Kawasaki introduces the most powerful sport-tourer in production with the Concours 14, a design which the Japanese manufacturer envisions will carve out its own genre - the Transcontinental Supersport Tourer.
Few 2008 models piqued as much interest in the riding public as when photos of the redesigned Concours 14 first appeared last summer. Bathing in the adulation and success of its all-new 2007 Ninja ZX-14, Kawasaki
took the new Ninja's 1352cc motor and made it the base for a much-needed facelift to the Concours. Like everyone else, once we saw the photos of the new design we were excited and intrigued. The long-suffering Connie was in desperate need of an overhaul and Kawasaki has aimed big, declaring the Concours 14 represents "an entirely new genre of high-performance motorcycle: the Transcontinental Supersport Tourer."
Well, now that we know what the Kawasaki PR claims, does the new Concours measure up to the hype?
To answer this question, we tapped out our sport-touring expert and regular photographic contributor, Tom Lavine. An accomplished rider and photographer, Tom has tallied countless miles in pursuit of motorcycling nirvana. Having participated in last year's ZX-14 vs. Hayabusa comparo
as well as our Super Sport-Touring Faceoff
, which featured the BMW K1200GT and FJR1300, testing the new Concours 14 was right up his alley. In fact, as an active retiree with desire for the open road Mr. Lavine is the poster child for the sport-touring market. We knew we had the right man for the job.
Assignment and travel itinerary in hand, our tester packed his camera and helmet and headed south to Santa Rosa, California for the Concours 14 press introduction. In two days he logged 500 miles aboard the C14 through Sonoma County's twisting backroads.
The Concours 14 is a sharp design, with styling lines that captured our attention when photos of the new design were released last summer.
The obvious starting point on the Concours 14 is its 1352cc beast of an engine. Sourced from the mighty ZX-14, the Inline-Four is what makes the new C14 a real kick in the pants. Designed as the most powerful production sport-tourer in the market, Kawasaki pulled out all the stops when it sourced its largest sportbike powerplant for the new Connie.
The motor in the Concours isn't a complete clone of the Ninja's, however, incorporating first-in-its-class variable valve timing to increase engine efficiency by altering camshaft profiles in different rpm ranges. The liquid-cooled DOHC design has also been retuned for its new sport-touring application. Remember, this is an engine that produced a mind-blowing 169.1 rear-wheel horsepower when we dynoed the ZX-14 for a comparo in 2006. Judging by Kawasaki's only claimed spec sheet power numbers, lb-ft of torque, the C14 shows a 10% decrease from the ZX's 113.5 to 102.5. If we apply the same formula to our rear-wheel horsepower figures for the '06 comparo, even accounting for the C14's shaftdrive, the new Connie will be cranking out somewhere in the neighborhood of 140-plus ponies. Still far above the respective 124.2 and 123.8 rear-wheel horsepower numbers we gathered from the BMW K1200GT and Yamaha FJR1300 during last year's ST comparo.
Although massive hp numbers grab headlines, Lavine's road test experience left him pleased as punch not just by the quantity, but the quality of the muscle emanating from the C14's powerplant.
"This engine has loads of torque, especially in the low and mid range," explains Tom. "Most of the time I rode with the RPM's in the three- to five-thousand range, but if you think the bike is fast then, hang on to your hat when you hit the eight-thousand mark. This is simply one hot ride."
The 1352cc Inline-Four, sourced from Kawasaki's ZX-14, ensures the new Concours flies down those yellow lines at a law-shattering, or shall we say, rapid pace.
With the rip-snorting ZX-14 drag-racing motor as its base, we expected nothing less than jaw-dropping acceleration from the new Connie. A fact confirmed by Tom, who is a retired motorcycle cop.
"This bike was designed to offer sportbike performance. Kawasaki calls it the 'ultimate sport-touring performance.' In terms of acceleration, I would agree! Once I grabbed a handful of throttle, it just came unglued. I can't imagine any sport-tourers being faster than this thing!"
The good news gets even better, however, as the digital fuel injection ensures the rapid acceleration is controlled with a throttle response described by our tester as "smooth and predictable." The ECU-controlled fuel injection system also ensures the Connie complies with stricter emissions requirements and maximum fuel economy.
While motoring up to speeds that would have caused his former self to whip out the siren and ticket book, not to mention potential felonious mph figures that would necessitate breaking out the cuffs, our former peace officer was impressed by the wailing Inline-Four's user-friendliness.
"This bike not only hauls," explains Tom, "but vibration is very minimal and once it is underway the bike is smooth as glass."
The Concours 14 features variable valve timing, which alters camshaft profiles at various rpm ranges. The new feature is a first in its class design aimed at improving engine efficiency.
Gear-driven, dual secondary engine balancers can take credit for the smoothness our tester experienced. While, the new Connie's digital ignition and ECU idle speed control system ensure the C14 motor is ready to deliver at the push of a button.
Speaking of thumbing the starter, an interesting feature on the C14 is the new KI-PASS (Kawasaki's Intelligent Proximity Activation Start System) anti-theft device. The system utilizes a standard ignition key and a small transponder fob. Once the ignition key is inserted, the accompanying fob must be within five feet of the bike in order to start the ignition. If a rider walks out of the magic five-foot barrier, the fob and its corresponding unique signature goes out of range causing the Concours 14 to go into lockdown mode.
At first our rider thought the new design was just a marketing gimmick (you're so cynical Tom!), then upon his return he got all geared up and ready to go on his personal bike, a BMW R1200GS, and realized the key was stashed deep in his pocket. Taking off his glove and digging through his riding pant, Tom's perspective on the new system 180-d as he thought, "now if only I'd had that KI-PASS fob." What it all boils down to is the new Kawasaki system means a rider can leave the conventional key in the ignition and almost forget about it. Of course, if you lose your fob, then you've got a problem.
Okay, so we've used the word smooth a handful of times describing the C14 already, but the Kawasaki engineers must have been indoctrinated at a smoothness re-education camp, because the sensation extends to the six-speed gearbox as well.
Ole! The slipper clutch on the new Concours 14 is a very forgiving design, which eliminates lunging on downshifts. Our test rider liked it quite a bit.
"This is one of the nicest motorcycle transmissions I've ever used," said Lavine, which is quite a compliment, as he has been in the saddle for 26 years. "Engaging first gear is quiet, as well as when shifting. There is simply no noise or clunking, operation is smooth."
The Connie's hydraulic clutch utilizes a radial-pump master cylinder and provides superb feel at the lever and during engagement. The C14's clutch is a forgiving back-torque-limiting design, aka a slipper clutch, which eliminates lunging on downshifts. It is a feature Lavine relished, leading him to wonder why the rider-friendly design isn't on more models.
The velvety clutch is teamed well in transmitting the C14's ample power to the rear wheel with the Tetra-Lever Shaft Drive. The final drive unit is a quiet four-link design, which the manufacturer claims "significantly reduces driveline lash." Lavine agrees of the 14's shaftdrive, "There's no lash at all and no raising or lowering on the back end. It feels almost like a belt drive, very uneventful... It just works."
A right-side 4-2-1 exhaust system takes the place of its Ninja cousin's dual cans, and also allows a better view of the new Tetra-Lever design on the left. The exhaust note is somewhat muted though, with the canister size a bit larger than we care for, but, hey, you can't always get what you want.
Our tester found the new Tetra-Lever Shaft Drive to be very effective, with the smooth new design feeling more like a belt drive.
With its 59.8-inch wheelbase, the C14 doesn't suffer from instability but it isn't the most nimble of handlers either. This doesn't come as a complete shock to us, as we had a similar gripe about the ZX-14 during its comparo versus the Hayabusa last year, when we noted the 14 required more effort to turn in. The Connie sports a 2.3-inch longer wheelbase and lazier 26.1-degree rake compared to the Ninja (23-degree rake), so handling is compromised even more for stability.
"The C14 is a very stable bike and confidence inspiring, but transitioning in the turns sure isn't like riding a 600," explained our 62-year-old tester. "Although it was designed as a long-distance, sporty tourer, not a canyon carver, I thought this bike was very heavy in general and a little top-heavy to boot. This is particularly noticeable at slow parking lot speeds. Make no mistake about it, this is a big motorcycle, which weighs in at over 600 pounds dry."
Like any dry weight claim from the manufacturer, we take the 615-lb (606-lb non-ABS) assertion for what it is until we roll the bike onto our own scales to get tank-full and tank-empty measurements. Then we'll be able to make more definitive judgments about the C14's portliness, especially compared to the lighter claimed weights of two of its main competitors - the BMW K1200GT (549 lbs) and Yamaha FJR1300 (582 lbs). We'll have to wait for that comparison test to pass more authoritative opinions on the C14's handling too, to see how it stands out in relation to its class rivals. (Keep your fingers crossed for another Super Sport-Touring Comparo later this year.)
While it isn't the swiftest of designs in transition, the Concours 14 provides a very stable 59.8-inch wheelbase and solid suspension package.
An inverted 43mm telescopic fork and the rear Tetra-Lever unit provide suspension on the C14. The stock settings on the front fork are a little stiff though. As with any bike, a sportbike in particular, dialing in the proper suspension settings make a world of difference. Even without finding the optimal settings during his test ride, Lavine felt sturdy feedback up front and the two units sucked up the bumps on the road without any trouble. The units also contribute to the C14's base of touring stability.
"The brakes on the C14 are outstanding, powerful and predictable," said Tom of the C14s robust binders, which have to be strong to match the bike's brawny motor and sizable weight. Featuring a top-of-the-line setup, the Concours has a pair of 310mm petal discs up front and a single 270mm petal disc out back. The front's radial-mounted four-piston caliper configuration features a separate pad for each piston to improve feel and performance, as does the radial-pump front brake master cylinder. The end result is a fantastic braking package.
Also contributing to the superb braking performance was the $900-optional ABS system fitted on our test bike. Unlike BMW's ABS system, the Concours package is not linked. As an R1200GS owner, our rider knows a thing or two about ABS and came away impressed that the independent wheel system on the Connie does its thing without any pulsating sensation. Those ABS moments just feel like hard braking on the C14, with the system delivering its safety benefits along with the sensation of stability.
So the Concours isn't the most nimble handler, we still got some good lean angle. Just keep rotating that camera Mr. Photog Man!
On a true touring machine the engine performance is critical but only part of the overall equation. Rider comfort and ergonomics are vital to ensure owners can stick it out for the long haul. We found the new Concours to be comfortable but the always critical Lavine noted that a true long-distance evaluation wasn't possible due to the short routes employed at the press introduction. Five hundred miles, although quite a sum, wasn't enough for our tester, who's tallied many thousands of miles on his sport-touring adventures. Still, he felt the Concours was an overall comfortable platform, appreciating its touring-oriented accoutrements, like an on-the-fly adjustable windshield and comfortable riding position.
"I think I could ride this bike for a long time. The seat is comfortable, my legs were not cramped and the bars, although a little forward, were fine," said our 6'3" test rider, adding, "The moveable windshield is nice and can be lowered for sport riding but raised when riding the interstates"
Other touring accessories include removable heat deflectors on each side of the fairing near the rider's knees, which Tom appreciated during the cooler mornings but found uncomfortable in the afternoon. The Connie's mirrors were a let down for Lavine, who noted that the view through them was good if you wanted to see the top of the saddlebags. Heated grips were not included on the intro test bikes, although aftermarket units could be plugged into the C14's accessory power outlet located next to the cockpit display.
The on-the-fly adjustable windsheild and relaxed riding position on the C14 ensure a rider will have no problem clicking off the touring miles.
Other bells and whistles on the C14 include the aforementioned KIPASS system, as well as the helpful control panel, which features an analog speedo and tach hemming in an LCD display screen. Info on the screen includes the standard odometer and dual trip meters, as well as extra information like average gas consumption. Similar to a lot of LCD display info systems, most of it is interesting but non-critical stuff to gawk at, but we do appreciate that the new Connie includes one of our favorite sensors in the form of a gear position indicator. The Concours also includes the very Beemer-like feature of tire pressure monitors.
Of course as long-distance tourer, the Concours 14 also includes baggage, with the stylish hard sidebags included as standard equipment. The hard bags are roomy enough to store a full-face helmet and simple to open and remove. On top of their practical function, the hard bags also tie into the flowing lines of the Concours. And the lines of the new Connie look great, even taking that whole eye-of-the-beholder stuff into mind.
"The lines throughout the bike flow nicely and the bags can be removed for a sportier look, although they are so nicely styled I think the bike looks better with them on," commented Lavine.
Tom gave the Concours 14 a thumbs up, but suspects the new design will have a hard time supplanting its Super Sport-Touring rivals the Yamaha FJR1300 and BMW K1200GT in an upcoming comparo test.
Okay, so it looks good and has a dreamy engine, but the new Concours also sports a competitive $13,799 MSRP ($12,899 for non-ABS version), which puts it in a straight-up head-to-head showdown with the ABS-standard $13,799 FJR1300. If you're willing to ditch the ABS, the new Connie is almost a budget super sport-tourer at just under 13 grand. No doubt there will be many loyal Connie owners lined up outside dealerships to sample the new C14 regardless of its sticker price.
Any time there is an all-new model it is easy to get caught up in the hype, readers and journalists alike. We'll reserve our final analysis on the new Concours until we line it up next to the main contenders we've already mentioned, the formidable K12 and FJR, for a knock-down drag-out comparo. That 1352cc motor will attract many a rider like moths to the horsepower flame, but the real question regarding the Concours 14, and one we can't wait to answer, is where the new design stands amongst its Sport-Touring peers later this year. Stay tuned.
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