The Versys-X 300 costs almost as much as the recently launched TRK 502 X. But does the lean, green and not-so-mean machine offer as much as the big and burly Benelli?
Benelli’s comeback vehicle, the TRK 502 makes the ridiculously priced Kawasaki Versys-X 300 seem even more ridiculous. With 150 bookings underway, the TRK is off to a great start, considering Benelli’s troubled past. However, keeping the price tag aside, both the TRK 502 and Versys-X 300 are quite evenly matched.
Both come with twin-cylinder, liquid-cooled config, both are made for touring, allowing for minor detours into subtle trails and both are priced almost the same. However, if we were to pit motorcycles against each other by merely looking at the spec sheet, all of us would be out of jobs. Although, both the ADVs are big, the TRK is a lot bigger and makes it presence everywhere, quite literally. Second glances are guaranteed but it’ll even remind the rider of its sheer size. And that’s where the Versys-X outshines the bigger bored TRK. Despite the displacement disadvantage, the Versys-X 300 has a power to weight ratio of 213bhp/tonne while the more powerful TRK 502 is limited to 200bhp/tonne! This advantage of 51kg makes the Versys a very different animal when compared to the TRK. It's engine too is sourced from the tried and trusted Ninja 300. However, at the given price point, the TRK seems to offer more than meets the eye. Have those 150 buyers made the correct decision by signing off their cheques for the big Italian?
We picked the slightly more expensive and purposeful X variant of the TRK for this test. Not only does it offer 19-17inch spoke wheels shod with Metzeler Tourance rubber, an upswept exhaust but also a much-required ground clearance of 220mm. Why is that a necessity you ask? You see, everything is made of metal; the carriers, optional panniers and even the solid windscreen mount. And that adds to lots of weight. Unwanted weight. All of this makes the TRK heavier than the flagship Ducati ADV; the Multistrada 1260! And the soft and cushy suspension, especially at the rear guarantees thuds. The additional ground clearance thus makes for a diligent, tangible asset. Amidst all this, the low-key plastic cluster not only feels out of place but dated too, especially in this age of TFTs. On top of the mighty frame lies a couch-like seat though. Its well-cushioned and has a wide inseam, thus making it troublesome for short riders to down their anchors. The seat height too is higher than the Versys by 25mm at 840mm. And when you have 235kg of mass to haul around, you'd better want both your feet on the ground, wouldn’t you?
The 499.6cc, parallel-twin sounds magnificent, but doesn’t have the go to match the show, like all other Benellis. The TRK thus is slower to 100kmph than the Versys by almost a second, at 7.3 seconds. However, it may be peaky, but it isn’t so peaky as the Versys and definitely fares better when it comes to in-gear acceleration. Sixth cog can take you all the way from as low as 40kmph at 2000rpm, to the top speed. 100kmph comes in at a lowly 5000rpm in the sixth gear, making the TRK a great cruiser. And the same ability reflects in its ride and handling as well. The soft setup is absolutely great for long journeys and the TRK can glide over almost everything the Indian roads throw at it. As aforementioned, the suspension does bottom out on some occasions, but nothing to complain about. Thanks to its long wheelbase, lazy rake and infamous weight issues, tipping the TRK into a corner definitely takes a lot of effort. But she’s much more stable than the Versys-X 300 and you can confidently carry higher speeds. Slow corners? Maybe yes, if you are in need of a workout. And better call up crane service if you manage to tip it down, while taking a U-turn.
Stopping on a dime? That’d be too much to ask for. This Benelli will be able to stop on a `2,000 bill and nothing else. The brakes offer very little feedback and the TRK nosedives under emergency situations, not giving you enough confidence. However, if you love trail riding, Benelli offers a switch to put off ABS. But again, the system kills ABS at both ends! You’d need big gonads to do so on a big and heavy ADV like this.
The TRK is a great machine for those who love to clock miles. It may not be impressive on trails and is cumbersome to ride in urban conditions, but it clearly isn’t meant to do so.
Unlike the TRK, the Versys is sold only in the ‘X’ guise in India. Which means, off-road biased IRC Trail Winners shod 19-17in rims come factory-fitted while Kawasaki India also offers the accessory kit as standard. It includes crash guards, auxillary lights, hand guards and a pannier that can hold barely 3kg of goods! All this makes the Versys-X 300 look touring-friendly, however that’s not the case really.
But let’s speak about the Kwacker’s USP first. The chassis and brilliant weight distribution makes the Versys-X 300 feel like a lot smaller ADV than it really is. At 184kg, it is lighter than the TRK by 51kg and even the Himalayan is heavier by 10kg. All of this, along with the brilliant seating position and 815mm of saddle makes it just about perfect for our conditions. This is exactly where the TRK falters. But then there’s the peaky engine.
You see, the 296cc, liquid-cooled parallel-twin makes a healthy 39bhp and 25.7Nm all of this is made way up in the rev range. At 11,500rpm and 10,000rpm, respectively! This makes the Versys extremely lethargic in the low revs. In fact, below 6,000rpm, she barely moves. Once past 6,000rpm, there can be a lot of fun to be had but then the vibes start creeping in, into the tank. Thankfully, the light clutch helps. The clutch action is brilliant and it’s superlight, just like the overall motorcycle. And remember, the lack of grunt in the low range will require a lot of downshifts, be it in the city or the highway. Of course, that makes it extremely tricky to ride the Versys in off-road conditions. The engine completely lets down the brilliant chassis and is a chink in the armour. Of course, if you’re a rev-junkie, there’s fun to be had, especially post 9000rpm, but remember, you’re riding an ADV and not a supersport. If you're an adrenaline junkie, you'll the high strung motor but if you're willing to cruise comfortably, then look elsewhere.
The ride quality is sweet but the Versys-X 300 with its low-suspension travel is subject to bottoming out quite easily, especially at the rear. It is good on highways but not so great over trails. The feedback too is minimal from both ends. Of course, what the Versys packs in is Kawasaki’s sporty genes. It’s super nimble, especially for its proportions and motive and can be a lot of fun through traffic. You will have a ball of a time on weekend jaunts, if you’re into corner carving. The agility really helps but she isn’t as stable as the TRK in corners. But then, you clearly know want you’re paying for when you’re investing in a greenie meanie.
The Versys-X 300 is just about perfect for India and if you can live with the peaky engine, it can be a lot of fun everywhere. Agreed, it isn't so good like the TRK on the highways, but it's a great all rounder. If you wring the throttle, it really moves, just make sure you don't let the revs fall below 9,000rpm. Could've been so much better with a lower sticker!
Desis love everything big and flashy. We are following the footsteps of America; buying SUVs over hatchbacks and dining out at McDonalds rather than local pav bhaji stalls. Similar patterns can be observed when it comes to ADVs as well. We love our Tigers and GS but not all of us have the money to afford the biggies. This is why the Benelli TRK 502 X works so well. It packs in a lot of cee cees, has massive road presence. In fact during the shoot, some of the kids in a village nearby mistook it for a Triumph Tiger! It's loud too, like all Benellis which gives it extra cred. Of course, you cannot ignore its capabilities. It is quite comfortable at mile munching and will keep you comfortable even if its a 1,000km journey. The plush seat will keep your spouse happy as well and there's enough hooks and carriers to load all your luggage. But what it lacks is go to match the show. It's super heavy and isn't quick as such. All that mass makes it cumbersome to ride around the city. So if you live close to a highway, it makes sense for you.
But if you want more from your machine, then nothing beats the Kawasaki Versys-X 300. It is one of the most precise motorcycles out there, especially for our conditions. Its size and even the ergonomics are spot on for desis (read 5ft 8in, medium built). The fact that it is quicker than the TRK, despite the lack of displacement adds to its kitty of value add. The ride and handling setup too is just about perfect for our conditions. Even though it is setup on the softer side, the handling is brilliant, reflecting on its Japanese inheritance. It isn't perfect though. The engine is super peaky and will not be liked by everyone, especially the ones looking for a traditional ADV. Even the sticker is nothing to write home about, but in this company, it definitely has an edge. The 300 could've been so much more, if priced well!