Kawasaki’s Versys-X 300 impressed us when we first rode it this spring, with John Burns reporting that it would be a good machine to “propagate your bigger adventures.” Then, after some time on it this summer, its versatility and affordability helped us decide to give it accolades as the Honorable Mention in our Best On/Off-Road Adventure motorcycle of 2017. To better put it to test, we assigned our newest editor, Brent Jaswinski, to load up the littlest Versys with camping gear and head out on the road for an adventure of his own. –Ed.


The world is a big place and there’s a lot to be seen. However, there’s simply not enough minutes, hours or even years in this crazy space-time continuum we live in to see it all. While this might be the most obvious understatement of the year, the new Kawasaki Versys-X 300 most certainly is not. There’s a new class of lightweight adventure/touring motorcycles on the market and they’re designed to get people out there, to escape the city, off the grid and into the wild.

Don’t let the small-displacement motor fool you into thinking that the Versys-X 300 isn’t a capable machine, because I’m here tell you it is. Over the course of two days and about 500 miles, I had the pleasure of becoming very well acquainted with this entry-level adventurer. I threw everything I could at the poor bike to see what it could and couldn’t do, and to my pleasant surprise, the list of coulds turned out to be a lot longer than I had expected.

Kawasaki Versys-X 300

Ahh, the great outdoors. What better way to enjoy it than on two wheels. All packed up with my tent, sleeping bag and fishing gear. I decided to travel pretty light considering I was only camping for one night, but the ‘little’ Versys is capable of mule-ing plenty more.

The Versys-X 300 is a great all-arounder that comes with all the equipment you would expect from a versatile adventure/touring bike including a large 4.5-gallon fuel tank, a tall windscreen, rear rack, long-travel suspension and 19- and 17-inch spoked front and rear wheels. The 296cc counterbalanced, twin-cylinder motor is derived from the Ninja 300 and spins like a top right from the bottom of the revs all the way to its 12k redline. Paired with the motor is a six-speed transmission whose final drive gearing has been reduced by 9%, relative to the Ninja 300 donor, to maximize the bike’s versatility.

The result is a first gear that allows the Versys-X to crawl along with a low chance of stalling. You almost literally have to try to stall it, otherwise it just keeps chugging along. This is beneficial in the tighter, trickier off-road scenarios you’re likely to find yourself in aboard the Kawi, because after all, with a bike like this, the adventure doesn’t stop just because the pavement ends. Low gearing is a benefit to budding riders as it builds confidence. Stalling sucks – it’s frustrating and embarrassing for new and seasoned riders alike. It’s the last thing a new rider needs and something a vet rider can appreciate. Additional kudos to the clutch that requires just a single finger to operate.

Kawasaki Versys-X 300

There’s plenty of adventure waiting out there for us motorcyclists. Although the Versys-X 300’s tires are more street-biased, they made light work of High Desert’s sandy washes.

While this gearing reduction is great for slow-speed and off-road maneuvering, the Versys-X 300 runs out of legs pretty quickly on top, sort of… Casual riding around town sees you shifting into sixth around 50 mph, but sixth gear is looong and there’s thousands more revs to work with. Cruising down the freeway at 80 yields about 9,500 rpm, which is pretty high in the rev range considering it redlines at 12,000. But you wouldn’t know the motor was working that hard unless you looked at the tach. The motor is that smooth, and besides, no one is buying the Versys-X 300 to set land-speed records or go dragracing – that’s not what it was designed for.

Additionally, the bike has a fairly steep 24.3-degree rake that makes it super nimble and quick-steering around town, although speeds north of 80 mph can make the front end feel a bit nervous. Like I said, though, speed is not the bike’s intention and I don’t hold this against it. But for what it’s worth, sixth gear pinned, right up to the rev limiter, reads 96 mph on the speedo. A lighter rider could crack triple digits, I’m sure.

Kawasaki Versys-X 300

Getting to this spot required crossing a rock garden and then up a steep embankment covered in loose gravel. Easy peasy lemon squeazy.

Riding the Versys-X 300 through twisty canyon roads is a blast. The suspension is firm enough and translates a good feel for the road to the rider. This portion of my time spent with the little 300… Well, actually, hold on, I keep wanting to say ‘little’ but the bike isn’t really ‘little’ at all. It’s full-sized in nearly every dimension except for perhaps the displacement of its motor. Anyway, it was in the canyons that I really put the Versys-X through its paces.  We shared a lot of full-throttle action, and although the engine temperature rose up to its higher limits, the little motor never wavered and kept spinning along smoothly. We at MO are avid proprietors of riding small bikes fast because often times you get to use 100% of their potential, and the Versys-X 300 proved to have plenty of potential.

After the canyon roads, I introduced the lightweight overlander to the dirt and sand of the desert. I didn’t get too gnarly with the Versys-X because I didn’t want to potentially break a bike I don’t own, but nevertheless, the bike traversed terrain that most owners might be skeptical to attempt. This included a foot-and-a-half deep river crossing, a few log jumps, some dicey single-track, a couple sand washes and several miles of fire roads. I’m happy to report that the Versys-X tackled everything without the slightest of hiccups.

Kawasaki Versys-X 300

I don’t know if the Kawi was more fun on- or off-road. The Versys went anywhere I pointed it.

Perhaps the bike’s most impressive attribute noticed while off-roading was how well the ABS brakes worked. As a disclaimer, I think ABS brakes are great when you need them, but it irks me when they’re too sensitive and engage over-eagerly. (This was one of my few qualms about the otherwise great-performing Kawi Z900.) Barreling down a whooped-out fire road at about 50 mph, I grabbed a fistful of front brake and slammed the rear. Now I know what you’re thinking, trying to lock up the brakes on a rough dirt road going that fast ought to go over like a fart in church, but the Versys-X 300 remained planted and came to a halt swiftly and predictably. The suspension soaked up the bumps and kept the bike well balanced. Surprised by the results this initial experiment yielded, I decided to try it again, and again with the same results.  It was at this point in our journey when I finally felt like I had broken the horse – we now had a mutual trust and understanding of each other.

Kawasaki Versys-X 300

The further I pushed the Versys, the more it settled into its element. The world is its oyster.

The rest of our time spent together was gravy. And though it’s not a full-on adventure bike, the Versys-X 300 is a well-balanced package that will take you off the grid and into the wild with confidence. While it does most things as well as a bigger bike, I wouldn’t be doing our readers justice without pointing out its shortcomings. First of all, I’d like to mention that the step seat was roomy, but after 50 miles, my ass started begging for mercy. I’ve ridden dirtbikes with softer seats, and while it wasn’t so much the firmness on top that bothered me, it was more so the pressure points on the upper inside of my thighs that got me squirming.

Single-track, baby!

Another thing I noticed was that the windscreen could have been a wee bit taller.  It deflects air nicely at faster speeds, but the wind stream would hit me right in the top of the helmet which caused some unwanted turbulence. This, though, is a product of my 6-foot-1-inch height more so than anything else, but a little adjustability would be nice. Finally, the rear rack provides ample space for you to carry your belongings with plenty of different anchor points, but the Versys-X 300 would benefit immensely from a small, waterproof storage compartment somewhere in the front fairing. Just a thought, Kawasaki.

These small grumbles pale in comparison to what the Versys-X is actually capable of, and with a price tag of $5,699 w/ABS ($5,399 without), there’s even less to complain about. With its 4.5-gallon fuel tank and gas-sipping motor, refueling stops are few and far between. Despite often turning the twist grip to its stop, the Versys-X 300 delivered an impressive 62.4-mpg, which makes it kind to your wallet.

 

I setup camp just off the lake’s edge. You could hear coyotes howling all night long. It was pretty neat, and by pretty neat, I mean a little unnerving. There must have been dozens all around. The Versys-X was there to protect me hehe.

Overall, Kawasaki designers hit the nail on the head with the Versys-X 300. There will be riders to dismiss the smallest Versys based only on its engine displacement. They will assume it’s slow to accelerate, must be hammered continually to maintain cruising speed, and given its low price, will feel cheap. Those people will miss out on a great machine.

However, these same reasons are part of what makes the Versys-X 300 so much fun. Its unintimidating demeanor is perhaps its greatest strength. Combined with the rest of its features, the Versys-X 300 is an impressive intro bike both on- and off-road that should largely satisfy a rider’s appetite for two-wheeled adventure.

Kawasaki Versys-X 300

I got up early and cast a few lines. The fish must have ate already that morning, though. They didn’t seem too hungry.

 

 

  • 12er

    Nice write up, with the late thaw I didnt get my usual sierra trip or two in this season. Love Motorcycle camping…

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      Always had a roof above me
      Always paid the rent
      But I’ve never set foot inside a tent
      Can’t build a fire to save my life
      I lied about being the outdoor type

      I’ve never slept out underneath the stars,
      The closest that I came to that was one time my car
      Broke down for an hour in the suburbs at night
      I lied about being the outdoor type.

  • CP

    The fishing might have gone a little better if you’d removed the lure from the hook keeper on the rod… 😉

    • Brent Jaswinski

      Hahah busted! I was wondering if someone would catch that or not. Man, I cant get anything past you guys.

      • Rocky Stonepebble

        I just assumed it was a photo of you packing up, because, as you said, the fish weren’t biting.

      • CP

        Just busting chops, nice write up and props for moto-fishing. It’s one of my favorite things to do with a dual-sport/adventure bike.

    • Cami

      Just like no action shots of the “capable” Kawi….

  • john phyyt

    Heavy “Adventure” bikes are oxy-moronic. No everyone wants to go into a blind canyon with a 800 lb machine. To me these smaller lighter bikes make much more sense. More fun..
    Also Scratching your $20k BMW whilst it falls on slippery rocks whilst climbing out of a stream is crap.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      I dumped my KTM in a rocky water crossing in Yosemite. Luckily there were plenty of guys there who jumped into the water to help. Big bikes are good for long distance adventure travel. They are not dirt bikes by any means.

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/53c63066e754139378b3c8c4a5c330a18fe77dea1854e286da04a96b124d054f.jpg

      • 12er

        Reminds me of the old River crossing on the loop around Dogtown outside of Coulterville. Too many sparkplug removals and airbox drains at that spot over the years…

        • Sayyed Bashir

          Yes, we were going from Buck Meadows to Coulterville for lunch and then back the same way as part of Family Off-Road Adventures in May. Maximum 150 riders. Our group had 7 people. Bike started up right away.

          • Craig Hoffman

            Ballsy riding that big bike across a river. Moving water is very tricky. Dropped my 300cc dirt bike in a river. caught it all on my helmet cam. Warning, some middle aged dude pissed off language involved 😛

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyyLWjnm7Ms

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            E-start on a two stroke?

          • Sayyed Bashir

            Its a Husqvarna (KTM). All KTM dirt bikes are electric start.

    • David K

      Yes, full sized BMW’s and the like are not meant for much more than gravel roads and smooth trails. I like this bike a lot and have had a few enduro’s (now referred as dual sports), but I can’t get over the fact that at 60 mph this bike is at 7000 rpm. My bikes are used for commuters and I don’t want all of that buzz.

  • Gabriel Owens

    So can we assume that the 300 will become a 400 soon?

    • john phyyt

      .. Maybe not.. If it adds Weight and cost. . Bigger ain’t necessarily better,

      • Gabriel Owens

        Considering that the ninja 300 is probably done in 2018 to make way for the ninja 400, I just wonder if theyll continue to make 300cc motors at all.

      • pidginTM

        lol, like it doesn’t already wear a ton? Also the new 400 engine weighs less than the current 300. Hopefully we’ll see some great 400cc bikes for 2019 from kawi.

        • Klappskalli von Porsche

          the new 400 engine weighs less than the current 300? really? how?

          • pidginTM

            How? 300 was sloppy/cheaply made perhaps.

            “While the new engine is comparable in physical size to that of the 2013-2017 Ninja 250, it’s actually 1kg lighter than the smaller displacement unit.”

            Lighter than 250 even.

          • Gabriel Owens

            Uhm…science.

  • Auphliam

    Good stuff. Looks like a fun bike. I just wonder how well it would do hauling my 240lb+ butt (plus gear) around the trails while still being capable of some shenanigans. Does the 300 possess that kind of grunt?

    • Allison Sullivan

      I wonder the same thing, but thinking it might do a lot better with my 150lb. I have zero interest in wrestling with a Godzilla sized ADV bike, but one of these or a Honda CB500X – that’s a whole different ballgame.

      • spiff

        Ktm will have a 790 Adventure in a year and a half.

        • Craig Hoffman

          Yep, that bike promises to be kick ass.

    • IRS4

      For what it’s worth, I’m 6′, 210, and take a KLR650 desert camping with a pretty full load. It’s fine at everything but the freeway, where weight and the anti-aero effects of panniers limit it to about 70mph comfortable cruising speed. Add a headwind, altitude, or an incline, and it can be tough to crack 60.

      • David K

        You must of had the old style KLR. I sold my 2008 last year with 53,000 miles. With over 700 lbs – bike, rider, gear, I had no problem cruising at 70 mph and could easily go faster especially when passing. I put on 650 miles in one day twice on a trip to Texas and back to Illinois. The new style KLR is a great street bike but not so much off road especially compared to the previous model.

        • Vrooom

          True, too much expensive plastic and weight. But a better street bike.

  • Craig Hoffman

    Looks like a good little bike.

    Suzuki has owned the handy sized ADV market forever with it’s excellent 650. I have a fantasy that involves a Suzuki 650 and a blown up 450cc MX bike’s suspension 😛

    • 12er

      Your fantasy is the Suzuki version of what Henry Wiles built for AFT Twins TT races.

    • Vrooom

      Two weekends ago I was riding down in the Redwoods and saw two of these 500 Hondas converted to offroad machines. Both the guys were camped at Jed Smith where I was. Very cool bikes, but for the cost of the transformation, I’d guess you could get a KTM.

  • Old MOron

    Hmm, I kind of wrote you off when you chose the Fat Bob over the xDiavel. But maybe you’re okay, after all. Maybe I’ll even go and reread that shootout.

    • Old MOron

      Okay, I did reread the shootout. I hadn’t read carefully before because I don’t care about cruisers. But that shootout was well done, with a credible outcome.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      I was the first one to praise him when he wrote his first article “Top 10 Personal Favorite Harley-Davidsons” on Sep 14. Finally someone who understands Harleys. Since then he has written on a wide variety of subjects.

  • therr850

    I think if you are up against the rev limiter at 96, removing weight won’t let you go faster. The rev limiter is rpm triggered and rpm is tied by gearing to speed.

    • Klappskalli von Porsche

      …exactly !!

  • I got one of these a couple of weeks ago when the local dealer was closing out the 2017’s to make room for the 2018’s. I LOVE THIS BIKE, and I have a Tiger 800XCA as well as a DR650 in the stable. I can foresee this bike getting a LOT of use over the nice Arizona winter!

  • JustaTexan

    I would like to take the engine, wiring harness, instruments, and lights from a Versys 650 and add them to a KX450F rolling chassis. Add a plastic tank, reinforced sub frame and a few other odds and ends and viola: the most fun capable mid sized adventure bike on the planet.

  • Patriot159

    About those photos; you sir are guilty of invoking envy and jealousy in me! lol I do love me dual sports and light ADV bikes hence my modded and farkled DR650 which is among my favorite bikes I’ve owned in 45 years of riding!

  • Nice writing, Brent! Just keep up that enthusiasm!

  • BillW

    Nice write-up. However, I think you meant “proponents” rather than “proprietors”.

  • Dkapulsky

    Bought one a couple of weeks ago, did a bit of work on the rider’s part of the seat, added about an inch of sponge comfort, makes a big difference.
    The short gearing not ideal, looked at the options, so far, not many available as changing the sprockets seems to work avoc with speedometer and gear indicator.
    Otherwise a fine bike, a bit of a screamer, but full of go.
    The light weight is a big bonus for me, my other bike NC700XD, a fine comfortable motorcycle for longer bouts, is mighty heavy for short city trips (it’s about 180 lbs. on top of the kawa’s weight!) and it’s no good in a bit of mud!
    Enjoy!!

  • Vrooom

    Very nice review, this is the kind of data one needs. I’d love to hear how it would do on one of the AMA dual sport A courses. The front wheel is probably too small for that, but I’ve seen people ride a GS1200 in those (OK, one of them broke his back), so it’s probably easier than that.

  • Klappskalli von Porsche

    quoting another motorcycle journalist: “If a new rider accidentally gives it too much throttle input, there is minimal effect on the output, which helps to mask rider error and allows new riders to build confidence in the dirt.” … very nice way to describe a gutless engine 🙂

  • Sayyed Bashir

    Going motorcycle camping and getting paid for it? Now that’s what I call making a living!

    • Brent Jaswinski

      Amen to that, brotha!