Small Engine, Big Country
Exploring the Western Wilderness on Kawasaki’s Newest Adventure Bike
Part philosophical inquiry, part motorcycle travel diary, Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and its many pages were pure inspiration. In no small part, they’ve led me to many of the adventures I’ve written about here, on Gear Patrol. Pirsig passed on April 24, but his most remembered lessons came flooding back to me on a recent ride through majestic southern Utah, aboard Kawasaki’s all-new Versys X300.
Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.
That one rolls through my head pretty much on a regular basis. Regardless of the bike I’m riding, I’ve long agreed with its romanticized sentiment. This time that bike happens to be a small displacement, go-anywhere machine aimed at getting new riders into the wilds. The combination of the machine and the landscape flanking the route — it’s nothing short of epic. The visuals are therapeutic. Desert gives way Mesa, gives way to red rocks, gives way to mountains.
The more you look, the more you see.
Then pavement gives way to dirt just outside of Hanksville. The 19-inch front wheel isn’t scared off by rocks or ruts, but a more rugged skid plate would help curb fears of cracking the engine on a rock and spilling internals all over the beautiful land. Typically, in these rocky, dirty conditions I short shift the bike and let the torque carry through making it less twitchy on uncertain conditions.
That’s just not possible on the little Versys. All the power is in the upper tenth of the rev range and demands a healthy twist of the throttle to keep rolling. A couple of turns and some fast, riddled crests later, we’ve found the bike’s rhythm. Even with decidedly street-oriented tires, the Versys X300 hammers through the hard-packed dirt with nary a twitch through its chassis. I wouldn’t tackle anything too technical on this bike as it sits, but Kawasaki’s engineers should be applauded for delivering a street-oriented machine that feels this at-home on uncertain ground.
In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.
Engine: 296cc parallel twin
Torque: 19 lb-ft
Curb Weight: 385 lbs
Price:$5,699 (as tested w/ABS)
I can feel the engine starting to lose its battle to power-robbing thin air as we climb between the 10,000-foot peaks of Blowhard Mountain, Wood Knoll and Gooseberry Point. The atmospheric change has created a helmet of silence that feels eerily serene. The temperature is hovering just a bit above freezing, so the air is crisp; heated grips would be nice right about now, but it’s warm enough that the smells of pine and the spring thaw find their way to me through the vents in my lid.
Our group passes and the road begins its descent into warmth, my ears pop and the red-rock beauty of Cedar Canyon fills my visor. We pass a family returning from a weekend camping trip.
The Versys X300 is approachable without being dull, quick and capable enough to keep seasoned vets engaged without being intimidating for rookie riders. It’s far from being a disposable “learner” and its looks should age well. It’s a motorcycle ideally suited for a means of inspiration as well as reliable transportation. Perfect for exploring lessons from Pirsig.
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