2021 Kawasaki Motorcycles Demo Ride Impressions

I headed out to the Kawasaki Good Times Demo Tour at Plano Kawasaki the other day, and took several of the 2021 models for a spin. Each demo ride was an unhurried, 20 minute escorted group ride through the city. There weren’t any opportunities to get carried away, test the limits of any of the motorcycles, or push them through some twisty backroads, but it was enough to get a feel for each machine and walk away with some solid impressions.

There was a good variety of motorcycles on hand, and almost the entirety of Kawasaki’s street bike lineup was represented. Scheduling, bike availability, and the time I had allotted for the event permitted me to sign up for four rides over the course of the day; the Versys 1000, the Versys 650, the KLX300SM, and the Z900RS Café (because the Ninja 1000SX was spoken for and to compare it to my standard Z900RS).

So here’s what I thought of the bikes.

2021 Versys 1000

The Versys 1000 is a seriously impressive motorcycle.

It’s equipped with all the bells and whistles the most demanding rider could ask for as standard features. There’s a quick shifter, heated grips, electronic cruise control, active electronically controlled suspension that is adjustable with the push of a button (to dial in settings for rider weights for riding solo, with luggage, two-up, etc. without having to use any tools), ride modes and traction control (including corner management functions), smartphone connectivity via Bluetooth and Kawasaki’s Rideology app, a color TFT screen (the only thing missing is a touchscreen), intelligent ABS driven through radial monobloc calipers, assist-slipper clutch, an adjustable windscreen, LED lighting (including cornering lights), and large hard saddlebags. All standard.

Let’s talk about the engine in this bike. The Versys 1000 is powered by an iteration of the big 1043cc inline four that has been found in many of their bikes for years. It’s exactly what you’d expect. Lots of smooth, accessible power. It had a relaxed feel to it, and I was less inclined to rev it out as a result. It was never working particularly hard at any speed. Understressed is an understatement.

Since the Versys 1000 is equipped with standard 120/70 and 180/55 tires on 17″ wheels, it basically felt and handled like a tall naked sport bike. It also means that you’ll have a plethora of tire options available, whether you’re just cruising the highways, or perhaps getting a bit more adventure in your touring.

In regards to seat height, the Versys 1000 isn’t actually much taller than most naked roadsters. The seat height of 33.1″ is only slightly taller than the 32.9″ of my Z900RS, so it doesn’t feel nearly as tall as some of its (admittedly, more off-road oriented) competitors.

It’s comfortable, easy to ride (despite its weight, size, and power), and packed with features. The $18,199 price tag is a bit off-putting, but is competitive with other feature-packed liter-class ADV bikes. Kawasaki only offers the single SE LT+ trim, so those looking for a more affordable option for a new Versys 1000 aren’t going to find one.

If I’m going to level any criticism at the Versys 1000, it’s that the Versys 1000 is far from being the most off-road worthy of the adventure-touring class. I have very limited off-road riding experience, but even I can see its flaws. It has less ground clearance and suspension travel that many of its competitors, is equipped with regular street tires, and items like full crash bars, a brush guard, and spoked wheels are not even available as options from Kawasaki. I’m sure it will do fine on some rough gravel and dirt roads, and maybe even some rougher terrain with the right tires, though, but it’s far from being as off-road capable as some of its competitors.

My next motorcycle is likely going to be an adventure-touring bike, and the Versys 1000 is a strong front-runner.

2021 Versys 650

For the sake of comparison (and knowing that my wife will need an adventure bike as well, and that a Versys 1000 would be overkill for her), I hopped on Versys 650 next.

There are a lot of lukewarm takes out there decrying the middleweight Versys as the white New Balance and dad jeans of motorcycles, but I posit a different perspective.

The Versys 650 is fun. Crazy fun. Probably more fun than the Versys 1000. It’s 650cc parallel twin only makes about half as much power, but it’s slimmer, 100lbs lighter, and stripped down to the essentials. It doesn’t have any electronics or features outside of ABS, an assist and slipper clutch, and an adjustable windscreen.

That’s not to say that the electronics, rider aids, and features of the Versys 1000 are unwelcome obtrusive distractions; they’re not; but the 650 doesn’t have any of those bells and whistles, so taking it on an adventure is just a simple matter of starting the engine, flipping up the kickstand, and twisting the throttle toward your destination.

It has a bit more of a raw feeling to it, but with plenty of power and comfort for long tours. The two-cylinder engine does vibrate a bit more at lower RPMs, but it’s still plenty smooth, especially at higher RPMs. It wants to be wound out a bit more, and that just feels fun.

The lighter weight and slimmer profile would make for a stellar commuter, too. The 1000 is solid in the city, but is a bit on the chunky side for it to be an ideal commuter.

The Versys 650 lives up to the “versatility” its name is derived from. It will tour, it will commute, and is probably pretty solid off-road thank to its light weight. Like the 1000, it’s clearly intended to be more on-road tourer than off-road adventurer, but it’s sure to be fairly capable.

It’s also half the price of the Versys 1000. Yes, the bigger engine and bells and whistles on the 1000 add $10,000+ to the price. I could get his and hers Versys 650’s for the price of the 1000, and that’s pretty attractive.

2021 KLX300SM

Factory supermotos have become increasingly popular over the last several years, and for good reason. They’re fun, versatile, easy to ride, and affordable.

The KLX300SM is poised to unleash your inner hooligan. I know it unleashed mine.

It barely weighs more than I do, and the whole thing is nearly as skinny as the 110mm front tire. It barely exists, and it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s little more than an engine and handlebar perched atop a pair of wheels.

That engine is pretty impressive for a 300cc single. It’s not the fastest or most powerful, but it likes being wrung out to the redline and as a result, you’ll feel like lunatic ripping it at high speeds even at slower speeds. It’s still plenty fast, though, and I kept up with the group just fine.

Obviously, it won’t beat a Ninja 1000 in a straight line, but it’ll outmaneuver it all day long. You can whip it around corners faster, need far less stopping distance, and can weave through traffic effortlessly.

It’s not a tourer by any means, and you’ll start feeling the wind shove you around at even moderately high speeds, but for the track, in town, or tearing up some twisty backroads on the weekend, it’s about as fun as a motorcycle can get.

2021 Z900RS Café

Another rider had already signed up to ride the Ninja 1000, so I decided to hop onto the Z900RS Café to compare it to my Z900RS. I probably have the most to say about this riding experience, since I have tens of thousands of miles over the course of the last 3 1/2 years with my Z900RS as a comparative reference point.

Above all else, even bone stock, the Z900RS Café rides (and sounds) great. Tons of power on tap, and it pulls hard from idle to redline. The way Kawasaki has this engine set up and tuned is truly exquisite. It’s well-mannered and easy to ride, but also packs a fistful of muscular grunt when you punch it.

I love the looks of the Café. The Z900RS is already a great looking motorcycle, and the added front cowl, scooped seat, lowered handlebars, and other touches to round out that café racer look are excellent.

Unfortunately, they do come with a bit of a cost.

The lower bars give you a more hunched, aggressive riding position appropriate for the style, but you lose a bit of leverage over the motorcycle. This gives countersteering and counterbalancing maneuvers a less natural feel, and body position becomes more important on the Café. I adapted to it quickly enough, but I certainly prefer the more upright, comfortable, and natural feel of the standard RS.

The scooped seat lowers the seat height by about 2/3″, and locks you into place on the seat a bit more, which is great for hard acceleration and more aggressive riding. You end up with a bit more bend at the hips and knees, and that coupled with the lowered bars results in a much tighter rider triangle. It’s not as compact as a super sport by any means, but it does instill more attitude and aggression to the way the ride feels, which had the byproduct of changing how I rode the bike. The Z900RS is a muscle bike that has a much more laid back attitude, and the Café is sportier and more in your face about it.

It’s great, and I dig it, but for slightly different reasons than my RS. The Z900RS is a better all-rounder for the daily rider, and the Café is the better weekend canyon carver. They’re similar enough to be largely interchangeable, but that was my takeaway from the experience.

It was later in the afternoon after that fourth ride, a larger crowd of riders had gathered, and the sign up sheet for the rest of the day was pretty close to full, so I booked it back home at that point.

Final Thoughts

Kawasaki’s current motorcycle line up kicks ass. I would have loved for the upcoming KLR650 to have been on hand for a ride, or to have had a bit more time to ride a few more of the bikes, but you can’t win ’em all.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go ride some motorcycles.

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