For the new Concours 14, Kawasaki retuned the 1,352cc inline four extensively for its new role, altering the valve timing for more low- and midrange torque, and incorporating a novel variable intake-camshaft timing system which uses oil pressure to rotate a vane-pulley on the camshaft drive to advance the cam timing as the engine speed rises.
Kawasaki designed a new chassis for the Concours, employing an aluminum monocoque tub that incorporates the engine as a stressed member and mounts the front suspension on a stout steering-head insert. True to its sport-touring description, the Concours' sturdy front fork is inverted, with petal-rotor brakes and radial-mount calipers. The rear end flaunts a four-link rear swing-arm and shaft drive unit -- called Tetra-Lever, in Kawasaki jargon -- designed to cancel the usual up-and-down movements -- caused by the reaction between pinion- and crown gear -- experienced on shaft-drive motorcycles. Which it does remarkably well.
The rolling chassis is wrapped in a futuristic fairing, topped with a spacious two-person seat, and steered by handsome alloy handlebars that project like horns from a low-slung triple-clamp. With a 32.1-inch seat height, it takes a big swing of the leg and a carefully acquired knee-bend strategy to miss the capacious hard bags straddling the bike's tail, but the reward is a comfy perch.
Kawasaki saw fit to equip the C14 with a high-tech vehicle security system integrated into an onboard vehicle network. The rider carries a transmitter fob which is recognized by the bike at a range of about five feet. There's a more-or-less conventional key in the machine (it's a large disc with a thick flag on top) that rotates to switch the bike on and lock the steering, but it has to be depressed first to initialize the system. This key can be left in the machine, since it locks in place once the rider departs, but it can be withdrawn to open the fuel cap or unlock the bags. At first I thought there was a design conflict here, because the bags have to be locked before the key can be removed. So I wondered how one could leave the bike's steering locked, given that the puck-shaped key has to remain aboard for that function, and still be able to unlock the bags once they've been taken inside?
Turns out there's another key hidden in the transmitter fob, so you can leave the bike's steering locked and unlock the bags once you've reached the hotel room. Somebody clearly thought the matter through. As they mostly did with the onboard trip computer, which has its display mounted directly ahead of the rider, providing all kinds of trip data as well as front and rear tire pressures.
Still, nobody's perfect. The trip computer would benefit from a bar-mounted switch to toggle through its functions. Right now you have to press buttons in the center of the bike with your gloved left forefinger, keeping your eyes on the buttons for good aim. Not quite optimal.
Other than that, the C14 is a near-perfect long-distance mount. It has a sweet-shifting six-speed gearbox with a long-striding overdrive top gear good for 33 mpg even on a circuitous route from Los Angeles to Monterey that embraced nearly every curve California has to offer. Yes, the big Concours is good for a twisty road, steering more lightly than a competitive Yamaha FJR1300 we had on hand, and handling with remarkable composure.
The suspension on the C14 is plush enough to smother most road imperfections, yet its damping is good enough to control ride motions so that the whole platform remains flat and predictable. With excellent leverage at the bars, the bike tips easily into turns and it steers accurately through them. Cornering clearance is pretty generous, but the bike feels so stable one is soon lured into dragging the footpeg feelers in tighter turns. That big motor is smoothed by twin counter-balancers, and it's quiet and flexible to the point where you hardly ever use more than half the available engine speed. Rev this baby out, however, and you get a taste of the berserk energy made famous by this engine's donor, the ballistic ZX-14.
The serious thrust arrives early, and shoves the bike and rider down the road in long surges of power until the needle reaches the 10,500 rpm redline. But, as I said, there's not much call for that kind of riding on a machine like this. It's just nice to know it's there when you need it. As is the optional ABS anti-locking brake mechanisms on both wheels. I had no call to use it, but it's reassuring to know it's there for wet or slippery surfaces. Equally welcome is the weather protection. I arrived home from Monterey (and the 2007 MotoGP) with no bug splatter on my jacket. There had been occasional drizzle on the trip and I didn't get much of that either. Credit the protective fairing and power-adjustable windscreen for this good fortune. The screen adjusts far enough in a vertical plane that you can be fully aware of the windblast one second, then almost flopping onto the tank as the Lexan screen rises to cut off the pressure.
Tall riders can never quite get out of the buffeting zone at the windscreen's upper edge, and I found it better to lower the screen a little to achieve a steadier windrush. But taller aftermarket screens will undoubtedly soon be available. Other than that, the Concours 14 is pretty complete. Particularly at the price. Interested bystanders were guessing sticker figures all the way up to $15,000, which makes the actual pricing a virtual guarantee of model longevity.