2021 Kawasaki Versys 1000 S Review

I was lucky enough to attend the world launch of Kawasaki’s big Versys in 2012, and although it was hardly love at first sight, its qualities soon became apparent. The way the adventure-styled tourer smoothly churned out big miles, while cosseting both rider and pillion, was quickly evident.

Since then, the qualities of the original Versys have been improved and refined, while Kawasaki has also tried to make the big girl more visually appealing, because, let’s be honest, the original bike’s aesthetics could only be loved by its mother.

2021 Kawasaki Versys 1000 S

Kawasaki has stayed with the original bike’s DNA, meaning little off-road capability. The focus is clearly on high-mileage road-riding. While other manufacturers try 19-inch, or even 21-inch front wheels in pursuit of off-road performance, Kawasaki has kept the emphasis on tar, with 17-inch rims front and rear, plus long-travel suspension.

For 2021 Kawasaki has essentially removed the affordable base model, and introduced a new model, the S. The S is closer in some ways to the full spec SE model available in some markets, which comes with semi-active Showa suspension but is not available in Australia. The S version we receive in Australia features largely the same high-level spec of the SE, but with conventional, manually-adjustable suspension and can be kitted out with the accessories seen here. It retails in standard trim for $19,999 plus on road costs and Adam recently spent 1200 kilometres with the S to weigh it up against the opposition.

2021 Kawasaki Versys 1000 S
Our test Versys was kitted out with the Grant Tour extras, with top box, panniers, fog lights and heated grips optional accessories

Power and smoothness

Back in 2012 when the original Versys was launched, the Z1000-based motor produced an impressive 116 hp. In 2015 it went up to 118 hp, which is where it is today. Now, 118 hp may not impress your mates down the pub – it’s not headline-grabbing like the Ducati Mutlistrada V4 with its 168 racing Italian horses – but how much do you really need?

2021 Kawasaki Versys 1000
Power on the Versys 1000 S is a more modest 118 hp, with 102 Nm from 7500 rpm

That 118 hp musters at 9000 rpm, while peak torque is 102 Nm at 7500 rpm. Again, this is far from class-topping performance, but over 100 Nm and close to 120 hp isn’t bad for a 1044 cc inline four-cylinder engine.

Kawasaki’s 2021 Versys 1000 S is like an England rugby prop – surprisingly fast when it gets going – and this big ’un can certainly run. Power is smooth and effortless, and riding it is like rolling towards the beach on a huge wave. It doesn’t feel quick because it’s relaxed, the wind protection is excellent, and you’re not accompanied by a wailing or tiring exhaust tone. Then you look down at the large speedo and soon realise you’re approaching 160 km/h without realising it. It’s all a very refined and understated way of doing speed.

There is a large analogue rev-counter on the left side of the relatively dull, but easy-to-read instrumentation, and when you approach the redline the large gear indicator starts to flash. I nudged the rev-limit a few times because I was simply riding the Versys incorrectly. I’d jumped onto it from a rev-happy sports bike, but soon realised there was no need to rev the Versys. Just short-shift on the smooth quick-shifter, change gear well before peak torque at 7500 rpm, and enjoy the magic-carpet sensation of power.

The instruments feature an analogue tacho and full colour dash
The Versys S instruments feature an analogue tacho and full colour dash

The weight of the S is a quoted 255 kg. Add a rider plus pillion and load up the luggage, and kilos begin to build towards the 400 mark, but there’s enough power to make the ride spirited – though I’m unsure why the tacho reads to 14,000 rpm when the redline is at 10,000 rpm.

Still, there’s enough torque to make overtaking safe and quick. When fully loaded it sometimes takes a downshift of one gear just to make sure and I never felt like I wanted more power. Would that change fully loaded and climbing a mountain pass? When compared to similar but more expensive bikes in this class, there is no hiding the fact the Versys is down on power.

I found upshifts on the new and standard quick-shifter to be slick and effortless, but downshifts weren’t as smooth, especially at slow speeds and low rpm.

There are three riding modes to choose from, plus one riding mode which allows you to customise the settings. I spent 90 per cent of the test in Road mode, which meant full power and a smooth throttle response, with the lean-sensitive rider aids active. Sport mode doesn’t give a jump in power or torque, it just appears to reduce the engine’s refinement, which is why I stayed in the Road mode for the majority of the time.

Excellent comfort

This is where the big Versys scored highly. It is brilliantly comfortable. I completed 270 km in one stint (until the fuel light went on) without any complaints. I could have filled up and done another 270 straight away, in fact probably 540 km. This is a bike that will take on a 800 km-plus day with consummate ease. Fast cruising or touring is effortless.

The Versys 1000 S offers brilliant touring comfort and is more road orientated
The Versys 1000 S offers brilliant touring comfort and is more road orientated

Flick up into top gear, set the cruise control to 130-140 km/h if you are in the NT, then sit back and enjoy. The adjustable screen is huge and deflects all the windblast. The handguards aren’t bad, and you have the added luxury of three-stage heated grips – which are an accessory option on the S – the only downside is there’s no illustration on the dash to show they are on or at which level.

The Versys’ adventure bike ergonomics are spot on, and the seat is wide and comfortable, even for the pillion. There is also a bit of extra padding on the top box for the pillion to rest against, although the topbox and panniers are optional accessories on the S. The clocks may miss the iPad bling of some of the competition, but they are simple and easy to read, and the switchgear is intuitive. With the ride and suspension on the soft side, the uprated Versys experience is, overall, very smooth.

A wide, comfortable rider and pillion seat are suited to long distances
A wide, comfortable rider and pillion seat are suited to long distances

At night, the lean-sensitive cornering headlights work impressively well, and the extra fog lights give a clear view ahead, though it’s a shame the switch is hard to reach and appears to be an afterthought. With the now-standard heated grips to the max, and the screen fully upright offering excellent wind protection, it was a pleasure to ride at night, despite the low temperatures.

Fuel consumption of just over 4.7l/100 km is impressive, too, especially when you take into consideration the bulk and weight of the bike. I tested the fully loaded Grand Tourer, and I’m sure the standard S model without luggage would be more frugal.

Twenty-one litres of petrol equates to a theoretical range of 450 km, though in the real world the low-fuel light came on at 250-270 km after some well paced highway work (with around 50-60 km remaining). Certainly, 320 km between fill-ups is possible, depending on the conditions and the weight you’re carrying.

Cornering LED lights help increase visibility at night, matching road conditions
Cornering LED lights help increase visibility at night, matching road conditions

And it goes around corners – just

The new Versys S rides on conventional Showa suspension, with pre-load and rebound damping adjustment on the front (right leg only), and the same on the rear (along with a remote, easy-access pre-load adjuster). The suspension has been designed for comfort and ride quality rather than performance. But, like the engine, the chassis can take you by surprise. It takes a little effort, but it can hustle.

There is no hiding the fact this is a big, heavy bike, and one you can’t flick to foot-peg-scraping levels of lean with ease. But once you understand this, and ride to the bike’s strengths, it can be rewarding. Ride smoothly, carry momentum, and the Kawasaki will deliver. It’s a little like going back a few years: brake on the approach, ease off the brakes, roll in, feel the grip, and accelerate out. However, unlike days of old, when you get it wrong, you have excellent electronic aids helping you out.

The Versys 1000 S is a big heavy bike but carries its weight well
The Versys 1000 S is a big heavy bike but carries its weight well

The lean-sensitive traction control is excellent; I could feel it working when the tyre was cold and controlling the front-wheel lift when I pushed a little too hard in the first two gears.

If you’re coming from a sportsbike or a sporty naked machine, and are used to diving into the apex on the brakes and holding a tight line, then you might be disappointed by the standard set-up on the Kawasaki. It’s on the soft side, and the rear does benefit from some added pre-load, especially when loaded. On a few occasions, I drifted wide on the exit, and it will understeer if you ask too much of the handling.

If, on the other hand, you are coming to the Versys from a tourer, then the electronic aids are excellent, and in the dry, once you’ve clicked into the ‘old-school’ way of riding, you can have some great peg-scraping fun on the big Versys. Just be aware it’s far more touring than sports.

Stoppers on the Versys 1000 S are a little more basic than some of the competition
Stoppers on the Versys 1000 S are a little more basic than some of the competition with good feel but not the same race-spec systems often seen

Modern brakes are exceptional, with massive stopping power even on entry level bikes, and race-inspired radial Brembo stoppers now common on tourers. But the Kawasaki’s aren’t quite up there with the best. The ABS is not too intrusive on the road, and while the front 310 mm petal discs and calipers have a nice feel, you will need all four fingers when coming down from fast dual-carriageway speeds to slow roundabouts.

Again, it depends on what you are used to – this is not one-finger race-bike braking – and the competition from BMW, KTM, and Ducati, which all have race-spec brakes, and also weigh less than the Kawasaki, is very fierce.

Tech is simple and straightforward

The 1000 S comes with three integrated riding modes, which change the power characteristics and rider-aid intervention. These are Rain, Road and Sport. There is also a fourth mode, called Rider, which enables you to personalise your own settings, like full power and no traction-control, for example. Just know the ABS can’t be deactivated.

On previous models, the modes didn’t change the rider aids, and there were only two to choose from. However, the traction control (KTRC), which has three settings, can be switched off. The rider aids are all linked to the Kawasaki Cornering Management Function (KCMF), which is essentially a Bosch IMU and means both the ABS and traction control are lean-sensitive.

The electronics system on the Versys 1000 S
The electronics system on the Versys 1000 S are simple to use on the run

The system is clear and easy to understand, and simple enough to change on the move. On some models in this class the rider aids are almost too much, but on the Kawasaki, they are much easier to comprehend, and you don’t need to be an IT consultant to work them out. The TC works well, is relatively smooth and the intervention is relatively slow and reassuring.


I’ve always had a soft spot for Kawasaki’s Versys. It was the ugly duckling of their range when it was launched and has never been Kawasaki’s star player, but it is consistently underestimated and has always offered value for money. Kawasaki has hiked the price for 2021 but, equally, they have improved the spec in direct proportion, and the base model is still under $20K prior to on-roads, which is considerably less than the competition.

Kawasaki have bumped up the price on the Versys 1000 S in 2021 however it's still a competitive offering at $19,999 + ORC
Kawasaki have bumped up the price on the Versys 1000 S in 2021 however it’s still a highly competitive offering at $19,999 + ORC

There are niggles. It is a heavy bike; the clocks, although clear, lack some bling; the handling is far more touring than sports; and, personally, I’d want stronger brakes. In some areas, like power, it is just behind the competition.

However, it excels in comfort, especially for larger riders who regularly carry a pillion, and the level of spec is impressive for the price. The new 1000 S continues the original bike’s good work, meaning it is still value for money, still smooth and comfortable, but now with more extras to make it more appealing than ever. Is there a better way to tour in comfort for $19,999  + ORC? I don’t think so. The Grand Tour? Not available in Australia I’m afraid, but you can kit out the Versys S with the accessories seen here.

If you’re not worried about razor-sharp handling, and don’t need 150 hp plus, then the Kawasaki might be for you.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 S Specficiations

Versys 1000 S
Engine1043 cc In-line 4-cylinder, liquid- cooled.
Bore x Stroke77.0 x 56.0 mm
Compression Ratio10.3:1
Valve SystemDOHC 16 valve
Fuel SystemDFI 4 X 38 mm with oval sub throttles
IgnitionElectric start TCBI with Digital Advance
Transmission6-speed with Positive Neutral finder
Front Suspension43 mm inverted fork with KECS-controlled compression and rebound damping, manual spring preload adjustability, and top-out springs
Rear SuspensionHorizontal Back-link, gas-charged shock, with rebound damping and remote spring preload adjustability
Wheel TravelFont 150/ Rear 152 mm
Ground Clearance150 mm
Brakes – FrontDual semi-floating 310 mm petal discs, Dual radial-mount, opposed 4-pistons with ABS
Brakes – RearSingle 250 mm petal disc, single-bore pin-slide, aluminium piston with ABS
Wheel Size Front Rear3.50-17.0 5.50-17.0
Tyre Size-front rear120/70ZR17M/C (58W) 180/55ZR17M/C (73W)
L x W x H2,270 x 950 x 1,490-1,530 mm
Wheelbase1,520 mm
Seat Height840 mm
Fuel Capacity21.0 litres
Curb Mass257 kg
Max Power88.2 kW {120 PS} / 9,000 rpm
Max Torque102.0 N.m @ 7,500 rpm
Warranty24 Months Unlimited Kilometres
RRP$19,999 +ORC

Images by Joe Dick

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