With the summer touring months well and truly here, these two pint-sized dual-purpose bikes prove you don’t need 1000ccs of grunt to have a fun adventurer…

Words: Mat Pics: BRM


To say we were excited when Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and BMW all announced compact adventure tourers at the 2016 EICMA show is a bit of an understatement; we couldn’t wait for the new class to arrive on our shores!

Not only did the bikes embody the family style cues of their much larger counterparts, but they also promised to open up the adventure touring market to riders who – for whatever reason – couldn’t stretch (financially and/or literally) onto one of the hero machines of the class.

With engines between 250cc and 400cc, they not only fit well into the LAMS approved market, but also comfortably spread themselves across the adventure riding spectrum. Today, we’ve got the first two bikes of the compact adventure class to arrive in New Zealand – the Honda CRF250L Rally and the Kawasaki Versys-X 300 – to take for a spin around the lower Coromandel and find out just how much adventure you can squeeze out of ‘little’ bikes.

The Red Corner

The Honda CRF250L Rally is decidedly more into the off-road capable end of the class than the Versys-X. Not only does the Honda benefit from a 21-inch front wheel and 18-inch rear wrapped in IRC knobby tyres, but it also sports a raised suspension and much higher riding position, thanks to the taller 894mm seat height.

Derived from the trail and adventure-proven CRF250L, the Rally adds a larger 10.2-litre fuel tank, HRC CRF450 Rally inspired bodywork, and that aforementioned taller and longer travel suspension. The result is arguably one of the best-looking bikes in the 250cc class, especially if you love to follow the Dakar Rally every January.

Functionally, it works brilliantly as well thanks to switchable ABS – which can be turned off at the rear wheel – along with brilliant (pun intended) LED headlights, which are easily visible to other road users and quite handy when the sun disappears behind the hills as well.

At its centre and supported by a sturdy steel frame, is a slightly updated 249cc, single-cylinder CRF250L engine, which for 2017 produces 23hp and 22Nm of torque. It’s a slight, but much needed, increase on the 2016 CRF250L that sees the 157kg Rally easily able to do highway speeds of 110km/h and up.

The Green Corner

The Versys-X 300 brings to the table a more road-oriented adventure machine. While it shares the Versys name with the Versys 650 and 1000, it is equipped with a 19-inch front wheel and a 17-inch rear, unlike its sportier big brothers.

The fairing provides a decent amount of rider protection, and the factory rear rack makes for a very practical machine. The riding position is more familiar to road-going riders when compared to the Rally, and we did find that the stepped seat could use a bit more padding, as on longer trips it did become uncomfortable.

But what the Versys-X 300 doesn’t need is more power. Thanks to its Ninja 300-derived engine, the Kawasaki contender benefits from a healthy 39hp, making it much more willing on the open road to get up and go. It does only have 26Nm of torque, which is noticeable on slower rides atop gravel roads, but overall the roady Versys-X does well catering for those wanting a small capacity adventure tourer.

On the road

Not surprisingly, the more powerful Kawasaki shone on the open road with its extra 16hp really making a difference on the hilly roads of the lower Coromandel Loop. The 300 loves to rev, with peak power found at 11,000rpm, which meant we soon found ourselves upping the pace and easily overtaking traffic deemed too slow for our fun jaunt.

The assist and slipper clutch didn’t suit me personally, as I often found myself on the wrong end of it with frustrating results. While personally I could leave the assist and slipper clutch, new riders will definitely benefit from it, as they learn to shift effectively and efficiently as well as improve their own endurance, thanks to the light action of the lever.

The 6-speed gearbox, as with all Kawasakis, was a joy to shift through, though personally – cruising along at 110kph – I felt the bike could benefit from a slightly bigger sprocket to bring the revs down a smidge. It was by no means a deal-breaker, but the engine did feel a little buzzy to me at higher speeds.

With a low seat height of just 815mm, it is much easier to get on and off, and shorter riders will appreciate the ergonomics overall.

The Honda Rally, with its dirt-oriented setup, did surprisingly well at keeping up with the Kawasaki. While it couldn’t match the Kawasaki for speed or agility on the open road, I did find it slightly more comfortable – which will undoubtedly raise a few eyebrows.

Unlike the Kawasaki, the Honda has a much more padded seat which – despite its plank-like looks – kept the dreaded butt ache at bay for longer. In fact, it possibly wouldn’t have reared its head at all if not for the grab handle (in)conveniently placed right where my backside wanted to be.

The biggest drawback on the road for the Honda however was its suspension, which was set to factory settings for our test. My 100-kilos sagged the pro-link monoshock drastically. This – combined with the soft forks – meant as soon as the road got twisty, the Kawasaki and its road-oriented suspenders soon disappeared from view.

While in the wind protection stakes the bikes are about on par, I felt the Rally just nudged the Versys-X in the fairing department and through its more sculpted bodywork and factory hand guards.

Gettin’ Dirty

Pulling off the road to Onemana, just 3km north of Whangamata, it was the Rally’s time to shine with a gravel road and forestry tracks to keep us entertained.

With its much greater ground clearance of 269mm and that soft suspension, the Rally soaked up the potholes and ruts off the track to become a thoroughly composed little adventurer.

In this environment, the IRC tyres also proved to be a benefit, with the little Honda feeling much more planted than the Kawasaki, despite its higher centre of gravity.

The Kawasaki was definitely not completely out of its element however, and handled the gravel and impromptu off-road course well. Our main concerns were the road spec footpegs which offered little in the way of grip compared to those of the Honda, and the Kwaka’s more road-oriented tyres constantly fighting for traction on the slippery gravel.

This did prove to be quite a bit of fun though, and it wasn’t long before Paul was sliding the little Kawasaki around and having a ball.

Different strokes

If anything, our time with the two compact adventurers proved one thing, you can’t go wrong with either, but they definitely excel in different areas.

Both are priced very similarly, with the Honda coming in slightly cheaper than the Kawasaki at $8,690 plus on roads, while the Kawasaki arguably offers a bit more practicality for your $8,995 plus on roads.

The Honda looks the business, and performs well on the more adventurous roads we have here in New Zealand, but out on the open road, many riders will probably find the little 250 a bit lacking for their liking.

The Kawasaki is the opposite, and while it can handle gravel roads with ease, it is more comfortable out on the highways soaking up the miles, or popping down to the supermarket for a grocery run thanks to its factory fitted rack. It definitely takes the cake for being the more versatile bike right out of the box.

So, the better bike really is dependent on the type of rider you are and the type of riding you do. Think long and hard, but you can’t go wrong with either option.


2017 Honda CRF250L Rally

Price: $8,690 + ORC

Type                                        Liquid-cooled, Single, DOHC

Engine Displacement              249.6cc

Bore x Stroke                          76 x 55mm

Compression Ratio                 10.7:1

Max. Power Output                 24 HP (18.2kW) @ 8500rpm

Max. Torque                            22.6Nm @ 6750rpm

Carburation                             PGM-FI

Fuel Tank Capacity                 10.2-Litres

Fuel Consumption                   3.3L/100km

Clutch Type                             Wet multiplate hydraulic

Transmission Type                  6-speed

Final Drive                               Chain

Frame Type                             Steel Twin Tube

Dimensions (LxWxH)              2210 x 900 x 1425mm

Wheelbase                              1455mm

Caster Angle                           28.1 degrees

Trail                                         114mm

Seat Height                             894mm

Ground Clearance                  269mm

Kerb Weight                            157kg

Type Front                               43mm Telescopic Upsidedown Fork

Type Rear                                Prolink

Rim Size Front                         21-inch

Rim Size Rear                         18-inch

Tyres Front                              3.00-21 51P

Tyres Rear                               120/80-18M/C 62P

Brakes Front                           Single 296mm disc with twin-piston Nissin caliper

Brakes Rear                            Single 220mm disc with single-piston Nissin caliper

ABS System Type                   2-channel

Instruments                            Digital

Headlight                                LED

Taillight                                   Bulb




Price: $8,995 + on road costs

Engine Type:               Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, parallel twin

Valve arrangement:    DOHC, 8-valves
Displacement:             296cc

Bore x Stroke:             62 x 49mm

Compression Ratio:    10.6:1

Fuel System:               Fuel injection: 32mm x2 with dual throttle valves

Maximum Power:       39PS at 11,500rpm

Maximum Torque:      26Nm at 10,000rpm

Clutch:                        Wet, multiplate, assist and slipper clutch

Transmission:             6-speed

Front Suspension:      41mm telescopic fork with 130mm travel

Rear Suspension:       Bottom-Link Unit-Trak, gas-charged shock with adjustable preload and 148mm travel

Front brake:                Single 290mm petal disc with single balanced actuation dual piston caliper with ABS

Rear brake:                 Singe 220mm disc with dual piston caliper with ABS

Front wheel:               19-inch, spoked

Rear wheel:                17-inch, spoked

Front tyre:                   100/90-19M/C 57S

Rear tyre:                    130/80-17M/C 65S

Rake/Trail:                  24.3 degrees / 108mm

L x W x H:                   2170 x 860 x 1390mm

Wheelbase:                1470mm

Seat Height:                815mm

Ground Clearance      180mm

Fuel Capacity:            17-litres

Kerb Weight:              175kg