Living With Comparo

Honda VFR800 Interceptor :: Kawasaki Concours

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LEGEND (le j nd) n.
1.) An unverified story handed down from earlier times, especially one popularly believed to be historical.
2.) A romanticized or popularized myth of modern times.
3.) One that inspires legends or achieves legendary fame.

Truly, "Legend" is a word that's often associated with the Honda Interceptor and Kawasaki Concours. As two of the players in MO's "Holy Trinity of Motorcycling," these are machines which hold more than a casual interest for the majority of our readership. The Suzuki SV-650 is the third machine in that trinity. Unfortunately, we were unable to obtain an SV for this test, and if we had put that bike into this little comparo, more than one reader (or manufacturer's rep) would have though we were out of our minds. Alas, this is destined to be a two bike article.

As two of the players in MO's "Holy Trinity of Motorcycling," these are machines which hold more than a casual interest for the majority of our readership. Even without that SV-650, this is still something of a mis-matched comparison. Though they are both technically "Sport Touring" bikes, the Concours is a frugal flyer aimed at those who worry more about practicality, than style or state of the art technology, while the Interceptor is a high-revving techno wonder, complete with Buck Rogers styling and optional ABS brakes. However, contrary to popular internet rumor, aside from two wheels, four cylinders and full fairings, these bikes actually have very little in common.

MO spent just over a month with these two machines, and while our findings were both expected and unanimous, there are plenty of small surprises that cropped up with both machines. The bulk of our riding impressions were formed on a series of 200+ mile loop rides radiating out from Motorcycle.Com's Torrance, CA offices. Joining Executive Editor Sean "Dirty" Alexander on these trips, were Contributing Editor; Martin "Sportbike Pilot" Hackworth and MO's own multi talented Photographer / Art Director; Al "Fonzie" Palaima. Sean and Martin will give you the nitty gritty, while quiet and shy Fonzie chimes-in with his personal observations and brief notes (We couldn't get Fonzie off the VFR, and he pouted for days after we returned it to Honda.

Next up on the list of startling revelations, is the fact that the Concours really LEANS into corners. Sean on the Kawasaki Concours

As heir to a family whose roots are firmly planted in the Kawasaki Z1's fertile soil, I have something of a soft spot for Kawasaki's venerable Concours. Though the Concours isn't quite as old as the legendary Z1, it still possesses some of that seminal bike's roughness around the edges. However, if you look (and ride) beyond those rough edges, you'll find that the Connie is a willing and able partner for just about any on-road riding adventure you care to conjure.

Like the Yamaha V-Max, the Connie has survived with precious few updates over the years. This fact is evident at first glance, and the impression crystallizes as soon as you start rolling. If you grew up on a backbone framed `70s or early `80s UJM, you will feel right at home flogging the Concours through a weekend's worth of twisties. On the other hand, if you were weaned on 600 Ninjas, your first Connie ride will be something of an eye-opener. Compared to the VFR, the Concours has a chopperesque 28.5° of rake, coupled with spindly damper-rod forks, 1980's shaft drive technology and single-sided sliding-caliper disc brakes, the overall feeling is something akin to going from a 2005 Porsche 997 to a 1980 Chevy El Camino.

My time on the Concours was mostly spent chasing streetfighter and/or Honda VFR mounted test riders. As an only bike, the Connie is a good choice, but if you have a modern sportbike, you'll always find the transition shocking when you hop into the Connie's saddle. After its looks, the second thing to strike a new Connie rider is its soft and deeply cushioned seat. When you sit on the bike, you sink in just like that couch in grandma's old Buick, complete with that same squirmy-shifty feeling under your backside. Like most of the Kawasaki's traits, you will get used to that seat. Next up on the list of startling revelations, is the fact that the Concours really LEANS into corners. So, all bikes lean, right? Yes, they all lean, but the Kawasaki's geometry means that instead of leaning and carving a tight arc, the bike leans and gracefully curves in the desired direction. In reality, it turns just like any other bike, but there is an exaggerated sensation of rolling-over-the-top when you transition from side-to-side. This sensation makes you think you,re actually leaning farther over than you really are, meaning you keep expecting to drag hard parts, though that rarely actually happens. Next on the "Gee This Is Different" list, is an overall "disjointed" feeling. I think this sensation comes from having a lot of heavy items supported by flexible tubes and placed far from the bike's center of mass. When coupled with prominent engine buzz, a shaft-jacking rear suspension, frame flex reminiscent of a `70s Superbike and brakes that work only slightly better than drums, you get a bike that can perform at a similar level to a modern sport tourer, but feels like something from another millennium.

The "standard" riding position is extremely comfortable, while offering excellent control.Aside from the weak brakes and buzzy engine, which never cease to annoy, the Connie's other idiosyncrasies quickly fade into the distance. A decent rider can have loads of fun and make good time, hustling the Concours through the countryside. It's a good thing I was able to have some of that fun, because the 7.5 gallon! gas tank and 46+ MPG (even when flogged) fuel economy, meant that I was going to be doing a lot of riding before I needed to stop for gas. Speaking of spending a long time in the saddle, the Concours' soft seat and engine buzz were the only things that made me want to stop riding. The "standard" riding position is extremely comfortable, while offering excellent control. Furthermore, I was comfortably able to look over the distortion in the windscreen, since I'm fairly tall. Kawasaki could teach Ducati a lesson or two about mirror placement. The Concours' mirrors give an outstanding view of what's happening to the side, as well as to the rear of the rider. In addition to being quite comfortable, that standard riding position comes in handy when going truly fast over a canyon road, enabling me to cope with the chassis' wind-up-and-release contortions, while running-down the rest of the group after a lengthy photo stop. I'm not sure if this is an endorsement or a condemnation, but the Connie is highly entertaining when ridden hard. At times, I can see why the Concours has such a loyal following.

Power wise, you'd think the Concours would be overmatched by the Interceptor, what with all that techno wizardry and high fallootin V-Tech valvetrain. Technically, the Interceptor does have about 1/2 of 1 percent more horsepower than the Concours (96.7 -to- 96.0 Hp) However, the Concours' longer stroke and extra cubes allow it to stomp the Interceptor in Torque (65.2 -to- 53.4 LbFt) and it's area "under the curve" is greater, allowing the dinosaur to compete on even footing with the star fighter. We'll have to call this one a "draw".

Overall, I fear the Concours is something of an acquired taste. Even when saving a couple thousand dollars in purchase price and another couple hundred per year in operating costs compared to the Interceptor, modern sportbike pilots will probably find the Connie wanting in a few (ok· most) areas. However, that doesn't mean it is a "bad" motorcycle. On the contrary, the Kawasaki Concours is as solid and dependable a bike, as you,re likely to find. Besides, El Caminos can be cooler than hell

There is not enough moto-Viagra in the world to get me excited about this bike.Martin on the Concours

I've been on several Connies before this one, and they have all been functional but eminently forgettable experiences. In building the Concours, I'm guessing that they started with a standard motorcycle, removed all of the truly exciting features, bolted what was left together added some black saddlebags and sent the result to the salesroom floor. There is not enough moto-Viagra in the world to get me excited about this bike. Although Sean can get one to wheelie impressively, it's still ugly, handles like a barge, can't get out of its own way and isn't nearly as cool as is could have been, if only it was a completely different motorcycle.

Sean said I'd get used to the Connie, and though I did learn to ride it well enough, but I just couldn't come to grips with its weird feel. I was especially put-off by the spongy brake lever that came most of the way back to the bar, before delivering any true stopping power. Technically the brakes worked "well enough", since nobody actually ran into anything. However, they require a rapid and skilled adaptation by the rider, when they are used after riding something like the VFR.

I've often heard the Concours compared to the girl in high school who wasn't the best looking but had a swell personality; the one you should have gone out with instead of that hottie tart. However, I think that's being a little too generous to this Kawasaki. Sure, it's a practical and dependable vehicle, but it just doesn't measure-up to the competition in the same way that a "girl next door" should

The non-adjustable windscreen has an aerodynamic flip/curve to its top edge, which lay perfectly across my natural horizon line and distorted my forward view. Fonzie on the Concours

Let me count the ways... that this bike bothered me. Seriously, this is the first bike that I've ever ridden at MO -over 30 different models in the last year and a half-, that I had a hard time finding something I liked about. At the moment, I can't really remember what that one thing was, but surely it wasn't anything major. The ergonomic triangle has to be designed for someone over 5'10", as I was always hunched forward to reach the controls and left each >50 mile ride with lower back pain. The non-adjustable windscreen has an aerodynamic flip/curve to its top edge, which lay perfectly across my natural horizon line and distorted my forward view. The position is something I could deal with in time, but the visual distortion of the road in front of me I could not, having nearly dumped the Connie in the very first mile. The image of the road ahead is smashed together and appears to be "farther" ahead that it actually is. Once when riding through a parking lot, I made a turn and crossed a speed bump at an awkward angle, because I thought it was still 10ft. ahead... don't troll around with your eyes looking thru the top 4 inches of the windscreen, believe me.

Kawasaki Concours
MSRP: 2004 $8,199 -- 2005 $8,299
MO Observed Fuel Mileage: 41.62 MPG
Inspect & Adjust Valves = $215
Complete Service: inspect and adjust valves, sync carbs, inspect chassis, nuts & bolts, change oil and filter $310 -$350
Honda Interceptor
MSRP: 2004 $9,999 -- 2005 $10,199
Optional ABS: + $1,000
MO Observed Fuel Mileage: 36.15 MPG
Inspect & Adjust Valves = $540 - $650
Complete Service, inspect and adjust valves, inspect chassis, nuts&bolts, check, lube+adjust chain, change oil and filter $750 -$890

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