Kawasaki launched their Versys 1000 with great fanfare, but is it up to the job? Kevin Ash finds out.
There’s an odd thing happening in the adventure bike class. The entire category has been created and defined by BMW’s GS series, sales of the current R1200GS are huge, yet with almost every new bike pitching into this sector, we’re told it’s not a BMW GS rival.
So it is with Kawasaki’s new Versys 1000, which can never be a true GS competitor as it has no off-road ability. The main reason for this is the bike is closely based on a pure road bike, the existing Z1000, including the frame and engine as well as many minor components. The engine has been reworked to increase the spread of torque in the lower reaches of the rev band, which means a reduction in maximum horsepower that few riders will miss and more useful thrust at normal speeds without constant recourse to the gearbox. You still get a useful 116bhp and the weight isn’t excessive at 527lb (239kg) fuelled up, so it’s never going to be sluggish, the worry with this kind of retune is that very often the gains fail to compensate for the horsepower loss.
Not so with the Versys, the revised motor is one of the more satisfying ones to be in charge of, highlighted on the steep and sinuous roads of the Tenerife presentation where we eventually climbed to 7,500 feet (2300m) at a very hot pace. Tight turns, dramatic climbs and thinning air all failed to defeat the muscular motor which drives strongly from not much above idle and responds eagerly to the twistgrip. It’s smooth to around 6,000rpm when the Z1000 irritation of buzzing vibration kicks in, although it’s not as extensive or annoying on the Versys. It’d be better without it though as it comes through all your contact points with the bike and on a long motorway cruise it could cause numb fingers.
Economy is claimed to be up to 16 per cent better than the thirsty Z1000’s, and though it doesn’t sound impressive, the 39mg my bike was returning was very good considering the caning the bike was getting, especially as much of the riding was in the lower gears and uphill too. I’d expect at least 45mpg in more everyday riding, even up to 50mpg, which means the Versys has a class-leading tank range of at least 210 miles, possibly up to 250, which has big appeal in this class.
The frame has been modified during its move from the Z1000, gaining additional bracing around the engine and a shallower steering angle to improve stability, a move needed because of the taller suspension which would otherwise make the bike wobbly at high speeds. On the whole it works very well, the Versys 1000 steers rapidly and dives into corners eagerly and is easily the most agile bike in the class.
What a shame then that the front forks are poorly damped and provide inadequate feedback. This is a real surprise as they’re a new design from respected Japanese company KYB (formerly Kayaba) featuring additional valving to improve damping in the transition from compression to extension, and vice versa. But the reality is, you end up cornering on faith rather than feel, while the ride quality on bumpy roads at speed is poor, the front end of the bike giving you a sensation of looseness and lack of proper wheel control.
When you’re taking it easy it’s not such an issue, although the most direct rival, the Triumph Tiger 1050, puts the Versys to shame with its ride quality. But push the Kawasaki hard and start to pine for decent front suspension to highlight the exceptional ability of the rest of the chassis.
In other respects the Versys does very well what it’s supposed to. It’s easy to take advantage of that big tank range as comfort is so good, for rider and passenger alike. The seat has a gel-like quality that’s very accommodating, while the riding position is upright and spacious, protected by an adjustable screen that removes enough wind pressure for sustained high speeds without undue turbulence. The dash is comprehensive too, providing information on ambient temperature, instant and average fuel consumption, range remaining plus the usual.
In all, it’s an excellent package at such an extremely good price – bear in mind Kawasaki’s state-of-the-art traction control and ABS come as standard – it’s well worth considering despite the front suspension or tingling vibes, It is, after all, not only a very competent motorcycle, it’s a huge amount of fun.
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|Model tested||Kawasaki Versys 1000|
|Engine||Four cylinder, liquid cooled, dohc 16v, 1043cc|
|Power||116bhp @ 9,000rpm|
|Torque||75lb.ft @ 7,700rpm|
|Tank/Range||4.7 gallons (21.5 litres) / 210 miles min|
|Transmission||Six gears, wet multi-plate clutch, chain final drive|
|Chassis||Aluminium twin spar|
|Seat height||33.3in (845mm)|
|Rake/trail||27° / 4.2in (107mm)|
|Weight||527lb (239kg) wet|