When I first saw pictures of the Kawasaki 1000 Versys, I was all set to dislike it heartily. The whole idea of the original Versys, built as it was around a brilliant 650cc parallel twin, was that it was lighter, more compact and more agile than a comparable four, with distinctive, slightly oddball styling.
Trying to squeeze a 1043cc four-cylinder motorcycle into the same box, I felt, was either a perversion of the original concept or a total waste of what is arguably Kawasaki's finest engine yet.
Well, I was wrong.
The 1000 Versys is everything its smaller sibling is - and more. It's not a big as it looks in the pictures and it's surprisingly nimble. Around town it feels like a midweight, rather than a litre-class four, its upright seating position, incredibly light, quick steering and wide 'bars making it immensely chuckable.
And then, when you twist its tail, you're sitting on top of one of the all-time great Japanese sports-bike engines, with all the instant response and seamless power delivery we have come to expect from Z-class engines going back to the 903cc Z1 of 1972.
In this application the proven Z1000 engine is tuned for a quoted 86.8kW at 9000 and 102Nm at 7700, a bit down on the 101.5kW and 110Nm of the original, but with welcome gains in tractability and response at small throttle openings - and the almost complete absence of the usual fuel-injected jerkiness.
This very sophisticated prime mover also comes with a full suite of electronic rider aids, including two power levels (we left it on F for Full throughout, because it didn't rain during the test period) and three traction controls settings (we stayed with 1, which allows more than a little wheelspin before the nanny steps in).
TAR-ROAD USE ONLY
The test bike also featured antilock braking which, unlike that of its German competitors, didn't appear to be switchable at all - a clear indication that this bike is intended for tar-road use only.
So we took it out on our favourite bit of perfectly straight, smooth tarmac and wound it up to a true 227km/h with 242km/h on the clock at 9400rpm.
The Versys runs very smoothly through the mid-range - a little secondary vibration becomes apparent through the 'bars and 'pegs above 7000rpm and the engine sounds a little frenetic after 8500 but it seems happy to run hard all day.
The clutch is soft, but with a very firm final take-up, the gearbox clunky due to a little extra play, as always on Kawasakis, but very positive throughout with sweet clutchless upshifts.
Kawasaki has updated the Z1000 gearbox with taller fifth and sixth gears to give the Versys longer legs on the open road, which helped it to return a creditable 6.6 litres per 100km over the week we had it, including performance testing.
However, the bike's astonishing agility around town manifests as a slight nervousness at very high speeds, which we solved in the usual way by doing the high-speed runs with only the lightest of fingertips holds on the grips.
That is almost as scary as it sounds, but it works; most bikes are more stable than their riders, in both senses of the word.
The screen is adjustable for height by simply twirling two huge knobs on its front face to unlock it, moving it by hand and retightening the knobs. I left it at its lowest setting throughout the test, which I found very comfortable, with no buffeting.
However, Herself complained of excessive wind-blast when she rode it and we both experienced unusually loud wind noise, so a little experimentation on your Versys may be called for.
We also left the suspension on the factory's median settings, except for a one extra turn on the remote on-the-fly preload adjustment, to allow for my 110kg.
Set like that the suspension was firm but beautifully damped, with very supple initial travel. It gave me a rough ride on our bumpy test section but without ever jarring me out of the saddle - except for the two worst dips when both ends bottomed out, which is normal on anything except a motocrosser.
The seating position is perfect, leaning just a little forward with the rider's weight evenly distributed between seat, bars and 'pegs, and the seat itself is very comfortable indeed - broad, flat and deeply padded - making the Versys a genuine thousand-kays-a-day bike, a superb light tourer.
Handling is almost as good; a slight wallow on poor surfaces could probably be tuned out at the expense of some of that suppleness, and the big Kawasaki is impressive on our smooth ride-and-handling section, averaging 140km/h where 120 is good for anything other than a superbike.
It is what it, a big four-cylinder sports bike with high 'bars and insectoid styling. It has no pretensions to “dual-purpose” except the fashionable bodywork, it's a road bike pure and simple, capable of enormous distances in all-day comfort at very high point-to-point averages.
It'll take you to work and back in style all week, but it's also ready to kick loose when you are. We called the 650 Versys the Great Escaper - this one will lift your weekend breakaway to the next level.
Price: R139 995
Bike from: Mike Hopkins Motorcycles, Cape Town.
Engine: 1043c liquid-cooled transverse four.
Bore x stroke: 77 x 56mm.
Compression ratio: 10.3:1.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 86.8kW at 9000rpm.
Torque: 102Nm at 7700rpm.
Induction: Digital electronic fuel-injection with four 38mm oval Keihin throttle bodies.
Ignition: Digital electronic.
Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by chain.
Front Suspension: 43mm KYB inverted cartridge forks with adjustable for preload and rebound damping.
Rear Suspension: Horizontal back-link with gas-charged monoshock adjustable for preload and rebound damping.
Front brakes: Dual 300mm petal disks with Tokico four-pot opposed-piston callipers and ABS.
Rear brake: 250mm petal disc with single-piston floating calliper and ABS.
Front tyre: 120/70 - 17 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 180/55 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 845mm.
Kerb weight: 239kg.
Fuel tank: 21 litres.
Top speed (measured): 227km/h.
Fuel consumption (measured): 6.6 litres per 100km
Price: R135 995.
Bike from: Mike Hopkins Motorcycles, Cape Town.