Land of the Roosting Sun: Four Far-Flung Adventure Bikes From Japan!

John Burns
by John Burns

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.

Honda Interceptor

Least like the other bikes here, least new, and the last one you’d want to find yourself on when the pavement ends is the redesigned Interceptor.

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.

2014 Honda Interceptor Review – First Ride

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…

You don’t get a bump up in horsepower with the new VFR, but you do get self-cancelling turn signals as part of the DLX package – along with ABS, TC and heated grips.

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.

Honda Interceptor

+ Highs

  • 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

– Sighs

  • 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.)

2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT First Ride Review

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.

It surprised no one when the largest engine of the group cranked out the biggest numbers, as the 1043cc Versys mill spat out the most power. The FJ-09 is perhaps most impressive, its 847cc Triple punching above its weight to come up less than 5 horses short of the big Kawi. The Interceptor uses its high rev ceiling to barely out-pony the V-Strom.

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.

The Kawi’s the biggest bike here, with the biggest bags, included in the lowest price of $12,799. Note also the remote preload adjuster, centerstand…

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 videoyou’ll see me fondling the Kawi’s supple padding. Mmmmm…

There’s a lot of info packed into the Kawasaki’s Radio Shack-looking dash, but you should definitely have your eyes on the road when the tach gets past 5.

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

+ Highs

  • Most powerful beast and smooth-running
  • Most room for you and your stuff
  • Very comfy

– Sighs

  • 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.”

The new V-Strom 1000 Adventure is a bit more expensive than the Versys, a bit lighter, a bit more nicely turned out… but they’re both big, torquey-fun motorcycles to ride all day and then some.

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 V-Strom’s motor is most diesel-like, twisting out strong power before an early decline. The Versys has big power early and everywhere. Considering a displacement difference of just 65cc, the numbers from the Interceptor’s 782cc V-Four are dwarfed by Yamaha’s 847cc Triple.

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.

2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS Review – First Ride

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.

Kawasaki and Suzuki display the same info, but the Suzuki’s presentation is a bit nicer; the 12V outlet is right there too.

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

+ Highs

  • A steal next to the KTM or BMW Adventures
  • Super grunty at just 4000 rpm
  • Hybrid cam drive makes valve adjustment DIY

– Sighs

  • 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
The new FJ is way more Multistrada than dual-sport.

Yamaha FJ-09

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.

2015 Yamaha FJ-09 First Ride Review

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.

The FJ-09 instruments are also about a generation ahead of the other bikes. Reversible handlebar clamps let you move it fore and aft 10mm. There’s also a 12V outlet to power up your stuff.

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.

Yamaha FJ-09

+ Highs

  • Best power-to-weight ratio
  • Lowest price
  • Triples are good

– Sighs

  • 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 Interceptor2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT2015 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS Adventure2015 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)
Engine782cc liquid-cooled 90-degree V-Four1043cc liquid-cooled Inline Four-cylinder1037cc liquid-cooled 90-deg. V-Twin847c liquid-cooled Inline Three-cylinder
Fuel SystemEFIEFIEFIEFI; ride-by-wire
Valve TrainDOHC with VTEC; 4 valves per cylinderDOHC; 4 valves per cylinderDOHC; 4 valves per cylinderDOHC; 4 valves per cylinder
/ Final drive
(Dynojet 250)
49.86 @ 8600 rpm/92.62 @ 10,400 rpm69.01 @ 7300 rpm/107.86 @ 9300 rpm65.64 @ 4000 rpm/90.87 @ 8100 rpm59.77 @ 8300 rpm/104.07 @ 9900 rpm
Front Suspension43mm with spring-preload adjustability; 4.3 inches travelKYB 43mm inverted front fork with adjustable rebound and preload; 5.9 in travelInverted telescopic, coil spring, oil damped41mm fork; adjustable preload and rebound damping; 5.4-in travel
Rear SuspensionPro Arm single-side swingarm with Pro-Link single shock; adjustable spring preload and rebound damping; 4.7 in. travelHorizontal back-link shock; adjustable spring preload (remote adjuster), rebound damping; 5.9 in. travelSingle shock; adjustable spring preload (remote adjuster), rebound dampingSingle shock; adjustable preload and rebound damping; 5.1 in. travel
Front BrakeDual 310mm discs; 4-piston calipers, ABSDual 310mm petal discs; 4-piston calipers, ABSDual 310mm discs; 4-piston calipers, ABSDual 298mm discs; 4-piston calipers, ABS
Rear Brake256mm disc; single-piston caliper, ABS250mm petal disc; single-piston caliper, ABS260mm disc; single-piston caliper, ABS245mm disc; single-piston caliper, ABS
Front Tire120/70ZR-17 radial120/70×17110/80R19120/70ZR-17 radial
Rear Tire180/55ZR-17 radial180/55×17150/70R17180/55ZR-17 radial
Wheelbase57.4 in.59.8 in.61.2 in.56.7 in.
Rake/Trail25.5 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 Height31.0 in. / 31.8 in.33.1 in.33.4 in.33.3 in. / 33.9in.
Curb Weight – Official MO Scales529 lb. (Honda claimed) 550 lb. w/ bags565 lb.544 lb.494 lb.
Fuel Capacity5.2 gal.5.5 gal.5.3 gal.4.8 gal.
Tested Fuel Economy41 mpg40 mpg36 mpg37 mpg
Available ColorsRed, Pearl WhiteCandy Burnt Orange/Metallic Spark Black, Flat Ebony/Metallic Spark BlackBlackCandy Red, Matte Gray
WarrantyOne year, unlimited milesTwo years, unlimited milesOne year, unlimited milesOne year
John Burns
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5 of 47 comments
  • Bigfriggindeal Bigfriggindeal on Mar 10, 2015

    Great review, Thank you. One correction to the specs, the Vstrom 1000 has a six speed trans.

  • Chad H Chad H on May 15, 2015

    I'm considering the Versys, V-Strom, and FJ-09. I've not ridden any of them, but did own a Ninja 1000 that was supremely comfortable after I put on an inch taller seat and lowered the pegs. The engine is truly fantastic, and possibly one of the best motorcycle engines I've ever commanded. Don't let the spec sheet fool you. It's not about maximum power/'s about USEABLE power and torque....and the 1043 Kawasaki mill has it in spades. The Ninja 1000 doesn't have the extra engine isolation the Versys does, and buzz was never an issue for me on that bike. Of course, I ride in full gear, so maybe my gloves and boots were soaking it up. Can't say...but I never had any issues.

    For my size (6'5" - 230lbs), the FJ felt a bit cramped when I sat on it in the showroom. It's a smaller bike than I had imagined. The seat was very bad. In the 20 minutes or so I sat on it (in full gear) I was ready to get off. That would have to be remedied. The Versys and V-Strom both have acceptable stock seats. I venture to guess you could drain the tank before requiring a butt break. Of course, with the ADV layout, standing is easy if you need to get some blood flow to your nether regions on the fly.

    The only complaint I have against the Strom (and again, I haven't ridden the new one) is the 19" front tire and 150 series rear tire. I don't ever plan on going off road (on purpose anyway). I'd rather have standard old 120/180 tires for the sole purpose of tire choice. I have a good friend who has owned two previous generation Stroms and loves them. He recently sold a Ducati Multistrada and purchased a used Strom. Just a great all around motorcycle and even the older generation bikes are pretty good bikes. I always enjoyed taking a spin on my friends.

    • See 2 previous
    • Halfnelson_73 Halfnelson_73 on Jul 27, 2015

      I don't think I would have passed on that deal either. Good for you.