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ADV BikesKawasaki Versys-X 300 Adventure Build

Kawasaki Versys-X 300 Adventure Build

Our project bike gets transformed into an off-road-capable Adventure Tourer.

Published on 02.06.2019

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 height, and an affordable $5,499 price tag.


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:


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.

Ricochet Aluminum Skid Plate

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.

GIVI Engine Guards

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.

DoubleTake Mirrors

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.

Acerbis X-Strong Supermoto Handguards

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.

Cogent Dynamics Extended Forks

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.

Cogent Dynamics Extended Shock

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 height is also raised roughly an inch, but at about 33.1 inches, it’s still relatively low.

Motoz Tractionator Adventure Tires

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.

Akrapovic Slip-On Exhaust

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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Author: Rob Dabney

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84 thoughts on “Kawasaki Versys-X 300 Adventure Build

  1. Fantastic job on this transformation ! For a solo rider this should take you any place you need to go . With all the protection and carrying capacity you should be safe . You can pick and choose what works for you but when the package doubles the price of the bike and breaks though the $10k barrier there is alot of competition out there .

    • Thanks for the feedback, Robert! Absolutely, you can pick and choose the upgrades that are most important to you. That’s one reason why we describe the benefits of each part – so you can decide which components offer the most value. The Versys-X is a unique bike in the market with it’s small-displacement twin-cylinder engine that lets it cruise smoothly at 80 mph on the highway with passing power to spare. It’s a great platform to build on with a lot of potential and we hope it inspires others to do their own custom Versys-X builds!

  2. I’ve had this bike since Oct 2017. Mine was the prototype bike for Cogent’s stock-height suspension upgrade. I can’t deal with another inch of seat height so your one-inch taller stuff just won’t do it for me. But the stock-height Cogent rear shock and DDC-fitted forks are fantastic and are just fine as long as you aren’t trying to ride it like a Baja racer. If you take your time, which I believe most ADVers do, the stock suspension travel is quite sufficient. But if you happen to be taller, by all means go for the taller setup.

    I agree on pretty much all your other mods for the most part… anti-vibe riser, mirrors, luggage racks (I used Happy Trails), engine guards, Ricochet skid plate, etc. For tires I used Metzeler Karoo 3’s which are amazing if a bit pricey. I have the Tractionators on my DR650 and they’re excellent.

    My only complaint is the seat — the Seat Concepts seat, while better than stock, is still garbage. I get sore after about three hours on it (compared to one hour with the stock seat). I’m going to have to have some custom work done since the only other aftermarket seat specifically for it is from Corbin and their version is an inch taller than stock.

  3. OK – am I the only one that laughed at this line? “The Italian company Rizoma may be an unfamiliar brand in the states…”
    Maybe it’s funny to me because my wife and I own Italian bikes, but who hasn’t heard of Rizoma?

    Great article and build-up of a min-adv tourer. I really like these bikes – just wish they weighed a bit less. Cogent makes GREAT stuff – and that is a pretty good price! We put their DDC and a Cogent shock on my wife’s XT 225, so I’m not really going to knock you spending almost as much as the bike costs to buy…I think the skid and suspension are the really only first “must haves” I’d tackle and I’d meet out the rest later.

    • Appreciate the kind words and glad to hear you like the build we put together. If you ride Italian sport bikes, you’ve probably heard of Rizoma. In ADV circles, they are relatively unknown in the states. Yes, Cogent does make great stuff and the cost of roughly $1,100 to upgrade the suspension (fork and shock) with an added 1″ suspension travel is well worth the investment! But with these builds, it’s all about showing the options so that others can make their own personal choices about what makes sense for how they ride. You can pick and choose, or build out the bike over time as funds allow.

  4. I can’t help but notice that you spent $4k on a bike that is $5.5k to achieve these results. If you had $9.5K to spend in the first place would you still have gone this route?

    • Hi Ray. The answer to your question is actually another question… If you want a 386lb twin-cylinder adventure bike, that comes from the factory with wire-spoke wheels, what else are you going to buy? A Honda CB500X is 430lb, comes with street-oriented suspension, is slower than the Versys-X, and it comes with cast wheels at $6,600. A V-Strom 650XT comes with wire-spoke wheels but costs $9,300 and weighs 470 lbs. There are a few sub-400lb single cylinder options that you could build in the $10k range like the KLX, CRF250L, G310GS, XR650L, or DR650. But no matter how much money you throw at those bikes, they are not going to provide the same level of comfort for long-distance highway travel as the Versys-X 300. If you are primarily riding off-road, those single-cylinder dual sport models are great options. But if you want to cross states on US Highways to get somewhere interesting like Moab, the Versys-X is a worthy platform to invest in.

      • Using the parts list and numbers provided, you spent $5119.90 on a $5499 bike, so you’re up to $10,618.90 (not counting shipping/tax). You mentioned a few alternatives but discounted them for weight and/or price. Did you weigh the X-300 *after* you added all of the aftermarket parts? I think articles such as these are more an exercise in possibilities; i think it’s ridiculous to buy this bike and make *every* modification that was mentioned. But I suppose if you’re shopping for one or two things to do to your bike, this is a good laundry list of ideas.

        • Thing is, Kurt, you would do a majority of these “upgrades” on any other bike. Panniers/racks, engine guards, tires, etc. usually do not come stock on most adv bikes.

  5. What did you have to do to make the Acerbis hand guards fit? It looks like you have some spacers between the end of the handlebar and the have guard arm. Also I’m having trouble fitting the RH inner mount in between the brake lines.


      • Hey Rob, looking to do the Acerbis hand guards with the barkbuster bar end weights on my own 300- awesome look.

        Did you guys have clearance issues with hand guards hitting the front or windshield both with and without the risers? Or no clearance problems either way?

        • Hi Ian. If I remember correctly, they may have just touched at full tilt with the risers and bars we used but didn’t cause any problems. We installed it all at once so not sure about clearance issues with different setups.

          • Rad. Taking the plunge on this solution thanks to this article and your help. Seat concepts on the way, too. Hope to do a bunch of other recommendations in the article next spring, too. Thanks so much for a fantastic/helpful post (and photos)!

            • Hey Rob- got the Acerbis guards + Barkbuster bar end weights and it looks/works great, thanks!

              I want to add the DoubleTake Mirrors but the link leads to the generic URL and they only offer mirrors listed for the Kawa KLR…I wrote Rocky Mountain ATV to ask if they’ll fit on the Versys and they were unsure.

              How did you make the mirrors fit the Versys and did you order the KLR set?

              • Hi Ian. The KLR kit should work. You can also order directly from DoubleTake ( They have a configurator there. It looks like they include the extensions but we didn’t use extensions on ours. Just the universal screw-in ball mounts.

      • Another thing to mention is you will need a longer M10 bolt for the top front engine mount if using the Givi guards and Ricochet skid plate as they share the same mount position there. The trick is Givi provides an allen type as it is accessible through a 3/4″ I.D. tube which is not conducive to a hex bolt to get a socket in there. The only one I could find was in China so I am waiting for the slow boat to show up, probably about a month out. M10x180mm 1.25 thread is what I’m hoping will work. The Givi supplied bolt is M10x160mm and is just not long enough.

          • Hi Kaitlin. It’s been awhile since this build was performed so I’m not able to give specifics. I’d recommend taking the provided GIVI M10 bolt down to your local hardware store and have them find one for you that is a long enough. If it’s not in stock, they can order it or you can find it on Amazon. Good luck!

  6. Did you need longer cables to fit the risers? How are vibrations? I can’t seem to find the Rizoma adapters (Revzilla says they don’t exist for the bike). Thanks.

    • The cables were just long enough, although there was some adjusting of the cables and the risers to get it all to work. Vibes are not a problem with the smooth twin engine, vibration damping risers and bar end weights on the handlebars. The Rizoma peg mounts for the Versys-X were available at Revzilla when we posted but they just confirmed they are currently out. The part number you want is PE755A. If you look around online there should be some other vendors selling them.

    • Good news Ocho. Just heard back from Revzilla and they they can get the Rizoma footpeg adapters for the Versys-X 300 now. It’s a special order that takes 4-6 weeks but they can get them. Here’s the link…

  7. Good article. Thanks for putting this together. I am about to trade my Super Tenere in for a Versys 300. I am NOT getting the “X” model, cuz my experience with anti-lock brakes off road has been that they are a liability in low traction situations. Kawasaki needs to make it so you can turn them off as needed. Thanks, Bob

  8. Thanks for the great Vx upgrading article, rob. My wife and I are getting older, and since selling my 1200 gs, and her 650 strom, we mis riding, and we have our eye on 2 versys 300’s. I definitely want tubeless wheels and tires though, since I enjoyed being able to plug repair our tubeless tires a couple times. Have you, or could you please explore a tubeless wheel upgrade for the vx? Thank you very much, Ted.

      • Thanks Rob. I remember reading your tubeless article. I got on the alpine wheel web sight a while ago, and they did not offer vx tubeless wheels, but I did not call them, which I should do. The conversion kits look interesting, but the spoked front vx wheel does not have a safety hump. (Although An Outex article claims that a lack of a safety hump does not pose a safety problem). Has anybody out there converted, or purchased tubeless wheels for the vx? If so, how has it worked. Thanks, cheers.

  9. Thanks for doing this build! And for convincing Cogent to make an extension kit, that’s going to be awesome. I have a ’17 vx that I’ve been bottoming out and dropping on the plastics for the last couple years and it’s upgrade time.

    Was there a particular reason you went with Givi’s crash bars over anyone else’s? I’ve been eyeing SW motech’s offering.

    • Glad you liked the build Chris. The GIVI crashbars have a full wrap-around design that gives more support and helps disperse the impact in a fall. They also go up a little higher to give the upper fairing more protection. Those would be the main advantages over the SW-Motech bars.

  10. i bought the same bars and hand guards only thing I didn’t do is buy the risers…. the clutch side has about 4 inches of hand bar sticking out and the throttle side has about 2 inches of the throttle sticking out pass the bar so how in the hell did they get this to fit this bike…. it sure as hell wasnt a slap on Job… I don’t even have the risers and my brake cable is to the max

    • It took some fiddling to get it to work. There was a cable routing attachment that we removed, near the steering stem on the frame, that helped free up extra space without creating any problems. You’re also not going to get it to work with the risers rolled all the way forward but we were able to get them into a neutral position. Tight at full lock, but just enough clearance to get it to work.

  11. You spent over $5000 on a bike that costs like $5500 and has under 40hp. You are in KTM 690 range at that price point. A bike that has way more hp, weighs way less and comes stock with better components. It’s just an expensive pig with lipstick at that point.

    • Except KTM690 doesn’t have wind protection, it’s quite a shaker, and will require additional $5000 to make it more or less comfortable on a long trip.

  12. Fantastic build! Lots of great ideas for my Versys and really appreciate the work to get a suspension upgrade created for this bike. Thank you!

  13. I would also like to know how did you put tubeless tires on the “tubed” wheels? Was looking into TUBliss or Mousse, but no options for the 17″ rim unfortunately 🙁

  14. a good practical build but looks ugly. How about one that looks good with good looking hard bags a little easier on the bash plate. something simple that every can afford. Soft bags are practical but ugly, leave the bars but add a riser, that you do not have to change the wiring or extend the cables. For hear in Canada heated grips and hand protection also extend the front fender so you do not get your feet soaked every time it rains or the roads are wet. I can’t figure out why they put such short front fenders on the bikes, are you not to ride in the rain.

  15. Great read, glad someone is making suspension upgrades now! Is there a reason you went for a slip on exhaust instead of a full system?

    • Hi Greg. We would have considered it if there was a significant power increase offered by a full exhaust system, but we didn’t come across anything for the Versys-X 300 at the time of this build.

  16. Has anyone out there did a shock upgrade and fork enhancement from Cogent besides the author? If so, just how much better is it? You can get a longer stroke shock and fork bits without extending the tubes and without changing the geometry from them and I’m wondering just how much better it is off road?

  17. Love your setup! I just installed the GIVI grt709 mount and racking system and unfortunately the bags touch the stock exhaust when anything is placed inside the bags. I see you have an aftermarket exhaust but do you have any tips on how I could rectify this issue?

      • Thanks for the suggestions! Yes your correct that the bottom of the bag is sitting on the exhaust. I’ve been having a look at the bike today and I think if I get a heat shield there’s such minimal clearance that the bag will be sitting on the heat shield and i’m not sure how risky this would be. In combination of this I may make an extension plate for the mounting point that’s holding the exhaust in place and I should be able to step it down by about 50mm.

        • NP. Check those mounting brackets to see if you can get some extra space first. But if not, there’s no problem with the bag sitting directly on the heat shield. We do it all the time. Good luck!

  18. just buy the swm 60 dualsport instead for 7k 600cc and srash cage bars skid plate spot lights and luggage boxes and frame top box rack and handle protectors all included andf 100% dirt bike and road bike ready from day one 51bhp and MONSTER TORQE

  19. Inspired by Rob, Total expense $1500.00. Not top of the line brands but they work for me. Haven’t done anything with the suspension.

  20. Hey, Great job Bob. I followed your build list, ( Acerbis X-Strong Supermoto Handguards) here is quite different as your picture shows. Did you changed your grip bar? I dont have the black part by the Handgurads:(

    • Thanks Kent! Those black things are Barkbuster Barend Weights. Check part #5 in the build list at the end of the story for the link. They help quell vibrations when cruising on the highway.

  21. Hi there! Love the build and have been building my own Versys after getting one and being inspired by much of this build. Quick question about the handlebars. Got the acerbis handbar + barkbuster bar end weights + Mika metals bbt bars however I am having trouble fitting the expanders into the ends of the new handlebars. Did you use anything different than what came with the Acerbis Handguard kit to get it to fit? Considering trying longer screws at this point. Thanks in advance

  22. Changing the exhaust centre box would make more difference than anything.
    Other small bikes (like my cbr300) have the cat in the silencer.
    Also these under engine exhausts are ugly

  23. Rob, great write up. I’ve been looking hard at this bike because I’m from the east where roads and trails I enjoy tend toward the tight and technical. Plus the xr650l I currently ride’s a bit lacking in the road comfort area….. My question revolves around the suspension. I can’t find another thing on it, only one other internet hit and that from someone who said Cogent recommended they NOT fit it due to lack of testing! So does it have stability issues? Ultimately I’m looking for the raised ground clearance, bumps at speed being secondary but appreciated (I’m not a small guy…). Thanks for any help you can give.

  24. I like what you’ve done, but Dude, you have some deep pockets! My ’17 -X is slightly modded, but for a different ride, one that focuses on street. For me, a Corbin seat was some of the smartest money I’ve ever spent! I’ve also lowered the rear a couple inches (which also necessitated a shorter kickstand), and did the 15-t sprocket change. I will check out your mirrors and hand guards, though. We all love the -X, and often for our own reasons. Thanks for the write-up.

  25. Hey Mate, thanks for the info, I looked at a lot of bikes before deciding the x300 ticked all the boxes I was looking for, twin cam 4v heads, fuel injected, light for city riding, strong enough for a bit of off road, seat height, spoke wheels, the price was better than any of its competitors was offering in this size bike, not all of them come with all of the above , from BMW, Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki
    I have a query did you have to extend the cables and or electric wiring to fit the the high risers with the new bars,
    Great bike , good build

    • Hi Chris. Glad you liked the build! Check out some of the comments above where we discuss the cable lengths. No extending of the cables had to be made, only adjustments and removal of a cable guide. Thanks!

  26. Hi! Awesome job! I’d love my bike to look like that!
    Did you have any issues with the clutch cable getting too tense?

    Thanks you!

    • Hi Juan. Thanks! Glad you liked the build! Check some of the comments above where we discuss handling cable length.

  27. Rob, this is such a helpful mods list. Thanks for your thoughtful redesign of an already badass bike. I’m wondering whether you think the suspension mod is a worthwhile investment for the Versus. I have bottomed out my Versus a number of times on dirt roads and would love more progressive suspension but don’t want to spend $1,500 on a mod if it doesn’t make a significant difference. I know you did this project bike a while ago so hopefully you are still monitoring the chat. Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Ben. Glad it was helpful. Make sure that you have your preload (sag) adjusted properly. That might fix some of the bottoming issues if it’s still on the stock setting. An upgraded suspension does make a significant difference but whether it’s worth the cost depends on the person. You might also consider re-valving and respringing the existing shock for your weight and riding style at a suspension shop to get an improvement at a lower cost.

  28. Hi Rob,
    Would you please tell us how you managed to attach the Ram 1″ ball on to the top of the console ? Thanks.

    • We don’t have the bike anymore so I can’t give you the specifics, but I believe we took the windscreen off and found a place to safely attach it to the cover on the back dash.

  29. thanks for the review and the good job. would you mind to explain how you set up the hand guard using a bar end spacer/ring? As its not coming OEM from the bile neither the hand guard. Any feeb back will ver well appreciated since I could not fit barckuster bracket neither acerbis bracket in a renthal fatbar on my versys. thanks

  30. Warning ⚠️ There is no suspension upgrade to make it taller or add an inch to front or rear. Iv contacted cogent and they do not do what’s claimed in this article. Don’t think you can just buy this bike and add an inch of travel. You cannot. Extremely misleading..


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