Taken from the ZX-10R SE and tweaked for touring work, the Versys 1000 SE’s Showa fork and shock damping self adjusts every millisecond, depending on parameters like road speed, throttle position, lean angle and thanks to internal stroke sensors, suspension movement, too. Rear preload can be adjusted via the switchgear and ramped up for pillions and luggage, but you’ll still need a spanner for the front (not that you’d need to fiddle).
Offering the holy trinity of grip, stability and ride quality, the electronic set-up is hard to fault in all riding conditions, but it lacks the plush damping control of quality manually adjustable suspension. Ride is on the 'springy', slightly under damped side, with the rear end sometimes softening too quickly as you tip into a corner.
Kawasaki has fitted a bigger, manually adjustable screen to hide behind. It banishes buffeting, but for a tall rider like me the wind noise is high at speed, which is a symptom of tall adventure style bikes. What's more, the manual adjusters can losen themselves overtime, allowing the screen to move about.
If you want a silent mile muncher, a conventional road bike-shaped tourer, like the Z1000SX is like being in a library by comparison.
Like the previous versions, the new Versys 1000 has first class legroom, a natural stretch to the bars and the seat is comfy enough for two to three hour stints.
The SE also comes with cruise control, heated grips, a power socket, cornering LEDs 'self-healing' paint and a classy TFT colour dash, packed with lots information, including a completely useless-but-fun lean angle-o-meter.
Styling has been tweaked (it still ain’t pretty), but the tubular aluminium chassis has been left alone, which is a good thing because the Versys 1000 is neutral and well balanced, albeit feeling top heavy at first, which can catch out shorter riders.
It’s easy to manage at slow speeds, once you’re used to its weight and doesn’t get flustered, even when you’re pushing outside its comfort zone. Kawasaki says the new rear suspension link gives a more controlled ride, but it’s hard to feel the difference in isolation.
That said, back in the UK, it feels very planted-mid corner and surprisingly flickable for such a large machine and could even cut it on a road bike-only trackday!
New radial-mount monobloc front calipers, taken from the Z1000, are packed with power and feel, although the rear is slightly weak for a heavy machine. When pressing on along the UK's rutted roads, you can often feel the ABS chattering through the front lever, too.
Suspension in focus
The idea is that as you ride along, the bike is constantly adapting to road and riding conditions in real time and continually adjusting the damping to suit. It even takes deceleration into account to prevent the pitching that occurs under heavy braking.
To achieve this there are built-in stroke sensors on the fork and rear shock. These provide a stream of information about stroke speed and compression to the KECS’s ECU once every millisecond.
At the same time, the bike’s IMU (which senses acceleration, deceleration and lean angle) and the FI ECU (which knows the vehicle’s speed) send signals every 10 milliseconds.
The KECS ECU calculates how to adjust the ride accordingly and transmits a signal to the solenoids in the suspension units. From here it gets really interesting.
Unlike other electronic suspension systems that use stepper motors or pilot valves to adjust damping, the Showa system uses single-stage direct valve actuation.
This adjusts the valves much faster than other systems so the damping adjusts much quicker. Kawasaki say this gives the bike a more natural feel and ‘superior riding comfort’.
The base damping settings are according to the chosen riding mode (Road, Sport or Rain) and the semi-active system makes adjustments to these base settings as you ride along. There’s also a manual mode allowing you to fine tune things.
In addition, you can also adjust preload between three standard settings: Rider Only, Rider with Luggage and Rider with Passenger and Luggage. Each of these can be fine-tuned as you ride in case you make a stop for a big lunch or stock the panniers full of gifts from Marble Planet.
A new full ride-by-wire twist grip and electronic throttle valves facilitate cruise control and links into the IMU-backed electronic rider aids. The good news is the throttle is as polished as ever with no nasty jolts at low revs and a nicely weighted twistgrip action.
The 118bhp, 1043cc motor itself remains unchanged and like most inline fours, isn’t big on character, but the exhaust and airbox have a nice bark about them when you’re wringing the throttle.
The Kawasaki doesn’t have the same kind of neck-jarring acceleration you get on an BMW S1000XR, or the lazy-geared grunt of the Ducati Multistrada and KTM Super Duke GT V-twins, but for normal riding and the occasional spirited charge there’s more than enough poke to play with.
Owners may point to a slight lack of performance in the previous models, but their dependability is never in question.
Problems with our long term test bike
The screen bolts loosen as the bike is being ridden, resulting in the screen self-adjusting on the move, which is sub-optimal at 70mph on the motorway. This would be less of a problem, except that the curvature of the screen distorts your spatial awareness so you need to be able to see over it.
One of the charms of the original Versys 1000 was its affordability and while the all singing SE is big money the standard machine offers more bang for your buck.
It’s lack of cornering lights is the easiest way to tell it from the SE, it doesn’t have such a tasty electronic spec and sits on conventional KYB suspension but it still comes with an adjustable screen, LED headlights, cruise control, IMU controlled TC/ABS and power modes.
Problems with our long-term test bike
With around 4500 miles under our belt since March, the Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE has proved to be extremely reliable, with no faults, and minimal wear to the drive chain.
Unfortunately, this streak of good fortune was thwarted when a stone, flung up from another bike, was able to pierce the radiator.
Not covered under the bike’s warranty, the price of a new radiator was £624.73, complete with fresh coolant at £22.47. The original coolant could be used again, though. The work also required one-and-a-half hours labour at a cost of £108.
At a total price of £755.20, all of this could’ve been avoided with a radiator guard, which is available as an official Kawasaki accessory for £79.95.
This is definitely a worthwhile accessory for any Versys owner, with the long-travel adventure forks leaving the radiator exposed to incidents like this at all times. And, at under nine-times the price of the repair bill, it’s a far easier pill to swallow!
Just like the best of its European rivals, the new Versys 1000 has lean sensitive traction/wheelie control and ABS and four riding modes: Rain, Road, Sport and a custom mix and match Rider option.
The new quickshifter works well under hard engine loads, but is on the slow side at short-shifting speeds and the autoblipper action can often be clunky (with lots of springy play in the gear lever), so it’s kinder on the drivetrain to use the clutch and rev-match in the normal way.
Decent grip from the Bridgestone sport touring T31s and the island’s roads means we never trouble the TC or ABS, but the anti-wheelie will gently chime in to tame throttle-to-the-stop, first and second gear getaways.
Download Kawasaki’s new free 'Rideology' app to your smartphone (it’s iPhone ready now and coming soon for Android users) and you can adjust the SE’s rider aids before you set-off.
Power maps, traction control intervention, suspension damping, rear preload settings, the quickshifter and dash display settings can all be set remotely and the app also has a datalogging function, to keep you amused. It all works, but it’s a bit of a gimmick you’re unlikely to use once the novelty has worn off.
There’s also a SE Tourer Plus version, with 28 litre panniers and inner bags, or the SE Grand Tourer (like the one in the pictures), which gains a tank pad, a 12v socket, a 27 litre top box with back rest pad, GPS bracket and frame protectors.