Kawasaki Headquarters, Orange County, California: The press office steers me toward its Concours 14 supersport touring model instead of the smaller bike I had asked for. "It's the most comfortable bike you'll ever ride," I'm told, and an hour later I'm cruising Highway 5 wondering how 1352cc and 650 pounds could feel so . . . well, so darn light and nimble.
Cruising Highway 5 or tooling along Sausalito's bumpy waterfront park, the Concours offers both power and comfort.
No wonder. The Concours 14 is based on Kawasaki's Ninja ZX-14 superbike, and as I accelerate onto the freeway, my inner teenager appears. She smiles, she twists the throttle, and she pops a wheelie. Scared back into maturity, now at least I know what 156 horsepower can do!
Properly piloted by an experienced, mature adult, the shaft driven, 1352cc, 4-cylinder engine accelerates smoothly and quietly. I shift up to fifth, and up again into fuel-saving overdrive, then settle into the gel seat to enjoy the ride.
Fit and Form
Maybe it's the smaller front wheel that makes it look like Carla's going really fast, even when she's not.
Settling in, I note how truly comfortable I am. When I first looked at the bike I thought I might have to haul it out on tiptoes. Instead, it came up off the side stand with less effort than I expected and both my feet landed flat on the ground despite the high-ish seat height of 32.5 inches.
Height-challenged riders can lower the Concours 14 a little more than an inch with the Low Gel Seat option, or look for an aftermarket seat with a narrower saddle. Some owners have taken even more inches off by replacing the suspension lever link with lowering links that ZX-14 drag-racing riders like to use—a method not sanctioned by Kawasaki. You can also get lower by turning the suspension all the way down—just turn the big, friendly knob located in front of the rear wheel.
Adjusting the rear suspension is as easy as turning this knob.
At nearly 5 feet 8 inches with a 31.5-inch inseam (32.5 if you count the boots), Carla's feet are flat, elbows are slightly bent and, happily, there's zero pressure or strain on her wrists.
The gel seat cradles Carla into perfect posture though there's enough wiggle room to vary the bend in her knees. The positioning of the foot pegs tucks her legs neatly into the curve of the 5.8-gallon fuel tank. Best of all, the adjustable shift and brake handles are close enough for her small hands to grab without stretching.
I'm astounded that a big bike like this is so easy to handle. It's almost 31 inches wide at the handlebars and nearly 40 at the saddlebags -- definitely worth noting if you’re a California lane-splitter. The overall length of the bike is close to 90 inches. It's balanced well enough that I can grab it by the handholds and roll it around my driveway, and I don't have any problem hauling in and out of parking spaces like some big touring bikes.
Teenager on the Twisties
The dual headlamps make it easier for drivers to see Carla.
On rides through the mountains it's clear that this machine is a precision instrument. Like a dressage horse, it does exactly what you tell it to. Though I've been riding for several decades, with this machine I wish I had some track days and more sport-bike experience under my belt to really take advantage of the technology put into this bike.
The big smile after coming down out of the twisties on the Marin Headlands.
Each end of the bike stays put just where it's supposed to. Under no circumstances does the steering wobble. The frame is solid. Even when I'm surprised by potholes and badly-cambered curves the tires stick to the asphalt with reassuring security. After a few-hundred confidence-building miles I let my inner teenager scream around at 7000 rpm, assured that the ABS brakes are there to slow her down, quickly and smoothly.
The ABS has four calipers on the front disc.
It can take a lot to stop more than 800 pounds (bike + rider + gear) at speeds bordering on illegal. I find braking a bit grabby at extremely slow speeds, though eventually I get used to touching them more lightly.
The Concours 14 loves smooth freeway asphalt but takes bumpy backroads with ease. The gel seat might have something to do with that, but the easily adjustable suspension was also right on. I never felt the need the change it during the 2500 miles I spent with the Concours, except when I picked up a pillion rider.
Hi-Tech for Hi-Convenience & Hi-Awareness
The Concours 14 was designed to make everything as convenient as possible for the rider, down to the super high-tech KI-PASS system that lets you leave the key in the ignition at all times. You can keep the transponder in your pocket and when you are on the bike the signal unlocks the receiver, ensuring that only you can start the bike.
The KI-PASS wireless transponder- with a small extra key that fits into the back of the unit- zips into your jacket pocket so you never have to fumble when it's time to rumble.
The KI-PASS receiver stays in the ignition and is activated when the transponder is within a short distance. The FSS position lets you take out the key to unlock the saddlebags. The LOCK position locks the front wheel.
On the dash, digital readouts display current and average speed and mileage, miles per gallon, fuel level, range to empty, the gear you’re in, tire pressure, date and time. There are also two trip meters.
Readout view is changed by pushing the buttons between the analog gauges that display speed and RPMs. The triangular knobs to the left and right under the dials are headlight beam adjusters.
Long distance touring is my passion, and so I was especially interested in the touring features of the bike. The hard-case saddlebags are beautifully integrated, and for longer trips, I would want the optional top case. All are removable and lockable.
The saddlebags hold one full-face helmet each, with room to spare.
The adjustable windshield is great for mixed city and freeway use. It buffers your chest but, even at full height, not your head, so some long-distance touring riders will want the optional taller windscreen.
Carlas says, "I feel like James Bond as I press the button under my left thumb to raise or lower the windscreen, sometimes just to entertain kids in SUVs stuck in traffic jams."
There's an accessory outlet under the gauges to power your cell phone, iPod, or GPS—or you can wire the GPS to the battery, as mine was.
Carla borrowed a Garmin Zumo GPS with glove-friendly touch screen and loved it, especially when looking for a motel in a strange city.
For long-distance trips I would probably add a tank bag, which would render the glove box on top of the gas tank fairly useless. I did, however, appreciate the easy access to sunglasses and other small items.
The glove box is handy for small items you might want to get to during a wait at a stoplight.
The 5.8-gallon gas tank provides great range. I regularly rode the bike more than 225 miles without getting to the flashing-light stage. Fuel economy is advertised at 36 mpg, but in my 2500-mile test ride I averaged 41.7—and this was with a good dose of lower-gear, aggressive sport riding mixed in with overdrive cruising. The "current" mpg display really did encourage me to become much more conscious of how riding behavior affects consumption.
One long-distance touring consideration I found slightly disconcerting was the heat thrown on my legs during a couple of long, very hot rides stuck on slow-moving Southern California freeways. The engine is water-cooled and a fan also disperses heat away from the engine. I asked a mechanic friend who owns the Honda equivalent of the Concours, and searched some forums, and it seems that most supersport bikes have this heat dissipation problem. It seems that if you want this much power, you gotta take the heat.
I did carry a passenger once—another biker stranded with a flat tire. Adding 160 pounds to my 135 and raising the center of gravity definitely deteriorated the handling, but then, passengers are normally lighter and shorter than riders. In retrospect, I might have adjusted the suspension. My passenger dislikes riding on the back (as most riders do), and complained that his legs were forced over the saddlebags into a static position. However, he thought the seat was quite comfortable (for the short, two-hour ride at least), and the windshield was high enough to protect him, too.
The Concours 14 is no bagger. Its two-up features seem more appropriate for a long weekend than a two-up cross-country trip. The amount of storage space on the bike (adding the top box) would probably do for minimalist travelers. The gel seat in back is much nicer than most sport-bike seats but definitely not as large as the riders seat (though exploring the Kawasaki forums showed some possible solutions), so riding hours may be limited before you start getting the knock-knock jokes on the back of your helmet.
The Ultimate Chick Bike?
I spent two months with the Concours on California freeways and winding mountain byways, on trips to the grocery store and marathon weekend excursions. The press folks were right: it's an exceptionally comfortable bike. It's quiet, the ergonomics are as precise as the response and handling and, despite its size, it accelerates like a jackrabbit. I must confess I have never leaned over quite this far on the twisties and come up smiling.
A big bike that looks this good is something worth smiling about, too. It was rare that I arrived at any destination without admiring looks and conversation. Kawasaki says that only around 1 percent of Concours 14 buyers are women, but I don't see any reason why an experienced sport-bike rider wouldn't consider upgrading to the Concours with its precision handling, high styling, and long-distance comfort.
Specs at a Glance: 2008 Kawasaki Concours 14
Seat Height: 32.5 inches
Fuel Capacity: 5.8 gallons
Weight: 680 pounds
MSRP: starts at $13,499
Who wants the Concours 14? With its combination of supersport power and high style, it's the ultimate sport-touring bike for the experienced sport bike rider who wants to upgrade to long-distance comfort and occasional two-up travel. We think it's priced right for all you get.
About the Author
Carla King is a long-distance touring motorcyclist who travels to exotic places and writes about it. Her Motorcycle Misadventures series includes stories about trips in America, China, India, and Europe. You can buy her book (reviewed on WRN) and read her dispatches on the web at MotorcycleMisadventures.com.
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