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2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300 ABS: MD Ride Review

The Kawasaki Versys family gained a new sibling this year in the form of the Versys-X 300. It weighs just 386 pounds with a full tank of gas (4.5 gallons) and features the engine from the Ninja 300, i.e., a 296 cc parallel-twin. Priced at just $5,699 for the ABS version tested (the non-ABS model is $5,399), the new baby Versys has generated a great deal of interest from not only MD readers, but motorcycle enthusiasts, in general.

The fuel-injected machine features a six-speed transmission and 5.1″ of suspension travel from a non-adjustable fork, with 5.8″ of travel from the single rear shock (adjustable for spring preload only). The Versys-X 300 makes due with single disc brakes, front and rear, riding on steel spoked wheels sized 19″ front and 17″ rear. The IRC Trail Winner GP-210 dual sport tires have tubes inside.

The ergonomics are bolt upright and comfortable. Depending on your preferences, the stock seat is either very supportive, or just plain hard. We found it reasonably comfortable with excellent support on longer rides. Seat height is relatively low at 32.1″ … aided by a very narrow machine that facilitates easy reach to the ground.

In our first report, we were already impressed with the nimble, comfortable machine after just 100 miles (including a brief off-road section). Further testing reinforced most of our conclusions, but yielded additional insights.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Versys-X 300 loves twisty roads … the tighter the better. The surprise comes from the fact that the tires are very narrow. The front is a 100/90×19 and the rear is a 130/80×17. They are also dual sport tires, but grip on dry tarmac is quite impressive.

Handling on twisty roads is obviously aided by two factors, including the very light weight (as well as very low reciprocating mass in the engine) and the broad dirt bike-style handlebars. Together with the narrow tires, we can’t presently think of another motorcycle that changes directions any easier than the Versys-X 300.

For the most part, vibration levels are very low (as we noted earlier). At extended high speed travel (over 80 mph), however, some annoying vibration can be felt through the footpegs and handgrips (particularly, the throttle grip, for some reason). Understandable, given the fact the small displacement twin is spinning close to 10,000 rpm at those speeds. Highway travel at lower speeds is much more comfortable.

The six-speed transmission shifted well with a very light clutch pull effort, and the brakes performed adequately.  The single front disc is a decent size (290 mm) and gets the job done in day-to-day riding. Heavy abuse of the front brake during spirited rides, however, can result in some fade, and don’t expect stopping forces approaching that of modern sport bikes.

Wind protection from the screen is pretty good, although it could be a bit wider and hand guards would be a nice addition. Highway travel below 80 mph is comfortable, and Kawasaki offers optional luggage should you plan to tour on the Versys-X 300. Gas mileage, and fuel range, are outstanding. Averaging 50 mpg + is very doable, and high 40s are achieved even while riding aggressively (i.e., running the bike near redline in every gear).

We also took the Versys-X300 off-road. The stock tires have a street bias without a lot of traction in the loose stuff, but the little Versys still proved to be a fun and capable dirt bike.

The X-300 is so much lighter (in some cases, approaching 200 pounds lighter), and more nimble, than other adventure bikes, that it starts with a huge advantage off the pavement. The seating position and weight distribution, together with the high bars, provide good balance and even allow the rider to move fore-and-aft just enough to shift weight in corners. The narrowness of the frame between your knees is also a big plus off road.

The engine makes decent thrust from as little as 5,000 rpm, but the sweet spot is way up north of 7,500 rpm. The bike can rev all the way to 12,000 rpm without the power falling on its face.

This is a very fun motorcycle with plenty of practical application. The engine can push the machine north of 100 mph, and cruises comfortable at legal highway speeds. It handles beautifully — stable on the highway, while nimble and sure-footed in the tight, twisty stuff. Fuel economy is outstanding, and the large tank easily delivers more than 200 miles of range, even when the bike is ridden hard.

So the Versys-X 300 is an attractive motorcycle given the low price. Will it replace a Gold Wing or other large-displacement, luxury tourer? No, it won’t, but you can still travel long distances in reasonable comfort, and have a capable dirt bike beneath you (with the right tires) at the same time.

Take a look at Kawasaki’s web site for full details, specifications, and available accessories for the 2017 Versys-X 300.


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80 Comments

  1. Motorhead says:

    I’ll confess. For the number of times I’ve said, “If only they made such-and-such a motorcycle, then I would buy it,” and manufacturers have delivered, I have yet to buy one. This bikes is exactly what many have been asking for. Yet, I’m not actually going to buy it. Though I should. There are at least a dozen perfect motorcycles launched every year, and yet we don’t actually mean it when we say we will buy. One of these days, however. Until then, manufacturers, please keep launching perfect bikes and at least one of us will buy one…

  2. PRINCE OF DARKNESS says:

    I’d like to request The MD Team to make a Twitter Feed for bikes report. It’s VERY inconvenient to constantly check the website for news.
    Now, I’m aware of RSS, but I’ve ditch it a long ago and I don’t intend to go back to it AGAIN. And I can’t seem to find a way to make a Twitter account which automatically pick notifications from RSS feed. There could be, but I’m not that tech savvy, unfortunately…!
    Yes, I’m THAT desperate…!!! It’s such a brilliant website with unbiased reviews, which is a rarity now-a-days where almost every article is sponsored.
    Hope you’ll make one soon as it’ll bring-in a LOT of traffic as most people who use Twitter are avid readers and just LOVE to read…

  3. Alan says:

    I read most of the comments but think you need to hear from an owner. I’m a geezer, 200K BMW rider, current Tiger 800. In the past I’ve had, among others, a KLR I rode to Alaska twice. I bought the first VX300 I could find back in the spring. I’ve got 1100 miles on it, did a backroads overnight tour on it. I’ve made a few mods; softened the suspension, added an Akro pipe, went up 1 tooth on the countershaft.

    My verdict: This is stunning little motorcycle. I’m 5”8″, 160lbs., the ergos are great. It’s every bit as fast as the KLR and, despite higher cruising revs, it’s a better highway bike and just as good a bad, dirt road bike. That’s the definition of an ADV bike, not a dirt bike.

    Since the day I got the VX I have not ridden my Triumph. The VX is so light, so flickable, it is the easiest turning motorcycle I’ve ever had. To be honest, I would not characterize it as a beginners bike, it takes lots of revs and shifting. That also makes it a poor choice for someone moving from a cruiser-type bike. But it’s great for an older rider, it’s light both in weight and controls, and as they say, it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow.

    • mickey says:

      ” and as they say, it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow.”

      Some people do say that, but I think that is just something they say because they don’t have a fast bike. I just got in from a 146 curvy road ride with my wife pillion, and not once during the ride did I say gee, I wish I had 1/4th the displacement and 1/5th the horsepower just so I could rev the snot out of it to ride the same speed.

      Now riding in the dirt, yea maybe, but on the street? …NO… riding a fast bike fast is a lot more fun than riding a slow bike fast.

      • todd says:

        This is closer to half the power of your bike and since you only run yours at less than half power, this would give you a much lighter, more maneuverable bike. Bikes like to rev, it’s good for them. It’s people that don’t like to rev.

        • mickey says:

          Bikes are mechanical objects at the beck and whim of those that own them. They have no feelings. They don’t “like” to rev. Some have owners that like to rev them however.

          Btw my bike that I was riding yesterday was a 1300cc V4 that has 125 hp, this one has 24. You do the math.

          80 mph is 80 mph whether you are running 4000 rpms in top gear on a large bike or 10,000 rpms intop gear on a small bike.

          • todd says:

            I was thinking of your 82 hp 1140 Honda vs the 35 that the 300 makes.

            My note about what engines like is in reference to what makes them last the longest. It is much easier for an engine to spin higher rpm and have greater mechanical advantage than struggle against high gearing with low rpm. If you ride a bicycle, you’d see it’s the same for the human body too.

            Worrying about high rpm on a motorcycle engine is like worrying about “pinging” in a Diesel engine; it’s meant to do that.

          • mickey says:

            Here are my thoughts on running engines at high rpms. The reason race engines wear out and blow up is that they are run constantly at high rpms. A set of rings, valve springs, bearings and other mechanical parts, only get so many revolutions or trips up and down cylinder walls before they are worn out. Metal rubbing on metal tends to wear. Now you can wear them out quickly with high rpms or you can wear them out slowly with low rpms. Given two bikes to buy, one that was ridden sedately by a mature gentleman, and one that had the snot flogged out of it by some kid, I would buy the one ridden sedately. That may go against your thoughts, but it has served me well for 52 years.

            Imo rpms are a stresser in an engine. If you care about the engine, you avoid running at high rpms for very long.
            When testing engines mfgs run them at high rpms to stress them to see how long they will run at high rpms before they blow.

          • todd says:

            Low rpm for the same power output requires higher cylinder pressures from more throttle and greater cylinder fill (more torque). These higher pressures force the piston rings against the cylinder walls with more force than in a lightly stressed high rpm engine. Low rpm wears out rings faster than high rpm.

          • mickey says:

            So you are telling me that of two bikes, one running 4000 rpms at 80 mph and one running 10,000 rpms at 80, that the engine is going to wear out faster on the one running 4000 rpms? Sorry not buying it.

            Why in the world then do touring bikes typically run at such low rpms (as designed by the manufacturer). Why doesn’t Honda, Yamaha, BMW, Harley, Indian, you name it, make their touring bikes run 80 mph at 8,000 rpms in top gear if it is easier and less stressful on the engine?

          • Dave says:

            wear isn’t directly tied to use cycles, it’s tied to load over time with materials and engineering being the key variables.

            A lightly loaded high rpm engine can last longer than heavily loaded low rpm engine.

            A racing engine wears out so fast because it is highly loaded at high rpm. Diesel truck engines spin relatively slow at very high loads and go 100’s of thousands of miles. Gas turbine engines spin 30,000+rpm and last for thousands of hours under load too.

          • todd says:

            Mickey, it depends on how much the engine is loaded. The reason why manufacturers make slow reving touring bikes is because that’s what people want to buy.

            Big diesels are big and slow reving because it is much more fuel efficient to run an engine under full load and slow rpm where pumping losses are minimal and cylinder pressures are very high. This is a reason why big touring bikes get fairly good mileage in spite of having such large, inefficient combustion chambers. When an engine is closer to full load/full throttle and peak torque at cruising speeds, it uses the least amount of fuel. Large multi-cylinder sport bikes have pretty dismal mileage because, even though they have very efficient engines that produce great amounts of torque for their size, their peak load at peak torque is probably over 150 mph. At these speeds, wind load kills mileage. You can easily design a multi-cylinder large capacity engine to develop peak torque closer to normal highway speeds but then people will complain that their 1100cc four only has 84 hp.

      • Scott says:

        LOL!

        +1 Mickey…

  4. Lenz says:

    The 1999 TT350 Yamaha that I had some years ago was a very versatile and comfortable bike for so many applications and it’s in the same approx. range as this bike. I was able to enjoy the TT350 after converting it to 12V, upgrade the headlight to LED, extensively re-port the cylinder head and take 20 thou off it for more compression plus completely rebuild the inlet manifolds and inlet tract. I ran a lot of kilometres on this bike would have kept the bike indefinitely but the lack of electric start was a nuisance that couldn’t be fixed.

    My point is the 350cc – 400cc engine range in a light, fuel injected, dry sump twin is a very useful and versatile match for a light, “long suspensioned” rolling chassis with quality componentry. If real ADV riding is on the agenda and you’re not a big fan of all the issues that go with BIG HEAVY bikes on marginal dirt roads then LIGHT IS RIGHT !

  5. Cyclemotorist says:

    I wonder if it would work for a 300 pound rider.

  6. Mr.Mike says:

    For day-to-day riding this is all the bike most people need. It always saddens me when I hear of aging cruiser riders getting out of the sport because holding the bike up has become problematic for old legs and knees when so many great light-weight options have become available.

    • paquo says:

      personally i like torquey machines that you can short shift. But it would be sweet as an adv bike for trips or as a beginner bike it would be great

    • beasty says:

      True, this is a light weight option, but for geezers like me there are a coupla things about this bike that don’t work and further aggravate the aforementioned old legs and knees. One is the peg position, a more standard peg position would work better. Doesn’t have to be forward, which would be ludicrous on a bike like this but, just more like 70’s or 80’s bikes. And two, is the seat height. If you’ve got bad knees or legs, the last thing you wanna do is support a bike on one leg, no matter how light, at a stop. I like the idea of this bike, but my Sportster, although about 200 lbs heavier, is more manageable for a withered old coot like me.

    • Gham says:

      I’m 60 and pretty beat up,the days of riding an 850# cruiser are getting numbered!I think your right Mr.Mike.This thing might be just the ticket in a couple years.Hope it does well.

  7. Lonerider says:

    I was waiting for a long time for bikes like this. I owned a V-Strom 1000 and a WR250X. I need the wind protection of an adv bike and the light weight of a smaller displacement bike. I rode the Versys 300 late this spring. And yesterday, i ride the CRF250 rally. I have to say that i like a lot the engine of both the R3 and Ninja 300. But, i dislike this high reving engine into an adv. The seat need to break in for sure. 20 minutes was all it takes for discomfort.

    The Honda Rally? Suspension are in the soft side. Would be nice to ride on unpaved roads during the demo ride. And the engine is shy of about a dozen poneys.

    So, i really, really love the idea of a light adv. I’m ready to tread in my FZ07. Just hoping that BMW and/or KTM will offer a better choice for me.

    • paul246 says:

      “the engine is shy of about a dozen poneys”

      Horsepower is rated at closer to 24hp.

  8. CrazyJoe says:

    Honda Rally ways 60lbs less. A klr cost a thousand more. For the price and wait it should be a 500. Can yamaha be far behind behind with a 350 tenere.

    Can’t understand why they’re not building scramblers in this displacement. I suppose I can weight.

  9. kawatwo says:

    I’d like to see a true mini version of the Verys 650 with tubeless tires and spoked wheels and the ninja like front end styling. A more comfortable ninja 300 in effect with a great seat and center-stand optional or standard. I can dream.

  10. beasty says:

    When I first saw this bike in person I was surprised at how large it was, actual physical size. It was on my short list, but sadly, ergonomically it didn’t work. The short list gets shorter.

  11. My2cents says:

    Motorcycle of the Year in my books. It breaks into the ADV market by creating a new segment, something like ADVLIGHT. As I have said before I could see a lot of big bore ADV riders having this as a second. This could also open the segment to those intimidated by heavy weight rides, or short inseams. I know from the experience of riding on less than secondary roads with a 550 lb motorcycle, every extra pound feels like a hundred when encountering a difficult stretch of “oh jeez what was I thinking” track.
    ps I like the tubeless option as well, much easier to repair when you’re covered with mosquito’s.

    By the way the drift shot looks awesome, a fine example of stately control and woo hoo.

  12. Bill says:

    Beautiful! The best “small” adventure bike yet. Kawasaki, just put some tubeless wheels in the accessory column.

    • Provologna says:

      I and thousands of other bicyclists upgraded their tube-type rims to tubeless with ultra sticky tape on clean rims to seal the spoke holes. I changed tires to “tubeless” spec; one tire OEM said air can leak through non-tubeless spec tire rubber (not addressing the bead).

      My current new carbon rims arrived w/sticker warning “tubeless only.” I have no idea what prohibits using a tube, but obviously the bead on the rim is ideal for tubeless.

      Does something about this lovely Versys prohibit such upgrade? Does the bead on the alloy rims require tubes? Decades ago, when TL mc tires first appeared, I noted the differences in rim beads, TL v. tube type.

      BTW, after one ride I stopped to type the password on my garage door opener, and heard hissing air from my front TL tire. Later I removed about twenty-five thorns, with air and sealant leaking through the holes. A day later, holes sealed, I filled to proper PSI, problem solved. A tube would have split into confetti pieces.

      • George Krpan says:

        I did the split tube ghetto tubeless conversion on my 29+ MTB. No problems in a year of riding. Neither my tires or rims are tubeless.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        Nothing wrong with the tape. Some OEM tubeless spoke wheels even used that method in the past.

        I’ve known several guys who have tried to seal up standard spoke wheels for use with tubeless tires on a number of different motorcycles, but all leaked at the bead. So there is the rub apparently. Not to say it can’t be done on some bikes, but it hasn’t worked on any that I have first hand knowledge of.

  13. Vrooom says:

    Would have liked a couple of more inches of suspension travel and tubeless tires, but overall it’s a nice package. Someone will surely reply of their love for tubes, I’d rather plug a flat and go, but each to their own.

  14. Norm G. says:

    re: “The narrowness of the frame between your knees is also a big plus off road.”

    and ON road…

    need that.

  15. Moto-Kafe says:

    Appearance-wise, it resembles more like a KLR instead of a “Vur-siss”. I have a “little” CB500X (twin-cylinder), as well as Liter bikes……and these smaller (lighter) bikes are so much more “fun” riding around the Hood than trying to wrestle a 500-600 lb beast.

    • ApriliaRST says:

      As a (sometimes) KLR rider, I wonder how it compares, particularly two-up. I expect a similar bike but with 500cc engine would prevail over the KLR, but 300cc?

      • Dave says:

        That begs the question, “how light could a Versys 650 be?” Stretching the 300cc bike to 500 is impractical, as it is a “stretched” 250cc engine/architecture itself.

        • ApriliaRST says:

          I also wonder about traction in the dirt for what I think is a 180 degree twin engine layout vs a big single. A spinning rear tire makes for a nice photo, but putt, putt, putt the KLR is tractable.

          Yamaha has a 90 degree layout 700cc engine, but it’s going into a hard-core off-road bike. At least for now.

        • carl says:

          Sheeesh Dave if they wanted to make a 650 they would have. Hey why not just make it a 2000cc V-twin. Problem solved.

        • Tim says:

          If price was no object, with a little work Kawasaki could make the KLR much lighter and more powerful. Witness the KTM 690 Enduro R which weighs in at just 308 lbs dry. Unfortunately, all that alloy comes at a steep price.

          I love the idea of a lighter KLR with fuel injection and 30% or more additional horsepower. Keep the tank large like the current KLR, and keep the seat wide and thus more comfortable than the KTM. Unfortunately, it would cost much more than the $6000 or so most KLR’s sell for new, out the door.

          • paquo says:

            ktm is nice b/c it doesnt store the fuel up high so you can throw it around in dirt

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            Would it be so bad if it cost more than $6K? The KTM also sports very expensive wheels and suspension. A lighter, 50 HP KLR with good enough components for $8K sounds reasonable to me.

  16. motocephalic says:

    Can’t wait to try one on. I love these small displacement bikes. The only thing I can see a problem is spoke wheels for me. I hope they sell great!

    • Vrooom says:

      Or moreover the tubes they necessitate. Too bad they couldn’t have gone with a tubeless design.

    • todd says:

      Once I put thicker tubes (Moose Racing) in my XR, problem was solved. No more flats at the expense of a little more wheel weight.

  17. AnonyMouse says:

    I’ve been waiting for a while for this bike. I think it looks really interesting – though the power is too high up the revs for me really. I’ve been visiting my local dealer ever since it came out and when he got one I was hot for a test ride. No way, he said. They expect me (and everyone else) to buy without riding it! Get real. It’s not going to happen.
    Pity. looks like it’s going to be the CRF250L Rally…..

    • paquo says:

      you might have to poke around. I am interested in an fj 09 and yamaha’s website had a list of demo days. Kawasaki has similar but you might have to travel a bit and of course it could be bs

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      I have never been turned down a test ride by any brand. Try another dealer maybe?

  18. Eddy G says:

    Sounds like a nice urban assault bike. But a bit surprising that the fuel economy is only in the 50’s.

    • mickey says:

      Yea me too. I would thinks this tidler would average closer to 65 mpg. My 575 pound 88 hp 1100cc 4 cylinder averages 55 mpg unless I’m running freeways at 75-80 mph, then it drops down to 48 mpg.

    • GearDrivenCam says:

      I just came back from a 3000 mile trip on my 2015 Yamaha R3 which sports a similar engine capacity. My worst fuel economy with the bike loaded with gear, was 60 mpg, heading into a strong headwind, riding at 65 mph through hilly terrain out on the highway. I regularly netted 70+ mpg for much of the trip riding on rural roads at 60 mph in much more favorable conditions. Then again – the Versys X may not be quite as aerodynamic as the R3 or Ninja 300 out on the highway. The Ninja 300 seems to be averaging mid-50s fuel economy on Fuelly.

    • MotoMaster39 says:

      I think the heavier spoked wheels are the main reason this bike can’t match the other 300s’ mileage figures. I don’t recall if Kawi tuned this bike to have more low rpm power than the ninja, but if they did, that could be hurting mileage too.

      • todd says:

        Those spoked wheels look lighter than the cheap cast wheels the little Ninja runs with.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        I think the great big hole it is trying to punch through the atmosphere has much more to do with the mileage than the weight of the wheels.

  19. carl says:

    Won’t sell, it’s not a v-twin and doesn’t way a 1000lbs.

  20. todd says:

    Very nice. Now I just need to determine if I want this more than a Husky Terra. It’s a shame I’d need to sell a couple of my other good bikes to pay for one of these things.

    • Randy in Ridgecrest says:

      Get the Terra

    • MotoMaster39 says:

      SWM just bought the old Husky factory in Italy, so you will probably be able to buy a brand new Terra soon. Don’t know if every component will be as high-spec as the old Husky

      http://www.swm-motorcycles.it/en/models/on-road/rs-650-r/

      • Randy in Ridgecrest says:

        Interesting link. SWM is claiming 144 kg kerb weight without fuel. 317 pounds? I’ll file that under “highly suspect” – the TR650 is 50 or so pounds heavier than that.

        • paquo says:

          wow nice bike

        • Jeremy in TX says:

          The TR650 was a loose derivative of the BMW G650GS with a hopped up version of the Rotax based 650 mill. This SWM is based off of the Husky 630 series (600cc engine despite the moniker) which weighed about 330 lbs with an empty tank for their dirt version, so 317 sounds reasonable.

      • todd says:

        I’ve been following SWM but it’s been taking too long for them to get these approved for California that I’m afraid they just might give up.

        • Randy in Ridgecrest says:

          Yeah, I wonder why. SYM and others get bikes through CARB somehow. I would think Euro 4 would have everything covered except the stupid tank thing some genius at CARB came up with. But Husky had that covered so it’s not like SWM has to invent or engineer that.

          I fear that SWM is hollow, there is a vision but no meat.