The Versys is a special motorcycle, and the Scottish Highlands are a special place… so it is only logical to combine the two!
The 2023 Kawasaki Versys Highland Tour took place over four days in early June and hosted media guests from across Europe, all eager to explore a region of the globe they had not visited and, naturally, had no saddle time in…. so far.
A combination of influencers, YouTubers and traditional media, the guests came from as far afield as Poland and Italy with both male and female riders present and a wide age range represented.
- Discover the beauty of the Scottish Highlands.
- Discover – over a four-day period – what an amazing touring machine the Versys 1000 is.
- Discover something about themselves as riders… and individuals.
From the start, there was little doubt that endurance and distance would sit alongside seat time with some serious miles (note miles: we were in the UK after all) passing under the wheels of a selection of S and SE Versys 1000 machines in Tourer Plus or Grand Tourer specification.
Meeting at the departure point of Edinburgh Kawasaki, the eight guests departed north on a main route towards their first coffee stop with time built into the schedule to get used to UK traffic and riding on the “wrong” left side of the road. As with each stage of the tour, a Kawasaki lead bike was at the head of the pack with a tail end rider permanently at the rear. On subsequent days, guests were able to “free ride” using the TomTom navigation unit mounted on their machine with all routes pre-loaded or they could decide to travel as part of the group, the choice was theirs.
With a quick coffee stop at Tyndrum - a village famous as a gateway to the Highlands - the group remounted for the short ride to Oban for the first night’s stay encountering the only rain they would need to deal with throughout the tour. The height adjustable screens of some machines were set to their highest positions and “Route 2, Tyndrum > Oban” selected on the TomTom touch screen.
A welcome diversion just before Oban had the group conducting their first photo/video shoot of the event in the spectacular surroundings of Glen Lonan with a herd of Highland cattle as spectators and little else to disturb the tranquillity of such an incredible location… and this was only the start! A quick check in at the friendly and accommodating Methu Alexandra Hotel on the sea front was followed by a stunning meal of local seafood at the incredible harbourside Ee-Usk restaurant.
Day two dawned overcast, cold yet dry and, after the scheduled daily pre-ride briefing, the group fuelled up and started on the ride north towards Fort William and the Spean Bridge Café, the first coffee (and cake!) stop with a chance to check the weather was good enough to attempt one of the most anticipated roads of the entire tour; it was. Stopping to regroup at Strathcarron railway crossing, the riders turned left hugging the shore of Loch Carron before the climb up and over the Pass of the Cattle ending at Applecross.
One of the most spectacular paved ascents in mainland Britain, the pass culminates at its highest point in a series of impossibly tight hairpin bends that were no match for the balance and poise of the riders and their Versys 1000 mounts leaving time to enjoy the (relatively) relaxed descent to Applecross and its famous Inn with a fish and chop lunch as “reward”.
The afternoon was no less spectacular with a ride past Applecross bay and north to Loch Torridon, through Glen Torridon. For at least an hour on this narrow, almost deserted road, neck muscles were exercised as heads turned left and right to drink in the splendour of the Highlands as part of a 360 degree immersion in stunning natural beauty. With a rendezvous at Kinlochewe, there followed a short run to the night’s lodgings at Gairloch, the most northerly point of the tour. Spread between the Gairloch Highland Lodge and the Old Inn, the party ate together and agreed to meet at 07-30 the next morning for the “Big Day” of the tour.
With some trepidation, but equal anticipation, the group were briefed the next day (amongst a swarm of annoying airborne “midges”) and prepared for a ride south to the Kyle of Lochalsh and then over the bridge linking the mainland to the brooding and magnificent Isle of Skye. Often blanketed in cloud and darkly ominous, Skye on this day was bathed in sunshine and most agreed there were very few better places in the world to be riding a motorcycle at this moment in time.
This point was reinforced when the group parked their Versys machines at the remote yet stunning Stein Inn, situated at “the north end of nowhere” yet offering the most incredible welcome and equally mouth-watering food. A chance to catch up with personal filming and image gathering was mixed with some recording of “pieces to camera” and, of course, wonderful food.
Dividing into two groups, the first group made their way south after lunch to the port of Armadale and the waiting ferry while the second group finished their coffee and made ready to catch the following ferry agreeing to all meet as one at Mallaig, the famous west coast fishing port, mainland ferry terminal and sight of at least two Harry Potter filming locations.
Leaving Mallaig, the task in hand was to ride south, through Fort William and on to Oban. Being a national holiday weekend, the traffic around Fort William was extremely busy but this provided a chance for the riders to see how well the Versys behaves at slow speeds and in filtering situations. One rider went a different route but, sadly, although he (temporarily) missed Fort William, the ferry landing stage he made for displayed a sign saying, “Ferry out of Service” and he had to retrace his steps and also encounter the challenges of the Fort William traffic jams.
It was supposed to be simple now – especially with Fort William a dot disappearing in the stable rear view Versys mirrors. Sadly, the road maintenance crews of Scotland did not read the script and decided to completely close the easiest, shortest and quickest route to Oban leaving riders who had already covered several hundred miles with two choices; either sit still for an hour doing nothing or take the longer route via Glencoe. Every single rider opted for the Glencoe route, and even though it only “bought” 15 minutes advantage over the traffic waiting for the closed road to open, it gave everyone an unexpected chance to experience the majesty of another of Scotland’s landmark locations from the seat or “mobile viewing platform” of a Versys 1000.
Safe to say the tired faces of riders who had covered serious mileage were punctuated by broad smiles when the bikes were finally parked up in Oban. The “bond” between motorcycle and rider reached an even higher level with an appreciation of the all-day comfort of the Versys allied to its forgiving and flexible engine – some serious mechanical friendships were blossoming on the seafront at Oban!
Day four and one final ride.
It seemed a blink of an eye since we turned out of Edinburgh Kawasaki and now we were on our way back cross country and with a final lunch stop to gather our thoughts just before the metropolis that is Edinburgh. The Carnock Inn, Dunfermline provided a fitting final chance to refresh and swap riding stories plus Whatsapp addresses before the last few relaxed miles to Edinburgh.
Across the entire event, the Versys machinery needed only routine maintenance while the OE equipment Bridgestone tyres did everything asked of them and more. The reassurance of TomTom navigation plus security of having a BikeTrac tracker device fitted to each machine for the event simply added to the ability to concentrate on the task in hand….. if riding around Scotland for four days in great weather and enjoying amazing food, drink and hospitality can be called a “task”.
As is always the case, upon returning to Edinburgh Kawasaki the scene was a blur of people getting changed, hastily packing and being ferried to the airport. Goodbyes were swift yet intense and a feeling of genuine regret was in the air; regret that it was all over so soon.
And the Versys 1000’s? They had calmly taken to the task at hand with no fuss and no complaint offering a magic carpet ride around the Highlands shrugging off some challenging poorly surfaced roads, exploiting deserted fast sweeping curves and conquering the intimidating, unforgiving Pass of the Cattle to Applecross.
A core truth was obvious. To really understand what makes Versys so special you cannot reach a level of understanding in 30 minutes or even an hour. The relationship builds slower than this but is ultimately longer lasting. For sure, the 2023 Versys Highland Tour amply displayed quite how truly special this motorcycle is and how breathtakingly magical the Scottish Highlands are. Much has been posted on multiple channels already but expect more posts covering the Versys Highland Tour in the coming days and weeks.
As they say in Scotland “Haste ye Back”…