2010 Kawasaki Concours 14 First Ride

October 30, 2009
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

The 2010 Kawasaki Concours 14  an upgrade of its predecessor thanks to improved handling and more touring creature comforts.
The 2010 Kawasaki Concours 14 is an upgrade over its predecessor thanks to improved handling and more touring creature comforts, not to mention production traction control.

Kawasaki scored a hit when it re-built its sport-touring flagship around the ZX-14 motor and dubbed it the Concours 14. Debuting as a 2008 model, the sharp-looking C14 leaned heavy on the sport side of the ledger with incredible performance from its 1352cc Inline-Four. However, the overall touring package needed refinement and Kawasaki delivers with a reinvigorated 2010 model.

Featuring production traction control, new ABS and a host of touring upgrades, the invitation for our 2010 first ride comes at an opportune time. Having just tested the ’09 Connie in our soon-to-be released 2009 Sport-Touring Comparison (it’s coming, it’s coming…), we had fresh impressions of the old to compare to the new while blasting through the San Jacinto Mountains south of Palm Springs, California.

KTRC and K-ACT

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The 2010 Concours now features linked brakes with the second-generation K-ACT ABS (Kawasaki Advanced Coactive-Braking Technology). Evolved from the ABS used in the Voyager cruiser, Kawi claims the new system is 25% smaller and 30% lighter, with a higher-spec ECU. Riders can’t disable the ABS entirely, but instead choose from two adjustments that control the rear-to-front effect. Mode 1 delivers light effect on the front, for sportier riding applications. Mode 2 supplies a more aggressive bite up front when mashing the rear pedal. The front to back linkage effect is identical in both modes.

A reliable stopping system is critical on the big, heavy Kawi (our 2009 C14 test unit topped the scales with a curb weight of 689 lbs). Grabbing a handful at high-speed on our 2010 test run brings things to a halt pronto, with ABS pulse not overly dramatic. In more casual use, the linked braking works quite well. The front-to-rear link feels quite refined. Approaching a corner at high speeds, a light pull on the strong dual disc/four-piston caliper front settles the bike smoothly, the gentle linked application of the rear reducing front end dive. As for the other direction, rear-to-front, Mode 2 bites far harder than the light tug of Mode 1, with the latter preferable on twisty stretches. Our only complaint, a petty grumble really, is toggling between Mode 1 and Mode 2 can’t be done on the fly.

The left side handlebar has a lot more buttons to push  including a Mode Select trigger on the far side and the K-ACT and KTRC buttons.
The left side handlebar has a lot more buttons to push, including a Mode Select trigger on the far side and the K-ACT and KTRC buttons.

The new KTRC (Kawasaki Traction Control) does offer on-the-fly adjustment – ON and OFF – via the left handlebar-mounted button. The KTRC system adds no weight, sourcing the same sensors at the ABS. Upon detecting wheelspin the ABS unit sends a signal to the ECU, which then controls engine output by modulating ignition timing, fuel delivery and intake airflow through sub-throttle valves – the intake control key to the smooth operation of the system, according to Kawasaki.

Testing the system, Kawasaki hosed down a skid plate, fixed outriggers to a Concours and turned us loose. Holding down the KTRC button to disengage the system, we made some passes and negotiated sketchy slides (after deprogramming our brain to snap the throttle of a 140-horsepower near 700-lb bike on a wet, slippery surface!). Turning the KTRC on we made similar runs, with an even wilder throttle hand and experienced complete stability, with the dash light flashing every time the KTRC engaged.

Breaking the rear loose on a 140 horsepower  700-lb motorcycle... Even with the outriggers the brain had trouble accepting the idea -2010 Kawasaki Concours 14The KTRC system engaged  the 2010 Kawasaki Concours 14 handled the wet skid plate in stride  with no noticeable slip.
Turn the KTRC off and it’s time to slip and slide, but turn it on and steady as she goes in the wet.

The point of Kawasaki’s first TC system isn’t to push the limits, like a roadracing application, but to add traction on suspect surfaces. During our more conventional test ride, the KTRC kicked in on gravel and sandy turnouts. The little light also flashes when riders blip the throttle for front-wheel lofts, keeping things safe and sound in two-wheel territory. Don’t worry, though, dab the KTRC button for a couple seconds to turn it off and enjoy all the raw power of the 1352cc Four.

Granted some riders will always prefer total control of the braking equation. However, the more ABS moments we encounter, the more appreciative we are of the safety feature. The effective KRTC only enhances the safety factor. That Kawasaki only asks $700 for both systems makes it a wise and highly recommended investment for Concours 14 owners.

The Little Things Doth a Tourer Make

Working on our 2009 Sport-Touring Shootout as this little ditty gets penned, we can personally vouch that picking the best in the touring class is no easy feat. Competitors are so close that ranking them becomes largely a matter of personal preference and nitpicking over the little things. So, can heated grips, engine heat and the placement of mirrors really determine a winner? It sure doesn’t hurt, and if there is any class of motorcycle where the little things matter, it’s touring platforms where riders spend long hours in the saddle.

An all-new fairing was designed to increase cooling air flow for the motor and a lower sheild seals off the previous engine heat from riders legs - especially on the right side.A heat shield on the exhaust further aids rider protection from engine heat.
A redesigned fairing and exhaust cap improve the previous complaint of engine heat
blasting on the riders leg – the worst on the right shin at idle.
Heated grips as a standard feature is a huge plus  and the 2010 Kawasaki Concours 14 grips heat up well with an adjustable knob.The control panel looks the same but accessing information on the LCD can now be controlled by a left-side Mode Select Button.
Heated grips added a tangible, twistable creature comfort and information at the
instrument console is easier to shuffle through thanks to a left-side info trigger switch.

Kawasaki improved its newest Connie with direct feedback from focus groups, which identified specific complaints about the 2008-2009 units. (Complaints which coincidentally were a laundry list of our gripes regarding the Concours in our 2008 ST Shootout.)

Topping the list? Blistering engine heat, particularly at idle. The right side at the bottom fairing was the worst spot, which blasted hot air right on the rider’s leg in near Buell-like fashion (yikes, let’s not say things we can’t take back…). A redesigned fairing claims increased airflow to dissipate heat, not to mention a little sleeker look. The complete seal of the problem area in the lower fairing, however, provides the greatest improvement, with an exhaust shield also helping out. The 2010 engine heat is still there, as the frantic whirring of radiator fans at idle reveal, but the protection of the rider from its effects has enhanced greatly, no question.

So heat’s reduced on the leg but added to the hands in the form of standard issue heated grips. Amazingly heated grips weren’t even available on the prior Concours as a factory option, but the new standard grips heat up quick with a left-side knob offering variable settings. I doubt there is a bigger “little thing” than heated grips, particularly in the cold, and riders (not to mention future comparison testers) will be appreciative.

Riders also requested a larger windscreen, and Kawasaki complied with a wider and 2.75-inch taller (70mm) unit. New air passages were added in the dash under the windscreen as well, to alleviate low pressure and prevent turbulence. Many journalists at the intro found the new screen an improvement, however, I felt more buffeting at all positions – the only exception being crouched down over the tank at the highest setting. At 6’1” I was one of the taller test riders and as a rule find low settings on windscreens better, preferring to deal with wind head-on than experience buffeting from partial coverage. That’s my experience, for what it’s worth… but on the whole, it seemed more riders preferred the new screen.

New windscreen  heated grips  repositioned mirrors... The little things add up when youre perched behind the controls for hundreds of miles at a time.
New windscreen, heated grips, repositioned mirrors… The little things add up when you’re perched behind the controls for hundreds of miles at a time.

Without question, the repositioned mirrors are a big improvement. Prior models delivered a sizable dose of saddlebags instead of roadway in the lower portion. The 1.6 inch-taller fix doesn’t eliminate the defect entirely, as the placement of the saddlebags seem as much the cause, yet the bags do fill less space overall.

Another big plus is a new info trigger button in the left handlebar. Kawasaki calls it a Mode Select Button and it shuffles through the information available on the LCD display. This remedies a peeve from the prior unit, which required removing a hand from the control to press the button in the dash (which is still there by the way, the Mode Select trigger is just more convenient). Also changed, the useful addition of ambient air temperature to the list of info shuffled before a rider’s eyes.

Yet another quirk fixed on the new Connie is the repositioning of the glove box from directly below the dash to the left fairing area. Not only is the new space deeper and more spacious overall, the prior placement inhibited the use of a tank bag. This effect has been doubly enhanced, with actual tank bag anchors added.

The KIPASS system is back too and also updated with a supplemental credit-card sized fob (for a full explanation see sidebar). One last 2010 doo-dad to cover is the all-new ECO Mode. Accessed by holding down the new Info trigger, ECO Mode switches the ECU to a leaner fuel map. Another

A beautiful corner near Idylwild  California  ripping along the 2010 Kawasaki Concours 14.
Improving the 200-mile range of the 2009 Connie via the fuel-saving map in the ECO Mode is still unconfirmed in our mind until we get the 2010 model for some extended jaunts and first-hand.

aid to “improve” fuel efficiency is an ECO indicator, which is not directly controlled but pops up on the dash, regardless of Mode, to indicate favorable fuel consumption. The ECO stuff is Kawasaki’s answer to upping the relatively low 200-mile touring range of the ‘08-‘09 bike, rather than adding fuel capacity to the 5.8 gallon tank.

So does this ECO stuff actually work? Eyeball observation of the fuel gauge and our trip meter didn’t deliver any, “oh, wow” improvement after cruising for many sections on the fuel-sipping mode (with the ECO indicator on more often than not). However, if range could extend even 10-15% to 230 miles, that would be a vast improvement. Further testing will be required before we can give a definitive answer to the ECO conundrum, except to chastise Kawasaki’s marketing department for not calling it the much cooler “ECO System”.

Sharper Handling

The 2010 Kawasaki Concours 14 handles noticably better than the 09 predecessor  with new tires the most likely reason.
The 2010 Kawasaki Concours 14 handles noticeably better than the ’09 predecessor.
The KTRC system is not made for enhanced sporting performance  but instead to deliver increased confidence for touring riders on slippery surfaces.
Tire wear is hinted as the greatest contributor to the C14’s poor 2009 handling traits and the new tires with a thicker rubber on the front seems the likeliest reason for ’10 improvement.

Alright, we’ve saved maybe the best upgrade for last, as the 2010 unit exhibits improved handling over its predecessor. A huge drawback to the 2009 Concours during our comparison testing was its handling quirks, with a reluctance to turn in quickly and a hinky sensation maintaining lean in the corner.

Changes to the 2010 chassis include a little more oil in the fork, but the new Bridgestone BT021U tires seem the most probable reason for the improvement. Tire wear was a leading suspect for ’09 handling complaints, and Kawasaki says the 2010 front tire has thicker rubber, with promises of longer tire life. Anecdotal evidence while attending the Pirelli Angel ST press intro confirmed speculation faulting tire wear as the main culprit for the handling quirks, with fellow journalists (we didn’t get seat time on the Pirelli-shod Concours) reporting improvement over the stock Bridgestone-shod ‘09.

Either way, we can say the 2010 Concours felt better in the corners and turns in quicker than the ’09 unit we sampled just two weeks prior. Is the C14 now the quickest turning tourer in the market? No. Is it a better handler than our 2009 tester? Yes.

Of course, nowhere in this First Ride have we really mentioned the raw, exhilarating power churning out of the big Kaw’s monster of a motor. It’s still there, and still ready to rip with spot-on fueling and crisp throttle response. That motor is, after all, still probably the biggest draw in the Concours appeal.

But the big story this year are those touring improvements. Are they enough to vault the Concours ahead of its class? Well, the Kawasaki has certainly gained ground on its competition. At $14,599 in base form and $15,299 for the ABS/TC version we sampled, it delivers a lot for the pricetag (A comparably equipped BMW K1300GT with heated grips and ASC (Anti Slip Control), for example, is well over $20K.) The new Connie is also possibly the best looking sport-tourer out there, available for 2010 in Candy Neptune Blue and Flat Super Black.

One thing is certain, Kawasaki took a great bike, listened to its customers, and then made the bike even better. Sounds like a winning formula to us.

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