TALL, GREEN AND HANDSOME
Kawasaki has made an admirable attempt at making the X 300 a substantial-looking motorcycle. The result is a handsome machine that looks modern and purposeful yet uncomplicated. It does appear to be quite a tall motorcycle, and this impression is amplified by its high-perched fixed windscreen and a rakish tail section as well as the 180mm of ground clearance it offers. The X 300 employs a conventional mudguard at the front with only a slight hint of a beak emerging from underneath the headlight – it looks the part, clearly!
The X 300 is proportionately designed and contributing to its promising stance are the wheels, a set of lightweight aluminium units with wire spokes (19 inch at the front, 17 inch at the rear). ABS is standard, although, you cannot disengage it, and the only other bit of wizardry the X 300 offers is an assist and slipper clutch. This type of clutch configuration features two cams, an assist cam (for regular clutch operation) and a slipper cam. The assist cam pulls the clutch hub and operating plate together to compress the clutch plates, which reduces the total clutch spring load, giving the lever a light feel that you definitely notice at any point. The slipper function needs no introduction and definitely has its merits under hard downshifting.
It’s also imperative for you to know that, for India, Kawasaki will let you have the X 300 only with all the bells and whistles that constitute its accessory range. This includes the handlebar guards, the crash guard, a set of fog lights and a pannier (yes, just one) mounted on the right hand side. The other pannier is omitted due to the monstrosity of a saree guard Kawasaki has had to engineer for it and this pannier is something you have to shell out extra for. The oxymoronic standard accessory list also includes a 12v charging socket neatly integrated into the instrument console area, and that rounds off the X 300’s features.
HEART OF THE MATTER
Unlike our racetrack-hungry counterparts, us highway-fantasy types are easier to please, right? Top speeds are irrelevant to us and it’s also alright if our machines can’t pull off humongous wheelies. The trade off is the ability to go anywhere and cruise at 100kph or so, and since this opens up a happy realm of adventure and exploration, we’re easily complacent with figures that would cut no ice with the leather-suited types. The Versys-X 300 doesn’t break away from this tradition. Its 296cc, eight-valve, DOHC parallel-twin motor is liquid-cooled and produces 39.8hp and 25.7Nm of torque – healthy figures, but not startling in any way. This motor is paired to a six-speed gearbox and also sports a patented radiator fan cover (behind the radiator) that directs hot air down and away from the rider.
Seems like a fair deal so far, right? What I’ve kept from you (for the purpose of storytelling) is that it produces said healthy power figure at a screaming 11,500rpm and peak torque at 10,000rpm. That’s precariously high peak-output mark for most motorcycles, let alone a twin-cylinder bike with adventure-touring aspirations. This kind of peaky, high-rpm output is, perhaps, acceptable on the Ninja 300, since it’s a motorcycle that’s meant to be ridden as close to its rev-limit all the time and on a racetrack. On a motorcycle that’s meant to be calming and progressive, however, it’s a sign of worry – we’ll get to that in just a bit.
GOOD TIMES, INDEED?
Now, this is fast motorcycle, if not exorbitantly so, by any standard and its performance figures validate this. It goes from 0 to 60kph in 3sec and from 0 to 100kph in 7.6sec, while going on to register a speedo-indicated top speed upwards of 155kph – this is impressive, to say the least. In the real world, however, its high-rpm performance reflects poorly on its intended purpose. While the motor clearly has enough grunt to feel at home doing 100kph all day, it does so in top gear at a heady 7,500rpm and that just feels all wrong. The X 300’s motor is linear and progressive but a motorcycle like this needs to be relaxing, if not entirely numb, but instead it makes you feel like you’re attempting a land-speed record every time you try sustaining high speeds or pull a quick overtake on it. The engine seems like it comes to life only past 6,000rpm and that’s quite counter intuitive.
Not helping are the vibrations, initially restricted to a positive, fast-paced pulse that qualifies as engine character, which quickly transition into a tingling buzz everywhere north of 90kph. I’m not fussy about mild handlebar vibrations but since these soon trespass into the foot pegs and even the seat and tank, any promise of a relaxing ride is whisked away in a disappointing instant. Another downside to this kind of peaky performance is the fuel efficiency, which is an unremarkable 30.7kpl on the highway (at speeds between 75 to 90kph in top gear only), especially considering it returns a not-too-disparate 28.6kpl in the city.
The upshot is good low-speed rideability – you can go from 40kph all the way to 150kph or so in sixth gear – and it is undemanding of frequent downshifts up the hills but its performance just isn’t meaty enough, let alone blistering. Motorcycles that subscribe to this genre deserve character, and while the revvy, peaky and sweet sounding motor is quite characterful in its own right, it's not the kind of character that's fits the role of this bike. That’s not something you want to hear from a motorcycle with this sort of price tag.
HANDLE WITHOUT CARE
A redeeming quality of the X 300 is its rock-solid, over-engineered feel. The X 300 may look ‘soft’ but actually is quite a rugged motorcycle that can take a lot in its confident stride. Suspension at the front has been assigned to a 41mm telescopic fork while a gas-charged, preload-adjustable monoshock is on duty at the rear. The 1,450mm wheelbase lends immense stability to the X 300 and, overall, it doesn’t feel like a heavy, 184kg motorcycle, both, on and off the road.
As a result, the X 300 is a wonderful motorcycle around corners, allowing for an impressive degree of lean in a package that’s progressive and forgiving. The IRC Trail Winner GP-210 tyres offer a good balance of road grip and off-road traction, although they are more road-focused since the rear is quick to spin-up in the dirt; slush will be a big ask of these tyres, surely. The 290mm single-disc up front (with a 220mm disc at the rear and ABS) offers good, if not exceptional, braking performance and the lever feel is intuitive as well. What’s most important is that the X 300 doesn’t lost composure no matter what you throw at it and this is a feeling you cannot help but appreciate.
While the X 300’s underpinnings work overtime to guarantee a plush, almost invincible ride, it’s let-down by something elementary – the seat. The X 300 has delightful ergonomics that seem thoughtfully configured and even the 815mm seat height isn’t uncomfortably tall for most riders, but the unreasonable spanner in the works is the seat itself. This is an exceptionally firm seat and it makes spending anything over an hour in the saddle seem like punishment. You’d forgive this on a race-bike but this sort of seat is the very anti-thesis of a long-range motorcycle and, unfortunately, there’s nothing Kawasaki India can do for you on this front in terms of softer, accessory seats.
READY TO RAVAGE?
With a travel of 130mm at the front, 148mm at the rear and 180mm of ground clearance, the X 300 is not only Indian-road friendly but also capable of a reasonable degree of off-roading. The suspension absorbs most bumps without a squeak and the overall poise of the chassis means you can tackle most speed breakers (yes, even those outlandish, illegal ones) by simply standing on the pegs. This capability, coupled with the commanding riding position the 815mm seat height puts you in, makes the X 300 a dependable machine to take on the adversities of the typical Indian road trip.
Off the road, it has the stability to hold its own over most undulations and, as you can tell from the pictures, can pull off a fair bit of hooliganism as well. Riding it while standing on the pegs feels absolutely natural and the X 300 does nothing it isn’t supposed to, which takes the stress out of off-road riding. Unfortunately, the peaky engine drags the stress back into the ring since you spend most of the time redlining the first two gears or slipping the clutch a lot – and both aren’t the nicest things to do to a motorcycle. Some low-end grunt would do this motorcycle immense favours!
I also ended up damaging the side-stand sensor having hit a rock (while avoiding it, to protect the engine) and the result was a bike that would fire up but stall every time I engaged gear. It thought the side-stand was down, obviously, and the quick fix was to remove bits of the smashed sensor (mounted on the side-stand bracket) and tie the two exposed copper wires into a knot. I can’t say I didn’t feel silly, but to find out somewhere in freezing Kaza, Himachal Pradesh, would have been a lot more unpleasant for sure.
TIME TO STOP DREAMING?
Overall, the Versys-X 300 is a mix of a few hits and an equal number of misses, all burdened by the heft of its Rs 4.60 lakh (ex-showroom) price tag. A non-accessorised version could bring the price down to possibly Rs 4 lakh or even below. To be honest, I would pay that kind of money for a really, irresistibly good 300, but that the X 300 isn't, and so, for about Rs 50,000 more, the Z650 is a vastly superior motorcycle in all respects except for its ability to go off-road. On paper, the X 300 seems like the perfect stop-gap motorcycle for those trying to switch over from singles to multi-cylinder motorcycles but in reality, thanks to a wrongly-configured engine, it falls short of talent in the areas most crucial to its format. Think of the X 300 as the bowl of refreshing coffee beans you smell between trying two fragrances and it really does appeal. However, you wouldn’t want to actually smell like coffee because it simply isn’t a very good idea and, at the moment, neither is the Versys-X 300.