2010 Concours 14 Review
There’s no denying the impact Kawasaki made on the sport-touring world when they introduced the Concours 14 just two short years ago. Ballistically fast, thanks to the lightly revised 1352cc Ninja ZX-14 powerplant lurking under its slick, stylish skin, the first generation Concours 14 took the performance envelope in this class and ripped it up.
With it’s superb handling and braking abilities, allied to an all-day comfortable touring package, it was a quantum leap forward from the Concours 1000 that had been with us since 1986. But, near perfect as the C14 came out of the gate, Kawasaki felt they could improve it and set about interviewing owners of the new motorcycle to see what they were thinking. By listening, and coming up with a bunch of fresh ideas themselves, Kawasaki has taken the 2010 Concours 14 to an all-new level. Not only is the motorcycle just as fast and responsive, possible a little more due to new tire technology and revised suspension settings, it is now a whole lot more sophisticated.Packed to the brim with a host of new electronic rider aids, as well as some extra wind protection and heat dispersing changes to the body work, the new 2010 Concours 14 has every base covered, and then some. Heading out of Palm Springs on a crystal clear fall day, where the lack of clouds made the sky appear as if it went on forever behind the ridge of mountains we needed to climb, I couldn’t help being impressed with Kawasaki’s interactive and progressive approach.Swinging through the first set of challenging bends, I settled in behind the adjustable Kawasaki fairing. Enlarged this year to the tune of 2.75 inches taller and a tad wider, I set it on its lowest position to allow the cool, morning breeze to find its way into my helmet. Later, as we gained elevation, I would raise it back up to the highest position and switch on the heated grips as the temperatures hovered around the low 40s. But, for now, the crisp air felt good. If you feel you need it, the smaller screen on last year’s model it is available as an accessory at your Kawasaki dealer, but in my motorcycle mind, down means hot, up means cold, and I can see no reason for change. While we are talking step-less adjustment, it would be a good time to note the standard fitment heated handlebar grips use this system also. This makes it fantastic for fine-tuning when the temperatures drop, as there is nothing worse than being stuck with set positions that either bake your digits or allow them to stay cold.Making the long and steady climb up to Idyllwild in the towering San Jacinto mountains gave me an opportunity to revisit the handling characteristics that make the 2010 Kawasaki Concours 14 so competent when you use the sport side of its intended equation. I have heard minor complaints about the previous models handling, but for a motorcycle weighing around 670 pounds, and built to take you and your missus cross country in style, I think it does an incredible job. Sure it takes a little more thought than an open class sport motorcycle to ride fast, but would you expect any different?Not to rest on its laurels, Kawasaki fitted the 2010 Concours 14 with new Bridgestone BT016 tires. With thicker rubber, these tires are said to last longer. There is also a little more oil in the front fork and, the two changes result in better handling. It still takes a fair amount of body language to initiate faster, or tighter, turns, but the big Concours 14 can be a lot of fun on tight, twisting roads, as I found out after lunch. Diving off the mountain, and out onto some flatter more open country, I put the new motorcycle to the test. Handling the high-speed chase with aplomb it systematically annihilated the long straights I found at the foot of the mountains.One of the major concerns listed by Kawasaki Concours owners was the amount of heat coming from under the bodywork. Using detailed computer drawings to show how the rider gets affected, Kawasaki showed me how the new model dissipates the heat to keep the rider a much cooler. Using restyled bodywork, there is improved venting in the front panels and a new seal between the engine and the fairing. This latter change is aimed at keeping heat away from the rider while at traffic lights, and at low speeds.With so many changes and improvements being found on the new motorcycle, the most important area in my mind is the new electronics package. The motorcycle still uses the Kawasaki Intelligent Proximity Activation Start System (KIPASS) key system, but this year there is a second fob you can hide on the motorcycle that doesn’t activate the ignition until it is a few centimeters away. I’m not a big fan of the system that requires you take the fob with you, and personally would prefer to see a regular ignition key that doesn’t require batteries. Fortunately, it does come with a small card-type key for emergency use.Something I am in complete favor if is the all new for 2010 Kawasaki Traction Control (KTRC…not sure about the extraneous “R”) system. An all-new system for Kawasaki, it is not only highly sophisticated, but it works really well. In fact, Kawasaki is so confident in its abilities, I was let loose on a temporary skid pad on a bike equipped with outriggers. This made for an interesting ride, as I basically pinned the throttle as soon as I rolled onto the slippery surface and moments later rolled safely off it at the other end, with just a few wiggles through the bars. The motorcycle tracked smoothly forward and no amount of abuse on the throttle would change it. Trying the same move without the system engaged produced some hilarious results. I had the motorcycle pretty hacked out sideways before it plopped onto the outriggers.With the sensors that read rear wheel spin also being used for the ABS, the system adds no weight to the Concours 14. As soon as the ECU senses the rear wheel spinning faster than the front, it changes the ignition timing, and cuts the fuel delivery, as well as the airflow to the motor. Where other systems rely on two methods of control, Kawasaki’s Senior Media Relations Coordinator Jeff Herzog told me using three makes things a lot smoother. Having only experienced this type of traction control on BMW’s big touring motorcycles, I can positively say he’s not wrong. KTRC is definitely smoother than its Bavarian counterparts. Another positive to the system is the ability to turn it on or off on the fly. There is a large button on the bottom of the left hand switchgear marked KTRC (imagine that) and a quick press lets you make your choice. This is not a full traction control system, so don’t go cranking on the throttle when leaned way over expecting to do a Jamie Hacking style drive off the corner. It also prevents wheelies.Making things safer when it comes time to slow down or stop, the Kawasaki Concours 14 comes with an updated, linked ABS for 2010. Listed in the press blurb as 20% smaller and 30% lighter, it can’t be switched on or off. You do have a choice at purchase time to buy the Concours 14 without ABS and KTRC. Coming this year with a choice of two ABS settings, the system is accessed by an orange button on the left hand switchgear marked K-ACT. In Standard mode, the amount of front braking is less than in High mode when you operate the rear brake pedal. There is no change in the front-to-rear ratio when you operate the front brake, and the new system allows you more control for the type of riding you want to do. For sportier duties, the choice will be Standard. During touring duties, it can be changed back to High. When you do use the brakes hard enough to activate the system, the amount of pulsing is minimal and, like the traction control, I tested it on the skid pad. Coming quickly safely and smoothly to a halt, it certainly earns its keep.Forcing the ABS into action, the Concours uses the same radial mount front calipers as last year, worked on by a multi-adjustable lever operating a direct action master cylinder. Squeezing the pads against 310mm wave rotors, the system is extremely powerful, but don’t worry about it being touchy or difficult to modulate. Immediately giving you feedback as you start to pull on the lever, it just keeps getting stronger either activating the ABS or giving you the stopping power you were asking for. No surprises from the single disc rear set up, with plenty of lever travel and control before a light pulsing tells you the rear tire would be smoking if you didn’t have ABS.The styling the changes to the Concours are fairly minimal, with the wider fairing lowers being changed for heat dissipation in mind. The exhaust canister has been shortened 40mm, and gets some trendy looking end caps to give it the appearance of being more compact; that’s about it. Always a looker, the deep gloss paint is stunning, and the motorcycle is available in Candy Neptune Blue. It certainly gives the motorcycle a sophisticated look to go with its new technological advancements, but it seems like it would be nice to have a choice of colors.I doubt there was much complaint on the subject of comfort on the previous Kawasaki Concours 14, and with the adjustable fairing it can only be improved this year. The footpeg-to-handlebar relation is certainly on the sporty side of the touring equation, but it doesn’t put any stress on knees or shoulders. Once underway, the view from the flight deck is impressive. Two analog gauges with black faces and white numbers keep the pilot informed of ground speed and engine behavior. The Kawasaki onboard computer LCD screen sits top and center, and is flanked by the usual array of warning lights to the side. There is a plethora of information available from the digital screen, from average mph to average mpg, so planning fuel stops and destinations is going to be slick and easy whilst in motion.Not content with the grocery list of improvements and innovations, Kawasaki has also added a fuel saving device to the mix. Called the Fuel Economy Assistance Mode, it is activated by the mode switch on the left handlebar when you want to switch the Concours 14 to a leaner mapping circuit. Once activated, it works at less than 30% throttle or under 6000 rpm. The system will also let you know when you are being conservative on the throttle by displaying a symbol on LED screen. I’m sure we have all had to ride like this after misjudging a fuel stop out in the middle of nowhere at some point in our riding careers–it happened to Ultimate Motorcycling Editor Don Williams on the ’09 Kawasaki Concours 14 –and now you can purposefully ride like this to conserve gas, and the light will let you know you are doing it right.With revised storage compartments that lock themselves once you are traveling over two mph, lockable hard bags and plenty of room for attaching luggage to the rack on the rear, the 2010 Kawasaki Concours 14 has l your touring needs covered, and then some. As a motorcycle that seriously impressed me the first time around, it has evolved into an even more sophisticated and highly competent motorcycle. All it needs is a built in tea maker and it will be perfect.Photography by Adam Campbell