Let’s start off with the elephant in the room – the Versys is one ugly bike, and I mean fugly. It looks a mess – there’s just too much strangely sculpted bodywork. Every single one of my friends were blunt about its styling. “It’s hideous”, “it’s ugly”, and “it’s a poor man’s Street Hawk” were some of the kinder comments. There’s no getting away from it – the Kawasaki’s looks divide opinion, with some saying the appearance puts them off considering the bike as a road-only alternative to the leading adventure bikes, the BMW R1200GS, the Honda Crosstourer and the Triumph Explorer. Which is a shame, because beneath all that plastic is a solid, if unspectacular, bike.
The first thing to say is that it’s a very physically tall bike. I’m 6ft 2in tall, with long limbs, and it was a struggle for me to swing a leg over the bike when wearing bulky textiles. It feels heavy too, especially when moving it around and at low speeds. However, once aboard it’s really comfy – the seat’s wide, thick and it’s spacious enough to let you find the right position.
Thumb the starter, twist the throttle and you’re confronted with a reassuring bark from the bike’s outstanding feature – its engine. The detuned ZX-10R four is an absolute hoot, full of grunt in all gears, and it responds well to being revved.
The riding position soon feels natural – the pegs are in the right place, my right foot doesn’t feel impeded by the large aftermarket Akrapovic can, my knees don’t feel cramped and the switchgear is reassuringly clunky and easy to use. The screen is easy and very quick to adjust, but it quickly becomes apparent that it’s too short for me, meaning it generates a lot of turbulence and noise. That said, it does a good job of keeping the weather off; the rear hugger is effective too. The headlight is also really good, projecting a strong, even beam.
Another thing that quickly becomes apparent is that despite its looks, this bike is definitely a road bike and has no off-road ability at all. It is just too heavy and ungainly for that. Yes, it may have long-travel suspension, and all the characteristics associated with adventure touring bikes, but its sheer bulk mean you really wouldn’t want to take it anywhere off road.
Riding the Versys on my favourite B-roads is an odd experience. Yes, the engine is powerful,
but all the power seems to be at the top end of the rev range and forces you to ride it like a sportsbike to get the most from it, which is at odds with its unsporting suspension. The front just isn’t up to being pushed hard, feeling vague and remote.
The problem is compounded by the rear suspension, which is too soft, sapping confidence in every bend. The brakes are superb, though, with loads of power and feel, and if things do feel like they’re getting out of control they stop you quickly, predictably and safely. it’s easy enough to fix the front – stop pushing so hard or bump the preload at the back – but if you do this the back becomes bouncier.
That short stretch of B-road heaven sums up the quandary presented by the Versys 1000. Its lack of clear identity isn’t merely about marketing or image – it goes to the very heart of what’s good, what’s bad and what’s frustrating about the bike.
Where it really excels is an everyday workhorse. It just gets on with everything, performing faultlessly – no dramas, nothing untoward, just business as usual. Unfortunately, there’s also no no excitement either.
What’s also good about the bike is the amount of equipment it comes with – traction control, ABS, and this bike has the optional heated grips fitted. The traction control is effective, but the riding modes are disappointing and I couldn’t detect any difference between the modes when the weather changed – for the better or worse – and so I simply left it in Sport mode.
The bike’s ABS was much more impressive, and allowed me to keep riding even when the conditions hinted that it might be wise not to.
But I wasn’t so happy with the performance of the heated grips – they have three settings, but to all intents and purposes they only have one (full on) as the other two as so ineffectual as to be pointless. Instead I got a pair of inner gloves in an effort to keep some feeling in my fingertips.
It’s practical too. That big, wide tank means you can fit a really large tank bag if you need to, and those big, wide bars have a lot of room for mounts for your sat nav, action camera etc. And that massive rack is ideal for strapping stuff too –– I managed to get two sets of tyres on the back with no issues at all. As always, the bike just got on with it in its own fuss-free way. It’ll easily take all the luggage you’d ever need for a fortnight away, with no effects on its handling. Impressive.
However, crack on and you’ll be filling up an awful lot. The Versys 1000 costs £26 to fill up and I only averaged 130 miles to a tank. And to make matters worse the trip computer doesn’t work. The dash says you have a full tank before it plummets like a stone at the last minute. On one trip I ran out of petrol, even though the display said I had 53 miles worth of fuel left. Nobody needs a trip computer, but for whatever reason this bike has one, and it’s a liability.
What is commendable is the finish. This bike has some 13,000 miles on the clocks, and the finish is holding up well. Only one fastener on the radiator has started to rust, and there is some discolouration on the header pipes and collector box, and a bit of paint had begun flaking off on the outside of the left-hand side of that massive rack, but that’s it – no scuffed paint and plastics, no stone chips and no scratches on the tank.
So, during the week in my tenure it’s proven itself as a capable, if uninspiring and thirsty, jack of all trades, It’s good two-up, it handles the daily commute in its stride and I even managed to do a trackday, although in all honesty I wish I hadn’t bothered – it wasn’t enjoyable in any way at Cadwell Park, but what did I expect? It’s not a sportsbike.
All this sounds like I’m picking fault with the Versys, but I’m not. Instead I’m telling you that it’s a capable, but flawed bike which allows you to ride big miles quickly, confidently and in total comfort. It will even hustle along nicely, if pushed. You just need to be prepared to ride around its shortcomings. And that sums up the bike – you get an awful lot of bike for your money, you just have to be prepared to compromise.