If you’re looking to travel overland by motorcycle, the options have never been more plentiful, but they’ve never been more expensive either. And as the adventure segment continues to grow, the bikes also continue to grow. It’s not unusual to see a 500-pound unloaded machine with a seat height fit for only a giraffe gracing the Starbucks parking lot.
With a huge segment of riders not skilled enough—or quite simply not tall enough—to handle the massively tall and heavy adventure bikes coming out these days, a lot of people have been left in the dust wondering when they’ll get a reasonable bike for them. Luckily, the last year has seen a variety of new small-displacement, lighter-weight bikes launched, details here. The latest is Kawasaski’s Versys-X 300 with a few common-sense features other smaller bikes lack.
Reality is a hard pill to swallow, so let’s start off with a few thoughts. A lot of people can’t afford the bloated prices of new adventure bikes, and a many more might not place technical off-road capability as high on their list as you’d think—even if it looks great in the brochures. Kawasaki’s combination of a 19-inch front, and 17-inch rear spoked wheels perfectly mirrors this, giving riders the option to head down some rugged roads, without the hindrance of a larger front wheel when the road gets twisty.
Kawasaki is careful to not call this an off-road bike, using the term ‘rough-road’ instead. I like that—it’s honest, and it sets the tone for the Versys-X. The problem is that through clever marketing, adventure riders have somehow convinced themselves they need a Dakar-ready bike to cruise down a dirt road or park in front of a taco shop in Guatemala. The best adventure bike in the world is the one you’re riding, and if you’re not on a caviar budget, the Versys-X 300 has the right ingredients to get you where you need to go.
What I’m most excited about is Kawasaki’s use of their Ninja-derived 300CC parallel-twin engine. Small displacement bikes have long been plagued with a terrible case of the vibes on longer highway stretches. I’d argue this is one of the major things leading riders to larger, multi-cylinder bikes. The 300CC’s engine puts out 39 horsepower, only a couple fewer than Kawasaki’s proven thumper in the KLR650, all while weighing almost 60 pounds less. It’s even rumored to get upwards of 70MPG, and when you add in the 4.5 gallon tank, that equates to a range of roughly 300 miles. Impressive.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Kawasaki the most-authentic adventure motorcycle brand on the market; and that’s using the term in the broader sense. They may not sell a model competitive to the likes of the biggest, baddest offerings from BMW, KTM, or Triumph, but Kawasaki has had the KLR650 in their stable since the 1980s, enough said. If you want a reliable, affordable, cheap-to-maintain motorcycle to ride to the Southernmost tip of South America, the KLR650 has always been the logical choice.
The Versys-X 300 has the chance to continue the spirit of the iconic KLR650 for a new generation of motorcyclists who value their time on the rugged backroads of parts unknown as much as available conveniences like ABS. It continues Kawasaki’s trend of accessible, down-to-earth adventure bikes. It has the right functional look, hard-case panniers, and there’s even an available factory crash bar with fog lights. The biggest thing going against it will be the three numbers at the end of its own name—300.