News & Features

April 2, 2024

Kawasaki Versys-X 300 – Pleasantly Surprised!

It’s a topic I’ve touched on before, but it’s easy to become a little jaded or blasé when the 487th test bike is being ridden with the object of writing a report on it. It’s not that the thrill isn’t there any more, just that there’s very little that surprises after so long and so many models of a similar class.

Having said that, there are still surprises out there; not necessarily in terms of the bike itself as an object, but with the emotion it provokes in the rider. In the motorcycling world of today, when virtually every single bike is incredibly accomplished and homogenised, it is not common to find a surfeit of personality in a motorcycle, so efficient are they.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

And then there’s the Kawasaki Versys-X 300. On paper, there’s nothing startling about it: tiny little (296cc) parallel twin engine mounted in a surprisingly large and tall adventure-style chassis, with good comfort, really good handling, supple but not soft suspension, good build quality and slightly anonymous styling – by that, I mean that, other than a large ‘Versys’ and much smaller ‘Kawasaki’ script on the upper edge of the half-fairing, there is very little to show the world what it is, although the vivid Kawasaki green on the tank goes a long way to proclaiming its parentage.

Firing up the engine similarly gives no indication of anything unusual: it’s smooth and unobtrusive at tick-over. The clutch is super light and smooth in take-up and there is very little fuss as you pull away. The gearing is short but clutchless gear changes are a doddle.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

Then you start to learn about the power characteristics of the engine and it quickly becomes apparent that the engine needs to be revved to access the performance. A glance at the rev counter reveals a limit of 12,000rpm! Well, then, let’s have at it, shall we?

And that is where the fun starts. This little engine loves to rev and, when it does, it screams its little cylinder head off and the best bit is that, even at, say 7,500rpm in fourth, you’re still only going at around 75km/h, but it sounds as if you must be doing at least twice that. On the highway, at an indicated 120km/h, the engine is turning over at 9,000rpm! Push it further – which it is very happy to do – and you’ll see a genuine 145km/h at around 11,500rpm!

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

The upshot of all this is that you ride everywhere with a huge childish grin on your face because an engine screaming away at a million revs is all so very silly and, at the same time, so intoxicating. Importantly, the engine remains incredibly smooth all the way up to its red line, with only a buzzing vibration through the foot pegs to spoil things at higher revs.

Even though it can keep up with traffic on the highway, it’s not a particularly relaxing thing to do, with the revs up above 9,000. It might be perfectly happy working in the upper range of its revs but anyone with a modicum of mechanical sympathy will wince slightly at dishing out this treatment. Rather stick to non-highway roads and revel in accelerating away from junctions with millions of revs in every gear, or carving through a twisty section – which it will do with poise and a secure feeling.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

It’s actually very comfortable on the highway: that simple screen is very effective and I could ride with the front section of my flip-face helmet open and just the dark sun visor down with no problem. The seat is broad and well-padded and the riding position was just about perfect for my 6-foot frame: even shorter riders should have no problem getting their feet on the floor, such is the seat height.

Is it an adventure bike? Well, it has the build and stance of an adventure bike but I can’t see too many owners giving it the beans off-road. For a start, it is delivered with more road-biased tyres fitted. Then, that close-fitting front mudguard is not terribly conducive to ploughing through muddy trails: if knobbly tyres were fitted, then they would very quickly clog up the gap between tyre and mudguard. Also, if one wants to be completely picky, then the engine’s power delivery characteristics don’t lend themselves naturally to off-roading, being all revs and little low-down grunt. Mind you, a bit of practice and you’d get the hang of it.

Photo credit: Bjorn Moreira / ZA Bikers

The most remarkable – and possibly the best – thing about the Versys-X 300 is the fact that it looks like a big bike, not a small facsimile of a big and bulky adventure bike. It has none of the weight of a big adventure bike but all the advantages in terms of roomy and comfortable riding position, wind protection, handling and, to a lesser extent, performance, added to which is a lack of thirst for petrol: the 17-litre tank got to 300km over a period of mixed riding in and around Jo’burg before it needed refilling, and I wasn’t being light with the throttle.

R105,000 will put the Versys-X 300 in your garage and it’s hard to think of a good reason to not do this, especially given the quality that Japanese products possess. If the Versys-X 300 is more road-biased, then that is perfectly reasonable as most ‘adventure’ bikes will spend a lot more time on-road than off, so it makes sense to build a bike with the styling and a stance that adheres to the most popular motorcycles on sale but that also has excellent road manners.


Credit: ZA Bikers