2010 Kawasaki Concours 14

Redefining Rapid Transit-Again

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Adam Campbell

To the less perceptive observer, it could pass for a warmed-over version of last year's Concours 14. Given the currently chilly financial climate, we didn't expect many changes for 2010 beneath the fresh coat of Candy Neptune Blue paint. The home office had a more ambitious agenda. When customer research came back with the same list of flaws in the original '08 design, Kawasaki Japan wanted them fixed. All of them.

Handling is instantly familiar to anyone with some seat time on the previous version. A firmer fork gains steering precision but loses compliance on rough pavement. Kawasaki's Tetra-Lever driveline maintains a steady chassis attitude whether you're on or off the throttle. When you're on, the new Bridgestone radials make steering much more neutral, especially over the last few degrees before the peg-feelers touch down. The big four's eerie smoothness becomes a faint buzz above 5000 rpm, but not enough to avoid the high-speed happy place between 4000 and 7000. The last Concours was good enough that we were willing to overlook a few bad habits. Now that they're gone, nobody else's uber-tourer makes us happier.

Concours customers don't like roasting in hot air from the engine bay? The subtly resculpted fairing and bodywork are all-new. Fit and finish are noticeably better as well. They're tired of rough, noisy air in the cockpit? Here's a taller, wider windscreen. Looking to go further between fuel stops? Cue up a high-mileage fuel map with the touch of a button; the same one that lets your left hand cycle through data on the cockpit LCD without leaving the grip. Never saw Officer Obie's Crown Vic on your six? Repositioned rear-view mirrors fix that and steer more oncoming air around your hands as well. Still cold? Don't blow all that dough on a BMW. Heated handgrips are standard. Just in case that's not enough, the optional linked ABS is smaller, lighter and comes with switchable traction control to sweeten the deal.

The big boy looks good soaking up a little Coachella Valley sunshine. Slimmer. More focused. But then again, everything looks a little better when you're 142 miles southeast of L.A., aiming 679 pounds of electronically enhanced sport-tourer at the San Jacinto Mountains. Easing out of Indian Wells-home to more blue hair, millionaires and perfectly preserved German convertibles than anywhere else in America-the new Concours hardly feels that heavy. A whiff of throttle cues up seamless, socially acceptable acceleration from 2500 rpm. Except for providing the inevitable overstuffed Tommy Bahama shirt in a Porsche Carrera Cabriolet with some 7000-rpm enlightenment, anything above 4000 is overkill around town. Shifting is easy, and mostly optional with this torque spread.

After a few miles of stoplights, there's no withering engine heat in the cockpit. Slip into the overdrive top cog and there's no nasty buffeting behind the new windscreen at 80 mph. No vibration either. There are a lot of buttons. Lessee ... KTRC means traction control. Dial up too much throttle across some sandy desert intersection and it dials down power just enough to keep the rear wheel from spinning. Otherwise, you'll never know it's there. The orange K-ACT button toggles between linked braking modes: Standard works best for all-round and sporting duty. High Combined Mode engages more of the four-pot Nissin front calipers and 310mm discs when you toe the right pedal-enough to stop hard with no help from the front brake lever. A healthy squeeze on said lever whilst mashing the pedal uncorks enough pure deceleration to rearrange internal organs. The ABS only kicks in when there's not enough grip to execute your orders-a nice digital safety net and especially handy for two-up travel on unfamiliar roads.

Purists insist they're the only acceptable link between a motorcycle's front and rear brakes. For everyone else, the Kawasaki electronics make slowing down easier. Use two fingers on the lever and that assistance is subtle-just enough rear brake to compress the suspension at both ends instead of just the fork. No disconcerting forward pitch. Nice. A little more pressure on the lever equals a lot more stopping power. Perfectly linear it's not. Cornering with one toe on a normal brake pedal usually cures mid-corner chassis fidgeting, but this one adds just enough front brake to make things worse, even in Standard mode. But that's the only concession to Concours technology you're likely to make. Otherwise, the brakes are stellar.

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