First Ride: Kawasaki Versys 1000 review

A four-cylinder big brother to the popular Versys 650. It's not aimed at the GS, so who is it aimed at?

Enter Kawasaki's new Versys 1000, the younger but slightly bigger and uglier brother to the Z1000 and Z1000SX. It’s a 240kg, 1043cc, four-cylinder motorcycle with 'adventure' styling. However, Kawasaki were keen to tell us 'it’s not aimed at the GS', the bike that’s been at the top of the Adventure Sport category almost since the day it was launched.

Gone are the days where you could confidently stick a new motorcycle into an established class and weigh it up against the others. Like everything else in the world; motorcycling has become increasingly complicated over the last few years and the boundaries between categories have been blurred; the Versys 1000 joins the Versys 650 in Kawasaki’s ‘Dual Purpose’ category. The other Kawasaki’s in this category include the KLX250 and D-Tracker 125, which both look like off-roaders with a numberplate. 

So how do you make a Versys 1000? First take the frame and engine from the Z1000, add long-travel suspension, a 21-litre tank, a plush seat and voila, you’re pretty much there.

The engine changes and electronics are more siginificant than the figures suggest. Even though it uses the same 1043cc engine as the Z1000, the Versys 1000’s motor has been extensively re-worked to change its character almost completely and also features adjustable power modes and Kawasaki’s KTRC traction control system. Compression has been lowered from 11.8:1 to 10.3:1 and the cam profile has been altered to reduce lift and duration. Although the Versys 1000’s outright peak power and torque is lower than that of the Z1000, the Versys 1000 gains a huge dollop of additional torque in the lower rev-range and its torque curve is much flatter than any of its siblings.

Kawasaki have changed the gearing too, with 1st and 2nd gears being shorter to get you off the line that bit quicker while 3rd to 6th gears are taller, helping increase the Versys 1000’s mpg potential and therefore its range.

Despite its visual weight, the Versys 1000 is only a few kilograms heavier than the Z1000SX. Sat on the bike it feels roomy, the seat feels like a sofa cushion, infact sat on the bike isn’t quite accurate, you feel like you’re sat in it. The way the clocks and screen are perched out infront reminds me of Yamaha’s XTZ660 Ténéré. So it’s got the comfort of a tourer with the forward view of an adventure-style bike. With 21-litres of fuel onboard, it feels weighty but that’s the price you pay if you’re after Kawasaki’s claimed 250-mile range.

Straight out onto the motorway, the Versys 1000 is happy to cruise at a ton with the engine feeling like it’s barely revving. The Z1000’s motor has been morphed into a real workhorse, you can block change straight to 6th at 20mph and roll-on without the engine feeling like it’s about to shake itself to bits. The seat feels as comfortable as Kawasaki’s flagship tourer, the GTR1400.

While the seat will help you on your way to 200-miles without worrying about petrol stations, the screen won’t. It has 30mm of manual height adjustment and while wind protection is good for an ‘adventure styled’ bike, I’d want a wider screen if I was regularly riding over 50 miles at motorway speeds.

While great at motorway cruising, the Versys 1000 wasn’t as at home on the twisty mountainous Tenerife roads at the speeds we were riding at. If you’re looking to cruise along two-up and take in the scenery, you won’t get anywhere near the Versys’ limits and you’ll be perfectly happy. Wind the pace up a bit and you’ll quickly put the Versys into uncomfortable territory.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 review

The front suspension, while perfect for racking up the miles, felt vague on switchback roads. The Versys feels like it’s sitting slightly lower at the rear, which makes weight transfer to the front that bit harder. It takes heavy braking to get the front to compress and feel positive, but the ABS chipped-in on more than a few occasions when as I started to brake hard. The forks are harder compress than you’d expect for an ‘adventure style’ motorcycle. When off the brakes, the front forks are eager to spring back to position, making the Versys 1000 feel prone to running wide. The fact the engine’s got instant torque and impeccable fuelling only highlights this, as when you tap on the power, the weight is quickly transferred to the rear.

I only weigh 10 stone, so you could factor in my weight as a bit of a problem, so to counter this, I added two more clicks of preload to the raise the rear right height, which definitely helped the bike feel more stable under braking and reduced the amount of times the ABS chipped in. I counted 25 clicks of preload adjustment in total, with the base setting on 6, so with 19 more clicks of preload, you could jack the rear up to excess, should you wish.

Let’s be honest, a bike designed for two-up touring, laden with luggage is never going to have ZX-10R rivalling handling on the backroads and nor would I expect it to but what really hit home was the fact I couldn’t shake the guys from Kawasaki who were following us on the Versys 650. Even though the Versys 1000 has a brilliant traction control system that allowed me to get on the power ridiculously early and really use every last drop of from the engine, the 650s could carry way more corner speed and easily trumped the 1000’s strong point: torque.

The Versys 1000 is a bike of two halfs in so many ways. From the engine forward it looks exactly like the Versys 650; all-roads capable and up for adventure. From the tank backwards it looks more like the GTR1400; comfortable, roomy and good for distance work. The seat and tank will help you on your way to 250 miles, the screen and wide bars won’t. While the rider’s view makes you feel like you’re on an adventure bike, the 17” wheels remind you to stray off road with caution. The grunty engine urges you to press on when the roads are twisty, but the tall ride height, suspension setup and huge capacity tank limit its cornering potential.

The Versys 1000 is aimed at the Triumph Tiger 1050 owner, with bikes like Ducati’s Multistrada 1200 and Honda Crossrunner taken into account, but I feel it’s more of an option to anyone considering a Suzuki GSX1250FA.

If you want to tour two-up in comfort and value a bike that’s equally good on twisty roads as it is on the motorway, then stick with the Versys 650. If you want to blast from A to B on a bike with a high up and commanding riding position, that cruises at 100mph in comfort, delivers good fuel economy and has a great tank range, then buy a Versys 1000 and fit a larger screen - it's a great tour bus for your next rock 'n roll adventure.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 Specifications

Engine 1,043cc, 16-valve, Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke In-Line Four
Power 120bhp @ 9,000rpm
Torque  75ft/lb @ 7,700rpm
Bore x stroke 77.0 x 56.0mm
Compression ratio 10.3:1
Front suspension 43 mm USD fork with rebound damping and spring preload
Rear suspension
Horizontal, gas-charged, with rebound damping and spring preload
Front brakes 300mm semi-floating petal discs, dual opposed 4-piston caliper
Rear brake 250mm petal disc, single piston caliper
Dry weight 239kg
Seat height 845mm
Fuel capacity 21 litres
Colours options Pearl stardust white, Metallic magnesium grey