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Kawasaki’s 50th Anniversary at The Quail Motorcycle Gathering

Kawasaki corral at Quail Lodge
Kawasaki corral

Kawasaki needs no introduction to riders the world over and is celebrating 50 years in the USA. It was the first foreign vehicle manufacturer to build its products in the US and thus spawned American Kawasaki Motorcycle Corp.

Per Kawasaki’s PR department, “The fledgling entrepreneurs negotiated with several private companies around the United States to distribute the first bikes, which were small two strokes sold under the brand name of Omega. But U.S. riders wanted more excitement, so the factory quickly responded with a pair of potent rotary valve twins called the Samurai and Avenger. Here was the first indication that Kawasaki would become a company specializing in high-performance fun.

“In 1969, the incredible Mach III 500cc two-stroke triple launched Kawasaki’s performance image around the world. By the time of the legendary four cylinder 900cc Z1 in 1973, Kawasaki was a major power in the motorcycle industry, and KMC was building its own unified distribution network to offer dealers and customers better service. “

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Yet motorcycles are only a small portion of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. who, since 1878, have been building, or have built, trains, planes, helicopters, motorcycles, watercraft, ATVs and automobiles as well as portions of the Boeing 777. They are constructing parts of the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge which, when completed, will be the longest suspension bridge in the world. They build gigantic ocean-going ships, massive industrial engines, civil engineering and construction machinery like the two tunnel boring machines the linked England to France. Few OEM motorcycle manufacturers can claim the sheer scale and broad know-how that make up this global powerhouse company and it shows in their lineup.

With all they do, Kawasaki has commemorated this golden anniversary, in part, by organizing its Riders of Kawasaki (ROK) group and joining the Why We Ride to the Quail trek from Moorpark, Calif., to the Carmel happening via Pismo Beach and Monterey.

Kawasaki 1964 M5 Pet scooter
Kawasaki 1964 M5 Pet scooter

Kawasaki showed off a handful of rarely seen examples of the early days at the 2016 Quail Motorcycle Gathering, including the 1964 Kawasaki M5 Pet scooter, 1966 B8, 1966 A1 Samurai, 1969 W2TT Commander, 1973 Z1 900 and the 1979 KZ1000-D1 (ZIR TC2). My favorite was the Z1 probably because I had one back in the day. My 1974 Z1 was, at the time, the epitome of cool and fast. I loved riding that bike around in the summer at my, then, home in Aspen, Colorado. I wish I had kept it. The W2TT is another model with which I resonate and, I’d bet, if they built an updated version of that bike now it would sell.

Even though the Quail Gathering focuses on older bikes, and I find something to like in each one, it’s the new bikes that sing me the Siren’s song. I rode their Concours 14 ABS sport touring machine during this weekend and it delivered everything I wanted and needed on this 800-mile weekend of riding twisty roads mixed with some highway dashes and sprints up and down Pacific Coast Highway 1.

There’s more on the Connie further down but, surrounded by some of Kawasaki’s other new models, I was reminded of what a great lineup this company produces now. Their Ninja H2 and H2R come to mind along with so many other choices like the Supersport line up of six 600-1,400cc Ninjas, six Sport models led by the Z1000 and including the brand new Z125 Pro, the three Versys ADV-style bikes, six Vulcan tourers, the everlasting KLR650, and the 10 KX and KLX off-road and motocross machines. There’s something here for everyone.

Old or new? You decide.

The Quail Gathering

Category-Winning BMW vintage motorcycle
Category winning BMW

This year marked the 8th annual event located at the lovely Quail Lodge and Golf Club in Carmel, California, only a few miles inland from the coast. The place was packed and the air was rarified with collectors and motorcycle lovers rubbing elbows, talking and gawking over rare bikes in every condition. Many had nail polish-like paint while others wore their barn-find fresh rusty patina with pride.

Each year has a different theme. This year, organizer’s celebrated the “Evolution of the Motorcycle” and past themes have been: “military motorcycles and the men and women who rode them”, “evolution of the motorcycle and 100 Years of Speed Trials at the Bonneville Salt Flats”, the “20th anniversary of the Ducati Monster”, “A Century of Racing at Isle of Man”, “Significant Marques from Around the World” and the “History of the Motorcycle” in 2009, the year of inception.

Prize categories this year were: Pre-1916 Motorcycles, 40th Anniversary of Superbike, BMW Classics, Extraordinary Bicycles, Antique, Japanese, British, Italian, Other European, Competition On Road, Competition Off Road, American, Custom/Modified, Scooter and Chopper.

Keanu Reeves was there with his Arch Motorcycle Company bikes, for the ubiquitous celebrity sighting, along with his partner Gard Hollinger. They spent a lot of time with the bikes and interested riders. This friendly mingling was repeated all throughout the sunny day as owners and fans were treated to live music, chatted, old friendships were rekindled and everyone wore a smile.

Organizers claimed “more than 350 motorcycles on display and 2,500 guests in attendance.” I didn’t count but the place was packed and a gourmet buffet lunch was served for hours satiating even the hungriest guests.

If you can make it to Carmel next May, or any May, The Quail is an event that avid lovers of motorcycles should not miss visiting at least once.

Why We Ride and Pediatric Brain Foundation

Campaigned Africa Twin Honda
Campaigned Africa Twin

Bryan Carroll and James Walker are the creators of the WWR film and community. I will let them tell the story.

UMC: Briefly, what is WWR and how does it make an impact?

WWR: WWR is a really a world-wide community of riders and people interested in motorcycling that were inspired by the movie and others that share the same passion and love of motorcycling and connection. We, as a group and place to meet, have a profound impact on the motorcycling world because we not only reach out to people but provide a place for all to share their stories, learn and talk. Inspire. Educate. Celebrate.

UMC: Why ride to The Quail?

WWR: We wanted to help connect riders and non-riders alike to an amazing event like The Quail and learn about the rich history of motorcycling and experience the motorcycle culture we love.

UMC:  How many years have you been doing this ride?

WWR: This is the second WWR ride and we are proud it that it has doubled both in attendance and the contribution the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

UMC: Are there any other rides you do? Are the other geographical areas besides California?

WWR:  Through WWR MoTovational events we are increasing the number of events and rides. We hope that people do rides and events to get together and ride and donate to PBTF.

UMC:  How can people get involved?

WWR:  Join us on our Facebook, Instagram and our Why We Ride website! Share your stories, photos and help others to learn to ride.

UMC:  Is there any statement you want to make?

WWR:  It’s not about where you ride to. It’s about who you ride with that’s important, says Bryan Carroll, Director of Why We Ride for both the movie and community.

Kawasaki’s Riders of Kawasaki along with Indian Motorcycle are OEM sponsors of the ride, among many other industry companies who have chosen to be involved and support WWR. It is hoping to add more OEMs to the roster as this is a non-denominational ride incorporating most every type of two-wheeled conveyance as well as one sidecar rig this year.

Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS

Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS in front of the Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, Calif.
Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS in front of the Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, Calif.

I can sum up the Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS in one sentence. It’s a silky-smooth, 700-pound cruise missile capable of hauling riders and a lot of gear on paved roads, at almost any speed, to any destination.

As is said of many large, new bikes, once under way the C 14 feels as though it has shed 200 pounds. It is well balanced and comfortable to ride all day with a roomy cockpit and a just-slightly forward lean to the grips for my size 34 sleeve length. The smooth idle and quiet exhaust note may be deceiving as there is incredible power and torque available anywhere above 3,000 rpm.

At 7,000 the motor changes character dramatically as it shows its fangs on the way to the 10,500 rpm redline. In real world riding, even at a very fast pace the pilot rarely needs to twist the throttle that far but if he does then it’s easy to forget this is a heavy touring bike and one is more likely to think he’s straddling a ZX-14R, Kawasaki’s hyperbike. Kawasaki does not publish horsepower or torque numbers and we didn’t do a dyno run but my butt-dyno estimates better than 160 horsepower at the rear wheel and massive twisting force.

The cornering ability of the Connie matches its acceleration and it will allow the rider to brake hard without any wobble, bend it into a turn to full lean, add throttle at the apex and rocket out to the next curve. Even the tightest hairpins on the Coast Highway did not faze this bike and, once set up for the turn, carves a perfect line with little or no geometry or line changes when encountering uneven pavement or bumps mid-corner.

The chassis is very stiff, as befits a bike of this weight and power yet the ride is supple. I found the suspension a tad harsh when I first received the bike but 1/8 turn of the front and rear adjusters did the trick and kept the necessary tightness but eliminated the hard hits over rough pavement. The drivetrain was tight with no slop and the Tetra-Lever shaft drive exhibited no shaft jacking or any unwanted feelings.

Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS 2016 price
Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS 2016

The Brembo dual 310mm rotors up front and the 270mm singleton in the rear may not be Brembo’s top of the line but very hard braking was not only excellent but felt like it was power assisted and allowed one or two-finger braking from any speed.

Fit and finish were excellent overall. The electrically operated windscreen is fabulous and travels from its collapsed position to high enough to block almost all draft and quiet the air circulating around my helmet.

The panniers are easy to use and remove and the cabin electronics are comprehensive and intuitive. I averaged about 35 mpg and, with the 5.8-gallon fuel tank, had a generous range. Overall this Concours is a fine machine for almost any mission and helps the miles just fade away into my rear view mirror.

The only things missing are a USB port in the locking dash box (although there is a 12v port on the dash) and cruise control, which would have been nice on the slog home from Paso Robles.

Kawasaki’s 50th at Quail Motorcycle Gathering – With Why We Ride | Photo Gallery