I’ve written before of the vexed issue of rider expectation when buying a so-called ‘adventure tourer’ – how sometimes a bike manufacturer’s marketing (all wild, ‘Bear Grylls-esque’ locations and high-action, two-wheeled drama) can lead a buyer to believe they’re buying themselves the ultimate ‘go anywhere’ machine. Fact is, the big-bore heavyweights in this category can be a real handful on any terrain more extreme than a decent dirt road, where at the very least they demand a skilled rider behind the ’bars – the combination of inexperience, 300-odd kilos of man and machine and a rough, remote location is asking for trouble.
So when I recently took delivery of Kawasaki’s Versys 1000 – a bike that first appeared on the scene in 2012 – I was pleased to see its promotional blurb pushing a bike, “designed to enable the greatest riding enjoyment in the widest variety of street-riding situations”. In essence it’s a road bike but one with decent suspension travel that’s built to cope with the rigours of less-then-perfect tarmac, while delivering high comfort for long days in the saddle. If that makes it sound like the ideal bike for touring Australia, it’s because it is.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
The Versys 1000 formula is pretty simple. Kawasaki has wrapped a twin-tube aluminium frame around a retuned (or detuned, for cup-half-empty types) version of the in-line four found in the 2012-spec version of the marque’s flagship streetfighter, the Z1000. To that end, it’s a very different beast to its smaller sibling, the Versys 650 ABS, which is powered by a parallel-twin.
The bike is suspended by a 43mm inverted Kayaba fork at the front and a ‘horizontal back-link’ monoshock at the rear, both adjustable for preload and rebound, while a Tokico braking package comprises twin four-piston stoppers up front and a single-piston job down the back. Petal discs all round and ABS as standard complete the picture.
While the Versys 1000 may at first appear like a pretty simple all-rounder, in actual fact it’s packed with clever electronics. The goodies include the aforementioned ABS – the same Bosch system as used on the ZX-10R – plus KTRC (Kawasaki traction control), a multi-function ride computer and a choice of two ride modes. The ABS is permanently on – somewhat limiting any off-road potential – while the ride modes and traction control can be accessed and changed ‘on the fly’ via the dedicated switch on the left-hand handlebar.
The ride mode can be switched between full power and what is effectively a rain mode, the latter offering a softer throttle response and cutting peak power and torque by around 25 per cent. There are three traction control settings, with level one offering the least intervention and level three the most. The traction control can also be turned off.
The on-board ride computer can be cycles through two trip meters, an odometer, average fuel consumption, actual fuel consumption, range to empty, and a clock. The ambient temperature is also display, with a digital speedo complementing the analogue tacho. While the seat and footpegs aren’t adjustable, the windscreen is manually adjustable to one of three height settings.
TIME TO RIDE
Approaching the Versys 1000 is looks like a big, substantial motorcycle, and that’s borne out by the stats – with a 239kg wet weight and a 1520mm wheelbase is is a big bike. At 845mm the seat height is quite tall and it’s fairly broad too, meaning anyone of average height or below may struggle to get a foot down. While it’s a heavy enough beast to push around in the drive, the chunky pillion grabrails and the broad handlebar are a big help when it comes to manhandling.
Pressing the starter sees the 1043cc fuel-injected in-line four spark into life, albeit with a less-than-inspiring note from the massive, rather ugly muffler. That note doesn’t improve much when underway, and I’m sure an aftermarket can will be high on many buyers’ shopping lists. The cable clutch is light and the gearbox snicks into first smoothly and sweetly, then it only requires a small handful of revs to launch eagerly off the line.
Man, what an engine! It’s a real highlight in this package and it’s incredibly smooth in the way it churns out its gobs of torque. Kawasaki has cut a significant amount of peak power and torque from the unit as it’s found in the Z1000 – we’re talking 116.4hp (86.8kW) at 9000rpm and 102Nm at 7700rpm in the Versys 1000 compared to 136hp (101kW) at 9600rpm and 110Nm at 7800rpm for the Zed Thou’ – but Team Green reckons the Versys 1000 is actually stronger than the streetfighter in the low-to-mid rev range. Forget the numbers, the Versys 1000 charges hard from just off idle, and while it does indeed offer stonking grunt through to its midrange, it continues to pull hard right the way through to its 10,000rpm indicated redline.
It’s virtually devoid of vibration until 5000rpm, but the vibes you do feel from that point on don’t annoy, rather they add an aggressive edge to the bike’s character. Besides, on this bike at 5000rpm and above you’ll be having too much fun to notice them. At 100km/h in sixth the bike is pulling just 3750rpm but it’s still got plenty of grunt on tap for fast overtakes – it’s a superb, flexible unit.
The fuel injection has dual throttle valves to smooth response and it’s thoroughly sorted. While the reduced power mode softens the throttle response further, to be honest I never found the bike to be jerky in full power mode, even when trickling along in heavy traffic and making tiny throttle adjustments at lower constant speeds.
SORTED AND STABLE
The chassis and suspension is just as sorted, providing a stable platform whether you’re cruising or tearing up the twisties. Adjustment of the Kayaba fork and monoshock’s preload and rebound is all easily accessed and in general it offers a smooth, compliant but sporty ride. Even under hard brakes the fork remains thoroughly composed, compressing in a measured manner rather than diving like a submarine under surface attack. Which brings me to the bike’s brakes…
The twin four-piston Tokico calipers up front are brilliant, offering heaps of power, decent initial bite, and oodles of feedback. Together with the responsive rear anchor, they haul the Versys 1000 down from speed with impressive haste. The ABS is effective and unobtrusive – and a reassuring safety net.
With that long 1520mm wheelbase, hefty bulk and rangy 27-degree rake, the Versys 1000 has an emphasis on stability rather than outright agility. Still, despite this it cuts a very nice line through the bends, where it defies its spec sheet and actually feels reasonably nimble. The wide ’bars give the pilot a heap of leverage when swinging through the bends and the combination of the long-travel suspension (150mm front and rear) and the ever-competent Pirelli Scorpion Trail tyres deliver excellent ground clearance and plenty of sporting thrills.
The traction control is a very welcome feature, allowing you to tailor the ride to the prevailing conditions and/or your mood. I loved level one in particular – on a dirt road this allows you to hang the rear out a little through the bends, without fear of the back wheel overtaking the front. It’s a neat safety feature on the blacktop too, during any sporting sprint.
While those wide bars and the size of the bike mean you can climb all over it like it’s a jungle gym in the twisties, in cruise mode it’s tailor made for life on the long haul. The seat may be high, but that also means it delivers a commanding view over the tin-tops and the perch itself is wide and accommodating for both rider and pillion. The ride position is bolt upright and roomy, with an easy stretch to the ’bars. I’d happily set out on a lap of Oz on this machine. The windscreen effectively punches a hole through the air and it’s a piece of proverbial to tie a bag down on the pillion perch. With a few extras in place – topbox, panniers, centrestand, auxiliary plug and heated handlebar grips – the Versys 1000 would be a top touring bike. Mind you, there are a few bucks there in that little lot…
It would be a superb touring bike, save for one black mark – fuel range. The Versys 1000 returned an average fuel economy of 17.3km/lt while in my care, and with a 21-litre tank that spells an effective range of around 340km. Now that’s not a bad figure per se, but for a bike this comfortable it’s a good 50-60km short of what it could be. It’s a shame the boffins couldn’t squeeze a few more litres into that tank, but maybe I’m just greedy.
Other gripes? Only that the ‘range to empty’ feature switches off when the bike hits reserve, meaning you lose that info when you need it most. Many other models retain this feature no matter how low the fuel drops, and it’s a handy thing to have when you’re pushing the limits to the next servo. Oh, and those mirrors are pretty darn wide. Although they give a good view to the rear they do blur just a little, but they really do hamper the bike when it comes to lane-splitting in heavy traffic. In that respect it’s not the ideal commuter, not that Kawasaki’s engineers ever intended it to be.
Not that it’s a criticism as such, but because it’s so smooth, grunty and comfortable, the Versys 1000 is deceptively fast. To that end it’s a real licence burner – you’ll need to keep a close eye on that speedo in camera-infested Oz…
THE BOTTOM LINE
At $15,999, the Versys 1000 represents a lot of bike for the money. It looks like a clear winner given that its natural competitor, Triumph's Tiger 1050 SE, is nearly $500 more at $16,490, but when you consider the latter comes with ABS and factory panniers (and handguards), the Versys 1000 loses its advantage. Then again, the Tiger doesn’t have traction control, so it’s less than clear cut. A Kawasaki promotion will also see anyone who buys a Versys 1000 before March 28, 2013, get $1000 'cash back'. Still, if touring is high on your agenda, you’ll need to splash out for luggage and some other long-haul niceties. Regardless of the dollars, anyone who buys a Versys 1000 will revel in its comfort and practicality. Rather than being an adventure tourer that doesn’t quite live up to its manufacturer’s claims, the Versys 1000 in fact surpasses them.
SPECS: KAWASAKI VERSYS 1000
Type: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, DOHC, 16-valve, in-line, four-cylinder
Compression ratio: 10.3:1
Fuel system: Electronic fuel injection
Maximum power: 116.4hp (86.8kW) at 9000rpm
Maximum torque: 102Nm at 7700rpm
Final drive: Chain
CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame type: Aluminium twin tube with steel subframe
Front suspension: Kayaba USD 43mm telescopic fork, adjustable for preload and rebound
Rear suspension: Kayaba monoshock, adjustable for preload and rebound
Front brakes: Twin 300mm petal disc with four-piston Tokico calipers, ABS equipped
Rear brake: Single 250mm petal disc with single-piston Tokico caliper, ABS equipped
Tyres: Pirelli Scorpion Trail
Sizes: Front 120/70-17, rear 180/55-17
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Claimed kerb weight: 239kg
Seat height: 845mm
Fuel capacity: 21 litres
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres