2012 BMW K1600GT vs. 2011 Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS [Video]
Sport-Touring taken to the next level
2011 Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS
$14,599 ($15,599 as tested)
It’s hard to call any motorcycle with a 1352cc inline-Four slow, especially one that borrows its engine from the ZX-14, but in this comparison it’s simply outclassed by the BMW. Then again, with a two cylinder and 297cc disadvantage, the Kawasaki Concours 14 faced an uphill battle from the start. Both Kevin and I have spent some time on the Concours in the past, but our trip to Laguna aboard the revised-in-2010 edition would be our first time putting significant mileage on the new and improved Super-Sport Tourer from Kawi.
In case you missed it, Pete rode the new edition at its launch last year and came away reasonably impressed. New additions like heated grips, linked ABS (K-ACT) and traction control (KTRC) were notable steps forward when compared to the previous model.
Take the BMW out of the picture and the Connie’s power output is sure to put a grin on anyone’s face. Our unit pumped out 131.8 horsepower and 88.1 ft.-lbs. of torque, though you have to get the engine spinning pretty fast before it reaches those numbers. When comparing the overlay of the BMW and Kawasaki’s graphs, it’s clear that the latter struggles at low rpm, which is to be expected considering its size disadvantage, but is still strange considering its use of variable valve timing. “I was unimpressed with the Connie’s lower-rev power output, making top-gear highway roll-ons underwhelming, especially for a bike with almost 132 hp,” says Duke. Relatively speaking, the Kawi feels gutless at low rpm.
To give a better visual of each bike’s performance, Kevin’s notes plainly spell out the power difference between the two machines: “Next to the K16, the C-14 is clearly beaten in a 70-mph roll-on contest. Then we did a fourth-gear roll-on in which the Kawi edged away from the GT. However, it wasn’t until later that I found out Troy didn’t get the fourth-gear directive and kept the Beemer’s tranny in sixth!”
Despite the fact that the Connie likes to be higher in the rpm range before it really moves, the smooth-shifting transmission makes accommodating that request very simple. Click down a few gears and the C-14 rips forward and blasts down a road like a sportbike. From the saddle, triple-digit speeds seem uneventful. Besides seeing terra firma pass by quickly in your peripheral, the only indication of increased speed is the vibration that comes through from the bars. “Even with dual counterbalancers, a fair amount of vibration is transmitted to its rider through the bars and pegs,” notes Kevin. “It’s not bad, but it stands out next to the BMW’s ultra-smooth inline-Six.”
More than 800 miles up and down and around the California coast proved rather comfy on both bikes, really. The Concours’ seat is slightly broader than the BMW’s, with decent padding in the cushion for the long haul. The electric windscreen, while decent, doesn’t go as high as the GT’s. Neither Kevin nor I had major complaints about the screen, but taller riders might fare differently. The Kawi’s bars are a touch further away than the BMW’s, but the big difference between the two bikes is how much closer together the bars are on the Connie compared to the span between the K16’s bar ends.
The C-14’s narrowly spaced grips aren’t necessarily a significant drawback, but, we would have preferred the leverage from wider bars when dealing with the chief complaint of the Concours 14: it’s extremely heavy steering. It’s a problem Kawasaki has tried to address with the updates last year, but when steering the Concours 14, constant pressure on the inside bar is required to maintain a consistent arc through a corner. And in case you’re wondering about the condition of our tires, we received our test bike with brand new Bridgestone BT021s and the problem was noticed simply leaving Kawasaki’s parking lot.
“It’s by far the worst aspect of the C-14,” notes a perplexed Duke. “It turns a twisty road into a high-effort chore, and wrestling it down Highway 58 gave my palm a blister.” Indeed, a long set of switchbacks isn’t something you look forward to on the Concours. It’s an interesting and puzzling issue as to why the Concours acts like this. While its 26.1-degree rake and 4.4 inches of trail aren’t sportbike-like numbers, it’s still relatively sporty, even more so than the BMW, with its 27.8-degree rake and an almost identical 4.3 inches of trail.
Wider bars for the Kawi would have been nice to have, but even more desirable is a 190/55 rear tire (which the BMW has) instead of the 190/50 that comes standard.
After our testing for this comparo, we were able to sample our Connie with a 190/55-17 Bridgestone BT016, and the difference in steering response is significant. Ridden back to back with a stock-tired C-14, the 55-series tire offers slightly quicker turn-in response, but more importantly is the vastly improved linearity of its roll rate. The bike with the 50-series tire requires continual inside bar pressure while in a corner, making the bike feel clumsy and high-effort. The 55 turns in smartly to whatever angle is required, then just remains leaned over at that angle without further minding. The riding experience is much smoother and more relaxed while riding more confidently and faster. We’d strongly advise Concours owners to get a 190/55 when new rubber is required.
Heavy steering aside, we did notice the suspension to have the right level of firmness. No, it doesn’t have fancy electronic suspension like the BMW, but rear preload is adjustable via an easy-to-reach hand dial and front rebound damping is also adjustable without tools.
Stopping power from both bikes is very impressive. Our test unit is the up-spec ABS model with full floating 310mm discs and four-piston calipers up front linked to a single 270mm disc in the back via Kawasaki’s K-ACT anti-lock braking system. This system allows the rider to choose between two levels of linked braking. We found that the more aggressive level stops the Concours from a straight line in a remarkably short amount of time, but we disliked the unnatural feel at both levers. Initial reaction is similar to a non-linked system, but once the computer takes over, both levers feel as though they’re nearly stuck in position.
The feeling is strange while in a straight line, but it’s downright scary when trailbraking for a turn. Using only the front brake while turning feels normal, with no ill side effects. Trailing only the rear brake, however, activates a front caliper, causing the nose of the motorcycle to dive suddenly and abruptly midcorner. We only felt a marginal difference with the less-intrusive second setting, and it can’t be switched off. “If Kawi can give us two steps of linked, braking,” says Duke, “it should also be able to give us a way to shut it off.”
There is, however, an off button for the KTRC traction control system. The system, which operates strictly based on wheel speed sensors, is rather basic when compared to that on the 2011 ZX-10R, but it’s adequate for a sport-touring application. We saw many two-wheelers without traction control try to exit the sandy motorcycle parking area at Laguna Seca, and upon release of the clutch just spun the rear wheel and kick up dirt. With KTRC, the system gently feeds just enough power so that both wheels are spinning at the same rate. Apart from feeling the retardation of power, the dash lights flash wildly and a notification pops up on the LCD screen to remind you the system is working.
While the system works well, we would prefer a softer reapplication of power once traction is regained. As it is, the KTRC cuts power abruptly upon slippage, and delivers it back in a burst, unlike the BMW system which is much more linear and seamless in its application. In the end, “we’re glad it is able to be switched off for when a wheelie is called for!” exclaims Duke’s inner stunter.
The Connie’s dual, white-on-black analog gauges for the speedo and tach look boring but reliably deliver info. They’re augmented by a central LCD panel that can display ambient temps, tire pressures, fuel economy and charging system info. Conspicuous by its absence is cruise-control switchgear, as that convenient feature isn’t available from Kawi.
Like the BMW, the Concours features plenty of storage space. The two hard saddlebags are solidly mounted and are able to fit a full-face helmet. A small luggage rack also graces the rear of the Connie, perfect for strapping down larger items or accessory luggage. A compartment just under the left handlebar is great for keeping small items. Interestingly, on the opposite side of the front fairing lies a 12-volt outlet that works well for powering GPS devices mounted to the screen, but it would have been nice to have the outlet on the left side of the fairing to charge devices like cell phones which could then be placed in the adjacent cubby hole.
We saw a close race between the two machines when measuring fuel economy, with the BMW narrowly coming out ahead. We averaged 34.4 mpg on the Beemer compared to 33.3 mpg on the Kawi, and the GT also boasts a 0.5-gallon-larger fuel capacity than than its 5.8-gallon Japanese rival.