2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE review

John Milbank, BikeSocial Consumer Editor
By John Milbank
BikingMilbank BikeSocial Consumer Editor, John owns a KTM 1050 Adventure. He's as happy tinkering in the workshop as he is on twisty, bumpy backroads, and loves every bike ever built (except one). He's bought three CBR600s, two Ducati Monsters, several winter hacks, three off-roaders, a supermoto pit bike, a Honda Vision 50 and built his own custom XSR700. 

 

If you’re coming to this review of the 2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE with the attitude that nothing matters more than outright power, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re planning on racing mates with sportsbikes, want to prove you’re the top dog with autobahn-busting levels of speed, or plan to tackle the Trans European Trail, I suggest you look elsewhere.

Still here? Good… I’m guessing you’re honest with yourself about what really gives you a buzz when you’re riding, and might agree that a great adventure doesn’t have to mean an arduous trek off-road around the world. After Ewan and Charlie, we seem to have lost sight of the pleasures of more simple touring.

Putting in a couple of hundred miles on unknown back roads, with the freedom to scoot off and explore different places that grab the attention – as well as a comfortable hotel waiting at the end of each day – might not be the hardcore image that we’re supposed to portray, but honestly… it’s my idea of a great holiday. I’ve had some of my most memorable rides through exploring the quietest back roads of Europe, and if I can take my wife and easily carry our gear, then that’s some thoroughly enjoyable adventure touring that we can both enjoy…

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE review

The press launch in Lanzarote and Fuerteventura saw us free to roam – a great way to test a bike. If you’re in Lanzarote, make sure you stop here for the best cakes and coffee in the Canaries!

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 & Versys 1000SE price

The new Versys 1000 costs £11,199 for the standard model and £14,399 for the SE that we rode on the launch in Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.

The standard model is initially available in white and black or orange and black, with Kawasaki keeping the trademark green for the SE, along with a matt-finish black and white.

Both bikes are well specified, with cornering ABS and traction control, cruise control, a slip/assist clutch, radially-mounted four-piston monobloc front brake calipers, a centre stand (except if you live in China) and full LED lighting (except if you’re American) at no extra cost.

The SE’s £3,200 premium brings you semi-active suspension, an up and down quick-shifter, heated grips (in some regions, including the UK), riding modes, LED cornering lights, a TFT colour dash, hand guards and self-healing paint.

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE review

The launch bikes were all SE models, equipped with the optional luggage, spot lights and engine guards

 

Power and torque

Making 118.3bhp @ 9,000rpm and 75 lb-ft @ 7,500rpm, the Versys 1000 is out-specified by many of its rivals. The £12,890 BMW S1000XR, for instance, makes 165bhp and 84lb-ft, while the £14,355 Ducati Multistrada 1260 puts out 158bhp and 95.5lb-ft. These are the two adventure-tourers that Kawasaki sees as its bike’s direct competitors, but buyers will likely also be considering the £13,415 BMW R1250GS (134bhp and 106lb-ft), the £15,199 KTM 1290 Super Adventure (160bhp and 103lb-ft), or the £9,599 V-Strom 1000 (101bhp and 75lb-ft).

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE review

The SE model gets a TFT dash

 

Engine, gearbox and exhaust

On paper at least, the in-line four-cylinder engine of the Versys 1000 is somewhat lacking, but this is very much the gentlemanly tourer, for the rider who wants to travel big miles in comfort; it’s not designed for an adrenaline junky.

On the first day of the launch, I got to ride 196 miles, the majority of them on my own. A great chance to ride as I would normally, it’s a far better indication of what a bike’s like to live with than a typical launch, which sees us all riding as fast as we possibly can on a set route.

With a TomTom 550 guiding me through the Canary islands, I was able to sit with the cruise control at some points, potter around exploring villages at others, then blast past long lines of cars on the more open roads; not once did I think ‘this bike’s not got enough power’.

The point is that, while 165bhp can make for a really fast, sharp bike, it’s not always what you need. The Kawasaki is rapidly smooth through the rev range, which means you’ll have no problems with overtakes, but your pillion won’t be getting thrown around. Get to your destination quickly, then step off refreshed and ready for a great evening.

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE review

Cruise control and suspension settings are easy to access on the left bar

 

Needless to say, a bike with more peak power can be used sedately, but the Versys’ delivery lends itself well to two-up touring. And like any bike I’ve ridden with full luggage, much over 100mph sees the bars go very light; I’d argue that a couple touring with full luggage won’t need such eye-watering performance… they’ll need a fluid delivery.

The gearbox’s action was hidden behind the SE model’s quick-shifter, which felt soft and spongy; unfortunately, it’s like standing on a plump rat. An option on the standard bike, it’s a brilliant addition for touring as it makes the ride much, much smoother for the pillion during gear changes, but you can’t hurry it – there’s a fairly long travel, so you need to clear your foot properly between shifts, and that soft feel is far from direct. Perhaps if it had been marketed as a ‘smooth-shifter’, we’d all have been more forgiving on the launch. Your pillion will love it; you’ll grow to accept it.

The assist and slipper clutch gives a light, smooth feel to the cable-operated unit, and the ABS cleverly takes into account engine braking, so unlike on some other bikes, dragging the back brake into a corner while changing down didn’t seem to activate the ABS unduly.

The engine sound is tuned for the rider through a raucous air-box – it won’t offend passers-by, but open it up and there’s a fantastic roar.

Vibration is well controlled, though there is a distinctive buzz at about 6,500rpm – 85mph in top gear. It never bothered me on the launch, but it could be something you notice at the right speed on a long motorway ride.

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE review

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000SE Economy

Kawasaki claims you’ll get 54mpg from the Versys 1000; with its 21 litre tank that’s a range of 249miles. Being allowed to explore on our own, the economy figures were reasonably realistic, though keep in mind that we were still riding fast; I saw 43mpg, which would give a maximum range of 198miles. Realistically, you’d be looking for fuel at around 160-170 miles.

Owners of the previous models reported an average of 49mpg on www.fuelly.com – a range of up to 227miles, which should see you cover a good 190-200 miles before wondering where the next fuel station is.

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE review

Semi-active suspension is fitted to the SE model… it really works well on this adventure tourer

 

Handling, suspension, chassis and weight

The Kawasaki Versys 1000 weighs 257kg, fully fuelled. The BMW S1000XR weighs 29kg less, with a maximum payload of 216kg. The Versys can handle 220kg – my wife and I, kitted up, weigh about 160kg, so 60kg of luggage capacity is more than enough. Yamaha’s Tracer 900 could well be on the list for people considering a road-biased adventure tourer, and at £9,249, it’s understandable. It makes 115bhp / 65lb-ft and weighs 214kg, but the payload is just 167kg.

While the Kawasaki is relatively heavy, it doesn’t feel it on the go, and is very easy to turn around in the road thanks to the light steering and good lock. It really is an easy-going machine, and moving it around at a standstill isn’t hard, thanks to the solid grab rails.

The SE comes with semi-active suspension – I’m not usually a big fan, but the Showa kit fitted here gave a confidence-inspiring yet uncompromised ride in the ‘Sport’ mode on a mixture of smooth motorways, well-surfaced mountain switchbacks and pot-holed, broken tracks.

The SE model has three modes that influence the suspension, as well as the traction control and power (low is 75% of peak (88.5bhp) with a milder throttle response)…

Mode

Traction control

Power mode

Suspension

Sport

1

Full

Hard

Road

2

Full

Normal

Rain

3

Low

Soft

Rider

1,2,3 or off

Full or low

Any or manual

In the ‘Rider’ mode, accessing the manual suspension setting gives the option to adjust front and rear compression and rebound damping in increments of five up or down, removing any computer control – it’s basically an electric screwdriver.

I found the Hard semi-active setting in ‘Sport’ mode gave the best ride – never crashy and always adjusting the damping very quickly to changes in surface, thanks to the stroke sensors built into the fork and shock. The ECU updates every 10ms, while the valves in the damping units can actuate just 1ms after that.

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE review

The pump for the SE model’s remote preload takes up the space under the seat…

 

When riding fast in ‘Road’ mode with the full luggage fitted, on occasion I found the bike felt a little distant with its ‘Normal’ suspension setting. In ‘Rain’ mode, it’s really, really soft – even on fairly smooth roads, the bike felt very bouncy.

Some will complain that all this tech is yet more to distract you, but the fact that the system works so well means you really can leave it in one mode and forget about it; if there were no options to change it, and ‘Sport’ was the standard setting, I’d be more than happy with it.

The base model bike is equipped with a remote rear preload adjuster, which makes it easy to adjust for luggage and a pillion, but the SE gets an electric adjuster – press and hold the button on the left bar and you can feel the back-end rise, even when you’re on the move, to suit rider only, rider and luggage, or rider with luggage and a pillion. It’s a truly useful system for touring riders, but it does take up all the space under the seat; the standard bike has a massive storage area that’s sadly lacking on the SE. Still, most owners will have luggage, so it’s not much of an issue.

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE review

The standard bike, without the electronic shock preload adjuster, has huge underseat storage

 

I’m a big fan of adventure bikes for their long-travel suspension – the ability to ride quickly on bumpy, twisty back roads makes them more enjoyable than lower machines, but on the Versys, unlike the KTM 1050 Adventure I used to own, I can easily get both feet flat on the floor (I’m 5’10”), and with a lower seat available, a large proportion of bikers should get the benefit of a commanding view, without feeling nervous at a standstill.

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE review

The Kawasaki’s brakes are excellent

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000SE brakes

With a radial master cylinder feeding a pair of monobloc radially-mounted calipers, the brakes are great; powerful, but never aggressive.

Despite the semi-active suspension, I was surprised that the bike still had a fair amount of dive, though the system does have anti-stoppie, so combined with the cornering ABS (a feature I’m happy to pay more for), it’s a confidence-inspiring setup.

Cornering ABS is something you’ll only find on the (from) £15,199 KTM 1290 Super Adventure and the (from) £14,355 Ducati Multistrada 1260 (or the soon to be released 950 version).

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE review

Wandering off course to explore is what makes a great ride for me

 

Comfort over distance and touring

I tend to get an achy bum very quickly on most bikes, and the Versys 1000 did see me get the odd twinge while riding. But the seat’s spacious, so it’s easy to move around on, and no other riders had a problem. The only thing I did note was that the deep foam can allow you to roll backwards an inch under hard acceleration; a bit of an odd feeling until you get used to it.

There was no chance to take a pillion out during the launch, but I’ll be updating this review shortly with a more hands-on look at the standard machine, which Kawasaki says typically accounts for around a third of the bike’s sales.

 

Rider aids and extra equipment / accessories

Our bikes were fully-specified, with the optional engine protection, spotlights, sat-nav bracket, tank pad, panniers (with liner bags) and top box. All the parts are available separately, or as a ‘GT’ (Grand Touring) spec – on the SE that’s £15,899, or on the standard bike you get all these parts, plus the hand guards, for £12,699. Remember, this includes full hard, locking Givi luggage, something you’d easily spend £1,200 on for most bikes.

A ‘T’ (for Touring) version of both bikes is also available, but only includes the panniers, tank bag and hand guards for £15,099 or £11,899 respectively.

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE review

With the panniers removed, there are no ugly rails

 

The SE model makes use of Kawasaki’s new ‘Rideology’ app – pair your smartphone to the bike and you can download full ride information (from economy and distance covered to your maximum lean angle), as well as make adjustments to the suspension, which can be uploaded to the machine when you next turn it on.

While everything can of course be done without the app, adjusting the manual suspension settings is slightly easier using the phone. Otherwise, it’s little more than a novelty; it’s quicker to change the preload or standard rider modes on the bike than fiddle with the app, send them to the machine, then go through the two button presses on the motorcycle to accept them.

The app also allows route tracking, using the phone to plot on a map, but it has a serious impact on your phone’s battery. I turned location services off to avoid this, but every time I then went to the app, I had to okay a dialogue box warning me it needed turning back on. On track, the logging of speed, rpm, gear position, throttle position, front brake pressure and acceleration/deceleration would be appreciated (as would the maximum lean angle), but I reckon few Versys owners will find this particularly valuable.

Besides the IMU-controlled cornering ABS, both bikes also feature cornering traction control – this doesn’t use the IMU (inertial measurement unit), instead looking at the speed differences of the front and rear tyre as the radius changes during cornering. Cruise control is standard too, while that IMU is used to operate a bank of three lights on either side of the SE – as you lean, progressively more of them illuminate, to avoid losing the apex in darkness as you tip into a corner.

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE review

The cornering lights illuminate as you lean, one at 10°, two at 20° and all three on each side at 30°

 

The standard model has an analogue rev counter with a white-on-black LCD, while the SE maintains the rev dial, but uses a colour TFT screen. With the large shade over the top of the clocks, they’re easy to read in daylight.

Both have a steplessly-adjustable screen – you can move it while you’re riding, but you do need to slacken and tighten a knob on either side, just above the clocks. The knobs are retained, so there’s no chance of spinning them off fully and losing them.

The SE’s larger screen is very effective – I found that with it at full height I was in a comfortably quiet bubble, without losing clear vision, and still getting some air through, thanks to the always-open vent in the middle. There’s also a 12V power outlet.

The colour-matched Givi-made luggage takes 28 litres (rated to 5kg) in each pannier, and 47 litres in the top box (also rated at 5kg). The boxes are all locked using the ignition key; you can fit a full-face lid each pannier (as long as it doesn’t have a peak), or two in the top box.

Optional handguards come as standard on the SE, and they’re great – really offering a good deal of cover to the hands (much better than the more form-over-function design of some other machines), and this bike also comes with heated grips.

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE review

A centre stand is included on both models; brilliant!

 

The SE has ‘self-healing’ paint on the tank and upper side panels – while it won’t protect against key, coin or zip-fastener scratches, it’s said that fine surface scratches – the swirls that can ruin a good paint job – will disappear after a week or so thanks to the surface being made up of microscopic alternating hard and soft areas. It’s a technology that’s been used on cars, so it’ll be interesting to see how good second-hand bikes look in the future…

This is the first Kawasaki to feature a service indicator – every 12,000 miles or 12 months, a spanner symbol will appear on the dash. The app will also tell you what distance and time you have left. Kawasaki says that only its own dealers can reset it by using the workshop’s special tool, though they’re not the only brand to do this; BMW, KTM and Ducati also encourage main dealer servicing with dash notifications.

 

Is the Kawasaki Versys 1000SE the best adventure touring bike?

If you want a really sporty bike that you’ll occasionally take a pillion and luggage on, then no. If you’re really, truly going to be tackling some serious off road, then no.

I read one Facebook comment that the Versys was ‘soulless’. I’d absolutely disagree with this, and it comes back to what you want from a machine. True, the soft seat, light steering and compliant suspension conspire with the verminous quick-shifter to make the Versys feel a little distant and remote for the first few miles, and while more than strong enough, the engine’s not got an adrenaline-spiking punch to it.

But I own a Yamaha MT-10 because I love how the engine is sharp, aggressive and unrelenting; while there have long been calls for a tourer with that motor, I’m not convinced it’d be a real benefit when two-up with luggage. And by the time the bike had been strengthened and lengthened, it’d be a different beast when riding it solo.

The Versys’ soul comes from the fact that it’s a motorcycle designed for couples looking to travel in comfort. The semi-active suspension, smooth, compliant ride and unaggressive engine add up to a great machine for big distances.

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE review

The two on the left are the colours currently available for the standard model, while the other two are SEs

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000SE verdict

There’ll no doubt be comments that the 2019 Versys 1000 is ‘outclassed’ by the BMW S1000XR or the Ducati Multstrada 1260 – the two main competitors, according to Kawasaki. Certainly on paper, the Kawasaki seems lacking, but outclassed? That depends what class you’re putting it in, and unlike Kawasaki, I’d put it in a different class to the two European machines. The Versys is no sports or enduro bike, but it is a hugely capable tourer.

I’d liken the Versys more to a Pan European in its comfort and practicality, but with the excitement and higher riding position of what we all know as an ‘adventure’ bike.

When I take my wife touring in Europe, the Kawasaki Versys 1000 is the motorcycle I want to use.

 

Three things I loved about the 2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000SE …

• Smooth power delivery

• Upright riding position with a great view

• Great luggage capacity

 

Three things that I didn’t…

• Spongy quick-shifter

• Not as direct feeling as some bikes, but over big miles, that’s something to appreciate

• Lack of storage under SE’s seat

 

2019 Kawasaki Versys 1000 [Versys 1000SE] spec

New price

From £11,199 [£14,399]

Capacity

1,043cc

Bore x Stroke

77x56mm

Engine layout

In-line four

Engine details

Liquid-cooled four-stroke

Power

118.3bhp (8.2kW) @ 9,000rpm

Torque

75 lb-ft (102Nm) @ 7,500rpm

Top speed

n/a

Transmission

6 speed, chain final drive

Average fuel consumption

43mpg (tested), 54mpg (claimed)

Tank size

21 litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

198 miles (tested), 249miles (claimed)

Reserve capacity

n/a

Rider aids

Cornering ABS and traction control, slip/assist clutch, anti-stoppie, wheelie control, cruise control

Frame

Aluminium twin tube

Front suspension

43mm upside-down fork

Front suspension adjustment

Adjustable for rebound and preload on right fork top [Electronic rebound and compression damping adjustment, manual preload]

Rear suspension

Single shock [BFRC lite shock]

Rear suspension adjustment

Remote preload adjuster and rebound adjustment [Electronic rebound, compression and preload]

Front brake

2x 310mm disc, radially mounted Monobloc four-piston calipers

Rear brake

250mm disc, single-piston caliper

Front tyre

120/70 ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax Sport Touring T31 R

Rear tyre

180/55 ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax Sport Touring T31 R

Rake/Trail

27°/106mm

Dimensions

2,270mm x 950mm 1,490mm (LxWxH)

Wheelbase

1,520mm

Ground clearance

150mm

Seat height

840mm

Kerb weight

253kg [257kg]

Warranty

Unlimited miles / 24 months

Website

www.kawasaki.co.uk

To insure this bike, click here         

 

Link to Bike Insurance
Video review: Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE (2019)

Check out our riding impressions from the launch in Lanzarote and Fuerteventura

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