2009 Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS
MSRP: $14,299 ($13,499 non-ABS)
Horsepower: 133.9 hp @ 9100 rpm
Torque: 88.6 lb-ft @ 7400 rpm
Weight: 689 lbs Range: 202 miles
Kawasaki meant business when it crammed the ZX-14 hypersport engine into a touring chassis and completely re-invented its Concours tourer. Billed as a Supersport-tourer, the Concours features a raucous motor and high-performance brakes. They both make for a thrilling ride, but not the most refined touring package. (We sampled the 2010 Concours only two weeks after our ST comparo ended, and have added comments on relevant changes to the new model – ED)
First, the motor. What’s not to like about 1352cc of pure Inline Four power churning out 134 horsepower and 88.6 lb-ft torque at the rear wheel? Though the revitalized BMW Four bested the mighty C14 in peak hp, the Kawasaki still masters the class in torque production, as well as test rider opinion of engine performance.
The throttle unleashes hoards of power all the way across the rev range. The Concours’ variable valve timing (VVT), which alters camshaft profiles at various rpm, delivers a wide sweet spot in the powerband… like pretty much the whole powerband! The dyno chart confirms the feel, with the
Though it lost ground in horsepower, the Kawasaki Concours still reigns in torque production – churning out 88.6 lb-ft on our Medford HQ dyno.
Kawasaki’s torque curve not only peaking highest but bettering its competition almost the entire way from 3500-8000 rpm. And 8000 rpm on the Concours means triple-digit speeds pronto, with the Kawasaki acceleration rivaled by none save the BMW.
Remarkable for such a potent engine, the throttle sensation isn’t choppy, with smooth fueling and a linear power delivery. Of course, the linear is more the straight up and down variety than a gradual incline. Yet, while visceral and addictive, not all testers rated the Kawi motor best.
“The engine is smooth and goes hard, the higher the revs the better,” says Tom, adding. “The Kawasaki is like riding a stick of dynamite, but seems a little over the top for me.”
The Kawasaki’s six-speed transmission and shaft drive rated highest of the bunch. The slipper clutch eliminates any ill effects from sloppy downshifts, while a radial pump master cylinder and hydraulic clutch provide precise engagement throughout the silky gearbox. Whines about an occasional false neutral are all that mar the transmission, with no clunks and zero drive lash complaints regarding the tetra-lever shaft final drive.
Brakes for all the four-cylinder bikes provide powerful performance. The Concours brakes did feel more traditional, as unlike the BMW or Yamaha they are not linked. This makes for a more dramatic stopping sensation, particularly up front where the beefy radial-mount four-piston Nissin calipers delivered the snappiest bite on dual 310mm rotors. Hammer the lever or pedal too hard, which we did when a roadside deer surprised us at about 85 mph, and the ABS functions quite well – though it pulsed the most noticeably of the four bikes (2010 Concours features linked brakes and newer version of its ABS system, as well as production traction control).
It’s a good thing the brakes work so well, as they are tasked with bringing the heaviest bike in our test to a halt. At 689 lbs tank full, the Concours not only looks big and bulky on paper, it feels big and bulky on the road. As mentioned before, at low speeds and in parking lots the Concours is a wooly mammoth. It also suffers on the sportier stretches of asphalt.
In spite of a 26-degree rake and the second-shortest wheelbase at 59.8 inches, the Kawasaki turns slowest. While it can still hustle around the bends at a respectable clip, on top of its weight it feels the widest bike too. The C14 requires the most input turning in and a hinky sensation while holding the Concours down in a corner cements its place as worst handler in the test.
The only bike to utilize a 190 rear, the seeming consensus industry opinion cites tire wear as the most likely cause of the handling flaws. This suspicion was confirmed in our 2010 test ride on new tires, with a thicker rubber used in the front (see sidebar). However, even with improved tires, there’s no getting around the C14 is 20 lbs heavier and without question carries its weight worse than its rivals. The suspension units, however, do offer easy adjustment with twisting knobs on the 43mm fork allowing preload and rebound settings. The rear shock offers rebound adjustment, with a remote easily accessible dial for preload.
As a touring mount the Concours does some things well, but lags behind in key aspects. Let’s get the lows out of the way. First, the range at 202 miles, observed from the worst 34.8 mpg efficiency and 5.8-gallon tank, made it the sad sack that was always needed gas. A mere 200-mile range for any “touring” mount doesn’t impress. (For 2010 Kawasaki, instead of adding more fuel capacity – an extra 6 lbs for every gallon – features an ECO gas-sipping fuel map. How effective it will be is unproven to us at this point.) Second, the windscreen delivers adequate protection, but not the best of the group. Also, the massive fairing shields the rider, but engine heat exiting out the bottom gets quite warm on a rider’s leg – particularly at idle. One final, familiar gripe, the view from the low-placed mirrors delivers a sizable dose of saddlebag in the lower portion. (All these complaints have been addressed in the 2010 redesign as well.)
Another feature we’ve yet to appreciate is the KIPASS system, which uses a key fob that immobilizes the motorcycle outside a 5-6 foot range. Riders can leave the conventional key in the ignition, as it locks in place when immobilized. None of our test riders thought enough of it to rate it a plus rather than a minus, and the phrase “you got that fob thing?” was used repeatedly on our testing jaunt.
On a positive note, the C14 runs with the most intuitive luggage system of the comparison, easy to open and remove. The bags also blend best into the styling and the Concours looks naked without them. Speaking of styling, excepting the large exhaust can, there were no complaints at all about Kawasaki’s oft-complemented looks.
As far as ergonomics go, the Kawasaki’s upright position and easy reach to the bars ensure a comfortable ride. The seat is a good combination of plush yet firm, with the widest perch. Some will appreciate this aspect, others may find the width makes the reach to the street feel higher than its actual 32.1 inches.
It may be third best by our measure this time around, but the Kawasaki is still an impressive machine and the most affordable of the Inline Four offerings.
The Kawasaki enjoys the distinction of being the least expensive of the Inline Fours, ringing in a $14,299 for the ABS unit we sampled. The non-ABS unit costs $13,499, though the $800 and claimed nine-lb weight increase are well worth the safety benefit – in particular for a big bike like the Concours, which is bound to encounter many ABS moments in its touring lifetime.
In the end, the Connie dropped one spot to third in its second shootout go-round. Where the Triumph compromises touring comfort, the Kawasaki yields too much ground in performance handling. And while it has this thrilling monster of a motor, the entire bike seems designed to compensate. The result is a big, heavy bike that feels, well, big and heavy.
Still, there’s no denying its competitive pricing, beefy brakes and adrenaline gland-squeezing motor make it a tempting purchase.