BMW K1300S vs. Honda VFR1200F vs. Kawasaki Concours 14 vs. Triumph Sprint GT

Long distance calling

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing

Kawasaki Concours 14

Can electronics defy gravity, along with various other key physical laws? Do VVT, KTRC, K-ACT, KIPASS, ABS and a host of other technologies with less catchy acronyms add up to sport-touring nirvana? That, boys and girls, is Kawasaki’s $15,599 question ($14,599 if you can live without ABS and traction control). The answer, as you might expect from a motorcycle with enough onboard electronics to embarrass a desktop computer, is more complicated.

Introduced to an admiring sporty-touring public in 2007 as heir to a rapid-transit dynasty that began in 1986 with the Concours 1000, the Concours 14 was good enough to win our last long-distance comparison. But it wasn’t perfect. It was huge, and radiated enough engine heat to roast a chicken in hot weather. The adjustable windscreen invited excess turbulence into the cockpit, and fuel mileage was deplorable. Kawasaki’s engineers took copious notes, addressing all that in a strategically revised 2010 version with new bodywork, a taller electrically adjustable windscreen, heated hand grips, a faster, more compact K-ACT ABS system, switchable KTRC traction control, plus ECO Mode fuel mapping you can switch on when miles per gallon are more important than miles per hour. Then they firmed up the fork with extra oil and levered on new Bridgestone BT021U radials to sharpen the handling. Aside from a fresh coat of aptly named Atomic Silver paint and $300 added to the asking price, our 2011 model is unchanged from last year.

Getting those acronyms on the road starts with Kawasaki’s Intelligent Proximity Activation System, a.k.a. The FOB: bane of neo-luddites, technophobes and various unnamed Motorcyclist staffers. With said FOB in your pocket, just push the ignition switch, hit the starter and you’re off. In the FSS position (fuel, seat and saddlebags), it slips out to reveal an actual key that unlocks everything else. It’s simple until somebody rides off on another bike with the FOB in his pocket, or tries to store it in the self-locking fairing compartment. Then it’s "What about FOB?/Where’s FOB?/FOB’s yer uncle" for the next 200 miles.

Lucky for us, most of the bike’s other innovations are more intuitive. Once the FOB’s presence is confirmed, the 14’s size dominates most second impressions. Topped off with 5.8 gallons of 90-octane unleaded, you’re straddling a 690-lb. vessel that measures 7.5 feet from stem to stern and more than 3 feet across her beam. Broad bars and a roomy, upright riding position make navigating city traffic easier, but she’s a bit of a handful until you adjust to those dimensions.

Everything comes together by the second or third stoplight. Kawasaki’s VVT arrangement uses oil pressure to shift intake timing, boosting power across the bottom half of the tach. The payoff is a 1352cc torque pump that’s open for business at 1100 rpm. The first 4000 rpm serve up more than enough punch around town, or anywhere else unless you’re late for something. The second 4000 produce enough to handle just about anything else, leaving the 10,500-rpm redline for occasional weekend visits. The second-generation fairing dispenses with excess engine heat before it can roast anybody. With that sort of broadband propulsion on call, the shift lever doesn’t see a lot of action once you’re up to speed.

Inhale 150 miles of California’s 101 freeway in a couple of hours and you won’t surrender the FOB any time soon. Vibration is blissfully absent below 5000 rpm. Thumb the windscreen up and down until it’s punching a comfortable hole in the oncoming 37-degree air. That’s what the dash display says anyway. Rear-view mirrors frame a clear picture of where you’ve been while steering that air around your hands. Bump up the heated grips another notch and cue up fuel range without taking a hand off the bars. Holding down the mode-select button shifts the EFI system to ECO mode: a leaner fuel map that just turned 36 mpg into 42 as long as you’re under 6000 rpm and 30 percent throttle. It’s like carrying 20 percent more fuel without the extra weight.

Extra weight is something the C14 can live without. Pack those bags with 40 lbs. of gear and it should behave like a 1972 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser in the twisty bits: badly. But fear not: Correct suspension adjustment becomes more critical, and even when it’s dialed-in the ride gets harsh on rough roads. Reined in to double-digit speeds, the Concours acquits itself remarkably well. That upright riding position feels more natural on the freeway, but broad bars keep steering acceptably light and precise. The dual-mode linked brakes are harder to master. At a moderate pace, a two-finger squeeze on the lever slows things down and settles the suspension with a whiff of rear brake. When that’s not enough, a toe on the pedal factors in too much front brake too quickly, even with K-ACT in the less invasive Low Combined mode.

That’s the only real annoyance, and there are more important things after 10 hours on the road. Like a motorcycle that’s good enough at everything to make you pocket the FOB and do it again the next day.

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carewser
Why the Yamaha FJR1300 was left out of the competition I can't imagine. Triumph? Over Yamaha? Really?
spokexx
I test rode the Triumph Sprint GT this past weekend. Damn I loved it. Now I'm contemplating a purchase but I really don't have to. I just want to. I would say that it is a touring sport bike where as the BMW is a sporty touring bike. The Honda seems to fall into a the former catagory also and the Kawi falls into a class with the beemer. I also test rode an older K1200 ...r? gt? whatever. And Im just not a fan of shaft drive.
mfrito
Didn't you forget the FJR1300?  Just a few years ago it came in second to the Concours.
JETSKI88
Dave,

The BMW's sure are intriguing but all I ever hear is high maintenance costs and expensive repairs.  That has kept me on Kawasakis for 17 years.  Bikes and jetskis.  Reliable and powerful.  Best machines out there!
BMWDave2007K1200S
My lemon
Almost 4 years ago I bought my dream bike a 2007 BMW K1200S from Cliff's BMW in Danbury CT. After about 100 miles the bike started to lurch and jerk under 3000 RPM (tough to make right turns without pulling in the clutch and ride at low speed in 1st gear) Well the dealer did not have a fix so I did not have a problem... After repeated attempts to get it fixed finally after the start of my 3rd season they re-mapped it and it has been fine. They even did not charge me...(how nice was that after all that time to find out it was not me and the way I was riding the bike) 3 years ago I went in because my clutch chattered, slipped and would not let me take off fast. Needless to say my 0-60 MPH in 2.8 seconds bike was not. This is not my first bike and I have driven manual transmission cars for 33 years. Clutches last a very long time. I would bring my bike in and Dave the service manager, Brianna a service writer (at the time, now service manager) and Cliff the owner all said "this is normal" I don't think I have it in writing because they did not want it in the records. I went in many times and was told it is normal. The new owner also "said it was normal" at my last oil change  So no help here... so only about 50 miles later I go to trade the bike because I don't think it is normal. What a surprise that I was told I need a new clutch. It will cost me around $1000.00 for the clutch and the housing. Cliff's should have bought my lemon back and gave me a new bike. between the surging and the clutch my bike was a big disappointment and not what I paid for. With a 19K list price and I paid $17500.00 and I still have around 14 payments left. Thanks for listening and I will tell this story to whoever will let me. Needless to say don't do business with Cliff he has an insurance company now and I am sure won't have anyones interest but his at heart.
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