First Ride

Kawasaki 2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 - first ride

Team Green ratchets up the spec on its big-bore adventure tourer

Average: 4 (1 vote)
Handles well Loads of kit options SE is packed with excellent technology
Could use more top-end power Quickshifter isn't great

NOT MUCH as it happens. The first part, around the south of Lanzarote was a nice opener, and got me right into the Versys thou’ groove. I’m loving the comfy, commanding riding position, which feels like you could grab the ferry to Spain and ride home with total ease. The tech kit is ace, once I work out that the cruise control doesn’t have an indicator when it’s active. Some bugger turned the heated grips on at the photo location, so my blistered digits can testify that they work very well in 22° sunshine. And I manage to work my way through the various LCD dash display modes, riding modes, trip computer functions and all the rest of the features nicely enough.

As we wait for the Fred Olsen ferry to arrive, I’ve got a couple of niggles though. The windscreen is adjustable, which is a good thing, but it uses a pair of knobs either side, which you need to unscrew to slide the screen up and down, then tighten again. My Tracer 900 long termer has a one-handed clip system that’s much easier to use, and the Versys would be far better with something similar to avoid trying to loosen the right-hand knob with your clutch hand (or having to stop, boooh).

I’ve also worked out how to tweak the traction control and suspension settings, which requires the customisable ‘Rider’ riding mode to be activated. That’s buried a bit in the menu, and when you do activate it, the dash readout is transformed totally, showing you all the power, traction, ABS and suspension settings. Now, this is fine – but this new readout takes up the space in the lower half of the screen that's used to show you all the other trip computer functions, including trip, range remaining, lean angle, fuel consumption etc. No matter what I tried – and the Kawasaki Europe techs were flummoxed too – I couldn’t get those vital readouts to appear in ‘Rider’ mode at all. So when you use the custom riding mode, you lose a big chunk of essential rider info. It’s a bit of a handicap actually, and something I’d hope would be fixed by a software update. The standard three riding modes – Road, Sport, Rain – are fine. But the whole point of a customisable mode is to use it, and as it is, losing a load of dash info makes the custom mode much less useful, for no good reason I can see.

I’m about to be massively cheered up by the Versys though, thanks to a fabulous solo ride around Fuerteventura. Within minutes of riding off the ferry, I’m up in the mountains on some of the best roads I’ve ridden in a long time. Super-smooth, warm asphalt, almost no traffic, stunning scenery – and a very slick-handling bike. I’m pushing the Versys far beyond what most owners will do most of the time, riding it like a sportsbike, and it’s working really well. The low-down grunt pulls you out of slow bends like a traction engine, that light steering lends a definite agility to proceedings, and the T31 rubber has oodles of grip and feedback (although it is working in optimal conditions here – I’d like to see how it copes in a colder, damper environment). The new brakes are strong, progressive, and let you modulate corner entry speed incredibly well, while the cornering ABS doesn’t miss a beat either. The Showa suspension is spot-on, and the lean angle display soon creeps up towards a wild 50°… I arrive at the hotel a couple of hours later, with one block on the fuel gauge, an average of 34.8mpg, and 48°L / 49°R showing on the lean-o-meter.

The Dowds grin-o-meter is also bouncing off the redline – I’ve had a right old laugh on this bike today. Sitting down for a beer, though, I’ve got one or two little grumbles. The engine is nice and smooth, with decent low-down urge, but is a bit on the wheezy side up top. Peak power of 120bhp from a 1,043cc inline-four was okay a decade ago, but is way down on the competition nowadays. BMW’s bonkers S1000 XR inline-four has 45bhp more, and even the bigger 1200cc+ V-twins from Ducati and KTM have 40bhp more. Bonus fact: even the wobbly old Boxer twin engine on the R1250 GS is 16bhp beefier.

Add on the considerable mass of the Versys (257kg for the SE ready-to-ride) and you have a slightly sub-optimal power-weight ratio. I definitely found myself wanting more from the engine on the odd piece of dual carriageway we rode on – you open the throttle at 80mph in top and get that ‘waaaaa’ intake noise without much in the way of instant top-end drive. And that’s without adding on a pillion and a serious amount of luggage. It’s even more of a surprise when you consider how Kawasaki has set its store on powerful engines all through its history – and the current crop of supercharged behemoths. If the Versys 1000 had engine performance more like the awesome H2SX or the mighty ZX-10R, it would be near-perfect for me.

We’re up early next morning, and have a very chilled 7:30am ride to the ferry. With a slightly fuddled mind, the Versys is a lovely place to relax into and simply whisks you along, magic-carpet-style to where you want to be. We’ve got a long old day ahead of us, ending up at Gatwick airport later tonight, so I’m grateful for the easy start.

So - has Kawasaki done enough to the Versys to match the best in class? In many ways, yes. As an adventure-styled touring machine, it’s comfy, superbly-equipped, and has good chassis performance. It’s also priced close to the competition: the top-end Grand Touring SE version we’re riding is a whisker over £16k, which is about on-par for something like a BMW S1000XR with luggage and a heap of tech toys.

As a jaded old superbike fan, always desperate for more power, I’m less convinced about the engine. But if you’re not so bothered about top-end power, the Versys is very much worth a look. Top dog? It's certainly much closer than it was...


1,043cc inline-four motor unchanged, apart from ride-by-wire throttle valves, to allow cruise control. 120bhp is quite a low tune from a litre-plus four these days, but it’s got a smooth, flexible delivery.


Cast aluminium twin-spar design passes over the top of the engine to keep things narrow.


Stock bike has rebound and preload-adjust forks and shock, with a remote preload adjuster for the shock. SE version has Showa electronically-adjustable semi-active suspension, with a manual fork preload adjuster, and a motorised preload adjuster on the rear shock.


Z1000-style calipers up front – now radial-mounted four-piston units – with IMU-assisted cornering ABS.


Kawasaki launched its ‘Rideology’ smartphone app on this gig, which connects to the SE Versys via a Bluetooth chip in the dash. The app lets you upload setting changes, and you can also log trip data on the phone. It’s an interesting setup, though didn’t seem to be totally finished yet – the Android version isn’t available at the moment, and some functions seemed to be blocked. It looks like a setup full of potential though, and once it’s fully up and running, will be a really interesting addition to the Versys experience (the app also works with Kawasaki’s other high-end models).


Kawasaki UK reckons it will sell 65 per cent SE and 35 per cent standard models – so most folk seem happy to pay the extra for the posh versions. The SE is a big step up – you get cornering lights, colour dash, electronic suspension, and the self-healing anti-scratch paint, none of which can be fitted to the stocker. The SE also comes with a load of stuff which is an optional extra-cost fit on the base bike: quickshifter, tall screen, hot grips and handguards. It’s also the only one that comes in the special metallic green colourway.


Kawasaki is offering Touring and Grand Touring editions of the base and SE models. The Touring adds panniers, pannier bags, handguards and tankpad, the Grand Touring adds a top box, GPS bracket, fog lamps and frame crash protectors.



Cash Price


Total Amount of Credit

Agreement Duration

Annual Mileage

Monthly Repayments

Optional Final Repayment

Total Amount 







37 Months





6.3% APR





37 Months





6.3% APR





37 Months





6.3% APR





37 Months





6.3% APR





37 Months





6.3% APR





37 Months





6.3% APR

SPECS [SE model in square brackets]

Price: £11,342 (base model), £16,042 (SE GT otr)

Engine: DOHC 16v, inline-four, l/c, 1,043cc

Bore x stroke: 77x56mm

Compression ratio: 10.3:1

Max power (claimed) 120bhp@9,000rpm

Max torque (claimed) 75ft lb@7,500rpm

Transmission: six speed gearbox, wet slipper assist clutch, chain drive

Frame: aluminium twin-tube diamond type 

Front suspension: 43mm USD fork, rebound and preload adjustable [KECS electronic Showa semi-active fork]

Rear suspension: aluminium swingarm, monoshock, rebound damping and remote preload-adjuster [KECS electronic semi-active Showa shock]

Brakes: twin 310mm discs, four-piston radial calipers (front), 250mm disc, single-piston caliper (rear), cornering ABS.

Wheels/tyres: cast aluminium/Bridgestone T31, 120/70 17 front, 180/55 17 rear

Rake/trail: 27°/106mm

Wheelbase: 1,520mm

Kerb weight : 253kg [257kg]

Fuel capacity: 21 litres

Equipment: IMU-based traction control and cornering ABS, cruise control, four power modes (one customisable), manual adjustable windscreen. SE has colour dash, electronic semi-active suspension, integrated rider modes with suspension, stock quickshifter (accessory on stock bike), cornering lights, heated grips, and hand guards

Handles well Loads of kit options SE is packed with excellent technology
Could use more top-end power Quickshifter isn't great

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