2020 Kawasaki Versys 1000SE: Multitalented Mile Muncher
BY: NIGEL PATERSON | PHOTOGRAPHY: DAMIEN PATERSON
Two-up over ridiculously rough roads usually means slacking off the pace, choosing lines carefully and exercising caution over fun, but not on the new Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE.
With its electronic long-travel suspension this machine can attack bumpy corners, loose surfaces and the goat tracks we call roads at the speed of a sportsbike with the comfort of a tourer.
We were riding to get away from the bushfire smoke plaguing the east coast, heading north on the bumpy backroads, which is a lot more fun than the over-policed and incredibly boring Pacific Highway.
Solo or two-up for long distances at speeds as fast you’re game — for both legal and safety reasons — is what the Versys 1000 is built for. In the years since the model was first introduced, the Versys has been taken upmarket. Where it was initially a versatile bike with a very reasonable price tag, these days the SE model (the only one coming Down Under) is a high-spec machine with lots of bells and whistles, and a price to match.
SPORT, TOUR, ADVENTURE?
One of a growing number of bikes in the Sports-Adventure category, the Versys is a jack of all
trades. It’s able to be ridden fast (sports) and is comfortable for long distances on rough or even
dirt roads (adventure).
It’s neither track nor trail suitable though — it
would quickly run out of cornering clearance on a racetrack, and those 17in cast-alloy wheels aren’t suitable for anything rougher than a fire trail .
That leaves a very broad range of application though, from jumping kerbs in the city to blasting
up winding roads to taking the road less travelled to out-of-the-way destinations. In many ways, perfect for what lots of Australian riders do with their bikes.
It’s also the nearest thing to a practical tourer in
the Kawasaki range. If you like green panniers, it’s a good option now that there’s no dedicated touring bike in Kawasaki’s model line-up.
BIG, TALL AND HANDSOME
The Versys is a seriously big motorcycle; parked alongside my FJR1300, the Yamaha seemed dwarfed, not a common sight for a full-faired touring bike with an engine 25 per cent larger than the Versys’.
It’s one of the biggest motorcycles around — tall, wide and long. To some that’s a negative, but not to 6ft Aussies, who will find there’s plenty of room for long arms and legs, and a screen tall enough to deflect a lot of the breeze over your head. If you’re vertically challenged, the Versys will be, well, challenging.
The stock comfort seat is very good — I put in a seven-hour day during the test and got home feeling pretty fresh, and the thickly padded though firm seat helped there.
There is an optional low seat which shaves 20mm off the 840mm seat height, and an optional comfort seat. Some of that height comes from the long-travel suspension, complete with electronic control, which is very trick indeed.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
There’s nothing unusual about the transverse 16-valve liquid-cooled motor at the heart of the Versys. Kawasaki is promoting the engine’s excellent torque characteristics… but honestly I’m a little surprised the 1034cc engine doesn’t make more power and torque. Kawasaki has made it frugal (5.5L/100km) and tuned it for bottom-end grunt, but 88kW (118hp) of power and 102Nm of torque
is low compared to other bikes in the category.
It is a smooth, fuss-free motor, only sending tingles through the seat as it passes through the 6000s on the tacho on the way to the shift-up light I had set to 8750. Maximum power is at 9000 and maximum torque at 7500, so you certainly don’t have to spin the motor hard to get good motivation.
At highway speed limits it’s delightfully smooth
and only requires a downshift for overtaking if you’re heavily loaded or want to get past really quickly.
You snick through the gears with a Kawasaki quickshifter, ignoring the clutch once you’re off the line. Effective, although I did find the gearshift lever
to have a spongy feel, and we’re not sure why: the ZX-10R has a quickshifter and feels great.
The quickshifter is assisted by the assist & slipper clutch, which equates to a lighter clutch lever pull thanks to its self-servo mechanism that pulls the plates together, while the back-torque limiting nature of the clutch reduces the likelihood of the back wheel hopping and skipping on down changes.
There are four riding modes to choose from: Rain, Road, Sport and Rider, the latter being a tailor-made set of parameters for those keen to try that out
(more on that in a separate panel).
The first-generation Versys 1000s were odd-looking beasts… I’m not sure the designers had any integration of the components in mind. A couple of generations later and the style flows from front to back much better, with the new green and grey paint scheme looking excellent.
There are some nice touches to the styling, like the larger collector box now positioned under the bike, enabling the use of a smaller muffler.
I reckon Kawasaki has done a great job of making a Sports-Adventure bike look pretty good; none of them look great (except the Pikes Peak Ducati Multistrada), but this latest model is certainly the best from Japan.
As a tourer it’s not perfect, but very practical. Big, roomy and comfortable, able to take three colour-matched boxes and heated handgrips from the accessory catalogue. Standard equipment includes
an adjustable screen, dash-mounted power outlet, hand guards and cruise control, making the Versys 1000 SE well equipped for the long haul.
With its Adventure-bike-style riding position, you’re sitting upright and comfortable, with a long reach to the wide handlebars, looking out over the tall screen. There’s 40mm of height adjustment available, controlled by two locking knobs. It’s not electronically powered, which is a bit of a surprise given how far Kawasaki has gone with the electronics in this machine. Hands are protected by Barkbuster-style hand guards.
For night-time riding there are cornering lights, which could give you that extra split second to avoid an errant roo or wombat, while fog lights are a factory accessory.
Kawasaki Australia fitted out the test bike with a full set of Givi-made touring panniers ($1500) and a top box ($478), making the bike well equipped for the
long haul. Good-looking and well made, the luggage system really complements the lines of the bike, and the mounting system is integrated into the ducktail
and passenger footpeg bracket.
Each box has a weight limit of 5kg and the shape of the panniers precludes some larger items, so the luggage capabilities don’t go so far as to have the Versys really competing with dedicated touring machines. Each box requires the key (which can be matched to the ignition key) to remove or open, although you can close the top box without the key. Kawasaki also offers internal bags as an option, but they are padded and consume way too much space for my liking. The large 47-litre top box is convenient and will fit two full-face helmets.
The design of the tank probably precludes using a tankbag, which makes it difficult to add further luggage capacity when travelling with a friend, but the grab rails have integrated luggage hooks so you can strap things onto the back seat.
The tank holds a decent 21 litres, which equates to over 400km until dry if you’re taking it easy.
Cruise control and a centrestand are standard equipment, while heated hand grips are a welcome addition from the options catalogue.
The Versys is a great touring bike for Australia. It’s very roomy for both rider and passenger, although getting aboard the beast is difficult. Lightweight passengers might have to use the pegs to climb on
as swinging a leg over, especially with the top box in place, might prove challenging.
The bike’s ability to cope with a huge range of riding styles and road conditions means everything from freeways to dirt roads is fine — it’ll eat the miles wherever you go.
Modern suspension, especially electronically controlled semi-active suspension, is a modern marvel — capable
of turning a long travel comfy bike into a corner carver. The sports-adventure class just might be the fastest point-to-point road bikes, because their extra suspension travel and control over rough surfaces means confidence to push hard over potholes, corrugations and poor surfaces, conditions which would have sportsbikes bouncing you into the stratosphere.
The control the Versys has on twisty roads is incredible. With the Showa suspension set-up the way
I liked it — softish preload/compression damping to take the hits, firm damping to prevent wallow and keep the tyres on the deck — I was carving bad roads at amazing speeds in comfort.
The brakes are good, modern and effective, but
they have a big job to do, especially two-up.
On a smooth road or racetrack you’re going to run out of cornering clearance. I did, during the photo shoot, but away from excellent conditions or really
high speeds the Versys will be faster than most sportsbikes — at least with me on board.
Would you believe the paint on the Versys 1000 is “self healing”? It’s only available in Emerald Blazed Green, but it has a special coat which allows scratches to heal themselves, sometimes over the course of more than a week. It only works on fine scratches, but it sounds great to us.
The lighting is all LED, from the twin headlights to the cornering lights to the indicators, tail and brake lights. There’s a cigarette lighter power port on the dash, which I used to charge my phone in seconds. And yes, you’ll need a mount, there’s nowhere to put your phone.
Also in the dash is an awesome colour TFT instrument set with analogue-style tacho — comprehensive, easy to read but not very intuitive. We had to reach for the manual to work out how to set up all the modes, although it’s not hard to remember once you get the hang of it; there are long presses, short presses, ups and downs to go through.
Kawasaki had fitted out the test bike with its accessory axle protectors and frame sliders, which will prevent damage in minor crashes and a radiator guard, mostly
to prevent rocks from other vehicles punching holes.
PRICING, VALUE AND CONCLUSION
If you’re after a big bike to travel Australia the Versys would be a good choice. It might not have the power output of some of its competition, but it more than makes up for it with incredible suspension, good carrying capacity, excellent equipment and lots of fantastic technology.
The ride-away price in NSW is $22,163; with touring accessories it bumps to around 25K, which puts it into the premium price range. For that sort of money you’ll want to have a serious look around at what’s available, but I can tell you one thing – the first time you ride a Versys 1000 SE fast over a rough road, you’ll be very impressed.
There’s nothing particularly unusual or special about Rain, Road and Sport riding profiles — but then there’s Rider, which is
an all-new beast.
Rain cuts power and has a soft throttle response, with highly active ABS and traction control. Road has full power available, but with a softer throttle response, while Sport is the most aggressive, as you’d expect.
Each of the three standard settings also alters the suspension — hard, normal and soft for Sport, Road and Rain respectively.
Rider is the manual mode. You can set baselines for suspension settings including ride height, and tune the electronics how you’d like them.
Most people will choose from the standard three and be happy, but for fiddlers like me, being able to set up a bike just the way they like it is a boon. I was able to tailor the Versys to have responsive suspension over the rough small bumps, but not wallow when the throttle was screwed on, something often mutually exclusive.
The suspension on the Versys 1000 SE comprises 43mm USD forks and a single rear shock, offering 150mm of front wheel travel and 152mm at the back.
Based on the semi-active systems in Kawasaki’s sportsbikes, the KECS system adjusts damping rates in real time based on what the suspension movement is, bike speed, acceleration and deceleration rates and more. A single solenoid valve with direct action makes the adjustments which Kawasaki claims is much faster (one millisecond) than step motors or pilot valves. This provides better feel and comfort.
Preload is controlled manually, but is adjusted electronically — set via the instruments to single rider, rider and luggage, two-up or two-up with luggage. Additionally, in Rider mode you can go in and set any configuration of suspension settings you like.
KTRC. KCMF. KECS. KIBS. KQS… and they are just some of the acronyms Kawasaki has bestowed on the Versys 1000 SE. Getting my head around all this technology in the brief time we have with a test bike is tough, but don’t worry, you can jump on the Versys and ride it without knowing anything about the technology lurking inside.
It’s interesting tech though, no doubt…
KTRC: Kawasaki TRaction Control. Three modes: One for sport, two for road and three for slippery conditions. Can be switched off.
KECS: Kawasaki Electronic Control Suspension. See the breakout “Great Suspenders”
KIBS: Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Brake System. With multiple sensors including wheel speed, brake pressure, throttle position, engine speed and gear position, KIBS is able to offer control in more situations than conventional ABS. For example, the long-travel suspension bikes like the Versys can pitch forward under brakes, causing rear-wheel lift. KIBS can detect this happening and regulate brake pressure to prevent it, while maintaining maximum braking force.
KCMF: Kawasaki Cornering Management Function. Incorporating a Bosch IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit), the KCMF controls the KECS (electronic suspension) and KIBS (braking) to control what the chassis is doing. It will modulate braking force (aka cornering ABS) and engine power to help you stay on line.
KQS: Kawasaki Quick Shifter. Enables shifting gears without using the clutch, both up and down, provided engine speed is above 2500rpm.
Riding Modes: There’s Rain, Road, Sport and Rider modes available on the Versys 1000 SE. Rain cuts power and has the most intrusive ABS and traction control with a soft suspension set-up. Road offers full power, a mid setting for traction and normal suspension settings. Sport stiffens things up, has the least-intrusive electronics and full power. Rider mode is the most interesting; set what you like — it’s full manual control set electronically.
Phone connectivity: Many elements of the electronics can be controlled through a Bluetooth-connected smartphone and the Rideology app. It also records trip details like odometer readings, trip times, riding logs, lean angle and lots more. It will even update the bike’s clock based on the phone…
Other stuff: There’s electronic cruise control, cornering lights, a fancy TFT instrument panel and lots more. See the main body of the text for further info.
SPECIFICATIONS: 2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE (KLZ1000D)
Type: Liquid-cooled DOHC 4-cylinder 4-stroke with 4 valves per cylinder
Bore x stroke: 77 x 56mm
Compression ratio: 10.3:1
Engine management: Electronic fuel injection, Ø38mm throttle body x 4
Claimed maximum power: 118hp (88.2kW)
Claimed maximum torque: 102Nm at 7500rpm
Final drive: Chain
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate, slip-assist
CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame: 5-piece cast-aluminium chassis with
trellis steel subframe
Front suspension: 43mm USD forks, KECS-controlled damping, electronically set
manual spring preload
Rear suspension: Piggyback monoshock,
KECS-controlled damping, electronically
set manual spring preload
Front brakes: Twin 310mm semi-floating discs, 4-piston monobloc calipers, cornering ABS
Rear brake: Single 250mm disc, 1-piston
caliper, cornering ABS
Tyres: Front 120/70 ZR17, rear 180/55 ZR17
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Claimed weight: 257kg (curb)
Seat height: 840mm
Fuel capacity: 21 litres
Fuel consumption: 5.5L/100km
Colours: Emerald Blazed Green / Pearl Storm Gray
Test bike supplied by: Kawasaki Australia, kawasaki.com.au
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres