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Kawasaki Versys-X 300 Adventure Build

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Adventure Motorcycle

Kawasaki has always marketed their Versys-X 300 conservatively as a street bike designed to handle light off-road terrain. That may be what the engineers had in mind, but after getting some seat time on the stock machine, we began to realize there was a lot more potential.

For years, ADV enthusiasts have been calling for a lighter, simpler, economical adventure bike that is capable off-road and smooth on the highway. The Versys-X didn’t quite get there from the factory, but it does have a good foundation with its smooth 296cc inline-twin pumping out 39.3 horsepower, a 386-pound wet weight, 200+ mile fuel range, wire-spoke wheels, low seat h, and an affordable $5,499 price tag.


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Despite its potential, there are several limitations that hold it back from being the versatile do-it-all ADV Bike it could be. The goal of this build was to outfit the Versys-X 300 for long-range off-road travel, with improvements in off-road performance, carrying capacity, and protection. Nothing too extreme that would take it out of its design envelope – just address a few of its weaknesses, enhance its strengths, and make a nice step forward in off-road capability.

Kawasaki Versys X-300 ADV Pulse Adventure Build

We’ve been wrenching away on our little Versys-X Project Bike for months now, experimenting with different aftermarket parts and even helping develop some new ones. It’s fair to say there aren’t a lot of aftermarket options out there for the Versys-X 300, but we scoured around until we found top-level componentry that offers real improvements. We are pretty excited with how it turned out. Check out what went into the build below. We also provide a full build sheet for the bike, including pricing for each part:

PROTECTION

Our first order of business was to give the Versys-X some proper protection for the trail. The stock plastic lower cowling really doesn’t protect from much more than pebbles. With an exhaust header that routes underneath the engine and low ground clearance, it’s a disaster waiting to happen on a rocky trail. There are also no stock hand guards to protect levers and the stock mirrors are not up for the hard knocks of off-road riding.

Kawasaki Versys X-300 ADV Pulse Adventure Build

Ricochet’s skid plate for the Versys-X 300 is constructed with 3/16″ 5052 H-32 aluminum and features wrap-around wings to help protect the cases. Coverage is good for both the exhaust, oil filter and sump. And with its durable anodized black finish, it stays looking good after riding through rock gardens. The plate includes cutouts for access to the oil drain plug, so you don’t have to remove it for routine maintenance. It also works with or without a centerstand.

Kawasaki Versys X-300 ADV Pulse Adventure Build

GIVI’s crash bars for the Versys-X 300 are made of 1” diameter steel with a connecting crossbar to help distribute the energy in a fall. It helps protect against those common tip overs and low-side falls on the trail – a good investment to avoid damaging the fragile plastic fairing or the radiator. GIVI crash bars feature a durable black powder coat finish and come with plastic sliders to help keep your bars looking scratch free.

Kawasaki Versys X-300 ADV Pulse Adventure Build

Whether it’s the tree branches constantly knocking your mirrors, or your helmet when you are banging through whoops, mirrors are one of those things that just get in the way off-road. The stock mirrors on the Versys-X 300 look more at home on a Ninja than a real adventure bike, so we put on a set of the tried and tested DoubleTake breakaway mirrors. Hit them with a bat and they just ask “May I have another please?”. They also handle falls on roots, logs or rocks just as well, and you can loosen them up and adjust them down flat on the handlebars so they won’t slap you in the face on those whooped out trails.

Kawasaki Versys X-300 ADV Pulse Adventure Build

Any handguards are better than no handguards, and that’s what the Versys-X 300 comes with from the factory – nilch. But we wanted something real sturdy to keep from being stranded on the trail with broken levers. These look like your typical metal-braced off-road handguards, but they also offer a little extra room for larger “street bike” master cylinders. There was ample room to fit all of our handlebar controls and enough coverage to provide some good wind protection for our hands on the highway.

Off-Road Performance

While we’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well the 300cc powerplant performs on the street – on both twisty back roads and long highway stretches – its off-road performance is what could use the most help. With just 5.1 inches of travel up front and 5.8 inches in the rear, it’s below average for adventure bike specs. A little more low-end power and some better grip from the tires were other performance improvements we wanted to make for the trail.

Kawasaki Versys X-300 ADV Pulse Adventure Build

With front end bottoming being the biggest problem holding the Versys-X 300 back on the trail, increasing suspension travel was a big priority. More travel would allow us to ride at increased speeds without blowing through the suspension and give us more ground clearance as well. We didn’t find any companies offering an upgrade for the Versys-X, so we reached out to Cogent Dynamics. They were already making lowering kits and suspension upgrades for the Versys-X 300, but had never tried extending the suspension travel. With our custom requirements, they increased fork travel by roughly one inch (~ 6.1 inches) and installed DDC Valves (Drop-In Damper Cartridge) for improved damping function over stock.

Kawasaki Versys X-300 ADV Pulse Adventure Build

Next we worked with Cogent to develop an all-new Monotube shock for the Versys-X 300 to replace the harsh ride of the stock shock. The replacement shock Cogent engineered offers approximately one inch of extra suspension travel, improved damping, along with preload and damping adjustability. Cogent was able to achieve this without using a piggyback or remote reservoir, so the cost is more reasonable and there are no fitment issues to deal with. Now with roughly 6.8 inches of suspension travel and premium damping control, the Versys-X 300 has better bump absorption and ground clearance in the dirt. Seat h is also raised roughly an inch, but at about 33.1 inches, it’s still relatively low.

Kawasaki Versys X-300 ADV Pulse Adventure Build

Swapping the stock 80/20 (Street/Dirt) dual sport tires for a set of DOT knobbies is one of the easiest ways to improve performance in the dirt. MotoZ are known for their competition off-road and enduro tires, but their Tractionator Adventure tires are street legal. They have an aggressive tread pattern, somewhere around the 25/75 range, to give our Versys a real edge in more technical terrain like steep inclines, wet mud, and loose gravel. Tread blocks are deep, but a specialized compound helps extend durability. So far, the grip in the dirt is much improved and they are predictable when they slide on asphalt. The Versys-X uses a 110/80-19 front and 130/80-17 rear, but they also come in a range of sizes for various adventure bikes.

Kawasaki Versys X-300 ADV Pulse Adventure Build

It’s fair to say the Versys-X impresses for a 300cc on the street with the capability to take you over 100 mph. It gains speed slowly though and it feels a little choked up in the lower RPMs. We wanted to see if we could open it up a bit and give it a more responsive low end for off-road riding. The Akrapovic Slip-On offers an increase in horsepower of 2.8% and 2.6% in torque. While the gains are modest, we noticed a snappier throttle response and it feels punchier down low. The noise level is similar to stock but it offers a richer sound that is music to the ears. What’s more, we shaved almost 5 pounds off the bike in the process. The carbon-fiber tip, Titanium sleeve, and carbon-fiber heat shield also offer a little flair to our Kawi.

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