Land of the Roosting Sun: Four Far-Flung Adventure Bikes From Japan!
Honda Interceptor vs Kawasaki Versys 1000LT vs Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure vs Yamaha FJ-09
That’s right, masters of the obvious, one of these things is not like the other ones. But what we found out as we rode around on these four is that each of them fills a distinct niche, rendering the Honda less outside the Adventure Bike box than we would’ve thought going into it. Besides, the Africa Twin’s not here yet. Tommy Roderick and I already decided the BMW R1200GS Adventure is the ultimate if your adventures will include unpaved surfaces, but these four adventure bikes are aimed more toward riding on pavement: We’ve all seen the stats about how few of these kinds of bikes and Range Rovers ever make it off road. Not many. And having said that, a couple of these might make reasonable dual-sports depending upon how reasonable you ride off piste.
As we’ve already pointed out a time or two, a big part of the adventure-bike appeal is simply the sit-up ergonomics: Lots of AARP-eligible people who still love high-performance motorcycles find “adventure bikes” just as thrilling to ride but without the need to assume the position bikes like the Ducati Panigale enforce. In the realm of sportbikes, the VFR always was the gentleman’s choice, a kinder, gentler crotch rocket. Well guess what, it’s all relative. Next to a Panigale, the new Interceptor is a Herman Miller office chair. Next to the other three bikes here, it’s an ’86 GSX-R750. Okay it’s not that bad, but then it’s not 1986 anymore either – and almost everything about this bike insists that it is.
Some of those things are still cool, if dated, including the RC30-esque aluminum beam frame and one-sided swingarm. Other parts of it are just old. Honda did update the bike for ’15 with a slick new instrument panel and a tacked-on traction-control system, but it’s still a bike from the ’90s, complete with right-side-up fork, skinny seat, and long reach to the low grips. We’ll always love that 90-degree V-Four’s silky purr and we’re the first to admit 93 horsepower is enough. Well, for the $14k+ our test unit retails for, we’d like a little more. The Aprilia Tuono, for instance, gives you roughly 50% more power and quite a bit more of everything else for the same money. Okay, no saddlebags…
Duke says: The Interceptor is is still the bike you want if your adventures are purely sporty, and its latest styling updates look pleasing to my eyes. Giving it a long perusal, it appears to be a premium scoot in almost every way. But I’m confused why it has to cost as much of a premium over the other newer bikes in this group and why it has to weigh so much.
Anyway, maybe it is our bad for throwing the Honda in with three brand new offerings from the other Japanese OEMs, but doing so really shines the high beam on the gaping hole where a shiny red Honda ought to be, in the biggest-selling market segment. The closest current Honda is really the NC700X, which really is an amazingly good bike but with half the power of the other players here, which is why we chose to include the VFR instead.
In its defense, if we were going to Chuckwalla, we’d fight over the VFR, but on our favorite twisty roads and down the occasional dirt one, it’s not in the same quick-reacting, fun-to-ride all day league as the other three. Then again, riding home on the freeway cuddled up with the grip heaters on, it wasn’t half bad.
- One of the great engine textures of all time
- Bright LED head and tail lights
- Nice new wheels, instruments and TC; only one not requiring premium fuel
- Low performance/ $$$ ratio
- Where’s our Africa Twin?
- Where’s our RCV1000R? Self-cancelling turn signals aren’t going to cut it.
Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT
The other seat it’s even better to be in on the looong straights is the thick, cush one on the new Versys 1000 LT Kawasaki, especially when it’s dark and you can’t see how they kept the price down to $12,799, including saddlebags.
Dirty Sean Alexander rode the bike a couple months ago and filed an excellent report with which the rest of us have to agree: Though it shares the name Versys with the little 650, this liter version is much more grand tourer than lightweight playmate. On the official MO scales, it’s the heaviest bike here, at 565 pounds fuelled up, and it’s chunkiest between your thighs and just in general feels like the most substantial bike of the group because it is. At the same time, the sit-up ergoes and right-there grips make it super controllable, even though 5.9 inches of suspension travel at both ends has the seat more than 33 inches from the ground. (In fact, they’re all tall except the Interceptor.)
I was feeling charitable toward the Interceptor until I hopped off it and onto the Versys: There’s a big difference between 50 lb-ft of torque and 69 lb-ft of the stuff; the Kawasaki has pulse-jet spaceship drive. It’s already up around 65 lb-ft at only 5000 rpm, and if you keep the gas on it makes the most power too, jumping up over 100 hp at only 7700 rpm.
Though its hp and torque numbers are considerably lower than the Ninja 1000 and Z1000, which use the same engine, this one feels just as fast on the road, since so much of that power is shoved even lower in the powerband and delivered with sumptuous smoothness … and nobody complained about the vibration through the footpegs Sean did in his First Ride report (he’s very sensitive for a big guy). The rubber engine mounts in front do make the Versys less vibey through the grips than either of its stablemates.
Streetbike rolling stock – 17-inch wheels at both ends with 120- and 180mm tires – is your first clue that this one’s not really intended for off-pavement use: 565 pounds is big, yes, but the BMW R1200GS Adventure is 38 pounds heftier. On twisty pavement, you won’t mistake the V1000 for the 650 Versys, but its wide handlebar and ergos make it feel nice and light, and it transitions from side to side easily enough. Its fork is pretty raked out, but 102mm trail keeps steering reasonably quick. Its suspension delivers the cushiest ride here, but is also firm enough for aggressive backroad riding, and controlled enough to let you use all that torque to best advantage. Three levels of traction control (plus Off) have your back, and ABS is part of the deal too, on powerful triple-disc brakes.
Evans says: What an engine! Crank the throttle to the stop and hang on. On the freeway, I couldn’t keep this bike below 85 mph. I blame the minimized engine vibration for my inability to track the Versys’ highway speed. Best weather protection of the bunch when it came to riding in chilly temperatures. The windshield opened up a nice hole in the air my body was more than happy to occupy when I found myself on the road with too few layers. The hand guards offered better wind protection, too, compared to the Yamaha’s, that allow a draft to come around from inside near the windshield. The Versys’ seat is a winner. Look closely at the video – you’ll see me fondling the Kawi’s supple padding. Mmmmm…
It’s a superfluid, easy-to-ride all day bike except for its windscreen, which for 5-foot, 8-inch me is never unblustery in any of its positions. Other than that, this is the one you want if you’re a big guy with a big passenger and want to carry lots of stuff. Neither bag will hold a helmet, but they’ll hold plenty of other things.
Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT
- Most powerful beast and smooth-running
- Most room for you and your stuff
- Very comfy
- Looks military issue
- Cheesiest windscreen adjusters, blusteriest windscreen
- Most likely to be more adventure than you wanted off-road
Suzuki V-Strom 1000
Or is the Versys the one you want? Riding up to meet the fellas for this little comparo, I thought the new V-Strom 1000 was just as I remembered it from its coming-out party a little over a year ago, bullmoose stout and smooth-running along the freeway… until I noticed the letters at the bottom of the windshield said “ikasawaK.”
What the? I forgot I’d swapped bikes a couple days ago. In terms of riding position and overall feel, the V-Strom and the Versys are almost interchangeable. What do you like, a Twin or a Four-cylinder? The Kawasaki makes a lot more hp up top, but the V-Strom makes almost as much torque and peaks at just 4000 rpm – so it usually feels just as fast in urban use as the Versys (4800 rpm is 80 mph in 6th gear). The difference is that the ’Strom’s all done at 8000 rpm, where the Kawasaki’s just getting serious.
The seat’s not quite as plush as the Kawasaki’s, but it’s close, and Duke says it was his favorite for long distances. The main difference is that the Suzuki feels a little skinnier between your thighs. We wanted a standard ’Strom for this comparo (which retails for 100 bucks less than the Versys) with accessory saddlebags fitted, but Suzuki fixed us up with this Adventure model, which is just as well since it comes with standard saddlebags, crash bars, handguards, chin fairing and “touring” windshield for $1300 more – $13,999.
Its name contains the word “Adventure,” which implies it wants to compete with the BMW GS and KTM Adventure models. To that end, instead of the other bikes’ streetbike wheels, it comes with a 19-inch front and a 17 x 4.5-in. wheel on back with a 150/70 tire, good sizes for throwing on more off-road worthy rubber should you feel the need (the Bridgestone Battle Wings it comes with aspire to dual-sportiness).
We didn’t go far off-road during this test, but if we had, the V-Strom’s the one you’d want. Again, the upright ergoes it shares with the Versys put you in complete control, but the ’Strom is that much lighter and narrower, and its super-grunty Twin would be the right tool for chugging along at lower speeds. It’s also the first production Suzuki ever with TC, which can save less-seasoned off-road riders serious grief. You can’t, however, easily switch off its ABS, which may or may not be a problem. (If it is, you can pull the seat and yank the fuse.)
On pavement, it’s the longest bike with the most trail, but still steers light and quickly thanks to its relatively narrow tires. At elevated speeds, over 100, it also feels the most dirt-bikey; its chassis feels the most flexy, but that might be due to its skinnier tires.
Evans Brassnuckles: Riding the V-Strom reminds me why I miss the TL1000. Although the Versys wins the power wars, I think I prefer the Strom’s mill. It’s a V-Twin vs. inline-Four thing. It also has stonking brakes, with the best power and feedback of the bunch. The V-Strom’s 19 in. front wheel and long trail and wheelbase slow down the steering, but never really compromised my ability to place the bike where I wanted it in a corner. The narrow rear tire width counteracts the large-diameter front.
The extra dough for the Suzuki is reflected in quite a few subtle niceties: Its 43mm fork has compression adjusters as well as rebound ones, there’s a 12V outlet in its more attractive dash… overall, it has a slightly upmarket look parked next to the bare-bones blacked-out Kawasaki. But if you’re a Kawasaki person, you’d rather have the 17 more horsepower for $1200 less. Who could blame you? At the end of the day, the Kawi’s simply more street biased and the Suzuki feels more dirt worthy.
Suzuki V-Strom 1000
- A steal next to the KTM or BMW Adventures
- Super grunty at just 4000 rpm
- Hybrid cam drive makes valve adjustment DIY
- A little more top-end wouldn’t be a bad thing
- Exhaust valve is a thing of ugly. Do we really need it?
- Muffler takes up most of the space in the right saddlebag
Which brings us to our winner, sort of, Yamaha’s pert new FJ-09. As an adventure bike, this one’s almost more of a supermoto, with more aggressive power delivery. Not only is it 10% lighter than the next lightest V-Strom, it’s the only bike here with more weight on its front tire than its rear, and a flattish handlebar that pulls you a tad more forward and encourages aggression.
Though it gives up nearly 200cc to the two literbikes, the FJ Triple makes almost as much horsepower as the Versys, as well as 10 ft-lbs more torque than the 65cc smaller VFR. It’s got the best power-to-weight ratio of the bunch, along with a tauter chassis, a thinner seat and less wind protection than the other bikes. If it’s multi-day adventures you’re after, the FJ might not be it. If it’s day trips and commuting and nipping at the heels of the leather-clad sportbike crowd, the FJ is the clear winner, for us anyway, because we’re childish that way.
Duke: The Yamaha was the most productive grin factory of this group, feeling eager, agile and playful. It always feels fast, even among the bigger bikes and even during roll-on contests when it should be out-torqued but isn’t except for the Kawi.
Evans: It’s the most eager to charge out of corners, slickly snicking through the gears. Aside from an odd vibration that appears around 4,500 rpm – 5,500 rpm, the engine is smooth. Rider accommodations are comfy. The windshield offers decent protection but not as much as the Kawasaki. Oddly, the seat is flat and hard, making it appear to be a likely candidate for hot spots over the long haul – but it remains comfortable, coming in second to the Versys, according to my derrière.
It’s almost hard to see how Yamaha can be making money. Even with the optional bags and heated grips, it’s still a g less than the Kawasaki. The FJ is the only ride-by-wire bike here (which works way more smoothly than the FZ-09 did), with TC and ABS brakes. Traditionalists might not like its styling, but from a function point of view, the Triple shrink-wrapped inside that aluminum frame, with the swingarm and stainless exhaust tucked in tight, give the bike great mass centralization you can feel. Little Tommy Roderick says its looks remind him of an MV Agusta, and its exhaust note definitely does. In sporting use, the other bikes feel old-fashioned and heavy. Because they are.
On the Adventure continuum, not so much, mostly down to the 17-inch wheels at both ends, but also due to negligible flywheel effect and its jumpier throttle response. Then again, you do get handguards on the ends of that wide handlebar, and sub-500 lb. weight and traction control are also good things to carry into the boonies.
- Best power-to-weight ratio
- Lowest price
- Triples are good
- The bags need their own key
- Least wind protection
- Too pretty to abuse off-road
So, we’re going to give the win to the amazing Yamaha FJ-09 on the strength of its freshest design and its sporty yet accommodating personality. Which adventure bike is right for you really depends on the kind of adventures you have in mind. High-speed long-distance pavement running, solo, if you’re a wiry youth? The Interceptor is sweet indeed. Same deal with a passenger, more gear and an AARP card? Versys 1000 could be good. Same deal with or without a passenger and the possibility of exploring unpaved routes? V-Strom 1000 is a likely candidate. For making every day an adventure, though, the FJ-09 is going to be a really tough bike for anybody to beat. Yamaha is on an absolute tear.
Sub-1000 Sporty Adventure Tourer Specs
|2014 Honda Interceptor||2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT||2015 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS Adventure||2015 Yamaha FJ-09|
|MSRP||$12,499 (DLX: $13,499) (w bags, $14,449; and quick shifter, $14,749)||$12,799||$13,999||$10,490 (w bags, mounts, locks, heated grips: $11,748)|
|Engine||782cc liquid-cooled 90-degree V-Four||1043cc liquid-cooled Inline Four-cylinder||1037cc liquid-cooled 90-deg. V-Twin||847c liquid-cooled Inline Three-cylinder|
|Fuel System||EFI||EFI||EFI||EFI; ride-by-wire|
|Valve Train||DOHC with VTEC; 4 valves per cylinder||DOHC; 4 valves per cylinder||DOHC; 4 valves per cylinder||DOHC; 4 valves per cylinder|
/ Final drive
|49.86 @ 8600 rpm/92.62 @ 10,400 rpm||69.01 @ 7300 rpm/107.86 @ 9300 rpm||65.64 @ 4000 rpm/90.87 @ 8100 rpm||59.77 @ 8300 rpm/104.07 @ 9900 rpm|
|Front Suspension||43mm with spring-preload adjustability; 4.3 inches travel||KYB 43mm inverted front fork with adjustable rebound and preload; 5.9 in travel||Inverted telescopic, coil spring, oil damped||41mm fork; adjustable preload and rebound damping; 5.4-in travel|
|Rear Suspension||Pro Arm single-side swingarm with Pro-Link single shock; adjustable spring preload and rebound damping; 4.7 in. travel||Horizontal back-link shock; adjustable spring preload (remote adjuster), rebound damping; 5.9 in. travel||Single shock; adjustable spring preload (remote adjuster), rebound damping||Single shock; adjustable preload and rebound damping; 5.1 in. travel|
|Front Brake||Dual 310mm discs; 4-piston calipers, ABS||Dual 310mm petal discs; 4-piston calipers, ABS||Dual 310mm discs; 4-piston calipers, ABS||Dual 298mm discs; 4-piston calipers, ABS|
|Rear Brake||256mm disc; single-piston caliper, ABS||250mm petal disc; single-piston caliper, ABS||260mm disc; single-piston caliper, ABS||245mm disc; single-piston caliper, ABS|
|Front Tire||120/70ZR-17 radial||120/70×17||110/80R19||120/70ZR-17 radial|
|Rear Tire||180/55ZR-17 radial||180/55×17||150/70R17||180/55ZR-17 radial|
|Wheelbase||57.4 in.||59.8 in.||61.2 in.||56.7 in.|
|Rake/Trail||25.5 deg. / 95mm (3.74 in.)||27.0 deg. / 102mm (4.0 in.)||25.5 deg. / 109mm (4.3 in.)||24 deg. / 3.9 in.|
|Seat Height||31.0 in. / 31.8 in.||33.1 in.||33.4 in.||33.3 in. / 33.9in.|
|Curb Weight – Official MO Scales||529 lb. (Honda claimed) 550 lb. w/ bags||565 lb.||544 lb.||494 lb.|
|Fuel Capacity||5.2 gal.||5.5 gal.||5.3 gal.||4.8 gal.|
|Tested Fuel Economy||41 mpg||40 mpg||36 mpg||37 mpg|
|Available Colors||Red, Pearl White||Candy Burnt Orange/Metallic Spark Black, Flat Ebony/Metallic Spark Black||Black||Candy Red, Matte Gray|
|Warranty||One year, unlimited miles||Two years, unlimited miles||One year, unlimited miles||One year|