There’s no denying the impact Kawasaki made on the sport-touring world when they introduced the new Concours 14 just two short years ago. Ballistically fast, thanks to the lightly revised 1352cc ZX 14 power plant lurking under its’ slick, stylish skin, the new Concours took the performance envelope in this class and ripped it up. With it’s superb handling and braking abilities, allied to an all-day comfortable touring package, it was a quantum leap forward from the Concours 1000 that had been with us since 1986. But near perfect as it came out of the gate, Kawasaki felt they could improve it and set about interviewing owners of the new bike to see what they were thinking. By listening to what was being said, and coming up with a bunch of fresh ideas themselves, Kawasaki has taken the Concours 14 to an all-new level. Not only is the bike just as fast and responsive, possible a little more due to new tire technology and revised suspension settings, it is now a whole lot more sophisticated. Packed to the brim with a host of new electronic rider aids, as well as some extra wind protection and heat dispersing changes to the body work, the new Concours has got every base covered, and then some. Heading out of Palm Springs, California on a crystal clear fall day, where the lack of clouds made the sky appear as if it went on forever behind the ridge of mountains we needed to climb, I couldn’t help being impressed with Kawasaki’s interactive and progressive approach.
Swinging through the first set of challenging bends, I settled in behind the adjustable fairing. Bigger this year to the tune of 2.75 inches taller and a tad wider, I set it on its lowest position to allow the cool, morning breeze to find it’s way into my helmet. Later, as we gained elevation, I would raise it back up to the highest position and switch on the heated grips as the temperatures hovered around the low ‘40s, but for now the crisp air felt good. Coming this year with a program that defaults the screen to the pre-set position the rider chooses, it also moves up and down at the touch of a button in step-less fashion. If you feel you need it, the smaller screen on last year’s model it is available as an accessory at your dealer, but in my motorcycle mind, down means hot, up means cold, and I can see no reason for change. While we are talking step-less adjustment, it would be a good time to note the standard fitment heated handlebar grips use this system also. This makes it fantastic for fine-tuning when the temperatures drop, as there is nothing worse than being stuck with set positions that either bake your digits or allow them to stay cold.
Making the long and steady climb up to Idlewild, with a couple of photo stops in between, gave us a great opportunity to revisit the handling characteristics that make the Concours 14 so competent when you use the sport side of it’s intended equation. I have heard minor complaints about the previous models handling, but for a bike weighing around 670 pounds built to take you and your missus cross country in style, I think it does an incredible job. Sure it takes a little more thought than an open class sport bike to ride fast, but would you expect any different?
Not to rest on their laurels though, Kawasaki fitted new Bridgestone BT021U tires. With thicker rubber they are said to last longer, a situation that should maintain consistent handling for longer. There is also a little more oil in the front fork and between the two changes the overall consensus of opinion during the launch was better handling. It still takes a fair amount of body language to initiate faster, or tighter, turns, but the big Concours can be a lot of fun on tight, twisting roads as we found out after lunch. Diving off the mountain, and out onto someflatter more open country, we put the new bike to the test. Handling the high-speed chase with aplomb it systematically annihilated the long straights we found at the foot of the mountains.
One of the major concerns listed by Concours owners was the amount of heat coming from under the bodywork. Using detailed computer drawings to show us how the rider gets affected, they then showed us how the new model dissipates the heat to keep the rider a much cooler. Using restyled bodywork, there is improved venting in the front panels and a new seal between the engine and the fairing. This latter change is aimed at keeping heat away from the rider while at traffic lights, or at low speeds. Riding in a mixture of warm to cold weather we were never stuck in traffic to really see for ourselves, but with all the work that’s been put into improving things I have no doubt it’ll be a lot better.
With so many changes and improvements being found on the new bike, the most important area in my mind is the new electronics package. The bike still uses Kawasaki’s Kipass ignition key system, but this year there is a second fob you can hide on the bike that doesn’t activate the ignition until it is a few centimeters away. I’m not a big fan of the system that requires you take the fob with you in your clothes, and personally would prefer to see a regular ignition key that doesn’t require batteries. But it’s back for 2010 so it mustn’t be too unpopular.
Something I am in complete favor if is the all new for 2010 KRTC traction control system. An all-new system for Kawasaki, it is not only highly sophisticated, but it works really well. In fact, Kawasaki are so confident in its abilities they let us loose on a temporary skid pad on a bike equipped with outriggers. This made for an interesting ride as I basically pinned the throttle as soon as I rolled onto the slippery surface and moments later rolled safely off it at the other end, with just a few wiggles through the bars. The bike tracked smoothly forward and no amount of abuse on the throttle would change it. Trying the same move without the system engaged produced some hilarious results. I had the bike pretty hacked out sideways before it plopped onto the outriggers, but one enthusiastic journo actually got the bike to spin through 180 degrees.
With the sensors that read rear wheel spin also being used for the ABS, thesystem adds no weight to the Concours. As soon as the ECU senses the rear wheel spinning faster than the front it cuts the ignition time, the fuel delivery and the airflow through the secondary butterfly valves. Where other systems rely on two methods of control, Kawasaki’s Jeff Herzog told me using three makes things a lot smoother. Having only experienced this type of traction control on BMW’s big touring bikes, he’s not wrong, as it is definitely smoother than Kawasaki’s Bavarian counterparts. Another positive to the system is the ability to turn it on or off on the fly. There is a large button on the bottom of the left hand switchgear marked “KTRC,” imagine that, and a quick press lets you make your choice. One thing to note here is this is not a full traction control system, so don’t go cranking on the throttle when leaned way over expecting to do a Casey Stoner style drive off the corner. It also prevents wheelies.
Making things safer when it comes time to slow down or stop, the Concours comes with an updated, linked ABS for 2010. Listed in the press blurb as 20% smaller and 30% lighter, unlike the traction control it can’t be switched on or off. You do have a choice at purchase time to buy the Concours without ABS and KTRC though, but for just $700 over the base model’s purchase price of $14,599 I can’t see too many people not opting to have this option. Coming this year with a choice of two settings, it is accessed by an orange button on the left hand switchgear marked K-ACT. In standard mode the amount of front braking is less than in high mode when you operate the rear brake pedal. There is no change in the ratio front to rear when you operate the front brake, and the new system allows you more control for the type of riding you want to do. For sportier duties the choice will be standard, and during touring duties it can be changed back to high. When you do use the brakes hard enough to activate the system, the amount of pulsing is very minimal and like the traction control we got to put it to the test on the skid pad. Coming quickly safely and smoothly to a halt, it certainly earns its keep.
Forcing the ABS into action, the Concours uses the same radial mount front calipers as last year, worked on by a multi-adjustable lever operating a direct action master cylinder. Squeezing the pads against 310mm wave rotors, the system is extremely powerful, but don’t worry about it being touchy or difficult to modulate. Immediately giving you feedback as you start to pull on the lever, it just keeps getting stronger either activating the ABS or giving you the stopping power you were asking for. No surprises from the single disc rear set up, with plenty of lever travel and control before a light pulsing tells you the rear tire would be smoking if you didn’t have ABS.
Style wise the changes to the Concours are fairly minimal, with the wider fairing lowers being changed for heat dissipation in mind. The exhaust canister has been shortened 40mm and gets some trendy looking end caps to give it the appearance of being more compact and that’s about it. Always a looker, the deep gloss paint is stunning, and the bike is available in Candy Neptune Blue only for some reason. It certainly gives the bike a sophisticated look to go with its new technological advancements, but it seems like it would be nice to have a color choice.
I doubt there was much complaint on the subject of comfort on the previous model, and with the adjustable fairing it can only be improved this year. The foot peg to handlebar relation is certainly on the sporty side of the touring equation, but it doesn’t put any stress on knees or shoulders. View from the flight deck once underway is impressive. Two practical looking analogue gauges with black faces and white numbers keep the pilot informed of ground speed and engine behavior. The onboard computer’s LCD screen sits top and center and is flanked by the usual neutral light, turn signal and oil lights etc, to the side. There is a plethora of information available from the digital screen, from average mph to average mpg, so planning fuel stops and destinations is going to be slick and easy whilst in motion.
Not content with the grocery list of improvements and innovations, Kawasaki has also added a fuel saving device to the mix. Called the “ECO” it is activated by the mode switch on the left handlebar when you want to switch the Concours to a leaner mapping circuit. Once activated it works at less than 30% throttle or under 6,000rpm. The system will also let you know when you are being conservative on the throttle by displaying the ECP symbol on LED screen. I’m sure we have all had to ride like this after misjudging a fuel stop out in the middle of nowhere at some point in our riding careers, and now you can purposefully ride like this to conserve gas if that’s your aim and the light will let you know you are doing it right.
With revised storage compartments that lock themselves once you are traveling over 2mph, lockable hard bags and plenty of room for attaching luggage to the rack on the rear, the new Kawasaki Concours 1400 has quite simply got all your touring needs covered, and then some. As a bike that seriously impressed me the first time around, it has evolved into an even more sophisticated and highly competent motorcycle. All it needs is a built in tea maker and it will be perfect.