The Kawasaki Concours 10 years later
Thoughts from an industry insider
This article was orignally written by me for the Kawasaki company's dealer technical newsletter, the K-Tech News while I was employed by the company.
The Kawasaki ZG1400 Concours. Handling, power, beauty, smoothness. What an awesome machine! When I worked at the corporate office I was poised to bid on a Concours at employee auction (didn't for personal reasons) but for several months rode a company-supplied insured and maintained rider bike. Great machine! I think my single all time favorite modern bike, actually.
The most technical of all the first-year promo images handed out by Kawasaki corporate, my favorite, and the one many of us had as desktops on our PCs and laptops until the Ninja H2 emerged.
Law enforcement also really likes the Concours. The bike's power is a huge part of the appeal, for sure. Patrol guys really dig it. Of course, the Concours' ZX14-derived engine is detuned 45hp through smaller ports and fuel injectors and much milder cams, and in addition the police version is further calmed a by 130mph Kawasaki-mandated speed limiter. But even so restrained, the C14, whether civilian or police, is no slouch! Thanks probably to the Concours' variable valve timing, the 120-pound heavier Concours feels little different from the base Ninja. In other words, it's a blast! The Connie is definitely exhiliarating!
Low maintenance also attracted law enforcement. It is documented that the police BMWs were going through clutches frequntly and that the German company wasn't being very helpful about it. Law enforcement looked to the Concours despite the fact that officers really liked the oilhead Boxer's handling and manuverability. And they found much to like. It didn't hurt that many of the decision makers in law enforcement came up the ranks beginning on patrol on Kawasaki KZ police mounts. Kawasaki has had much privilage and opportunity as regards law enforcement use of the product and we can hope they truly appreciate the fact.
The Concours' battery
The Concours battery as everyone knows is unique and no equivalent replacement is available on the aftermarket, though some have fitted slghtly different model batteries and made them work. There are three things many are not aware of concerning the Concours battery. First, many dealers have missinstalled it during new bike prep. The battery's cable arrangement is far from intuitive in the way the cables curve around the battery. Missinstallation can result in some issues. Second, the battery is greatly overloaded in this bike (the police bikes get a second battery) and in fact the bike's ECU is programmed with "battery management". This means the ECU "knows" to cycle down circuit electrical systems should the battery's voltage get low. The grip warmers, for example, will turn on and off less frequently. And even ABS will cycle down, eventually turning completely off. Third, while everyone wants to complain about the Concours not having cruise control, few realize its absence until now is due to the battery. There is not enough battery in the present model to support cruise, and installing a larger battery is not feasible due to the battery's location inside the monocoque frame. A design originating in the ZX11, from which the ZX12, ZX14 and ultimately the ZG14 were developed, the square battery hole in the frame would have to be enlarged, necessitating in reality a whole new frame. Before I left the company in 2016 there was talk of a new Concours coming. I am sure this is one of the things that will be redesigned, this missing cruise control. Though not a fan of cruise myself, Kawasaki has no choice but to include it in future versions of the Concours if it is going to be competitive.
Variable valve timing
The variable valve timing (VVT) system is a thing every road going motor vehicle should have and likely will ultimately. I see Suzuki has just announced a completely mechanical version of it. Cars have had various forms of VVT for decades. The system moves the intake cam forward at low engine speeds and rearward at higher rpm to shape the powerband as wide and as flat as possible, giving the best all around torque and driveabilty. Interestingly, the hydraulicly activated system actually starts in the in-between position, moving forward only after oil pressure has pushed it. You can actually hear the system rattle for a quick second on startup when the bike has sat a while, due to the hydraulic cylinder being dry. The same is true by the way on the cars that have it. The Concours system was in fact lifted almost piece by piece from the Korean 2.7L V-6 Hyundai/Kia engine. Seriously.
Now that all of Kawasaki's road bikes are available with ABS, it is not such a big deal. And of course in the Concours' case the bike is now sold only with this feature. The Concours linked ABS, K-ACT (Kawasaki Advanced Coactive braking Technology), actually was revised slightly in 2015. First, Kawasaki's linked brakes through computer contol actually shift the percentage slightly front and rear. That is the "C" in K-ACT, for "coactive", i.e. dynamically linked. Not static, in other words, the way some other brands' linked brakes have been. Honda's linked brakes are also dynamic and they make it work by turning on and off certain caliper pistons in the Gold Wing. Kawasaki does it by proportioning pressure to suit rate of deceleration, etc. So sometimes the rear has more involvement and sometimes less, depending on conditions. The percentage front to rear slides back and forth. Of course the rider can also select between three levels of linking, with the choices basically maximum, middle (and variable), and minimal. For 2015 the minimum level was reduced a little to make it more sport oriented and to address the complaint some had of the rear being too intrusive in certain riding environments. Interestingly, Kawasaki went in just a three year period to having no ABS to 90 percent of its lineup having it as an option. Equally interestingly, there are at last count at least six distinct flavors of ABS available on Kawasakis.
It's well known that on none of Kawasaki's street-legal motorcycles can ABS, if fitted, be turned off. This is very unlike European brands such as BMW and Triumph, whose ABS can in fact be shut off. My take on this is as follows. The Japanese brands make up the second through fifth places in the market, with Harley on top (since 2001, incidentally, when they unseated Honda). So we say, "top five" or "big five", referring of course to H-D, Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki (in this order, as Suzuki went bankrupt several years ago and reorganized, their still being somewhat small as a consequence). My feeling is the Japanese, selling far and away the most bikes, are such big targets, so recognizable everywhere, that liability-wise they are in the unenviable position of being everyone's nanny. In fact, you see them waiting until other manufacturers have embraced a new technology before they do, giving them a chance to observe how those other manufacturers deal with it from a liability standpoint. And when they do embrace it, do so in such a way that protects them legally, thus the always-on specification of their ABS. So while it may be fine to enable turning off ABS on a brand of bike that contends with no more than 100 lawsuits each year, it is not so on one that has to deal with ten times as many, due to its being so much more prominant. Make sense? This is why I feel the Japanese do not allow their riders to turn ABS off.
Whether or not you agree with not being able to shut ABS off, or my suggested reason, the Japanese do ABS in other ways that are definitely different from the Europeans. One or two European brands' ABS require special tools and even computers to perform nothing more complicated than bleeding. Not so on Kawasakis at least, and it appears on all the other Japanese' bikes as well. That's a good thing. One thing that has cropped up however now that the Japanese all have ABS, meaning ABS is now many times more prevalent in the powersports industry than just a few years ago, is a rather alarming development concerning motorcyle ABS. Everyone knows that ABS systems default to conventional non-ABS function when there is a fault in the system. This is expected and a good thing. What many don't realize however is this is true only when the fault is electronic. When there is a failure in the ABS system that is mechanical, all bets are off. The system cannot revert to non-ABS in order to maintain function. It loses function just as a non-ABS system would under the same circumstances, in some cases dramatically so. We're talking completely frozen brake levers and pedals due to corrosion in the ABS pump valving. The reason this is happening now for the first time is ABS has only just recently become common on motorcycles. And the reason it is happening on bikes more than on cars is very interesting. No one, bike or car owner, completely changes out their brake fluid as often as the manufacturer recommends, which is universally every two years. No one. For as long as motor vehicles have existed, owners have ignored this need, though important, with amazing impunity considering its potential gravity. In fact, manufacturers have practically forever specified a certain kind of brake fluid (that keeps working despite huge amounts of moisture accumulation) precisely because they know the public is ignoring this need. But ABS has changed this situation, at least for motorcycles. With the metal valving in ABS pumps being even more susceptible to corrosion than are the brake cylinder parts, that two-year interval is looming much larger in importance. On bikes especially because their brake lines have many times more rubber than do those in cars, with the result that moisture-laden air has easier access, thus the fluid degrades much faster than it does in cars with their mostly steel brake lines. In Europe particularly, where riding environments are harsher in terms of weather, this ignoring of the brake fluid change intervals has come home to roost, in a very big way, and powersports manufacturers are bearing down on their dealers to educate the customer in attempts to shift this dangerous paradigm. The Concours is getting a large share of this attention due to it being an early adopter of ABS in Kawasaki's lineup and thus has had more time for this problem to develop and surface.
Concours' traction contol
The Concours' traction control system is superlative. Every tester, every magazine reviewer, every comparer of the system to that of other brands has absolutely raved about it. And of course, with it police bike sales jumped significantly in 2010. Kawasaki has put on a number of demonstrations in which special outrigger-equipped Connies were offered to the press and to their own internal people to test on wetted plastic sheeting. A stupendous real-world experience! Interestingly, just as with ABS, Kawasaki now has several distinct types of traction contol, ones to suit each different model and its intended use. By the way, all the major Japanese allow their traction control systems, unlike their ABS, to be turned off. However, in Kawasaki's case at least, and I suspect also the other Japanese brands, traction control defaults to "on" again when the keyswitch is cycled. Again, liability.
Most people are aware that the 2008 and 2009 Concours had a to-some annoying characteristic of directing engine heat to the rider's left ankle. This was dealt with in 2010, the year of possibly the most changes in the model as of this writing in 2017, mostly by bodywork (front cowl) redesign. Here I should mention that I rode a 2008 for almost a year. I have to say I noticed the heat but only at stops and it really wasn't that intrusive. I really enjoyed that bike!
The police bike recall
Finally, a very big thing happened to the Concours that is largely unknown among the public. The bikes that were outfitted with police equipment by a certain vendor that Kawasaki's US headquarters authorized were all recalled for serious electrical malfunctions resulting in the vehicle shutting itself down. Kawasaki's handling of this emergency, whose expense was in the multiple millions and spanned almost a three-year period, is to be commended. If more people outside of law enforcement knew about this, they would and should respect the company even more than they do. See my article elsewhere on this watershed episode in the Concours' history.
Thank you for reading my thoughts on the Kawasaki Concours. I hope you enjoyed getting to know a little more about the motorcycle.
Suggested reading on this site:
Concours intro media Q & A
The Kawasaki Concours introduction
The police bike Concours recall
The Kawasaki KIPASS system
Factory KDS training book