2023 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE LT+ Long-Term Test

Kawasaki must have arrived at the name Versys because it is built for versatility, and the word “versatility” appears on the website when describing the ADV-styled 2023 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE LT+ sport tourer.

The Versys SE LT+ 1000 is not a pure sport bike, though with the Ninja 1000 powerplant, 17-inch wheels with street rubber, exceptional Showa suspension, and sporty ergonomics, it almost could be. At 33 inches, the seat sits high for a sportbike, though it gets you to your favorite destination confidently if you’re comfortable with the saddle height. Interstate touring is in the cards, despite lacking a built-in GPS display. Smartphones and helmet intercom/communication devices do most of those chores these days, so that’s a minor problem. Although it looks like a go-anywhere ADV bike, it doesn’t do dirt. However, given the chance, it probably could. For others, it’s an extremely quiet motorcycle that won’t scare young children or rattle dogs.

The SE LT+ is the only trim available for the 2023 Versys 1000 here in the States, so it has many electronic features found in premium street bikes today, including various safety and performance modes, including semi-active Showa suspension. It has heated grips, cornering-aware headlights and ABS, cruise control, quick-detach saddlebags (the bike looks great with or without them), and Kawasaki’s Rideology The App bike/smartphone interface—all experience enhancers.

The 2023 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE LT+ is a great all-around motorcycle—commuting, canyon carving, weekend cruising, light ADV, and as a highway star. My favorite feature of the Versys 1000 is its riding position. You sit in a very natural and comfortable position, rather than in an attack mode that puts weight on your shoulders or extends your arms unnaturally. The handlebar is like a dirt bike, making replacing it with different bends easy.

Dead-stop clutch release action is dummy-proof and confident; you leave stop signals effortlessly. Passing is no problem, thanks to the seemingly unlimited power from the 1043cc inline-four powerplant. I rode the 2023 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE LT+ in Sport mode almost exclusively, as it retains its smooth character, making the Standard mode unnecessary for me. In the Sport mode, the Versys 1000 can wheelie leaving a stoplight when presented with a friendly challenge from a sportbike rider, but you didn’t hear that from me!

Kawasaki’s quickshifter gives you clutchless full-throttle shifts when I feel the need for speed. Traction control is at the ready should I twist the throttle too hard at the wrong moment. Despite having and enjoying the quickshifter, I usually shifted with the clutch. I prefer to keep the shifting to manual use and keep current my basic skills learned through the years as a motorcyclist, and old habits can die hard.

I commuted to work almost daily, with mornings being dark and returning in heavier daytime traffic. Even in Southern California traffic, heat was never an issue with the 2023 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE LT+, though the radiator fan would run at most dead-engine stops until I removed the key.

In the canyons and on the open road, the semi-active Showa suspension does its business without making itself known. The action is so smooth, that it is hard to believe the damping is constantly being adjusted on my behalf. Turning gives a natural and confident feel at any speed or condition. There’s nothing spooky about it. The agility of the 2023 Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT SE+ is impressive, given its 567-pound curb weight sans bags. Stopping is sure, and the sophisticated ABS is not intrusive. The other three modes tame down from there.

My trip list for the 2023 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE LT+ included rides through heavy Los Angeles traffic towards the southern end of the Sierra Nevadas, among the wind turbines and solar fields, the popular weekend routes of the winding Angeles Crest and Forest Highways, Ortega Highway, and along the coast on various sections of California Highway 1 for stunning sunsets. All were accomplished in comfort and confidence.

The best plan to travel to a big city is to get through on an early weekend morning and avoid the rush. Once I squeeze through, I head for easy-breezy canyon routes to take me onto the next valley or mountain range toward my destination.

The adjustable windscreen performs well with no buffering for a six-footer—I stuck with the highest position. I rode the 2023 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE LT+ with the Shoei Neotec II’s faceshield completely up at times, yet the cockpit remained relatively quiet and free of head buffeting. The protection offered by the Versys’ fairing is essential to preventing early discomfort and neck tension on long rides.

The quiet cockpit also means I can hear my Spotify-streamed music fine with the Cardo communications system, and follow navigation instructions Google Maps from my Ram-mounted smartphone.

The hybrid TFT/analog-style dash is basic, while I’m only concerned about my speed and fuel level. The fuel tank’s level readout moved progressively faster as I emptied the 5.5-gallon fuel tank. I never dismounted when filling the tank. I paid, filled the tank, and replaced the nozzle—all from the seat. Fuel breaks arrived too soon as the comfort level on the 2023 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE LT+ kept me moving forward on long rides.

Eliminating my fear of theft at overnight hotel stays, I equipped the Versys with the Monimoto 7 GPS Tracker hidden under the seat next to the battery. The Monimoto smartphone app keeps me alerted of movement and its location if it has been relocated. I also deployed the Abus Granit Detecto XPlus 8008 2.0 disc lock for additional security. No matter where I parked, the Versys 1000 was always there when I returned.

On another available weekend ride from my residence in Irvine, I headed towards Cook’s Corner Southern California’s self-proclaimed Oldest Biker Bar. It is located in Trabuco Canyon in the foothills of the Cleveland National Forest and is nearing its 100th birthday. I didn’t stay long enough to get into trouble or dry out from the morning sprinkling. Instead, I headed north on Santiago Canyon Road for more miles.

This loop ride sent me through Tustin and the closed landmarks of the Marine Corps Air Station, built in 1942 during wartime for the blimps of an earlier era. During my youth growing up in Santa Ana during the Vietnam War, large groups of military helicopters were commonplace. The iconic hangers could be seen from my neighborhood. Although one was destroyed by a fire last year, the other is still standing. A good documentary about the landmark is available here.

Over this long-term test, the 2023 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE LT+ proved to be an exceptionally versatile motorcycle—there’s that word again. It feels at home on long-distance tours, commuting through traffic to work and back, running errands (thanks to the side cases), and leisurely rides through town. While it is not a small or inexpensive motorcycle—the price tag says $18,899—it is many motorcycles in one. And a very good one at that.

Photography by Damon Powell

2023 Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE LT+ Long-Term Test Photo Gallery