When Kawasaki resurrected the Concours label two years ago with its ZX-14-based (but basically all-new) Concours 14, the factory's original intention was to put more "sport" in the sport-touring category. With the engine and chassis lineage tracing directly to the biggest Ninja, Kawasaki engineers were looking to create a sport-tourer that was more at home carving mountain passes at speed than its forebear. And they definitely delivered on that goal; in our '08 hypersport-tourer comparison ("Long-Range Missiles", June '08), the Concours 14 bested the competition despite a few niggling issues by virtue of its superb all-around performance.
Kawasaki conducts a lot of focus group research with its customers, and they found that while the Concours 14 following was very enthusiastic about their likes on the new model, they were also very adamant on what improvements they felt were needed. And interestingly enough, those improvements all centered on making the C14 more comfortable for the long haul-not so much in any area of corner-carving performance. But with the current economic conditions forcing many manufacturers to hold back on introducing any major updates on their new models, it was easy to assume that the Concours fans would be waiting at least a year or two more for an upgraded model.
So much for the conventional thinking. In a quick upgrade timeline normally seen in the more popular hardcore supersport category, Kawasaki has sprung a heavily updated Concours 14 on the riding public for 2010-a mere two years after its debut. And the list of improvements are numerous and substantial; none of them are just bolt-on updates, and it's easy to see that some serious time (and R&D money) was spent designing and testing the Kawasaki's new components. We were given the opportunity to experience the new Concours 14 firsthand for a day in the mountains above the resort town of Palm Springs, California, and came away knowing that Team Green isn't taking this category lightly.
You Want It, You Got It
We didn't have any complaints about the Concours' ZX-14-derived engine and chassis-and neither did the focus groups-so the beefy 1352cc powerplant and stout monocoque-style frame return basically unchanged. The only real change chassis-wise was to the front suspension, where the oil level in the 43mm inverted fork's tubes was raised to increase resistance to bottoming. The rebound damping/spring preload-adjustability remains on both ends, with the convenient rebound damping knobs on the fork and remote hydraulic spring preload adjuster on the rear shock also making a welcome return.
Slightly revised LCD display...
Slightly revised LCD display panel now has an ambient thermometer, a feature requested by previous Concours owners. There are also displays for the Economical Riding indicator, plus the K-ACT ABS on models so equipped.
Radically revised radiator...
Radically revised radiator outlets in the fairing pull much more heat from the radiator area, helping reduce engine bay temps and thus engine heat radiation on the rider.
When we rode the previous...
When we rode the previous Concours through chilly climes, we were wondering why heated grips weren't available as an option. Lo and behold, stepless-adjustable heat is now standard on the '10 Concours. Note also that the mini-glove box has been relocated to a spot just above the grip heat adjustment knob, with an electric lock.
Heading the list of owner complaints with the previous Concours 14 was engine heat management. Getting baked by rising engine heat on their shins and upper torso while sitting in traffic was the number one gripe, so Kawasaki engineers addressed the problem with better ducting and heat shielding in the more aggressively designed fairing. The open spaces in the trailing edge of the fairing that used to dump hot engine air onto the rider's legs have been sealed up, and the fairing side panels sport much larger radiator exhaust ducts on each side to help evacuate heated air from the area behind the radiator. The fairing is also wider on the trailing edge to direct hot air from the radiator ducts away from the rider's legs as it flows rearward. The exhaust header below the rider's right footpeg now has a shield to prevent heat from radiating upward.
A 2.75-inch-taller windscreen with wider upper portion was also installed to answer requests for better wind protection, with the adjustability feature now accompanied by a new four-preset programmable position setup. When the power is turned off, the windshield retracts to its lowest position; when power is turned back on, the windshield automatically raises to one of four preset positions that are selected via a mode display on the instrument panel. In order to reduce the trailing turbulence that usually accompanies a big windshield and causes helmet buffeting at speed, the bottom edge of the windshield has cuts to direct airflow to vents that exit next to the instrument panel, equalizing air pressure behind the windscreen and reducing turbulence.
During our '08 comparison test, we rued the fact that the Kawasaki lacked the heated grips that its competition had installed as options when riding through cold weather. Apparently others felt the same; the new Concours not only has stepless-adjustable heated grips, but it comes equipped with them standard-not as an extra-cost option. Also helping in this area are rearview mirrors positioned 40mm higher, which not only provides a less-obstructed rear view (a complaint of ours concurred by Concours owners) but also provide additional wind protection for the rider's hands.
The mini-storage glove box has been moved from the front of the fuel tank to the left side fairing inner panel, with an electro-magnet lock that prevents entry when the engine is off. In order to facilitate easy non-magnetic tank bag mounting, two plastic hooks are located at the front of the fuel tank (beats having to fumble with snaking a tankbag belt underneath the steering head).
A heat shield on the right-side...
A heat shield on the right-side exhaust collector is just part of the modifications aimed at eliminating the excessive engine heat that would radiate onto the rider while sitting in traffic.
One addition at the request...
One addition at the request of Concours owners was the new "spare" KIPASS key fob, that is less than half the size of the standard key fob along with a very short range of about four inches, allowing it to be hidden somewhere on the bike in case of emergencies.
Left handlebar switchgear...
Left handlebar switchgear now includes the orange K-ACT mode button on top, along with the KTRC traction control button (to turn on or off) on the bottom. The dash panel made button is now mounted where the high beam flash button used to be, so the high-beam flash is now part of the high/low beam switch.
Biggest upgrade for the 2010 Concours 14, though, is the addition of second-generation K-ACT (Kawasaki Advanced Coactive-braking Technology) ABS and Kawasaki's first traction control system, dubbed the KTRC (Kawasaki Traction Control). The K-ACT ABS is an improved version of the system originally found on the Voyager full-touring model, with a linked front-rear brake setup (actuating either the front brake lever or rear brake pedal singularly activates both front and rear brakes simultaneously to varying degrees) that now has two selectable modes for rider preference. In "standard" mode, the linked effect with the rear brake pedal is reduced in the initial pedal stroke, allowing more control by the rider in sport riding situations. "High Combined" mode employs a more pronounced effect right at the beginning of the rear brake pedal stroke, which Kawasaki says was intended more for "touring and two-up highway use."
With the ABS wheel-speed sensors already in place, the KTRC was a natural add-on to the system. Unlike most traction control systems that pull back on ignition timing and fuel delivery however, the KTRC employs a three-way system of ignition, fuel, and throttle opening (the throttle bodies' secondary throttle plates are ECU-controlled) to reduce power. The KTRC can be disabled via a button on the left handlebar switchgear; the K-ACT (available as a $700 option) cannot be turned off.
The focus groups that Kawasaki interviewed wanted a larger fuel tank on the Concours for longer range, but Kawasaki didn't want to add any more weight and bulk to an already hefty motorcycle. So as an alternative, there's now a Fuel Economy Assistance Mode that accesses a leaner fuel map that is claimed to boost fuel mileage during cruising speeds, according to Kawasaki. This can be selected by holding down the mode button on the left handlebar switchgear (another focus group request, moving it from the previous position on the dashboard that required taking your left hand off the bar to change anything). There is also an "Economical Riding Indicator" on the LCD dashboard display that shows when the rider is in the optimum throttle and rpm setting for maximum fuel efficiency.
Apparently others have had the same complaints about the Concours' somewhat quirky steering characteristics with the stock tires as we did during our '08 comparison test (we found that after initial turn-in, the Concours required an inordinate amount of steering input to hold a lean angle), because the new '10 Concours 14 comes equipped with new versions of the OEM-spec Bridgestone BT-021U rubber front and rear. According to Kawasaki, the front tire has "thicker rubber" in order to provide "sharper handling and longer tire life."
Another customer request was for a "spare" KIPASS key fob. It seems that while most owners liked the KIPASS keyless ignition system (like some luxury automobiles, a coded transmitter in the key fob communicates with the bike's ECU when in range, allowing the bike to be started without a key), they wanted a spare key fob that could be hidden on the bike somewhere for emergencies, while still preventing startup. The new spare key fob is about half the size of the regular unit, and only has a working range of about four inches, so it can be hidden somewhere on the motorcycle without allowing the engine to be started.
Does It All Work?
Rearview mirrors have been...
Rearview mirrors have been repositioned 40mm higher for better rearward vision and additional wind protection for the rider's hands. The saddlebags still intrude upon the rear view, but not as bad as before.
Our day's ride took us up into the San Jacinto mountain range above Palm Springs, so we got ample opportunity to check out the new Concours' handling traits with the revised Bridgestone rubber. Thankfully, the weird steering habits of the old BT-021 tires are gone; you no longer need to keep steering input into the handlebar to maintain a lean angle in turns, and the steering is nice and neutral at all lean angles. Kawasaki reps also stated that these improved steering characteristics should be maintained for the life of the tire, due to the thicker rubber-although we think a revised profile is also in the mix. While the steering is far more neutral at all lean angles and steering response is slightly quicker once into the turn, the initial turn-in requires a tad more effort than the previous model, which would equate to a change in tire profile.
The day's ride also included doing multiple repeat passes in corners for photography, and the constant U-turns and idling put the redesigned bodywork's engine heat management to the test. The verdict? Ambient temps in many areas were in the low 80s, yet we never felt any waves of heat rising up from the engine bay, even when sitting idle for extended periods. Our riding gear consisted of vented summer apparel, so we would've noticed even the slightest heat emanation, yet our torso, legs, and feet remained comfortable throughout the day.
The new windscreen on the...
The new windscreen on the '10 Connie is 1.75 inches taller and substantially wider than the previous unit, providing better protection while still offering excellent aerodynamics with minimal helmet buffeting from trailing turbulence.
While the previous adjustable windshield was one of the better aerodynamic setups in our opinion, the taller and wider adjustable windshield provides noticeably better aerodynamics in nearly all positions, with no buffeting of the helmet or turbulence reaching your shoulders. We say "nearly" because in its lowest position, the taller windshield tends to direct airflow at the rider's helmet instead of the chest area as with the previous shorter unit. We also weren't fans of the new "preset position" setup that retracts the windshield upon shutdown and then raises it to one of four selectable positions when the bike is started. We liked the fact unlike most other adjustable windshields, the previous Concours setup remained in your favorite position after shutdown; having to constantly reposition the windshield was annoying in our opinion (interestingly, this wasn't a customer-requested item).
And what of the KTRC traction control and K-ACT ABS? We purposely ran the new Concours over gravel patches and grabbed a handful of throttle just to see how it worked, and found it functioned as advertised. A more graphic demonstration was given when Kawasaki reps had us ride an outrigger-equipped Concours over a wet plastic runway that had even less traction with the TC on and off. While not an absolute failsafe (remember that it's possible to cause a loss of traction without the throttle), it will definitely help when pulling out of dirt lots or when accelerating over wet pavement.
The K-ACT linked ABS provides a decent amount of feel for an ABS-equipped system, although its progression rate can be a little unnerving for the uninitiated. In standard mode, braking with just the front brake seems like any normal brake system until you start to use the rear brake pedal past a moderate amount; at that point, the braking progression ramps up pretty quickly and you gain stopping power faster than you expected. In High Combined mode, the progression rate just begins much quicker into the pedal travel; it almost feels like a power assist in many instances. Luckily it doesn't cause the chassis to become unruly when the braking power ramps up because of the linked system; instead of the front end diving, the bike just squats down on the suspension more and quickly bleeds off speed. Since the braking is linked regardless, we opted to just use the front brake lever for best results when riding aggressively in the canyons.
Filling In The Blanks
It's not often that a motorcycle manufacturer listens and follows consumer suggestions as closely as Kawasaki has with the new Concours 14. And it's even more rare that a manufacturer would spend the resources to enact those changes in such a tough economic environment. But our brief exposure to the 2010 Concours 14 was enough to know that Kawasaki is onto something, and they're justifiably proud enough to introduce it at a time when everyone else is severely pulling back and standing pat. We've just taken delivery of a '10 Concours test unit, so stay tuned for a full test, as well as a comparison to the rest of the 2010 competition.
2010 Kawasaki Concours 14
MSRP: $14,599/$15,299 ABS
Type: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, DOHC inline four
Bore x stroke: 84.0 x 61.0mm
Compression ratio: 10.7:1
Induction: Digital fuel injection w/40mm throttle bodies, single inj./cyl.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-021U
Rear tire: 190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-021U R
Rake/trail: 26.1 deg./4.4 in. (112mm)
Wheelbase: 59.8 in. (1519mm)
Seat height: 32.1 in. (815mm)
Fuel capacity: 5.8 gal. (22L)
Claimed wet weight (full fuel, ready to ride): 670.3 lb.