"She's a beast!" friends often say when they see me astride the big, blue Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS long term tester in the city. Whether or not you're a big guy (or gal) yourself, there's no denying that this saddlebag-equipped sport tourer is a big, bulky bike, especially when it's getting rocked off its center stand, slipping through gridlock, or squeezing into a parking spot. Not only does it have a considerable footprint, the Connie's 688 pound curb weight can feel like a handful at low speeds, requiring extra rider effort to ensure its path is smooth and decisive. But when the road opens up and speeds increase, the Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS's core personality starts to emerge.
Big(ish) Boy Pants
Despite the Concours 14's physical bulk, spending time on longer rides reveals several counterintuitive aspects to this bike's proportions. For starters, my 31 inch inseam might seem scaled perfectly for the Kawi's 32.1 inch seat height, I sometimes find there's more knee bend than I'd like during prolonged rides. Loaning the Concours 14 to a friend who's a couple inches taller than me drew complaints that his legs felt crowded on the bike.
Though the handlebars are positioned relatively tall compared to all-out sportbikes, there's still a bit of a forward reach, suggesting Kawasaki didn't want to completely abandon the Concours' sporty underpinnings. When you're riding the Connie on the highway, it certainly feels lighter and more ready for action than it does trundling through city streets, but its big, steady road presence still harbors a bit more grunt than you might think, especially when you twist the throttle, summon the torquey 1,352cc inline-4 powerplant, and let the revs shoot to the 10,500 rpm redline. Unless you're seriously lugging the engine, it rarely demands a downshift before committing to a quick blast of warp speed thrust.
Amenities & Comfort
Aerodynamically, my 5 foot, 11-inch frame tends to work fairly well with the Kawasaki, though at speeds above 45 mph or so I get into a buffeting situation that can be somewhat mitigated by lifting the electrically operated windscreen-- though its 6.9-inch travel still doesn't quite block the potentially noisy and turbulent wind flow. While ducking my head below the airflow helps shield from the racket, that posture is neither comfortable nor practical over the long haul. Kawasaki's accessory windscreen would likely cure the problem, though it would also create the aesthetic counter-problem of looking rather tall and dorky.
While the Concours 14 is quite comfortable overall on the highway (despite the fact that it doesn't always feel like an ideal ergonomic match for my frame), it's aided by several features that make it particularly well-suited to long distance riding. For starters, there's still plenty of wind protection (despite the niggles about turbulent airflow at the top of my helmet), and a solid, planted feeling in the suspension that doesn't diminish at higher velocities, even when groundspeed surpasses the 100 mph mark. Heated grips are operated by a dial on the left fairing, and work rather well to warm you from the palms up when ambient temps drop. Toggling through the dashboard's menu selections using your left trigger finger makes it easy to scan between stuff like ambient temperature, fuel economy (instant and average), and tire pressure settings. And though the side mirrors are positioned a bit too low for helmet checks (and can be partially blocked by your body unless you tuck in), their generous size makes it easy to scan your periphery for traffic.
At the End of the Day: Sport Touring-- or Touring Sport?
If you're looking for a dedicated highway tourer and don't want to abandon the grunt or handling capabilities of a sportbike, the Concours 14 ABS strikes the sport touring paradigm right in the gut, with its committed but comfortable ergonomics and solid, planted road presence. While many of my high speed highway miles aboard the Concours tend to be accompanied by a bit more noise and turbulence than I might expect, the Connie also offers a comfortable saddle and a confidence inspiring view of the road, without feeling like a bloated, geriatric touring bike-- once again, striking that sweet spot sought by riders in the market for a sport tourer.
Stay tuned for more long term Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS updates as we explore issues like sport riding, fuel economy, and more.