Why are motorists so frustrated on our roads nowadays? Poor traffic sense? Heat? Idiots on roads? All valid reasons but there is another big factor – illogical decisions taken by the local municipalities that stunts traffic progress, preventing commuters reaching their destination quickly. Take for instance the geniuses that are in charge of the localities near my residence in Pune. In the final home run of 3km, I have to negotiate close to 20 speed bumps. I am not kidding! That is close to 7 bumps per kilometre, a bump every 143m. It’s like I am riding an MX race on a daily basis. And this gets tedious when you have a track-biased sportsbike or a tarmac-hugging cruiser. However, I was happy in the week leading up to writing this report as I spent those seven days astride Kawasaki’s Versys-X 300. Flight mode activated!
It is the third adventure motorcycle from the green side of Japan. But this one is more capable of taking on the dirty side of motorcycling as it bears the letter ‘X’ in its name. It has the right ingredients. Spoked rims, high ground clearance and a very upright riding stance. It is no Ninja and those who think it is a mere slap-on job over the Ninja 300 are highly mistaken. Barring the engine, there is nothing that the two motorcycles share.
It looks rather big but it is not. The design is fairly simple, keeping the plastic items to the bare minimum. The similarity to club bouncer physique is quite pronounced on the Versys-X 300. It has a small headlight unit, looks large and bulky in the chest region and is surprisingly slim at the back end. The plastic pannier is more like a fanny pack. Kawasaki India has decided to furnish the Versys-X 300 with a number of after-market accessories like engine-cum-fairing guard, LED auxiliary lights, a DC power supply and a centre stand. There is a luggage rack but only a pannier for the right side which has a measly 3kg load bearing capacity. While on the left is an oversized saree guard which is mandatory for homologation purposes.
Adventure motorcycles usually have an air of intimidation about them. Maybe it is due to the tall seat height or large dimensions, but people are scared to jump aboard. However, on this Versys everything is quite easy going. The saddle height is just 815mm, similar to say the Bajaj Pulsar RS 200 or the KTM 200 Duke. Even though it has a ground clearance of 180mm, one’s feet can transition between the pegs and terra firma quite easily. The bars offer great leverage while hitting the trails. The small windshield is not adjustable but does a good job of protecting the rider from wind buffeting.
“When you do reach the trails, the Versys is simply one of the best available”
There is no Ninja 300-derived diamond frame underneath the skin but much rather a new cleverly balanced steel backbone chassis with a sharper 24-degree rake. It gets beefier 41mm dia forks with 130mm wheel travel and a link-type Uni-Trak gas-charged monoshock that has preload adjustability along with 148mm rear wheel travel. Plus, you get a 19-inch front and 17-inch rear, on aluminium spoke rims, which is a neat setup for off-roaders. It would be but obvious that this setup could have been offered with dual-purpose tyres, if not knobbies. While IRC do claim that the Trail Winners used on the Versys-X 300 are of a dual nature, they hardly seem step up on the dirt. Metzeler Tourance or Pirelli MT 60 tyres or even for that matter Ceat Gripp XLs would get the job done better. Another issue is the braking. Our test bike was rather spongy on the brakes and took a bit of time to stop. The bite was present but there was tremendous fade after some time. And while it is equipped with ABS, there is no option to kill the safety aid for dirty dancing.
Our past experience on the Ninja 300 with this 296cc parallel-twin motor was of a free-revving smooth twin, making max power at a high rpm. This motor has been detuned for the Versys but the 39.45bhp of max power is still made at 11,500rpm. There is very little torque lower down the rev range and it comes alive only post 6,000rpm. In fact max torque of 25.7Nm is produced at 10,000rpm! Not the favoured tuning for something that you would want to take off the tarmac. The six-speed transmission is unchanged, with tall gear ratios though the Versys-X 300 does get four more teeth on the rear sprocket for quicker acceleration. You have to keep the motorcycle at higher revs if you want her to perform as there is virtually no drive below 6,000rpm. It also gets a slipper clutch which makes clutch operation buttery smooth on all terrain. The exhaust note is still the same old parallel-twin whine and the aural experience is not delightful.
I was desperate for a quarter-litre adventure motorcycle to come to India. The Hero Impulse did leave a lasting impression in the minds of most budding off-roaders but the lack of power was the biggest drawback while the RE Himalayan came with a plethora of problems and that has created a mind-block for the revised (and mostly sorted) FI Himalayan. India’s topography and road conditions are ready for an adventure motorcycle and the great numbers that Triumph clocks for the Tiger range and the fandom behind the Honda Africa Twin as well as the Ducati Multistrada, are testament to that fact. However, like I mentioned before, people were intimidated by the demeanour and power of these ADV bikes. Thus, in my opinion the Versys-X 300 should be a perfect fit for India. And it is, to a great extent.
With the scales tipping over at just 184 kilos, it is seven kilos lighter than what is touted to be a direct rival – the Royal Enfield Himalayan. The 19/17-wheel setup makes the Versys highly agile, both on- and off- road. Like any adventure motorcycle should do, the Versys-X 300 is extremely comfortable out on the open highway. The motor is extremely tractable, allowing you to cruise at speeds of 120kmph in sixth gear. You can keep her in fifth and potter around town doing 40-45kmph but with the lack of low-down torque, you will have to drop a couple of gears to get past slow moving traffic. Also, when you do cross 8,000rpm (just under 100kmph in sixth), there are significant vibrations that creep up from the pegs and the fuel tank.
The absence of low end torque can be compensated by keeping her in second gear and a higher rpm to maintain momentum. For the most part of the time I spent off-road, I kept her slotted in second gear, only shifting to third if she ran out of breath. The need for better tyres is evident here as there is so much potential from the bike to take on more. There are no heart-in-mouth moments on the Versys, even when I decided to catch a bit of air time. However when landing, the soft rear does bottom out and this is problematic. The front forks are on the stiffer side and as mentioned before don’t travel as you’d expect from an ADV bike. While going over broken tarmac, there was evident crashing with the front end skipping about. Given that there isn’t enough suspension travel, it would be better to limit off-road excursions to trail riding – which it does very well. The suspension and ergonomics are more than capable to meet the demand. But you cannot get greedy.
There was much WTF-ing in the office when Kawasaki announced the pricing for the Versys-X 300. Correct me if I am wrong but there is no way anybody will stomach the asking price of Rs 4.69 lakh, ex-showroom. Kawasaki is usually spot on with their pricing strategy but this has been one of their forgettable moments, right up there with the Z900 RS as well as the Ninja 400, both of which are ridiculously priced.
There was no motorcycle as close to being a perfect fit for India as the Versys-X 300, but I guess there will be very few takers for it at this price. It is all the more bonkers because for 30k more you can get the more powerful Z650 naked and for two lakh more the larger Versys 650. Come on, Kawasaki. Get rid of those accessories and drop the prices, if you want this to be a cult hero, which it has the makings of.