Back in July, MO took its show on the road to Yosemite National Park to compare the latest crop of sport touring motorcycles, and the result wasn’t that good for the 2014 Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS. Not that it’s a bad bike. Quite the opposite. The Connie is as good as it ever was, but the sport-touring class has advanced to include niceties such as cruise control, quick shifters, and electronically adjustable suspension. So, we have a great motorcycle, powered by an ass-kicking engine derived from the ZX–14R, that is languishing in the eyes of motojournalists who are always looking for what is shiny and new in a technologically evolving class. Meanwhile, Concours fans continue to be as rabid as they ever were about the bike.
Kawasaki’s EICMA 2015 Model Year announcements let it be known that the Concours received exactly zero of the items we deemed necessary to improve its class standing. Clearly the engineers are not listening to us. Still, that snub aside, we were happy to receive an invite to the 2015 model introduction in Carlsbad, CA and were curious to sample how the 2015 Connie would compare to last year’s model.
Let me start by saying this: I love riding in the rain. I always have. From the first day I commuted to work on my first motorcycle along Connecticut’s Merrit Parkway, I fell in love with rain riding – which was good since the wet weather continued for a week. So, I was quite unfamiliar with the sensation of not looking forward to day’s ride in the rain with the Connie. After all, I had Dainese D-Dry jacket and pants to see if they lived up to their name (short answer: absolutely). The bugaboo was that properly testing a new motorcycle in the wet is challenging. So, the Pinlock was mounted in my visor and three pairs of “waterproof” gloves were carried along for a ride organized by Kawasaki’s PR team and attended by the band of miscreants that show up at these events.
Because I want to torture you, let’s take a look at what makes a Concours 14 ABS what it is before we delve into the 2015 changes. Way back in 1986, Kawasaki introduced the Ninja 900-based Concours, delivering a practical combination of power and utility to the sport-touring class. The Connie’s profile remained essentially the same all the way until 2006 – the biggest alteration coming in 1994 with the change to the front end in the form of new forks, fender, brake and wheel.
A major overhaul came in the form of the 2008 Concours 14, which was release in mid–2007. Based around the massively powerful ZX-14 engine and much of its chassis, the Concours was made over from the sport-tourer in sensible shoes into a claimed “top-of-the-line sportbike with touring capabilities.” From the beginning the engine was more than just a tuned-for-torque ZX-14 engine. Kawasaki included niceties like variable valve timing to broaden power delivery in addition to a track-developed slipper clutch to aid in smooth downshifts. Big Green even created a new class on its website, Supersport Touring, for the C-14 and exceeded our expectations in the process.
In 2010, Kawasaki addressed both customer and media concerns about the Concours. To improve rider comfort, the flow of heat from the radiator and engine was directed further away from the rider. Furthermore, the electrically adjustable windscreen was widened and increased in height to provide better weather protection to a variety of rider sizes. Safety was also addressed in 2010 with the inclusion of the linked K-ACT ABS brake system. The KTRC traction control system kept the bike in parity with the sport-touring class trends. Then the song remained the same, varying only in color, until the announcement of the 2015 models.
Right at the outset, we need to address the elephant in the room: the continued lack of cruise control on the Concours 14 ABS. While we’ve openly griped about the lack of this key feature, and it likely was responsible for the bike’s last-place finish in this summer’s sport-touring shootout, we weren’t surprised to see a blank space where cruise control should be on the 2015 spec sheet. Simply put, it ain’t gonna happen until the next major overhaul of the Concours when it will surely get ride-by-wire throttle control. The cost to add just this one feature would be prohibitive unless it is piggybacked on to an engine revamp. When I asked Kawasaki’s reps when we could expect this type of overhaul, all they said was that, based on the history of the model, the Connie would likely get this technology a model year after the ZX–14 did. After that, silence.
So, what’s there to love about the 2015 Concours? How about everything we loved about the previous generation – and then some. From a functional standpoint, riders should note four changes. First, the K-ACT linked braking system was revised for a more “natural” feel which is PR-speak for “we softened the overeagerness of the front brake application by the brake pedal.” Previous models had the front brake apply rather abruptly at certain pedal pressures, and if you were already on the front brake, the combined amount of front brake power could upset the chassis. The second change was a slight lowering of first gear for easier launches. Third, the engineers altered the steering stem seal to address sluggish feeling steering. Finally, in addition to a new slip-resistant cover, the front of the seat was narrowed to allow easier access to the ground.
On our rainy day in the saddle, I was able to verify three of these four updates. Immediately upon throwing my leg over the saddle, I noticed that it was easier to flat foot the C-14. Although my 32-in. inseam didn’t struggle previously, paddling the big bike around the parking lot was significantly easier – a fact I verified by sampling one of the available 2014 models on our ride.
Although wet riding prohibits the ability to really test a bike’s handling, because of the premium placed on control inputs in slick situations, I was hyper-aware of the improved linked brakes. In the K-ACT’s standard setting on the old system, I would have been hesitant to drag the rear brake mid-corner because of the unpredictability of the front brake’s application. With the updated system, I frequently found myself softening my acceleration with the rear brake to no ill-effect. The more aggressive linked setting exhibited about the same intrusiveness as on last year’s model, and I, frankly, would never use it. Having this linked system in its new form makes it quite useable, and fairly quick stops can comfortably be made with only the brake pedal (which is still poor braking technique, despite the technological assist).
The ratio change to its first gear, although slight, is noticeable when pulling away from a start. Functionally, the shorter gearing makes it easier to get under way. The downside is that when riding in tight first gear corners, the shift to second comes sooner.
In the rain-shortened ride, I honestly couldn’t feel any difference in the steering effort as a result of the change in the stem seal. This will have to wait until we have the opportunity for a full test of the Concours.
A change that sounds small but is huge from a rider comfort perspective is the inclusion of an adjustable vent in the windscreen. Anyone who’s spent time behind a big windshield knows that they can suffer from two maladies: buffeting from the air off the top and a back pressure pushing forward towards the handlebar. The Connie’s new vent alleviates these problems. While I couldn’t find any effect of the vent in the lowest windshield setting, the reduction in noise around my helmet (I’m 5’11”) with the vent open and the windshield in its highest position was remarkable. Even in the worst of the rain, I kept the vent open because I preferred the improved air-flow. As we rode, I looked at the differing heights of the riders and the associated windshield heights, and every rider I talked to said the vent improved the calmness in the cockpit.
The other upgrades that Kawasaki noted were mostly cosmetic: silver instrument bezels, extending the exhaust’s heat shield to the muffler, a tank pad, etc. One functional change that I was not able to discern in the limited time riding at speed was the effect of the stiffer shock settings. Wet roads just don’t allow for high-g cornering.
For 2015, Kawasaki has polished the Concours 14 ABS with some appreciated functional upgrades while actually reducing the MSRP from the 2014 model. It ships in a choice of Candy Lime Green and Metallic Spark Black for $15,499. For those who want to save a little more money, the 2014 Concours price was dropped to match the 2015 model, but dealers have been given a $1,000 incentive to make last year’s model more attractive. While the Concours still doesn’t have cruise control, it still compares quite favorably to the other sport-tourers on price, making it a sizable value for the level of performance it offers.
|2015 Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS Specifications|
|Engine Type||1,352cc, four-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four valves per cylinder, inline-four with variable valve timing|
|Bore and Stroke||84.0 x 61.0 mm|
|Fuel System||DFI® with four 40mm throttle bodies|
|Ignition||TCBI with Digital Advance|
|Final Drive||Tetra-Lever shaft drive|
|Front Suspension||43mm inverted, telescopic fork with adjustable rebound damping and spring preload, 4.4 inches of travel|
|Rear Suspension||Tetra-Lever with stepless rebound damping adjustment and remote spring preload adjuster 5.4 inches of travel|
|Front Brake||Dual floating 310mm petal-style rotors with four-piston calipers, ABS|
|Rear Brake||Single 270mm petal-style rotor, two-piston caliper and ABS|
|Front Tire||120/70 ZR17|
|Rear Tire||190/50 ZR17|
|Seat Height||32.1 inches|
|Claimed Curb Weight||690.2 lb.|
|Fuel Capacity||5.8 gal.|
|Available Colors||Candy Lime Green, Metallic Spark Black|
|Warranty||36 Month Limited Warranty|