® Concours intro media Q and A

This is a transcript of the motopress question and answer session held at the Concours' 2007 introduction. Though replicated verbatim, some (though not all) of the grammar has been cleaned up. However, many less than fully satisfying answers have been left as-is. I will point those out and make some additional comments.

Q: Can you tell us about the overall performance or design objectives for the new Kawasaki Concours 14?
A: Sure. The goal was a fast, aggressive, high-performance and comfortable long distance riding sport-touring machine. Besides offering unrivaled performance, its overall form and surface were styled to be visually appealing as well.

Note the emphasis. The Concours is a sport bike with bags, not a touring bike powered by a sportbike engine. The media initially took Kawasaki to task for this, complaining the bike was too sporty. Kawasaki made no apologies. Nor should they have.

Q: How much new technology has been incorporated into this motorcycle?
A: This motorcycle represents a lot of "next generation" technology for Kawasaki. We have the Variable Valve Timing (VVT), the Kawasaki Intelligent Proximity Activation Start System--or KIPASS--and the all-new Tetra-Lever suspension system to name just a few.

Of course, the Ninja H2 and ZX-10R have gone far beyond the Concours as flagships of technology, particularly in the case of the 10R and its highly-developed racing-tech front fork and gyro-based traction control.

Q: What was changed on the ZX-14's chassis in creating the Concours 14?
A: Quite a bit. In the evolution to the Concours 14, the chassis was altered considerably to meet the new demands of a sport tourer. The swingarm attachment area of the frame was redesigned to accommodate the shaft drive, requiring different upper and lower cross members. For higher stability, the rake was increased 2.5 degrees, requiring a change to the frame casting around the head tube area. Also, sections were swapped from plastic to metal and there are some newly-added frame components as well as increased wall thickness in spots--the C14's frame has 20 percent more torsional stiffness than the frame of the ZX-14. This increased rigidity permits the bike to handle better with the addition of luggage and a passenger, yet retain crisp sport handling.

Q: Why was steel used for the subframe? Doesn't that add weight?
A: An aluminum subframe would have been nice. But to get the same strength as steel to handle a fully loaded bike and a passenger requires a lot more material and space. To keep the interior roomy enough for the parts layout and to minimize the overall width of the saddlebags, the Kawasaki designers chose steel.

The subframes on the police bikes are unique, and the recall-modified ones specially handmade.

Q: Why was the Tetra-Lever swingarm system used?
A: The Tetra-Lever swingarm was chosen because it offsets the lifting or squatting tendency of shaft drives when the throttle is opened or closed. The highly rigid, dual-sided, 4-link system makes the bike behave as if it were a chain-driven bike. The Tetra-Lever system does this by constantly keeping the motor output on the same plane as the final drive at the rear hub. Another benefit of this design is it effectively transfers the engine's massive torque and power to the pavement while allowing designers to tune both dimension and damping characteristics from the drivetrain for smoother motion.

Note that the Tetra-Lever suspension gives the bike a chain-driven feel, a huge advantage and a remarkable accomplishment, even if Moto Guzzi beat Kawasaki to the punch initially.

Q: How does the Concours compare to the BMW and Yamaha FJR?
A: The Concours 14 is unique in its market position. Compared to the other two, it's more a sport bike with bags, without some of the ultra-luxury features seen on the BMW. And while the FJR may weigh less, the C14--at 606 lbs for the standard model and 615 lbs with ABS--has it trumped on sport bike handling and performance. A large part of this is due to better mass centralization and its Tetra-Lever swingarm, beefy inverted 43mm fork with radial mounted calipers and Variable Valve Timing system. All these refinements increased weight in the end, but were all items that allowed us to define the character of this bike.

Q: Is the seat too firm for touring duties?
A: The seat is relatively firm, but after a long-distance ride you feel less tired. Also like a sport bike, the seat transmits good feedback from the chassis. A softer seat gives a good first impression, but sacrifices chassis feel and leaves you more fatigued after a long ride. This was quite clear in our development experience. The rear seat is shaped and cushioned for comfortable tandem riding.

Of course the seat was redesigned for more comfort (especially for the passenger) and a heat-reflecting factory accessory seat made available in hmm, 2015? If you have any complaints about the Concours' seat, and I don't, you should be thankful you are not riding the police version. As originally built by the vendor, the police Concours are equipped with the industry's infamously-excruciating Corbin seats. Some of the recalled police bikes got Saddlemen seats as replacements at department request (which was not part of the recall, obviously).

Q: Tell us about the electrically-adjustable windshield.
A: The windscreen is designed to balance touring wind protection with good sport styling. It is a bit compact compared to existing sport tourer models, but it's sufficient for normal cruising and offers better visibility when riding aggressively on winding roads. For taller riders and those who want more, Kawasaki will have an accessory screen that is larger and has a flared shape for increased wind protection.

The 2010 and later windscreen got added to it auto retraction, whose purpose is to reduce the likelihood of instrument deformation from the sun.

Q: Is there a speed limitation to windscreen movement?
A: No, you can operate the electrically-driven windscreen at any speed. However, as you go faster, the pressure differences grow, so you should exercise caution as with any movable windscreen at speed.

Q: What kind of range can owners expect from the C14?
A: Approximately a 180+ mile cruising range which is comparable to the competition. The actual numbers will depend on the rider and riding environment, of course.

See my article on fuel econonmy. As explained in the article, manufacturers have traditionally avoided the topic for a good reason. Despite this, in an unprecedented move Kawasaki went out on a limb during the recent recession and posted mpg figures on its website for all its streetbikes. Here again they stick their neck out. No one who has been around bikes for very long has difficulty understanding why big, heavy, powerful motorcycles get only 35-40 mpg.

Q: How much does the ABS option add to the overall price of the C14?
A: Talk about bang for your buck! The ABS model is only $900.00 over the basic C14 and adds only nine pounds to the total weight.

Since 2012 (?) of course the Concours has been available only with ABS. It is no longer an option on the Concours, though as of 2016 ABS is still optional on most of Kawasaki's US model streetbikes.

Q: What are the key advantages of ABS?
A: Again we started with the ZX-14, taking the Nissin brake system and fine tuning it according to the C14's chassis and tire character. The big advantage to our system is it utilizes a neutral holding position that doesn't completely release brake pad contact with the rotors during ABS pulses like the competitors' versions. This greatly reduces the pulsating effect felt by the rider under hard braking conditions and inspires more confidence. In optimizing the ABS on the Concours, we tested the system on a variety of road conditions and aimed for a performance balance between dry winding roads and low traction road surface conditions.

This question amazes me on two levels. First, though it was new to Kawasaki, ABS by this time had a fair representation in the powersports industry. Second, the answer communicates how Kawasaki's version is different, it does not answer what is the benefit of ABS in general, that of providing expert-level emergency braking to less than expert riders. Happily, Kawasaki's various versions of ABS have been very well received in the industry.

Q: Are the front and rear brakes linked?
A: No. For sport touring bikes, brakes that can be used independently front and rear on winding roads are part of the fun. Our view is current Linked Brake Systems tend to remove this fun factor--the underlying principle of the C14.

Of course, Kawasaki changed their mind in 2010 with the introduction of K-ACT, originally an option and now standard on the Concours.

Q: Did the brake and clutch master cylinders reservoirs get changed too?
A: Yes. To fit into the touring category, we redesigned them for a unique look and higher quality feel.

Q: What about the storage compartment on the tank?
A: The C14 has a 1.6qt compartment on the tank for stowing small items like a wallet or sunglasses when riding.

Q: Tell us about the capacity of the hard cases.
A: Sure. The 9.2 gal saddlebags are quite roomy--big enough for a large full faced helmet--and can hold 22 lbs of cargo inside.

Some police departments, among them notably Ventura, CA, have sourced very attractive slimmed-down replacement saddlebag lids on the aftermarket. Law enforcement has from the beginning complained that the stock bags' width impedes manueverability.

Q: And there's more storage?
A: You bet. We designed the C14 to be a truly capable tourer. Besides the saddlebags, it has a 22 lbs capacity rear rack, that can also accommodate a 10.3 gal capacity accessory top case.

Most people are aware the early rack was recalled.

Q: How does KIPASS work?
A: The Concours 14 uses an electronic key and FOB system called the KIPASS (Kawasaki Intelligent Proximity Activation Start System). The traditional "key" remains locked into the ignition switch during normal operation, but will only turn when the FOB is within a 5.25 foot radius of the middle of the motorcycle. No FOB within 5.25 feet means the bike is completely lifeless--good for the rider, bad for thieves. With the FOB in range, turning the switch (key) to the FSS (Fuel, Seat and Storage) position allows you to remove it and use it as a mechanical key to open the fuel filler, seat or saddlebags. There is also a small backup key in the FOB, so you can leave the main key locked in the ignition. The reason for retaining a conventional key is it allows the lock system on the C14's saddlebags to be similar to most on the market and stay a very simple and light system. For the fuel tank and seat latches, it avoids the weight and bulk increase required for bigger and more complex keyless locks.

Since 2010 of course the second FOB shipped with the Concours is the slimmer "credit card" type having only the Immobilizer function and not the Transponder ability.

Q: What happens if the FOB is lost?
A: Naturally with such a crucial electronic item, there is a great deal of concern about what will happen if you lose the FOB. With no FOB, nothing happens before the motor is running. Period. Once this crucial condition is met, there are two detection systems working to alert you of any danger. The first is the detection system at starting. As the name implies, it starts working after the bike is started. Then, if you drop the FOB after starting the bike, it will alert you via a "No Transponder" warning on the display. It is not a continuously monitoring device, however, and there are several actions that control its operating behavior, which include:

  • When the speed is over 12.4mph and the rpm under 5000, or when accelerating (the speed increase is more than 1.2mph in three seconds) the FOB [absence] detecting system activates.
  • When a valid FOB is identified, the system stops trying to detect any more (saving battery life).
  • When a FOB cannot be found in-range, the system retries to detect and the NO TRANSPONDER warning illuminates on the display. Once it finds and identifies a valid FOB, the warning turns off.
  • Should you drop the FOB while riding, that same detection system works at the first stop (i.e. a traffic light). When it doesn't find a FOB, it will alert you.
  • Once the ignition is turned off at the main switch, the second detection system kicks in and gives you 10 seconds after turning off the ignition to re-start the engine so you'll have a chance to ride back to where you lost your FOB!
  • When the FOB battery is dead, the FOB's Immobilizer function can still work without a battery, but you must put the FOB next to the ignition switch so the system can identify it and start the engine. The good news is two FOBs are included with each Concours 14, so losing one doesn't cause downtime in your riding pleasure. You'll be able to purchase additional FOBs (up to six) and get them programmed at your local dealer, as long as at least one of the original FOBs is present.

Of course, the Concours' FOB system is the most complicated thing on the bike and the one least appreciated, especially by law enforcement. See my other articles on why KIPASS is important more in overseas markets than it is in the US. On the bike I rode, the missing FOB was detected immediately, without the bike ever moving. Also, it is incorrect to speak of the FOBs as being "programmed." Some manufacturer's electronic keys are indeed programmmed, that is, their keys or FOBs are loaded with data or somehow altered. Not so in the Concours, on which it is the other way around. The FOB's identification is stored in the bike's ECU. The FOB is never changed. Semantics aside, not many people know about that 10-second feature. I am surprised the media contact at Kawasaki handling the question knew about it. I discovered it by accident. In the prototype bike, the display actually measured the miles traveled since the FOB was lost. This is not available on the production vehicle. Incidentally, according to the owner's manual (which was revised three times in just the first year) a person having a pacemaker should not ride a Concours.

Q: What are the details on the tire pressure monitoring system?
A: The tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) shows the actual air pressure in the tires while they are rotating. It also alerts the rider when the pressure drops below 32 psi. The 32 psi point is a compromise between a high setting with the possibility of frequent warnings and one at a lower value, which comes on later at the risk of instability. The Kawasaki engineers erred on the side of caution and set the warning level towards the high end.

Most people are aware the TPMS sensor changed a few years ago. Repeated durability issues led Kawasaki to change vendors to Bosch, the same supplier to (and identical part as on) the Honda Gold Wing. Far fewer issues.

Q: What's the battery life of these devices?
A: The FOBs use standard watch batteries. The FOB will alert you with a low battery warning on the display as its battery begins to fade. The tire sensors use non-replaceable batteries that are designed to last approximately five years once turned on and require a sensor replacement at the dealership when they have completely used up their charge.

The TPMS sensor has a circuit inside that keeps the battery dormant (actually it prevents the sensor from putting a load on the battery) while the sensor is on the parts shelf. When inertia is exerted on the sensor, the battery is activated. There are possibly three or four different versions of the sensor in just the US due to design changes. As to the FOB, beware that keeping the FOB on the bike--as many police officers do--instead of in your pocket will run its battery down rapidly.

Q: How much do the ZX-14 and C14 engines have in common?
A: Like the chassis, the starting point was the ZX-14's engine. But as the engineers changed its personality for better sport touring and incorporated new technology items--thus many newly designed parts--the commonality shrank. Now just a small portion of the original components are shared between the two models, like the counterbalancer, starter, shift drum, connecting rods and some of the engine covers.

Q: So, in short; the C14 and the ZX-14 are not rivals?
A: That's correct. The aim was to make a touring bike with the soul of a sportbike. Sure, the peak horsepower number of the Concours is lower than the ZX-14's, but it is a more refined power to better handle the expected passenger and loading for sport touring situations. As such, the Kawasaki engineers calculated that its 156 ps (153 HP) will be plenty and you'll still able to push the tires to their limits.

I can't believe how clueless this question is.

Q: How much of a difference does the ram air system make?
A: Some of the C14's impressive power numbers come from its aerodynamics alone. Its ram air system not only provides a five horsepower boost via a supercharging effect, but has other benefits as well such as reduced intake noise.

An incorrect answer. Aerodymaics affect performance, not power. Incidentally, note how little power gain comes from ram air. This is true on sportbikes as well.

Q: What else was done to achieve more low to mid range?
A: In developing the powerband traits, we noted that many of our customers from this category do not rev the engine as much, so we tuned the engine for more low to mid range and better acceleration in any rpm range. To accomplish this, we made the following changes:
  • Decreased the throttle body diameter from 44mm to 40mm. The smaller diameter increases intake velocity, making the throttle response very crisp at low rpm.
  • Changed the throttle body holder diameter accordingly.
  • Provided different exhaust lift and actuation angles on the intake and camshafts. The intake camshaft is controlled by a VVT system.
  • Made changes to the pistons to alter the combustion chamber capacity, resulted in the compression ratio decreasing from 12.0:1 to 10.7:1.
  • Connected exhaust pipes in a 4:2:1 system with cylinders 1 and 4 and cylinders 2 and 3 dumping into two collectors, with the pipe diameter decreased from 38.1mm to 35mm and ultimately flowing through a single muffler. A single muffler was used because the left muffler would have stuck out very far to avoid the drive shaft on that side of the bike. The single tri-oval muffler also saves weight and produces less noise than the ZX-14.

An interesting insight into the bike's low rpm and midrange design ethic. The amount that the Concours throttle bodies are smaller than those of the ZX-14 is variously stated in different Kawasaki publications. In some places it is said to be 6mm, in others 4mm.

Q: How does the Variable Valve Timing system function?
A: The way Variable Valve Timing works is by continuously varying the intake camshaft timing via oil fed through a dedicated oil path into both the advancing and retarding chambers. The timing is adjusted by an Oil Control Valve (OCV) changing the oil pressure in the chambers as dictated by the camshaft timing data sent from the ECU, which monitors engine rpm and throttle position parameters for valve timing control. The system starts at 2000rpm. This rpm was chosen so that Variable Valve Timing operation could start as low as possible. From idle to 2000rpm, the engine is fixed in its most retarded timing position--the best place for such extremely low rpm range and it avoids any strange and undesired torque alteration in that range.

A disappointing description inasmuch as the importance of the intake valve's timing is not mentioned. See my article. Also, a mistake is made here. The cam timing is advanced at low rpm, not retarded. Note that the Concours has two cam position sensors, the usual one on the exhaust cam for fuel injection timing, and the extra one on the intake cam for VVT.

Q: What is the advantage of having Variable Valve Timing?
A: The variable range of the valve timing is 24 degrees in camshaft angle, so the engine always has the optimum valve timing throughout the rpm range, which results in an improved torque character. That's one advantage; the other is better fuel consumption and a cleaner exhaust emission level.

Though VVT already had a history of use in cars (in fact systems identical in specification to the Concours'), as a simple yet effective system bearing incredibly on rideability, it is nonetheless astounding. This is a lot of camshaft movement! I am finding it a little hard to believe in fact. Variable valve timing is the single most effective technology on the Concours and more than any other aspect makes the bike what it is. It simply cannot be minimized in importance. As of this writing other powersports manufacturers are beginning to embrace their own forms of VVT.

Q: Why is the compression ratio lower?
A: The theoretical compression ratio of 10.7:1 is lower than the 12.0:1 of the ZX-14. However, the actual compression ratio increases when the camshaft timing is advanced. With intake camshaft timing becoming more advanced than the ZX-14's via VVT, it was necessary to start at a lower ratio so we could keep the actual compression ratio from becoming higher than the engine's knocking limit.

Insightful and important.

Q: Why is sixth gear called overdrive?
A: The C14 has an extra-tall "overdrive" sixth gear that lets the engine run slower when cruising, producing less vibration and noise thus raising comfort levels and lowering fuel consumption--by approximately five percent. It also permits for a closer gear ratio from 1st to 5th for better sport performance.

An odd question. Whether called out as such or not, virtually all (Harley-Davidson excepted) street bikes have at least one overdrive upper gear ratio, and often two. Japanese bikes have since the late 1960s.

Q: How does the C14 pull off such smooth and seamless power delivery?
A: The C14 owes part of its silky and linear power to its maintenance free and clean (no chain oil splatter) shaft drive--a must for any self-respecting sport touring machine. Kawasaki engineers went one step further and fitted the shaft drive system with a back torque limiting clutch that absorbs shocks when shifting down gears and minimizes rear wheel hop, resulting in smoother corner entries while also helping to protect drive train parts. Wrapping up the smooth delivery are the dampers installed in the clutch and front bevel gear areas. Because this drive train transmits on/off throttle operation more directly to the rear tire than a chain drive, these dampers prevent load alteration behavior (lash) when riding the bike.

Q: Why are there two radiator fans?
A: Basically to maintain a high cooling efficiency. With the room and electrical power to allow it, the extra fan was added in part because the Concours 14 has more cowling than the ZX-14. A second reason is that touring conditions could put the machine in hot environments with more of a load on the machine (and strain on the engine) than ZX-14 riders are likely to encounter.

Q: How does it comply with emissions standards?
A: Using two exhausts catalysts, Variable Valve Timing and optimized FI settings, the C14 complies with all applicable U.S. standards without compromising performance.

The US model Concours got O2 sensors for the first time in 2016 (?). Two in fact.

Q: The styling looks similar, yet different to the ZX-14.
A: The resemblance between the two is intentional. After all they share some common components in the chassis and engine, yet there are some pretty significant design differentiations. First and foremost are the different roles. As a sport tourer the C14 has purposeful items like saddlebags, a shaft drive, an electrically adjustable windscreen and a storage compartment on the tank. The overall bike was designed to incorporate such functionality into its look and yet remain balanced visually--with or without the saddlebags. The four fins on the cowling, which signify the strongest 4-cylinder, are inherited from the ZX-14 and are even found on the saddlebags.

For my money, the Concours is the most handsome bike in the Kawasaki livery, much prettier than the ZX-14 or 14R or even the ZX-10R and among the ten best looking among all modern machines. A gorgeous bike!

Q: What's the design theory behind the C14's lights?
A: The LED taillight is located high over the turn indicators under the rear carrier mainly for improved visibility from behind. The headlight is another example of functioning art. For this sport tourer, the designer also addressed night riding with a bright, large, multi-reflector lamp. It has special "light-guiding lenses" at the sides of the headlight to make the bike more visible from the side.

Recommended reading:
The Kawasaki Concours introduction
The Kawasaki Concours 10 years later
The police bike Concours recall
Kawasaki's KIPASS system
Factory KDS training book

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