Words: Mikko Nieminen, Editor, Motorcycle Sport & Leisure magazine
The new Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE is not an adventure bike in the dirt-riding, back-to-basics kind of sense; but with its effortless handling, smooth engine and mind-boggling array of electronic rider aids, it is just the thing for black-top adventures.
The bike we tested was a top-of-the-range Versys 1000 SE Grand Tourer – but even the standard model has been updated for 2019 with electronic throttle valves, cruise control, IMU-controlled corner management package, intelligent braking system, LED lights, 12V socket and radial front brake calipers. Sounds like a lot, huh?
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The SE variant takes the level of sophistication even further by adding to the mix electronic suspension, riding modes, quick shifter, full-colour TFT dash with smartphone connectivity, LED cornering lights and highly durable paint. And in the Grand Tourer trim you also get panniers, top box, hand guards, fog lights, GPS bracket and crash protection. The range in equipment means that there is quite a price difference too, from £11,199 for the standard model to £15,899 for the bike that we rode with all the toys.
The new Versys 1000 doesn’t look too different from the outgoing model – styling changes are subtle and most of the changes are to do with the tech on board rather than new components. The first thing that became obvious after just a few yards of riding was the refined nature of the 1043cc inline four engine. The previous model’s powerplant was pretty silky too, but with the new electronic throttle valves the new Versys makes the power delivery even smoother than before.
But the engine is not the only part of the bike that is well-mannered – from throttle action to switchgear, from suspension to steering, everything works like a Swiss clock; predictably, right on time and with no fuss. Adding to the enjoyment is the quickshifter, which worked well, and I didn’t miss a gear once during the two days of riding. The gear lever itself feels a little spongy but once you get used to that it’s fine.
The ride modes control the throttle map, suspension and traction control. I soon discovered that the Road mode was my favourite, combining a lively throttle map with comfortable but stable suspension and a useful level of traction control. The sport mode made the suspension a bit harsh for my liking, without offering noticeably more rapid power delivery. At the other end of the spectrum, the Rain mode softened the suspension a bit too much and invited the traction control to intervene far too early for riding on dry roads.
The performance of the new semi-active electronic suspension was impressive: the bike remained planted through all types of corners and kept its line well. Another benefit of the electronic suspension is that changing the settings is just a press of a button – no tools required (apart from front preload). The new radially mounted four-piston monobloc calipers proved to be excellent in biting into the 310mm discs and bringing the bike to a stop very quickly while offering great feel through the adjustable lever. There was very little dive even during hard braking, and the anti-locking system took over from the over-enthusiastic rider very smoothly, with minimal pumping feel through the controls.
After completing the 250-mile test, the average fuel consumption was 44mpg, not bad given that I had enjoyed myself rather than tried to ride economically.
If you want a bike that has great road manners, does everything you ask of it without a complaint and doesn’t spring any surprises on you, this one is worth a closer look.
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Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE Grand Tourer
Engine: 1043cc liquid-cooled, 4-stroke inline four
Power: 118bhp (88kW) @ 9000rpm
Torque: 75lb-ft (102Nm) @ 7500rpm
Fuel tank: 21 litres
Fuel consumption: 51mpg claimed (44mpg tested)
Transmission: 6-speed, chain final drive
Frame: Twin-tube, aluminium
Seat height: 840mm
Kerb weight: 257kg
Suspension: (F) 43 mm Showa cartridge fork; (R) BFRC lite rear shock. Electronically adjustable.
Brakes: (F). Radial-mount, monobloc, opposed 4-piston calipers, semi-floating 310mm petal discs; (R) single piston caliper, 250 mm petal disc.
Wheels: Hollow section cast aluminium
Tyres: (F) 120/70; (R) 180/55