2017 Versys-X 300 review
Jumping the Versys-X produced a loud plastic-sounding noise from the rear. I looked all over for signs of rubbing but could not find anything. I assumed the Kawasaki PR guys would probably get pissed off because they feel the Versys is a street bike. I did my jumping in private.Photo: Kevin Wing

I guess you could call me a Luddite. I’m having a hard time seeing the point of some new motorcycle trends. Giant-wheeled baggers with zero-degree lean angle, brat-style butcher bikes and huge, 650-pound adventure bikes. They leave me with a sneaking suspicion that I’m being played for a mook. We’ve been mooked before with the long, store-bought chopper fad. It’s like any minute a kid named Spike is going to yank my underwear over my head in a massive wedgie and shout, “Ha! Ha! You’ve been trolled!”

2017 Versys-X on highway
If your plans include a lot of off-roading a skid plate covering those cool ziggedy header pipes will be vital.Photo: Kevin Wing
Versys-X 300 engine
Thailand-built Ninja motor repurposed into an adventure engine. If you like Moto-GP you’ll love this engine. If you’re a big-twin fan it may take some getting used to.Photo: Kevin Wing

One mook-free trend I can endorse is the latest wave of baby adventure bikes with engine displacements hovering around the quarter-liter range. These bikes are fast enough to ride on the highway without causing a major traffic backup yet light enough to take into mild off-road situations without rending asunder the earth’s mantle. These reduced-calorie motorcycles are so right for so many riders it astounds me that no one thought of it sooner.

Kawasaki's entry into this (for me) unanticipated Sensible Motorcycle Arms Race, the Versys-X 300 sports a very un-mook like 300cc parallel-twin engine lifted from the long-legged and proven Ninja model line. Everything else on the littlest Versys is new including the frame, longish-travel suspension, and ADV-style bodywork.

Kawasaki Versys-X 300 static shot
Southern Utah has spectacular views around every corner. What you may think of the Versys styling is another matter, although the bike works so well I am growing to accept its appearance.Photo: Kevin Wing
Versys 300 exhaust
Stainless headers feed into a muffler tasked with silencing 24,000 explosions a minute at redline. And it does.Photo: Kevin Wing

Yet it’s the well-muffled engine that sets the Kawasaki apart from its single-cylinder competition. Roll the throttle on from around 4,000 rpm and a thrum of torque shivers through the seat and tank as the revs climb to 5,000. It’s a mild, cute grunt, reminiscent of a kitten arching her back in an attempt to appear larger than her foe. After 5,000 rpm business picks up and acoustic waves echo from the airbox while the crankshaft shuttles both 62mm pistons through an ultra short 49mm of stroke at 7,000 rpm. This is the only place where the slightest bit of vibration sneaks out of the engine. It’s so minor I wouldn’t mention it at all but we’re supposed to nit-pick. From 7,000 on a long, insistent scream announces that you are in the fun zone and the sky’s the limit as long as the sky is ‘round about 12,800 rpm where the rev limiter causes the bike to stumble and fart.

Versys-X 300 dash and gauge
The Versys has an easy to read dash for the most part. Some of the trip/mode indicators were so tiny I had to give it up as a bad job.Photo: Kevin Wing

If you can find a road long enough and the wind isn’t blowing too hard you’ll be traveling an indicated 102 mph at wide-open throttle in sixth gear but if you’re looking to break the sound barrier Kawasaki builds better bikes for the job. The Versys 300 trundles along sweetly with 9,000 rpm working out to be 75 mph indicated. Street manners are excellent; streaking through the twisty southern-Utah curves at speed reveals a taut, planted bike. You’ll need to get it on a race track with a better rider than me to discover any pavement handling quirks.

Kawasaki Versys front brake
A large tone-ring, paired with a 290mm disc and ABS provide plenty of stopping power. Fade resistance was not an issue at the elevations we traveled. The IRC, 100/90 Winner Gp tires did their job unnoticed, which is a good thing.Photo: Kevin Wing
Versys seat
The Versys-X 300 seat was fine for the short, 60-miles jaunts we did. A claimed 32.1-inch seat height combined with a narrow front section means my stubby, 29-inch inseam can tippy-toe both sides at a stop light.Photo: Kevin Wing

Our test bikes had Kawasaki’s optional (which adds $300 to the base price of $5,399) ABS sporting the latest in hydraulic pump miniaturization. The system worked great on pavement. Squeeze the front lever as hard as you like, mash the rear pedal down and the motorcycle comes to a sure straight stop with less notchiness than I’ve felt on other systems. It feels like the sample rate is higher allowing a finer degree of wheel motion.

Versys-X swingarm
Kawasaki’s Uni-trak rear suspension yields a claimed 5.1 inches of travel. Two pistons grab onto a 220mm disc slowing the IRC 130/80x17 tire on any surface except dirt.Photo: Kevin Wing
Versys 300 in the dirt
There was a small hill near this section that the X300 motored up without issue. First gear is low enough for plonking around the tight stuff.Photo: Kevin Wing

The Versys mini ADV is fitted with a single rear shock giving a claimed 5.8 inches of travel and a standard telescopic fork up front provides 5.1 inches of motion. This is no motocross bike but then you knew that. Kawasaki took our group of journalists on a short off-road section and the general consensus was that it handles dirt better than any 386-pound street bike ought to. While the riders waited our turns in front of Kevin Wing’s tyrannical lens I wandered off and climbed a few small hills and bounced off a rock or two all of which the Versys 300’s suspension completed without topping out or undue bottoming.

That ABS system that works so well on the street will hold you back in the dirt though. There is no way to cancel the ABS system on loose surfaces. This means grabbing a foot-full of rear brake produces a surprising response: you just keep going. I’d go as far as to say it’s dangerous except the front brake stops fairly well in the dirt. If your plans call for extensive off-roading do not spring for the ABS option.

Versys 300 on highway
Winding through Utah’s colorful canyons, the Versys was the perfect bike. Interstate highways are do-able after you acclimate to the sound of 10,000 rpm.Photo: Kevin Wing

Ergonomically the Versys fit a wide variety of riders. In stature our group ranged from just a few inches over 5 feet to more than 6 feet tall. Nobody complained about the bar/seat/peg relationship. A seat height of 32.1 inches means I could only get one foot flat on the ground but after having spent most of my life short (before that, I was miniscule) I’m used to working around the limitations of my comical 29-inch inseam.

For the sake of science I tried Kawasaki’s taller accessory seat and found it to be an exact duplicate of the stocker comfort-wise: hard-ish, flat at the back and narrow in the front. The higher seat tilted me more towards the bars, which I liked. Ultimately I went back to the stock seat for better security at a standstill. Strangely enough, some of the taller riders I spoke with also preferred the lower seat.

Versys 300 in the curve
The only time I get an elbow down is when I’m crashing so I may not be the best guy to evaluate the Versys in the curves. It handled everything I threw at it for 350 miles without a bobble.Photo: Kevin Wing

The Versys nails all the traditional ADV-motorcycle styling cues. I have not yet acquired an appreciation for the genre and I find myself in a minority growing smaller by the day. Love it or hate it that big mass of jumbled plastic up front knocks a hole the wind suitable for 33-degree temperatures without excessive buffeting. Situated above acres of black plastic a sturdy rear luggage rack comes standard. With a flat steel plate ready to drill for through-bolts the Versys rack is just begging for a milk crate.

Versys luggage rack
The nicely made rear luggage rack comes standard and has a flat metal surface for attaching all manner of overloading devices. Taillight reflector mimics LED light with a standard incandescent bulb.Photo: Kevin Wing
2017 Versys 300 in the dirt
You may want to raise the front fender a bit as it may clog in sticky mud. 17-inch and 19-inch wheels are popular sizes giving the Versys owner a wide choice in tires. The stock IRC’s did good enough on smooth dirt.Photo: Kevin Wing

I liked the view from the cockpit much better where a combination analog tach/digital dash displays all the normal information along with a dual-mode miles per gallon (spot check and average overall) an economy mode symbol that tells the rider when the bike is operating at maximum efficiency and two rubber-covered push buttons that scroll through the various functions.

Kawasaki installed a slipper clutch as standard equipment. Through some magical system of cams and ramps they’ve built the absolute lightest clutch-pull of any motorcycle I’ve ridden. The pull to the handgrip is so ridiculously easy it feels as if the cable is not connected to anything yet dropping the clutch repeatedly at 10,000 rpm in first produced nothing but wheelies. Between the easy clutch, the easy neutral finder and the easy shifting the Versys rates as one of the best cog-swappers going.

Kawasaki Versys-X 300 colors
Available in both green and grey the green pops from the surrounding scenery. Get the green one, trust me.Photo: Kevin Wing
Want more from Gresh on the Versys-X 300? Hit the PLAY button below:

With the big ADV bikes growing larger and more complex with each successive year The Luddite in me likes the relative simplicity of the Versys-X 300. If you’re feeling more and more removed from the act of motorcycle riding, if wheeling your bike out of the garage causes present traumatic stress syndrome or if Spike gave you a giant wedgie maybe it’s time to power-down and remember why you got into motorcycle riding in the first place.

The Versys 300 morphed from a small, slippery 300cc Sportbike to nearly full-sized adventure motorcycle.
PRICE $5,399
ENGINE 296cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin
FRAME Steel backbone
FRONT SUSPENSION Kayaba 37mm fork, 5.8 in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Kayaba shock adjustable for spring preload; 5.1 in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Tokico two-piston caliper, 290mm disc with ABS
REAR BRAKE Tokico two-piston caliper, 220mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 24.3°/4.3 in.
WHEELBASE 57.1 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.1 in.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 386 lb. wet
CONTACT www.kawasaki.com
Smooth, comfy, and fast enough for everyday riding with the legs to take you into the dirt, if you so desire.
Versys-X 300 bodywork
Cold temperatures on the Versys-X 300 launch kept us bundled up. I was thankful for all that goofy plastic punching a hole through 33-degree air.Photo: Kevin Wing