Wed, 20 Mar 2019

Kawasaki’s Versys 1000 SE – the new touring king?

With a raft of upgrades for 2019, it turns out that it’ll take more than just soggy weather to dampen the mood for the Versys 1000 SE, as our Marketing Executive,  James discovered on a recent trip…

Kawasaki have made a pretty big deal about their new-for-2019 Versys 1000 SE, so when I was asked if I’d like to put some miles on one, excitement built and I was pumped for the weekend.  At least I was, until the weatherman put out warnings for wind and rain.

Turns out that the naff forecast makes absolutely no difference to just how capable and fun this bike is though…

I decided to take the Versys to Dartmouth, on sweeping roads I know well, combined with a dose of dual-carriageway riding too; so I’d get a pretty well-rounded picture of exactly how the bike performed. Add poor weather into the mix and you then have to somehow try and find the same enthusiasm to ride as you would on a sunny day, a few minutes in though and this machine has already left a glowing first impression; and a massive grin across my face too.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE Touring

All the gear for new ideas

On the surface it might seem like an ordinary machine, but if you were to think of it this way then you’d merely be scratching the surface of what is essentially an extremely good base bike, but with all the extra trimmings attached.

The SE comes fully loaded and is a massive step up from the base model thanks mostly to its incredibly impressive electronic suspension. Alongside this, it also comes with everything you could realistically want, and then some. Additional goodies include; panniers, smartphone connectivity, heated grips, cruise control, selectable riding modes, quick shifter, auto blipper, TFT screen, cornering lights, an adjustable touring screen, hand guards and a 12v power socket. It’s fair to say that this bike comes dressed to impress.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE Touring

And, it’s well thought out too, most of the controls are accessed from the left handlebar. This allows for easy changing of the rider modes, access to the cruise control, heated grips and also the suspension settings too. It means that your right hand is always free to focus on the more important tasks of operating the throttle and brakes effectively and leaves little room for silly mistakes that could end up being costly because of a slip of the hand. It might be a small thing, but its details like this which make the difference between a good bike and a great one.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE Touring

The colour TFT dash reads really well too. It displays a lot of information, but does so in a way that isn’t too distracting while riding. It also comes with a neat little feature in the form of a bar that shows your lean angle that works with the Inertia Measurement Unit (IMU). It shows how far the bike is leaning and is complimented by a numerical figure that shows just how low you go (and makes you realise just how much respect the GP riders deserve with obscene 60+ degrees of lean). Completing the dash is a trusty analogue rev counter which compliments the TFT display nicely.

Smooth talkin’

Alongside the stunning electronic suspension, the other star of the show is undoubtedly the beautiful 1043cc inline four cylinder motor that it’s powered by. It’s effortlessly smooth and packs plenty of grunt for when the roads start meandering and twisting through the hillside. Find dry tarmac and open it up and you’ll unleash an angry, snarling beast of a machine that encourages fun by the bucket load and that just wants to go. On the days that offer less favourable riding conditions, it’s still perfectly manageable and offers the same engagement and enjoyment as those that would be enjoyed in the heart of summer. It’s really impressive.

One of the big topics of conversation of the last few years has been around rider aids and how they can sometimes distil the overall experience. And, I have to admit that I was one of the nay-sayers, hell-bent on promoting a world of uninhibited machines that are animals to ride while banging on about how it’s the true nature of the beast the whole time. Or at least, I used to.

So, when I saw the forecast for my time with the Versys, I feared the worse and thought that I’d never be able to give a balanced opinion of it without being able to get a proper lick on with dry tarmac underneath me. How wrong I was.

What I actually came to realise that this was not a bike that focusses on meaningless numbers and power figures to try and sell. Instead, it’s a motorcycle that has been built to deliver a quality ride that can be enjoyed no matter the season or weather.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE Touring

The rider modes help the bike to remain composed under pressure, with the rain mode limiting the amount of rear wheel spin allowed before the traction control and ABS kick in, while the Sport mode has less a less intrusive manner and lets you enjoy the Kawasaki’s potential when the conditions allow. What it all means to the everyday rider is that the bike can be enjoyed in a wider range of conditions, which ultimately means you’re more likely to spend more time riding it.

On the other note of rider aids too; the quick shifter and auto blipper are a complete revelation to everyday riding. Combined with the slipper clutch, they make changing gear a joy and bring a new element to modern motorcycling. Though not a new revelation, the past few years has seen a digression in these technologies from exclusively being used on sports bikes to the wider breadth of the motorcycling fraternity and the Versys 1000 SE has adopted this flawlessly. Clutchlessly kicking up and down through the gearbox adds another welcome element to riding that just wasn’t there a few years back and it further adds to an already impressive electronics package that will change the way we ride motorcycles for the better.

More importantly, it also means that you never really need to think about putting the bike away in the colder months – so long as you don’t mind getting the hose out a bit more regularly. The Versys SE is a bike that would look winter in the eye and laugh at the idea of being put tucked away on a trickle charger in the back of the garage, it revels in the challenge of cooler temperatures and wetter roads.

Impeccable road manners and bags of fun

The electronic Showa suspension is the same that comes fitted to Kawasaki’s flagship Ninja ZX-10R SE and has been remodelled to suit the Versys’ taller frame. It’s an incredibly trick bit of kit that has to really be experienced to be appreciated. Sensors in the forks send information to the IMU to work out the best settings for the roads that are being ridden. What it means is that the suspension always feels like it’s been tuned perfectly for the road conditions and in reality it means that the bike always feels composed and is more stable than the British economy whenever Brexit is mentioned.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE Touring

The addition of the panniers highlights the touring potential of the SE. The 56 litre side panniers come with ample space to take all you need for a trip away and also benefit with inner bags, which means the contents of the panniers can be removed without having to remove the case itself from the bike. They’re also made in the shape of the pannier too which means they’re a doddle to put in the cases, they’ll come into their own if using the bike to tour and will be likely to be staying in a different hotel each night. It’s the simple touches like this which will make the Versys 1000 SE an absolute dream to live with.

The future

The SE model comes fully equipped and ready to pair with a smartphone straight out of the crate with Kawasaki’s free Rideology app installed. And, to be fair, the app deserves a lot of credit, I was a little dubious of it myself before using it, but it’s actually a really smart bit of kit, and really easy to use too.

It allows the rider to track their rides and connects to a phone via Bluetooth whenever the ignition is switched on. More impressively though; it allows for fine-tuning of the bike’s setup and also allows the rider to change the riding modes, all from your phone.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE Touring

The electronic suspension – which is impressive enough in its own right, becomes even more so when used with the app. The rider has total control of exactly what’s going on with full adjustability of compression and rebound damping in the front. It even lets you adjust the payload settings through the app which makes it a doddle to change settings for those times you’re fully loaded with luggage or are taking a pillion too.

It also shares other handy data with your mobile too, like the ability to remind when the next service is due, and also the odometer mileage, trip mileage and even the current level of fuel. It might seem a little redundant, especially to the purists who would just say that you can check this when you’re riding, however, if you’ve been on the bike all day in a foreign country and are planning the next day’s riding in the comfort of your hotel, then knowing know for instance how much petrol is left in the tank from the comfort of the bar can help with the planning process and how soon you might be looking for a fuel station. It’s trivial, but it’s these simple things that really help build and enhance the experience of using this bike and it really helped me to squash the idea that this was just another useless gimmick and is in fact a really impressive rider aid.

Now, I’ve only briefly touched the surface of what this app is capable of and the ease in which you’re able to set up the bike, but it’s really promising to see and is further evidence that the bikes of tomorrow will all be utilising this technology. Before this trip I would have simply dismissed the need for an app that controls your bike and maps your rides, but now I really see and understand the value in having such a tool available, especially when it’s this versatile!

So, just what is it?

The Versys 1000 SE is a truly impressive machine. It comes fully loaded with everything you’d need to hit the road in style and comfort, smashing out the big miles with effortless ease. It’s quick, capable and completely flattering no matter the weather and I daren’t say that in the right hands could even mix it with the big boys on a track day too, if that’s your game. In fact, I don’t think there’s much that the trusty Versys wouldn’t excel in, it really is an incredibly capable machine. It flatters and inspires whatever it’s taken and would be just at home nipping to the shops as it would be touring Europe.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE Touring

I’ve never been a real fan of cornering lights and have always thought of them as a little gimmicky before now. I knew even before I sat on the Versys SE that the lights would be a honing point for me to focus on and subject to some negative feedback and I’d normally prefer a pair of spot lights fitted that are always illuminated. That said; the cornering lights of the SE do work well when navigating corners on dark country lanes at night in the pouring rain, so perhaps my opinion of them could be changing.

In this specification, the Versys 1000 is like a Swiss Army Knife – a quality item that’s built to tackle any task you throw at it. Rain or shine, hot or cold; it’s always going to leave you smiling and, with impressive technologies like the electronic suspension and Rideology connectivity, is future-proof too.

The devil is in the details though and it’s safe to say that Kawasaki have taken on board feedback from previous Versys models and thought very carefully about these in designing the new machine. The reality of these careful considerations means that what you get in the finished product is an extremely well thought out and practical machine that is also extremely capable and fun to ride thanks to its exceptional suspension package and beautiful motor. Kawasaki really should be applauded for the Versys 1000 SE, it’s absolutely brilliant!

It’s an incredibly capable machine that excels in all weathers and utilises the latest in available rider technology. The best part is that it all works together harmoniously to allow the bike to excel in all conditions.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE Touring