Fork spring preload is the key to happy carving. Too much and it stands up. Back'er down t
Kawasaki Concours 14
Godzilla in saddlebags
Some things you expect from a Kawasaki. Horsepower. Acceleration. Too many points on your driver's license. But traditionally, the rest of the package can be a bit rough around the edges. Speed, evidently, is best served raw. Or at least it was. The new-for-2008 Concours 14 isn't perfect. It radiates way too much heat on hot days. And two-up accommodations are a bit tight for transcontinental travel, especially for two tall people. But after a couple thousand hard miles, it's difficult to dredge up a whole lot more to complain about. The Concours 14 delivers as much smooth sophistication as warp-level performance. Something like taking a Sovereign-class Starship to the mountains for a long weekend-except it's easier to park.
And though it's toned down from the donor ZX-14's original 176 horsepower for traveling duty, the 1352cc four is hardly domesticated. Variable intake timing, less compression and smaller throttle bodies trip peak output to 133 horses, laying down more accessible muscle between 3000 and 9200 rpm, where the whole herd shows up. That's enough to propel the 689-lb. package through the quarter-mile in a blistering 10.49 seconds at 130.9 mph-considerably quicker and faster than anything else wearing hard bags and adjustable wind protection. Captain Picard would approve. So take us out, Mr. Crusher.
Keep the magic KI-PASS fob in your pocket and you only use the ignition key to unlock the saddlebags or the gas cap. Neat. Saddle up and you sit in the Kawasaki instead of on it. The 32-inch seat height is good news for the 30-inch-inseam set. Taller types can expect to bend their knees a bit more than on the other three bikes; this is the only seat that isn't adjustable. The Editorial Hindquarters were comfortable enough between fuel stops. Ease the six-speed trans into its overdrive top cog and revs drop to 4000 rpm at 70 mph. Discernable vibration drops to the level of the average computer hard-drive; aka none. Just don't try to get more than 270 miles out of the 5.8-gallon fuel tank unless you like to push. Extended play above 6000 rpm puts a big dent in that number. It's like Steven Wright said. "You can't have everything. Where would you put it?"
Saddlebags maybe? These carry less than the BMW's and about the same as the other two bikes'. The electronic-widget quotient hardly rivals Bavarian levels, but the only things you'll really miss are the heated grips and seat on some frosty November night. Such amenities are evidently on the way to a dealer near you. Till then? The monocoque frame keeps your knees warm and this right grip will reel in a hot shower faster than most.
This thing will blitz blacktop faster than any sporty-tourer on planet Earth, especially twisty blacktop. Take some time to dial in its agreeably compliant suspension and the 14 carves like the Surgeon General. Brakes take a firmer squeeze than the others, but they'll stop just as hard, and the ABS never intrudes on hard braking without a good reason. Attention purists: The front brake has nothing to do with the rear. No link here. The Tetra-Lever shaft drive keeps engine torque from pushing the rest of the package around. There's no bothersome slack in the system, and fueling is essentially perfect. So? It's not the best long-haul package for everyone-just the quickest, fastest, best-handling one. And that's exactly what it takes to win this game.
Off The Record
I rode the FJR home following our test ride-500 miles with only three short fuel stops-and the more I rode it the more I liked it. It's the most conventional of the four, and most like a sportbike. I thought it might not be as long-haul comfy as the Honda and BMW, but the seat didn't bother me until the eighth hour, and then the discomfort was only mild. It did buzz a bit above 5000 rpm, but I didn't really notice that on the freeway. It also offers the most front-end feedback of this group, and it's plenty fast. Best of all, it looks and feels like a motorcycle, not some bulbous, over-inflated conveyance. I appreciate that.
Age: 44 Height: 6' Weight: 225 lbs. Inseam: 32 in.
Off The Record
The Concours 14 fit me, and after a suspension change I had more fun on it in the mountains. The wide seat made my legs sore, but I'd get used to that. I need more time with the Smart Key technology, but I'd probably get accustomed to that as well.
I'm usually not a big Kawasaki fan, but all that smooth power makes this one quite easy to ride. It only needs three gears, and it loves to go fast. What's not to like? The fairing aimed engine heat at my legs. But at least the adjustable windscreen let me choose between a cooling breeze and comfort/quiet. The Connie works much better than I thought it would.
Age: 40+ Height: 5' 7" Weight: 140 lbs. Inseam: 33 in.