Motorcyclists are inherently adventurous. We seek thrills outside of the norm. The adventure-ready 2020 Kawasaki Versys-X 300 brings that excitement with its peppy power, stable handling, and upright ergonomics for a wallet-friendly price. As one of the smallest-displacement adventure-touring motorcycles on the market, the little Versys-X will be approachable for beginners, but the fun factor from its capability in the twisties and off-road potential appeals to riders of all skill levels.
One of the key features that make the Versys-X 300 so approachable is the Ninja-derived liquid-cooled two-cylinder 296cc engine. Its linear, mild-mannered power, makes the bike easy to handle and control, particularly in low-traction and tricky off-road situations. Gearing is quite short, which is great when negotiating challenging trails. But on the road it takes a rapid run through first, second, and third gear to keep up with faster-paced traffic when leaving stops. This shifting exercise is made easier with an extremely light clutch pull thanks to the assist and slipper clutch.
The engine has enough pep to help the Versys-X keep up with the brisker pace of the freeway, but its short gearing causes the engine to run in a higher rpm range that introduces mild vibration. This is felt through the handlebars, with some buzz coming through the pegs, numbing the feet after longer stints. “While overall a smooth-running platform, the short final-drive gearing creates a tiresome vibration at highway speed, where it spins at 9,000 rpm at 70 mph with little power left in reserve to pass traffic,” Road Test Editor Michael Gilbert said.
Testing the Versys-X 300 on our in-house rear-wheel dyno resulted in 32.3 hp at 11,370 rpm and 16.7 pound-feet of torque at 8,600 rpm. These are pretty impressive numbers given the displacement, and the torque curve is broad and smooth. But, like my predecessors, I wish that the Versys-X 300 could creep up in displacement to the Ninja or Z400′s engine and receive the 12 extra ponies and 9 additional pound-feet of torque that we measured in the 2019 Z400′s 399cc engine. An engine swap isn’t as easy as pluck and plop, however, because of chassis differences between models. That begs the question: What about a chassis redesign too?
Overall initial impressions of the Versys-X tend toward capable commuter, thanks to its peppy-but-tractable engine and commanding, upright riding position. But is it a twisty tackler? Why, yes. The Versys’ firmness at both the 41mm telescopic fork and Uni-Trak swingarm communicate well in corners. Nimbleness and low-slung weight allow for confident tip-ins and quick side-to-side transitions. Despite a light feel while in motion, the Versys-X has a measured 410-pound dry weight that’s on the heavy side for the class (and its displacement) compared to the 431-pound Honda CB500X and 387-pound KTM 390 Adventure. The 7.1-inch ground clearance aids in scrape-free cornering even in tighter off-camber turns, and invites more adventure—provided dirt-appropriate tires are mounted on the 19- and 17-inch wheels. The stock, street-biased IRC Trail Winner GP-210 rubber provides good grip and sure-footed handling even on rough and bumpy roads. The nonadjustable fork provides 5.1 inches of travel and the preload-adjustable shock offers 5.8 inches, and both ends are compliant enough to tackle uneven surfaces without stress.
If there’s anything that lets down overall performance, it’s the lack of brake power and feel. The two-piston calipers hugging the front 290mm and rear 220mm discs simply don’t provide good power, even with above average lever/pedal effort, and therefore our non-ABS testbike (it’s a $300 option) required a little extra tarmac to come to a complete stop. Brakes were also found lacking in our 2017 review.
In regard to ergonomics, the Versys-X’s do not tilt a 6-foot-tall rider like me too far over the tank. Reach to the bars is neutral and peg position provides a comfortable bend at the knee for an easy hop up into standing position. The windshield deflects the wind away from the chest and up toward the neck with minimal helmet buffeting. Were adjustability available, it might have diminished it altogether.
Seat height is a reasonable 32.3 inches, 1.4 inches lower than the comparable KTM 390 Adventure and 0.3 inch lower than the Honda CB500X I previously tested. The Versys-X’s seat is on the firmer side, but provides comfortable lower back support with the front edge of the passenger pillion.
An easy-to-read LCD gauge sits behind the windshield, providing plenty of useful info (speedo, tach, average mpg, range, current mpg, odometer, and two tripmeters). Minor criticisms are that the toggle buttons are difficult to press with a gloved finger, and the tiny turn signal indicators are difficult to see.
Kawasaki struck a nice balance with this attractively priced small-displacement ADV. Most of the Versys-X 300′s nearest competition are priced above $6,000 (with the exception of the $5,795 BMW G 310 GS), but the Kawi’s $5,499 base MSRP is reasonable considering its approachable and peppy engine, sure-footed handling, and comfortable riding position. After all, attainability and rideability can be attractive to riders of all skill levels.
A Couple of Notes About Our Accessorized Unit
With its low MSRP, the Versys-X 300 leaves room in the budget for accessories. Our test unit was equipped with just over $1,000 worth of extra equipment from the Kawasaki catalog.
The auxiliary light set ($409.95) helps increase visibility and augments the exploratory character of the bike; its power button is easily activated to boot. A relay kit ($19.95) is needed for the light set, the DC outlet (also equipped, $89.95), and any other electrical accessories.
The hand guard set ($115.95) deflects wind and protects against dust and small rocks, but in terms of stronger protection, a support bar from the grips to the guards would be preferred.
The 17-liter hard bag set ($439.95) looks rugged, but its polypropylene plastic is flimsy and its structural integrity makes us concerned it would be compromised if the bike went down. A look at the aftermarket to compare other options is worthwhile.
Other notable accessories include the engine guard ($225.95) and centerstand ($299.95).
2020 Kawasaki Versys-X 300 Specifications
|MSRP:||$5,499 (non-ABS)/$5,799 (ABS)|
|Engine:||296cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled two-cylinder|
|Bore x Stroke:||62.0 x 49.0mm|
|Cycle World Measured Horsepower:||32.3 hp @ 11,370 rpm|
|Cycle World Measured Torque:||16.7 lb.-ft. @ 8,600 rpm|
|Fuel Delivery:||Fuel injection w/ 32mm throttle bodies|
|Frame:||Tubular, diamond frame|
|Front Suspension:||Telescopic fork; 5.1 in. travel|
|Rear Suspension:||Uni-Trak swingarm, spring preload adjustable; 5.8 in. travel|
|Front Brake:||2-piston caliper, single 290mm disc|
|Rear Brake:||2-piston caliper, 220mm disc|
|Tires, Front/Rear:||IRC Trail Winner GP-210; 100/90-19 / 130/80-17|
|Ground Clearance:||7.1 in.|
|Cycle World Measured Seat Height:||32.3 in.|
|Fuel Capacity:||4.5 gal.|
|Cycle World Measured Wet Weight:||410 lb. (w/ bags)|