2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300 | First Ride Review

2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300
Joining the versatile Versys 650 and Versys 1000 is the all-new Versys-X 300, powered by a 296cc parallel twin and weighing just 386 pounds (claimed). (Photos by Kevin Wing)

Is lightweight touring the Next Big Thing in motorcycling? If so, Kawasaki has grabbed the hole shot with its new Versys-X 300 all-rounder. Two days on this bike at a Southern Utah press launch showed off its potential for on- and off-pavement touring in a red rock paradise. “Don’t be afraid to rev this thing,” Kawasaki’s Jeff Herzog told us before leading out from Green River, Utah, on a short stretch of freeway. Not that we had much choice—cruising with traffic on the 80-mph Interstate meant revs a-plenty. The potent eight-valve, fuel-injected parallel twin lifted from the Ninja 300 is spinning more than 9,500 rpm in the top of its six gears at that speed, but you’d never know it without a glance at the analog tach. Kawasaki’s counterbalanced mill is blissfully smooth from just off idle to the 12 grand redline.

2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300
With a slender frame and light weight, the Kawasaki Versys-X 300 is delightfully playful.

Kawasaki dropped final drive gearing by 9 percent from the Ninja to maximize the versatility of the new 300. The benefit is a first gear low enough for easy plonking on the choppy dirt roads we encountered. Combined with a clutch that requires just a single finger to operate (but has a short engagement zone), the Versys-X is beginner friendly. Its 32.1-inch seat height and narrow waist help newbies feel confident as well. A 5-foot, 1-inch tester was comfortable on the bike, while the taller guys were a little cramped; my 5-foot, 8-inch frame was right at home. Straddling the stock seat for the entire ride, my rear didn’t complain until the end of the second day.

2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300
The Kawasaki Versys-X 300 is the answer for many who have asked for a smaller, lighter, less expensive adventure bike. Seat height is a modest 32.1 inches.

The X rolls on 19- and 17-inch front/rear spoked rims shod with street-biased IRC dual-sport tires. They don’t look aggressive, but stuck well in the rocks and dirt as well as on the pavement. The non-adjustable front fork gives a smooth, predictable ride, its 41mm stanchions and 5.1 inches of travel sufficient for typical dirt roads and small rock ledges. A preload-adjustable rear shock rounds out the all-surface handling package. Part of the credit for the 300’s overall good handling—it eats up tight tarmac and is rock stable in the sweepers—goes to the frame design. Kawi hit on the perfect geometry, incorporated the subframe into the main structure, and beefed up the rear shock mount to handle anything the road dishes out.

2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300 engine
The Kawasaki Versys-X 300’s liquid-cooled, 296cc parallel twin has dual throttle valves and a revised intake to flatten the power curve and boost low- to mid-range torque.

The motor’s internals are untouched from the Ninja baseline, but dual throttle valves were fitted to flatten out the power curve and the intake modified to beef up low- to mid-range torque. Even so, it’s not a tire-spinner on dirt roads. Rolling along southern Utah’s scenic two-lane highways, I was often in sixth gear at 50 to 55 mph. From there I could enjoy the multi-colored geology on display and still accelerate with a throttle twist, or tap it down a cog or two for passing. Touring range is excellent—the average mileage reading on the instrument panel never dipped below 50 mpg, and the X carries an adventure-empowering 4.5 gallons of liquid energy.

2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300 front wheel
The Kawasaki Versys-X 300 has a 19-inch front and 17-inch rear spoked wheels that require tube-type tires. ABS is a $300 option.

Kawasaki gave us all the ABS version of the Versys-X, which worked well on both street and dirt. You can’t disable the system for off-pavement riding, but the X isn’t a honk-on dirt demon and the ABS didn’t intrude on the off-pavement experience. ABS is a $300 option, and for new riders it’s worth every penny. Factory accessories abound for the X, including hard luggage, crash protection and driving lights. It was unanimously agreed on a 32-degree morning that the optional hand guards should come with the bike.

2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300
With decent suspension travel (5.1 inches front, 5.8 inches rear), a 19-inch front wheel and spoked rims shod with dual-sport tires, the Kawasaki Versys-X 300 is ready for light-duty off-road riding.

Whether lightweight touring catches on or not (and it should, given how simple and fun it is), the smallest Versys is a bike that new riders, commuters and anyone looking for a good time on two wheels shouldn’t ignore. And though it’s not a full-on adventure bike, the Versys-X 300 is a well-balanced package that will take you off the grid and into the wild with confidence. Its upright seating, easy-pull clutch and ABS package make it an excellent entrée into both road riding and exploring the back of beyond.

2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300
With the heart of the Ninja 300, the Kawasaki Versys-X 300 is loads of fun to carve through the canyons.

2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300 Specs
Base Price: $5,399
Price As Tested: $5,699 (ABS)
Website: kawasaki.com
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse, parallel twin, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Displacement: 296cc
Bore x Stroke: 62.0 x 49.0mm
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 57.1 in.
Rake/Trail: 24.3 degrees/4.3 in.
Seat Height: 32.1 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 386 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gals.
MPG: NA

2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300 windsreen
The Kawasaki Versys-X 300 has a small windscreen, an upright handlebar and a comfortable, 31.9-inch seat.
2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300 instruments
The Kawasaki Versys-X 300’s instrument panel combines an analog speedometer with dual digital displays that provide a lot of information.
2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300 luggage rack
A rear luggage rack with bungee hooks is standard equipment on the Kawasaki Versys-X 300.
2017 Kawasaki Versys-X 300
“Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” isn’t just the title of a Dr. Suess book, it’s the spirit that embodies the Kawasaki Versys-X 300.

 

 

 

 

10 COMMENTS

  1. I hate tube tires also. Royal pain in the ass…
    They make sealed spoke wheels.
    Time they started to listen to what people want. Patching a tube in the middle of no where is NOT what we want..

  2. I agree with the above. Cost needs to be kept in mind but wheels that can take tubeless tires (and duel sport tubeless tires) are things I would pay a bit more for.

  3. Note that the larger siblings, the Versys 650 LT and 1000 LT, come with 17″ cast wheels, front and rear, with tubeless tires. I guess by putting the more dirt-friendly 19″ wheel on the front, Kawasaki decided that the 300 was more of an off-road mount.

    I think this is a mistake. Even though the 300 is markedly lighter than those two larger bikes, I think the draw for potential buyers will be the substantially lower price, not its dirt worthiness. I’d guess the percent of 300 owners who will do anything more “dirty” that occasionally riding on a gravel road is about the same as Jeep Wrangler owners who take their cars to a rock-climbing event.

  4. I like the concept, but with tube tires, non-standard ABS, no handguards (real ones!), and no skid plate make this another 300cc expensive street commuter. I think it outprices what can be had for less to do the same thing. Plus, the seat height exceeds what is often considered a selling point to first time, smaller cc motorcycles. The CRF250L is a better offroad bike, and the CB300F a better commuter, for less (if you shop the stores).

  5. A nice addition to the 300 class though it should be called an “ADV styled street bike”. To me a true ADV bike is more dual sport like my DR650.

  6. I began riding at age 12. My first bike was a used Honda 55. Through my life I have had ALL manner of motorcycles; dirt, dual sport, medium and large “adventure bikes”, medium street bikes and three Goldwings with trailers. I am now in my late 60’sand when I look back, that little Honda was the most fun. I am now considering downsizing from my current Kawasaki Versys1000LT adventure bike to this X300. Why? My wife and I now travel with our motorhome for at least 6 months of the year and I would LOVE to have a little fun bike again! Something I could easily load on the back end of my MH or Trailer and take it with me on all of our trips through North America. The days of dealing with heavy fast motorcycles is over and I am now back to exploring back country roads and dirt trails on a wonderfully light and comfortable all function bike like the excellent Kawasaki Versys X-300 ! Congratulations to the Kawasaki design team for building such a fantastic fun bike for us oldsters!

  7. What Skip said..!

    I’m 64 and have been riding most my life, starting at 12 on small trail bikes in woods and fields, and have and still own large and mid size street bikes. Currently, riding a 2016 Harley-Davidson FLHTK, and enjoy both local rides and touring with it. However, for straight up fun and enjoyment I find myself riding my KLX250 Dual Sport more often than not. When out playing with/chasing my 12 year-old grandson around (on his 125 dirt bike) off-road and running errands around town the 250 is perfect. However, I often want to travel, ride 50 / 60 miles out to the forest roads and the 250 (set up for mostly off road) is a bit overworked for the long street ride. Me thinks this 300 may be just the right ticket for a bit more street work while riding out to the backwoods, and still very competent for trail riding the woods – fire and service roads… And the extra bonus, it comes stock with a 4.5 gal, fuel tank!

  8. At age 86 I bought myself a birthday present. A versa Kawasaki 300 adventure bike. Been piling on the miles it’s a wonderful machine love it! See you at American-made where I have worked for years. My bike has the symbol of a yellow rose on the side. Part of a thing that my wife and I have, all of our mobile Machines have this emblem

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