310GS, Honda has the CRF250L Rally and Kawasaki has the Versys-X 300. All are based on some other model in the line. In the case of the Kawasaki, the other model is the wildly successful Ninja 300 sport bike, which sells for under $5000. The Versys-X version is upscaled in every way. It’s a bigger bike—2 inches longer and 2 inches taller. The suspension is longer, although still not especially impressive at under 6 inches. The Versys has a 17-inch rear wheel and a 19 in front, which lends itself to a wide selection in tires. And, the riding position is much more upright and dirt-oriented than the Ninja’s. The Versys gets a decent-sized fixed windscreen, a small luggage rack and a 5.7-gallon tank. At the heart of both bikes is a double-overhead-cam, twin-cylinder motor with a 12,750-rpm redline. The real news here is the price. Kawasaki offers the base-model Versys-X for $5399 ($5699 with ABS). Even the Honda CRF250L Rally is over $400 more. You could own a current motocross bike, a two-stroke enduro bike and the Versys for less than the price of a well-equipped BMW R1200GS.
SPIN IT TO WIN IT
Obviously, Kawasaki built the Versys-X with price as the number-one priority, and because this is the real world, you have to give up something. It’s not the most powerful motorcycle on the market. It might, however, be the most powerful 300cc street bike you can buy. The Versys doesn’t make very much torque, but the motor builds and builds. Somewhere long after the Honda Rally signs off, the Kawasaki just starts to get going. Stay with it a little longer and you get your reward. The Kawi actually moves out if you rev the living daylights out of it. It’s much more powerful than the Honda Rally that we tested two months ago, and it’s rated at 39 horsepower, whereas the BMW 310 is 34 and the Europe-only Suzuki V-Strom 250 is under 25. The Kawasaki is the horsepower king of the small-displacement street-legal group until you start talking about the much more expensive KTM and Husky 250 dual-sport bikes.
The Kawasaki is such a screamer that you feel like you’re racing all the time. Every stoplight is followed by a full-moto start and a drag-race-worthy run through the gears. On the highway in sixth gear, the engine is spinning about 8000 rpm, which sounds like you’re on the banks of Daytona. There’s a faint vibration through the handlebar at high revs, but the bike still feels tight. Kawasaki gave the Versys a fairly simple version of a slipper clutch, which reduces engine braking. You only notice this when you’re really screaming the bike and bang down a couple of gears for a corner. The clutch itself has a very light pull but a slightly abrupt engagement.
We didn’t know what to expect for fuel range. When you routinely rev a bike to this level, it seems like it could drain a tank quickly. As it turns out, the Versys get mileage that’s fairly ordinary; typically in the mid 50s. You can still go a long way on the 5.7-gallon tank.
You can tell from the outset that off-road wasn’t the number-one priority for the X 300. Like all of Kawasaki’s Versys models, it’s heavily tilted towards pavement riding, although we have to say that the 300 is more comfortable off-road than the 650. The riding position is a little more upright, and standing on the pegs is more natural. The bars are high and the footpegs have a little grip if you remove the rubber inserts. The seat, on the other hand, is very low, so the transition from sitting to standing is like an especially painful Pilates exercise. The seat itself isn’t very substantial, either, but there is a taller Kawasaki option, and we know that Seat Concepts already has the bike covered.
The suspension is very basic. The bike can handle most of the ruts and bumps you encounter on decomposed dirt roads as long as you aren’t going real fast. Kawasaki clearly wanted to keep the seat height low on this bike to appeal to smaller riders. That means you sacrifice ground clearance as well as suspension. If you really want to upgrade the suspension, we’re sure that Ohlins, Touratech and Race Tech are working on shocks and modifications, but you have to keep that tendency in check. Remember, this is a $5000 bike, so it doesn’t make sense to spend another $2000 on suspension.
The Versys-X is perfectly at home on smooth dirt, and it’s much lighter than it looks. Kawasaki did make an effort to keep the motor’s vitals well protected. There’s a plastic engine guard, and the engine is narrow enough that there isn’t much stuff in harm’s way. In a fall-over, the fairing might take some damage, but the pipe has a decent guard. The 7/8-inch steel handlebar will bend easily.
Long ago Kawasaki learned something that other manufacturers seem slow to realize—a sturdy luggage rack is incredibly valuable. That’s half the secret to the KLR650’s success. The Versys has a burly steel luggage rack that acts to protect various parts of the bike in a fall and is a great platform for accessories. Kawasaki has its own line of bags, and there are more on the way from others. Kawasaki also has options like a center stand, handguards, crash bars and stuff. All the adventure bike manufacturers figured out long ago that everyone likes add-on goodies.
Right now it’s unclear if the Versys-X 300 will be embraced by the adventure bike world or if it will sell mostly to commuters and students. Kawasaki put real effort into this bike, and it deserves a higher place in the motorcycle hierarchy than other bikes in this price range. You can’t expect to take it on real trail rides with full-blooded dirt bikes, but you can plan out cross-country adventures that include mountain fire roads and just about any road that’s worthy of a gray line on a map. And at this price, you can do it without giving up anything else in your garage.