Kawasaki’s slogan for its new adventure-ready Versys-X 300, “Any Road, Any Time,” ought to include “Any Rider” too, because this little bike will be a sure friend to all, especially beginners and those looking for a smaller motorcycle to tackle big intentions.
But don’t be confused. Just because the Versys-X is lightweight and easy to ride doesn’t mean it’s short on capability. When I arrived in Utah for Kawasaki’s introduction of the bike I didn’t know what to expect. I actually felt a little ambivalent because I thought I’d probably been picked from the staff of my magazine because I’m the only woman onboard and the editor thought this might be a not-so-fun “girl’s bike.”
Editor’s Note: Jamie was covering the launch of the Versys-X 300 for another magazine, but because she’s so awesome she agreed to give Woman Rider a dedicated personal review of the bike as well.
Turns out this new bike is a “girl’s bike,” and it’s also a badass bitch’s bike that can have you flying down the highway smoothly at 100mph and riding circles around heavier bikes around town. And in the dirt? It will keep pace with all those hulking adventure bikes on the ruttiest of dirt roads, no problem. It’s a little bike with a very big personality, and it does just about everything well.
Beginning with aesthetics. The Versys-X 300 comes off as rugged, but in a trim, sophisticated way. Its profile is narrow and sporty while its spoked wheels and rally-style windscreen hint of dirty intentions. Candy Lime Green is definitely more striking than the blend-into-the-crowd ebony edition, and adding a few of Kawasaki’s Genuine Accessories, say the black engine guards, auxiliary lighting kit and brush guards take this Versys to the next level of cool.
But as we all know, looks aren’t everything. Credibility comes from having the right disposition, and the Versys-X packs a surprising punch of performance. The liquid-cooled parallel twin, borrowed from Kawasaki’s Ninja 300, is high-revving, with a redline of 12,000 rpm. However, because it’s tuned for low- to mid-range torque, its power band is vast, spooling up nicely just off idle, around 2,000 rpm, and staying taut all the way to redline. This means it’s a cinch to smoothly control acceleration because power is readily available in any gear.
It also means gear selection is less of a chore than you’d expect from such a high-revving engine. And to make shifting further dummy-proof, power from the engine is released to the chain drive and finally, the rear wheel, via a very ingenious clutch system that utilizes both an assist and slipper cam. Basically the slipper cam comes into play if you downshift too early by forcing the clutch hub and operating plate apart. This keeps the rear wheel from skipping or skidding under excessive engine braking. The assist cam in turn eases the clutch hub and operating plate together when you’re shifting at normal rpm, providing a miraculously light feel at the clutch lever.
Brake feel and response is also top notch. I highly recommend buying the bike with the ABS system, which adds only $300 to the base price of $5,699. There is no reason to forgo this proven safety feature on your motorcycle, even if you plan to use the bike for some off-road riding. Very serious enthusiasts will tell you it’s a hindrance in the dirt, but hey, it you’re planning to ride this bike off road like some hot shoe, it’s not the right bike in the first place.
The Versys-X 300 is easy to manage in all conditions. It’s exceptionally smooth and stable at real-world freeway speeds, and also remarkably comfortable, even for long rides, with roomy-feeling ergonomics and adequate wind protection.
Cornering is easy, uncomplicated fun, though don’t expect to be slingshotting any apexes. Power is not dramatic at any rpm, though it is more than adequate. And really, it’s very satisfying to ride a bike that you can use to its full potential. So many bikes on the market have ridiculous power reserves, which require constant restraint and offer little forgiveness when mismanaged. Suspension on the Versys-X 300 is also very obedient and offers longish travel (5.1 inches in front and 5.8 out back) to keep the bike rough-road ready. The suspension is very tuned to rider inputs, whether at the handlebar or through a shift in seating position, and responds with reassuring feedback.
As for fit, the Versys-X 300 is a small, lightweight bike, sure, but its seat height of 32.1 inches is only comparatively low, meaning you won’t find many stock dual-sport bikes with that low a saddle. The 300 features a narrow frame and a seat designed to be very slim in the front to make it even easier to get your feet on the ground. The stock seat is a real bun-grinder though, so maybe consider an aftermarket saddle, which can be an easy fix for seat height too.
After two long days in Utah riding the Versys-X 300 in every conceivable situation—bum-burning long stretches, twisties and sweepers, alpine passes, rocky fire roads and lots of low-speed tootling around the crowded state parks—I was completely enamored. This bike has such good manners. Perfect for newer riders, yet plenty of fun for veterans, and so flexible you can aspire to ride it anywhere.
Literally, “Any Road, Any Time.” And if you’re fortunate the “Any Rider” will be you.
2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300 Specs
Base Price: $5,399
Price As Tested: $5,699 (ABS)
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse, parallel twin, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 62.0 x 49.0mm
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 57.1 in.
Rake/Trail: 24.3 degrees/4.3 in.
Seat Height: 32.1 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 386 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gals.