First ride: Kawasaki Versys-X 300 review

First ride: Kawasaki Versys-X 300 review

An adventure bike, only easier

By Llewelyn Pavey

ADVENTURE-STYLE bikes are big, premium and damn good, but outside of the the western world, where ribbons of perfect tarmac carve a line across the landscape, nobody is using them.

The Asian market is dominated by bikes under 300cc and those machines are slowly bleeding into Europe. Kawasaki already had the 300 Ninja, a bike that has subsequently fallen foul of the Euro4 regulation. That engine has been ported to the new Versys-X 300 and shoehorned into a Versys-specific chassis.

Kawasaki say the Versys-X 300 is a bike capable of tackling ‘any road’. The idea is that it’s not exactly an off-road machine but will still maintain poise when the road turns to dirt. It’s an around-town, back road, motorway, gravel road to your folks house in the country kind of bike.

To match the marketing line, the Versys is surprisingly well thought out. It’s got spoked wheels in a 19-inch front, 17-inch rear configuration. They’ve also given it mildly long-travel suspension and a deliberately strong sub-frame design. It’s supposedly pillion capable, has a decent sized 17-litre tank, and an assist/slipper clutch. On top of that, Kawasaki have a decent collection of accessories including proprietary luggage.


Smooth, surprisingly torquey and under-geared just about sums up the Versys-X 300 engine. The power delivery is twin cylinder buttery but it’s also a revver. It hits the red line around 12,000 and isn’t going far or fast below 8,000. While that is to be expected from a small-bore engine, motorway cruising in top gear is around 8,000 and it simply feels too high.  Riding a bike that you are totally in charge of and able work hard can be fun but having to race to make an overtake on a dual carriage way is a little frustrating. But it is a 300 after all.

On the mildly open roads the RPM was regularly between 9,000 and 11,000 to maintain normal, safe road speed and so the Versys-X engine always felt like it was being worked hard.

That small issue could be rectified simply by changing the rear sprocket to a slightly smaller one. As is, first gear is very short and thus almost redundant. Top gear is also too short, so the potential seems to be there to make the gearing longer. The whole bike would be better for it.


The handling characteristics of the Versys-X are pleasant. There is a light, easy to handle character about the bike which is no doubt bolstered by the decent 173kg kerb weight. The around-town handling is decent too. It’s manageable and well-balanced. Likewise, on more open roads it works well. The Versys-X’s skinny tyres don’t necessarily inspire cornering confidence but they didn’t really upset either. There is a mild vagueness about everything but the performance is good and there and the machine feels easy to dominate, which adds to the fun.


The suspension is an area where the Versys-X performs admirably. Like most bikes in the sub-£8,000 bracket, the pint-sized Kawasaki has a fully non-adjustable setup. You can, if you really want to get into it, adjust the rear shock pre-load but you’ll definitely need to the tool box out to get the job done.

However, everything worked well. It was comfortable enough, even on the bumpy English back roads, skipping around little and transmitting less of the rough surface than I would have expected. The suspension holds up well, even under the weight of a 15-stone rider. In faster corners the front had a tendency to feel like it was jumping around, but this might happen less for a lighter rider.


The braking department was the main riding element that made the Versys-X 300 feel budget. While the engine did a reasonably good job and the suspension out-performed my expectations, the brakes were only acceptable. Their main let down was the lack of feel. They lack a little bite and the feeling through the front was disappointingly wooden. The actual stopping power was acceptable, even with the smallish 290mm disc. The rear felt even more wooden, with very little connection in feel between the pedal and wheel.

That said, this is a budget/entry-level bike and the brakes do the job they’re meant to. Put it this way: I never doubted I was going to stop in time.


Ordinarily it’d be really brutal to pick apart a bike for a lack of equipment or finish in the budget price bracket. That was until KTM proved with the 390 Duke that if the will is there, you’ll find a way to keep the margin and make a super cool, well-equipped machine.

The Kawasaki Versys-X is surprisingly well featured in this department too. The clutch will enter the history books as one of the lightest in history. It’s as light as you can possibly imagine, with one finger more than enough to engage and disengage it. It’s also a slipper clutch, meaning on the the down-shifts from high revs everything is kept smooth. Wind protection is a good too, offering far more than expected. For tall people, it cut that balance of keeping wind off your body without smashing you in the face with dirty air repeatedly. If you’re on the shorter side, there is a good chance you’ll be well inside the bubble too. While the dash isn’t a glorious TFT beauty, it is functional enough and not the ugliest thing in existence. Some of the lights were small and went unnoticed but the key bits are easy to see.  

The biggest let down on the equipment front is the seat. While the shape is okay, it’s ridiculously hard. After only an hour it was progressing into the zone where you’ll need to shuffle about or have the odd stand up. For a do-it-all bike that’s a touch disappointing.

We Like

There is a lot to like about the Versys-X 300. The smooth nature of the parallel-twin engine is high on the list. The feather light clutch is incredibly nice in the real world too. The slipper clutch is a nice little gadget and works well.  On top of that the riding position fits a wide range of riders and the wind protection is more than acceptable. The handlebars have a good rider-friendly bend and the suspension performed better than expected.  I’m also a fan of the real-world gravel capability. It’ll never set the world alight as a dual sport/off-road biased bike, but it’ll be comfortable enough on a gravel road.

The weight is also right on the money, sitting just a few kilos away from the other bikes in the marketplace and a fair bit lighter than the imminent Suzuki V-Strom 250. Lastly, the luggage rack is designed to sit flush with the pillion seat, making it incredibly easy to tie on a soft bag.

We don’t like

There are two glaringly obvious issues with the Versys-X 300. The first is the low gearing. It’s simply too low for the purpose Kawasaki intend for the bike. First gear can be skipped all together in it’s current guise and top gear is too short. It’s a simple fix, but it needs fixing.

Second on the list is the outrageously and unnecessarily hard seat. Whoever decided upon the foam density clearly sits on a marble plinth in the office.

The third and final gripe is the price. The base model RRP is £5,199. For £550 less you can buy the phenomenal 390 Duke, with its fancy dash and great riding performance. The BMW 310 GS starts £300 cheaper and for just £650 more you get a vastly more powerful Honda CB500X.



The Versys-X 300 is good all-round motorcycle with some nice touches and features that show Kawasaki have thought about what they were building. The ride performance is good, despite the two issues of short gearing and a rigid seat foam.

It’s capable and if you’re on the hunt for a smaller, manageable machine with some potential, or an an A2 licence holder, you could do a lot worse. 

It’s just hard to avoid the feeling that it could’ve been a bit better.

All in alll, a day out on the Versys-X was still a really one. It zipped along the back lanes of Gloucestershire and made me feel well and truly in charge of it at all times. It would make an excellent commuter bike while still fun weekend ride.

If you’re feeling really intrepid, it will no doubt take you wherever your imagination wanders.

Model tested: Kawasaki Versys-X 300


Base - £5149.00

Urban - £5549.00

Adventure - £5849.00

Urban Package includes –  Top Box, handgaurds, centre stand and a tank pad.

Adventure Package includes – Panniers, handgaurds, engine guards, centre stand and a tank pad.

Engine: 296cc liquid-cooled four-stroke parallel-twin

Power: 39hp @ 11,500rpm

Torque: 18.9lbft @ 10,000rpm

Kerb weight: 173kg

Brakes: front single 290mm petal disc with dual-piston caliper. Rear 220mm petal disc with single-piston caliper

Suspension: 41mm telescopic fork with 130mm wheel travel, gas-charged shock with adjustable pre-load and 148mm wheel travel

Frame: steel

Tyres: front 100/90-19, rear 130/80-17

Fuel capacity:  17 litres

Claimed fuel consumption: 68.9mpg

Seat height: 845 mm (815mm optional)