It's an unfortunate fact of life among the niches. Sport-touring, however you define it, usually comes down to a choice between comfort or speed. Usually. But not this time.
Aim Kawasaki's '08 Concours 14 toward the Pacific on a perfectly drawn asphalt rollercoaster called Skaggs Springs Road and you'll understand. The spec sheet-and human survival instincts-say a 650-pound, 156-horsepower motorcycle has all the right stuff to leave enough Neutron Silver paint on the Armco to keep people wondering for years. But reality, in this case, is much kinder.
As it once was with the Shaq Attaq, nobody told the new-generation Concours it's too big to pick and roll right past goggle-eyed disbelievers. Steering's a bit heavy, and track-derived trail-braking makes it a whole lot heavier. Otherwise, the only distraction is trying to figure if we have time for another lap of that national forest before lunch. Although it generates slightly less peak output than the ZX-14 from whence it came, the 1352cc four produces power with the same sort of seamless abundance as a Los Angeles-class submarine using various clever technologies. And no nasty spent fuel rods to dispose of.
Kawasaki's new Variable Valve Timing setup starts serving up the really meaty bits from 4000 rpm. And there's enough between 6000 and 8000 to drive you into one of these downhill decreasing-radius boot-bevellers like something out of a nail gun. No worries-a determined squeeze on the lever cues up equally determined deceleration from ZX-14-spec radial front brakes. No unwanted interference from the optional ABS, and no annoying link between the front and rear calipers. All is as it should be. Mostly.
Where rapid applications of this much horsepower to the pavement via shaft should create more anxious ups and downs than the Chinese stock market, spot-on fuel injection and Kawasaki's four-link Tetra-Lever shaft arrangement keep the chassis reassuringly steady. Relatively relaxed geometry and 60mm more distance between the axles translates to slightly heavier steering than the ZX-14, but the Concours' more trustworthy front end and broadband power make sustained speed a much more inviting proposition. The package is imperturbable through obscenely fast bits and lighter on its feet than you'd expect everywhere else.
Keeping this much motorcycle under control means relatively taut suspension and a freeway ride to match. You feel all but the worst of what's going on at ground level. Humps, cracks and craters are diminished rather than erased, but it's agile enough to steer around 'em. Shuffling the ZX-14's ergonomic deck creates a comfortably sporty cockpit. Bars are 150mm higher and 96mm more rearward, while pegs migrate 30mm toward the pavement and 30mm forward. Add a humanely contoured seat that's 15mm higher and you're looking at our idea of transcontinental nirvana.
Top cog in the cooperative 6-speed turns 3500 rpm on the analog tach into a CHP-approved 65 mph on the matching speedo. Dual balance shafts erase anything remotely resembling vibration at that point. A twinge of the stuff sneaks into both grips above 4200 or so, but it's nothing objectionable. The cockpit is decidedly breezy with the electrically adjustable windscreen fully furled, and decidedly noisy when it's all the way up if you're 6-foot-three and easily annoyed by such things. Welcome to the flipside of never looking around, over or through the plexiglas contraption back on Skaggs Springs Road and make a mental note to find the tall one in Kawasaki's accessory catalog.