Kawasaki’s had a Concours in its lineup for years now, but the current Concours is unchanged since 2015. That’s a long time in the motorcycle world. It’s a big, heavy “gentleman’s express” sport tourer – more tourer than sport thanks to its signature shaft drive.
With so many alternatives on the market, I slung my short-booted leg over the wide and comfortable saddle to find out more about the bike. What’s it got that other sport tourers don’t, to make you want to choose it in a lineup?
First, here’s what the Concours has that’s really, really good: Shaft drive, for ease of cross-country maintenance; a sort-of keyless ignition; large hard saddlebags and an equally large trunk (which is optional for about $800); and linked, ABS brakes. The windshield is adjustable and turbulence-free, and the engine is powerful enough to go all day at whatever legal and quasi-legal speed you choose. And it costs less than the competition.
Well, here’s what the Concours has that’s not so good: Shaft drive, for extra weight and that never-quite-sporty-enough feeling; no cruise control; an antiquated instrument cluster that you don’t mind until you realize it’s only because you’re old and nostalgic; and a windshield that doesn’t quite rise high enough to complete the job.
Uh-oh. When you put it like that…
What’s it all about?
The Kawasaki Concours is powered by a retuned version of the 1,352 cc engine that’s in the ZX-14R, which means it makes 160 hp and 100 lbs.-ft. of torque. In a normal world, that should be more than enough for anyone, but don’t forget that Kawasaki now also makes the Ninja H2 SX, which is good for 210 hp and 101 lbs.-ft. All of a sudden, spotty-faced wannabes clutching spec sheets on their smartphones will sneer at the Concours as if it’s some kind of sub-par, subterranean scoffmobile that only their grandparents would ride. “A hundred and sixty horsepower?” they’ll jeer from the cheap seats. “I’m surprised it can even get rolling.”
Of course, those of us with a few klicks beneath our boots (and probably a few extra clicks on our belts and our chinstraps) will recognize the Concours may not be cutting-edge, but it’s plenty powerful enough to get the job done, even lugging around 305 kg of curb weight. In fact, when the Concours was redesigned in 2015, it was given a shorter first gear ratio to make it not only a little quicker off the line but a little easier to control at lower speed.
Even when you top up the gas tank to include the weight of 22 litres of fuel – which you need to do more often than I’d have liked, with an average consumption of 6.25 L/100 km at the mercy of my right wrist – the Concours is easy to control at low speed. Perhaps it’s the comfortable posture, with a seat that’s 815 mm off the ground, or perhaps it’s just that the whole bike feels solid and well-balanced.
You’ll look fairly cool to those in the know when you start the bike, because you can keep the electronic key fob in your pocket, and just turn the integrated key to activate the ignition. In other words, no fumbling to find the key – it’s always in the bike. It looks like a circular knob, a part of the machine until you remove it, and yes, if you press the lock button on the separate fob when you leave, it will lock the key to the bike and deactivate it. There’s no need to press anything when you return, because the key senses the fob nearby and unlocks itself.
This seems incredibly clever until you realise most cars have had this feature for years. Even so, it’s a welcome addition to the motorcycle world.
Pulling away, the bike is extremely smooth and there’s just the faintest tingle in the bars. I couldn’t feel any twist from the shaft drive, which sport riding purists decry for its extra weight and, potentially, its pull to one side under load. Old Beemers and Guzzis suffered from their shaft drives, but like turbo lag on a sport bike, this is now largely a thing of the past.
At the lights, you’ll be beaten handily off the line by one of those lanky young riders on an R6, or a lottery winner on that Ninja H2 SX, but you’re probably old enough to not care. You’re still quicker than almost every car on the road, after all, and you’re probably a lot more comfortable.
Up to speed
On the highway, just point the Concours where you want to go and it’ll take you there with no fuss. Try and give it reasonable notice, though – even with a 43 mm inverted fork and adjustable damping, that 17-inch front tire doesn’t really like surprises. On the back, a hefty gas-charged, adjustable shock keeps everything in place, and the bike feels like a train on rails. High side winds don’t have much effect.
However, there’s no cruise control, and that’s a major flaw. Riders of motorcycles like this really appreciate cruise control, especially on North American interstates, where it helps keep speed in check and also relieves tired wrists. To be honest, sitting on Hwy. 401 for the first time on the Concours, I couldn’t believe there was no cruise and I jabbed away in vain at the many buttons and switches on the handlebars to find it. Eventually, I pulled over at a rest stop and checked the owner’s manual – yes, I admit I needed to look at it – just to confirm it didn’t exist. All the competition has cruise control, including the H2 SX SE, so why not the Concours? Duh!
The other issue at cruising speed on the highway is the electrically-adjustable windshield. It’s actually a very clever design, incorporating a little window that opens at two different settings to alleviate any turbulence from eddies of wind that get trapped behind the screen. But it’s not quite tall enough for my almost-6-foot frame, and even at full height, the slipstream just clips the top of my helmet and forces me to hunch for a quieter, smoother ride.
I’m not moaning here about being unable to look through the screen – the rider’s line of sight should ideally be about five centimetres, or two inches, over the top of the screen, for the clearest view (otherwise, you might as well be in a car with the windows closed). No, I’m moaning about the windshield not having just that bit of extra height to make all the difference for a smooth, relaxing and protected ride. To be honest, electrically-adjusted windshields are a relatively new thing for most bikes – the GoldWing’s only just signed up for them, fer chrissakes – and for me, most bikes have this failing. The Yamaha FJR, which has had an electrically-adjustable screen for 15 years now, is no better.
Okay, enough whinging. The traction control, which can be turned off at the handlebar for some reason that escapes me [Have you never wanted to do a burn-out? Ed.], probably worked very well. I don’t really know, because I never slid out, even on slippery or dirt roads. It’s probably because I’m an exceptionally skilled and talented rider, but there should still be credit where it’s due to the Kawasaki TRaction Control system (KTRC), even if it does have a silly acronym.
And when it comes time to slow down, the Concours has fabulous brakes. The ABS works very well and the linked system excels: squeeze the front lever and it hauls in both calipers at the front and the disc at the back; press the rear pedal and it only applies one caliper at the front, together with the rear. This is a tried and true system that works. It may not be leaning ABS, but it’s affordable and effective.
So do you want one?
There’s no nice way to say this: The Concours feels dated, with old style gauges, no drive modes, a big, clunky dial on the side panel for the heated grips (and no available heated seat), enough plastic body work to wrap a battle cruiser, and side slashes on the fairing that remind me of Zac’s antiquated Suzuki RF900.
But then again, the Kawasaki Concours costs $18,599. Compare that to the competition and it’s a great deal. The smaller Yamaha FJR is the closest in price, starting at $19,699, and then the brand-new BMW R1250 RT starts at $22,050 (and has more tempting options that will probably suck you in). That’s about it. The Triumph Trophy is long gone and so is the Suzuki Hayabusa and Honda ST1300 – there just aren’t enough gentlemen left to warrant these gentleman’s express bikes, I guess. People want sportier sport-tourers, or cruisier cruisers, but mostly, people want adventure tourers. In the FJR / R1250 RT niche, the Concours undercuts them both and blows them away with its horsepower.
So by all means, diss the Concours if you have to have the latest and greatest. Spend your money on power you don’t really need, or on a cruise control system that you do. But spare a thought for the sport-touring riders who are happy in their own leather suits, who are blowing cars into the weeds with every crank of the throttle, and who might have made it all the way to Phoenix, with money to spare, by the time you’ve finished reading this. There’s a method to their madness, and they don’t care what you think.
2018 Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS Key Specs
Engine: 1,352 cc inline-four
Curb weight: 305 kg
Power: 160 hp @ 8,800 rpm
Torque: 136 N-m (100 lbs.-ft.) @ 6,200 rpm
Wheelbase: 1,520 mm
Length: 2,230 mm
Seat height: 815 mm
Brakes: Dual semi-floating 310 mm petal discs, dual radial-mount, opposed 4-piston, 4-pad at front; Single 270 mm petal disc, opposed 2-piston at rear.
Front suspension: 43 mm inverted fork with adjustable rebound damping and spring preload.
Rear suspension: Bottom-Link Uni-Trak, gas-charged shock, Tetra-Lever, with adjustable rebound damping and spring preload.
Tires: 120/70ZR17M/C (58W) front, 190/50ZR17M/C (73W) rear.