2008 Kawasaki Concours 14
The Kawasaki Concours is the much-heralded new entry to the 2008 Sport-Touring class, with the C14 sourcing its motor from the vaunted ZX-14.
Awaking refreshed and ready, we knew our final day of riding would be filled with challenging weather. But the damp Northern California climate wasn't too imposing, as the moist air and damp road felt like home. Our route would take us through familiar real estate, hugging the coast and gigantic Coastal Redwood forests before cutting up into Oregon on US-199 - the Redwood Highway. The giant trees were a good setting for the newest model in our SST comparo, Kawasaki's colossal Concours 14.
The C14 is a sport-touring platform built around a 1352cc Inline-Four and monocoque frame. Like the gargantuan trees we began to encounter north of Mendocino, the Kawasaki
powerplant dwarfs its competitors. Nothing else in this group is even close on the dyno. As pistons whir through an 84mm bore by 61mm stroke with a 10.7:1 compression ratio, the Kawasaki hammers out 133.8 horsepower and 89.2 lb-ft of torque.
But dynos and spec sheets are just ink and paper, it's what happens on the road that counts. And the Kawasaki does not disappoint. Visceral and robust are words that come to mind. As well as, Yee-haw! We're talking Slim Pickens riding the nuclear bomb in Dr. Strangelove
type of yee-haw!
"How can I not get a grin on my face when riding a bike with this much motor" recalls Robin. "The sheer joy of twisting the throttle and taking off like a rocket is really a great feeling."
The Concours 14 boasts 133 horsepower at the rear wheel, resulting in numerous under-helmet grins from our test riders.
With so much power on tap, it's not surprising that a deft throttle hand is required to keep the mighty Concours motor tamed at low rpm. The extra shot of adrenaline from thwacking the throttle open, however, more than compensates for the brusque initial response.
One side effect of the mammoth horsepower and torque is engine heat. We didn't mind at all during our tour, as heavy rain and cold temps accompanied our journey on the PCH, with US-1 terminating at Leggett, California, and merging with US-101.
"Making all that power also brings on the heat," points out Bryan. "The engine was by far the hottest of the bunch. On cold nights, this was good, but on a hot summer day running red light to red light, this bike would cook your inner thighs."
After its initial hit, the motor delivery, while not as smooth as the Honda, is still silky and responsive. Thanks in part to the variable valve timing, which alters camshaft profiles at various rpm ranges, the Kawi motor delivers an ample well of power across the rev range, all of it transmitted to the pavement via a refined, lash-free Tetra-Lever Shaftdrive.
"Not much vibration comes through the bars at all on the C14 and the shaftdrive is one of the best I have ever ridden with," says Ken. "Kawasaki has upped the ante with this piece of touring technology."
At low speeds the Kawasaki was a disappointment, with the heavy front end lazy in quick transitions.
Six gears in the C14's well-defined transmission divvy out the 133 ponies. In practical application, the Kawi is a five-speed, with sixth gear a freeway-only overdrive. Clutch lever feel is a smidge finicky, engaging at the far end of the lever. That admitted, the overall performance of the transmission is excellent and the C14's slipper clutch, while perhaps not a necessity, is a welcome addition, with downshifts on the Kawasaki problem free.
Following the 101 up through Eureka and Arcata to the coastal town of Crescent City, we turned onto one of our favorite roads, US-199 - better known as the Redwood Highway. Skirting California's Smith River, 199 is a challenging route with many tight turns, often around monstrous Redwood trunks.
It is terrain like this where one weakness of the Concours reveals itself - sluggish handling at low speeds. The Kawi's 26.1-degree rake and 59.8-in wheelbase are right in line with its rivals, but the front end feels slow in quick transitions. Once the MPH kicks up, however, the Kawasaki comes into its own. All of our riders noted how much better the C14 felt on those areas where the road opens up into high-speed sweepers instead of close cut-and-dive twisties.
"At first I wasn't very impressed with the handling of the Kawasaki," admits Robin. "It felt clumsy and unpredictable at low speeds, however it becomes more stable and corners well at higher speeds."
We can't find any fault with the steady suspension package adorning the C14. An inverted 43mm fork up front and the Tetra-Lever system out back are stable and provide a solid platform for the 684-lb mount (649 tank-empty). Easy adjustment for the suspension comes via a dial under the subframe and knobs on the top the fork - similar to the Yamaha.
The Kawasaki Concours 14's Tetra-Lever Shaft drive is one of the best we've ever sampled.
The Nissin stoppers on the Kawi are extremely effective (Nissin units adorn all the Japanese bikes). Radial-mount four-piston calipers up front use separate pads for each piston and clamp down on a pair of 310mm petal style rotors, with a single 270mm rotor out back. The radial-mount master cylinder provides excellent feel at the lever. The non-linked system was supplemented on our test bike with optional ABS, which was put to the test during hundreds of miles of wet pavement, doing its job without being intrusive.
"The brakes on this bike work well, especially when you think about the amount of weight they have to slow down," says Robin. "I did find that they tended to be a little grabby when you are first getting used to the bike, however after a little seat time they just ended up working great, with good feel and excellent stopping power."
The Kawasaki's wide, cush 32.1-inch high saddle make long stints bearable. In terms of riding position, the C14's upright stance is on par with its Japanese rivals, minus some amenities.
"Riding position on the 14 was rather comfortable, my shoulders became a little sore after several hours of riding, but nothing too bad," says Robin. "The seat was overly soft, without enough support for my comfort, and the seat height isn't adjustable like several of the other bikes."
Along with being easy to open and roomy the Concours 14 luggage continue the Kawi's sleek lines.
One area where the C14 could use improvement is in wind protection. While the wide fairing does a fair job, the adjustable windscreen was lacking, much to our dismay as the rain began to pour down.
"Where the C14 really suffers is in terms of protection from the elements," agrees Ken. "The windscreen doesn't provide the coverage we expected from a bike intent on blowing the competition away."
One more gripe is the C14's KIPASS system, which requires a key and the presence of a separate electronic key fob within five feet of the bike to start. We had a hard time finding the advantage in such a system and, as we were switching riders multiple times during the day, we took the nightmare of losing or forgetting the fob out of the equation by storing it in the small dashboard storage.
"I am not sold on the keyless entry because it really does not seem to solve any major issues," comments Ken. "It still requires that a proximity key be somewhere near the bike and the twist-dial key/cap/switch thing still needs to be turned on, off and so on."
Compared to its competition, the C14's windscreen left us wanting more protection from the elements.
While not on board with the KIPASS, we are on board with the C14's instrumentation and display. There's nothing special with the Kawi's conventional switchgear, but the white background of the analog speedo and tach accompanied by a large LED display are clean and attractive, even if the numbers on the speedo are a little small. Digital fuel and engine temperature gauges and useful gear position indicator share the LED screen with info like range, MPG and tire pressure. Right below the display, buttons cycle through info with headlight adjusters further down, to dial in the Kawi's impressive headlamps. The dash also features a convenient 12V plug. But, the instrumentation and dash did not impress us as much as the simple yet effective saddlebags.
"The saddlebags are as well integrated as any we've seen," coos Ken. "They are simple to work and very easy to figure out if you've never worked with them before."
We want to send out an industry wide memo, asking everyone to design such intuitive luggage. There are no quirks or oddities, just easy-to-open, sizable storage compartments. The bags' usefulness extend into the style department, carrying the sleek lines of the side body panels all the way to the tail. In fact, in terms of styling the Kawi was universally praised.
"Even though it's a sport-touring bike, the Kawasaki looks fast sitting still," comments Bryan. "Which is quite an accomplishment."
The Kawasaki suspension package is solid, with an inverted 43mm fork and the Tetra-Lever system out back.
One deficiency on the Concours touring resume is its disappointing range. Our observed 36.8 MPG efficiency equates into a 214-mile range, with its 5.8-gallon tank is the smallest in this test. During our ride the C14 rider was often keen to find a gas station because the Kawi always needed a drink first - many times hitting reserve before the 200-mile mark.
One area where Kawasaki always seems to hold an edge is in value. The C14 is no exception. In fact, the ABS-equipped version of the Concours rings in dead even with the ABS-standard FJR at $13,799. Choosing to forego the ABS shaves $900 off the MSRP, making the Kawasaki is a very tempting offer - an offer we're sure many riders will be glad they could not refuse.