Author Topic: Concours versus The Rest  (Read 17575 times)

Offline elvin315

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Concours versus The Rest
« on: May 17, 2011, 07:46:02 pm »
Several mainstream magazines acknowledged the 20-year production run of Kawasaki's Concours ZG1000 in 2006. After testing and riding all the latest generation Sport Touring bikes from Kawasaki, Honda, Yamaha, BMW, Ducati, Aprilia, et al they looked back over their shoulders and took a fresh look at the good old Concours. I don't have to tell you that they were very surprised. So was I when I read their reviews. Most of them naturally repeated the old bang for your buck comment. But after riding her again they were reminded why they were so excited when the Concours debuted in 1986. Remember, except for the BMWs, the Concours stood alone in the Sport Tour field. It was the first factory built Sport Tour bike from Japan. Every article I read was full of praise for the old girl and judged the bike on her own merits. But the biggest surprise was that they hardly mentioned "the buzz". Maybe they've matured a bit and stopped nit picking.

The "best bang for the buck" cliche` makes the Concours and her owners sound cheap, like we're settling for less, but the truth is that neither the price tag nor the spec sheet should determine which bike is right for you. The low out the door price might have been less than the others but that wasn't the whole story. The Connie's low price left you the option of upgrading her where and when you wanted, like comfort accessories or suspension improvements. Engine performance could be improved with help from the aftermarket too, as well as some homegrown modifications. Still, true performance is defined more by the rider's skill than the bike. That's the real Best Bang. There are riders in COG that can push the curves harder and go through them faster on their stock Concours than riders on so-called superior bikes. The best performance boost comes from a MSF class followed by a track school. Track days are fun and you can go as fast as you want without Officer Friendly interrupting you.

Time marched on but the Concours stood her ground. Except for the 1994 update and a few very minor tweaks since then the ZG1000 is the same bike it was in 1986. Sure there are newer sport tour bikes like the Concours 14, ST1300, VFR800, FJR1300, K1200R Sport, ST3, and Norge competing in the Sport Tour market. The magazines and manufacturers have even widened the definition to include open class sport bikes with no standard luggage like the Hayabusa if you can imagine that. These bikes employ newer technology and bigger engines. They may accelerate quicker, have a higher top speed, stop shorter, turn sharper, but none does anything $5,000 better, especially if they don't even come with standard bags.

The quest for horsepower has swept over the Sport Touring Class. Now it's not enough to carry two people and their gear comfortably and briskly down the road. Now the bikes have to be able to reach astronomical top speeds. Speeds not legal anywhere but the dragstrip or roadcourse. Let's face it; we all love the feel of a powerful engine pushing us down the road so fast we can't catch or breath. It's a rush, literally. There's no replacement for displacement. The only people that enjoy big engines more are insurance underwriters. But there's no trick to making prodigious power from a large engine. Since most insurance companies drastically increase premiums over 1000cc the real challenge is to squeeze more power from a liter engine without it self-destructing when pushed to the redline. Of course, Sport Tour bikes benefit more from increased torque than horsepower and big engines make big torque. How can a 1000cc engine do both high horse power and torque? Generally speaking, 2 valves per cylinder produce good torque while 4 valves per cylinder produce good horsepower. Ducati found a happy medium with its ST3. Its engine uses 3 valves per cylinder and it works. The L-Twin makes only 78 HP but also produces a respectable 73 foot-pounds of torque. At last look the Concours had 91 HP and 64.5 foot/pounds of torque at its disposal. A little work could bump those foot-pound numbers up a bit without sacrificing too many ponies.

I had a 1984 VF500F Interceptor before I bought the Concours. She was several generations, and many CCs, removed from the current VFR800 but it showed me how Honda differs from the other manufacturers. Honda uses engineers rotated in from its Honda and Acura automobile divisions, the Formula 1 and Indycar programs, as well as their AMA / World SB, and MotoGP teams to design and develop its motorcycles. The other players in the market like Yamaha and Suzuki can't compete on that level so they depend on ever increasing displacement to carry their banners, Kawasaki included.

Kawasaki played follow the leader and revamped the ZX11 into a sport tour bike, the ZZR1200. The ZZR wasn’t an acceptable substitute for the ZG1000 to most Concours owners. Now they give us the Concours 14 and Kawasaki once again leads the pack. Faster, bigger engine, standard bags, large protective fairing, ABS brakes, Variable cam timing, secure ignition switch, and shaft drive. Things we love about the original and much more. Problem is, some of us don't want one now. Kawasaki made the same Concours for so long that many of us got used to the simplicity of the original. We got used to her low budget nature. We developed solutions for her limitations and even managed to stretch her performance envelope. After all this time and effort "The Faithful" resist the siren call to trade up. Maybe when The C14 ages a bit and proves itself worthy our loyalties will shift. Me, I'm waiting awhile.

Kawasaki has made the Concours for 20 years with only minor changes including the engine. Though based on the Ninja 1000R superbike of the mid-eighties the Concours can't hold a candle to the new generation of sport tourers performance wise. Still, that doesn't mean she's gutless either. The Concours was tuned to provide enough torque and horsepower to haul around her weight and that of her passengers and still have plenty leftover to excite. Compared to the competition, the Ninja based engine is decidedly low tech so servicing the valves and carburetors are driveway jobs if you want them to be. Twenty years of production means that parts are not only still available over the counter but there are also lots of parts bikes around to pick over.

The sport gap has obviously grown between the Concours and the other sport tour bikes but so has the touring gap. While the other bikes have gotten lighter and smaller the Connie has remained the same roomy, load-carrying monster she’s always been. None of the new bikes wears a fairing with the same protection or bags as big. Luggage capacity has taken a back seat to top speed. The size and shapes of the new generation bags is more of a styling affectation than an actual aerodynamic benefit. The idea was that smaller, smoother, more rounded bags would reduce aerodynamic drag. Maybe yes, maybe no. The end results for the owners are bags that hold less and are harder to pack. In the aircraft world the early jet fighters couldn't operate in bad weather. They weren't equipped with radar able to see through rain or fog. The Air Force ordered fighters with that capability and created a new classification for them. They called them All Weather Penetration Fighters. That's what the Concours is. An All Weather Penetrator. No other bike in its class offers its riders the same measure of protection from the rain and cold, as does the Concours.

None of the newer bikes takes the passenger's comfort into consideration either. I see tiny seat pads with footpegs mounted high above upswept exhaust canisters. The latest insult inflicted on the passenger is the placement of hot exhaust components under the pillion. Many testers comment on how hot that seat gets. Again the old fashioned Concours coddles the passenger with a comfortable chair like accommodation. As they say, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy".

The styling trend today is for sharp creases and disjointed body panels, what I call origami styling. Sport bikes today have an angry aggressive appearance. Sport tour bikes to a lesser degree like the ST1300 and the FJR1300 for example but it’s still a harsh look. In contrast, the smooth lines of the Concours are, to some, dated and old fashioned but those that love her call it classic and elegant. Timeless.

The soul of any bike is its engine. The Concours has a Ninja's soul and that means a transverse inline 4-cylinder engine. Honda has a history of experimentation and innovation with transverse fours, flat fours and sixes, the incredible CB-X six, the ST longitudinal V four, the VFR V-Fours, and the Superhawk V-Twins. Yamaha had its aircooled 4 stroke XS triples and fours before it went to watercooling. It tried to follow Honda's path with innovative engines like the watercooled Vision 550 V-Twin, the Fazer, and the Venture/V-Max V-4. Suzuki wasn't in their league but tried to play on their field with the Madura/Cavalcade V-4 and the SV/Strom V-Twins. Kawasaki bucked the trends, stayed with the transverse inline 4, released the watercooled Ninja engine in 1984, and won the game. Today, every high performance Japanese superbike is powered by a transverse inline 4. Even BMW finally caved in and built their new K1200R Sport in that mold. Kawasaki made their reputation with the inline 4 starting with the original superbike, the Z1, and continues the tradition with the ZX14. True to the original formula, the Concours 14's engine is, at heart, a Ninja.

Kawasaki may have frozen time for the Concours but some owners have defrosted her and breathed new life into her with handling, braking, and engine performance enhancements. For example, Randy Forsland successfully transplanted the entire front end from the ZRX1200 ELR Replica replica onto his Concours. In one stroke he improved the front suspension with a sturdier fully adjustable cartridge fork, beefy 6 piston dual action calipers on 310mm discs, and a lighter smaller 17-inch wheel. The Concours’ engine also has great potential for improvement. Beyond the usual carburetor jet kit and slip-on exhaust canisters is the return to full Ninja specs. The camshafts and carburetors from the 1986-87 Ninja 1000R (GPZ1000RX) will bolt directly onto the Concours' cylinder block and return the engine to its Ninja roots. This mod will sacrifice some torque down low for horsepower up high but if you want to keep up with the FJRs and Blackbirds in your group this will help. Then there's our man Steve in Sunny Fla who developed a new exhaust cam timing gear that provides more torque and improved low speed throttle. Not to mention his revised bevel drive that reduces top gear by 500 RPM for relaxed highway riding. The Concours is full of potential. It’s just waiting for the right owner to bring it out. Newly developed, homegrown increases in displacement add even more power. Or what about a ZRX1200 engine swap? With a ZZR1200 shock absorber, the rear suspension catches up with the front. There's more but you get the idea.

I'm very happy with my Concours and feel no great urge to buy the new 1400. The classic Kawasaki Concours is too good a bike to let disappear. Though no longer in production, as long as people desire a solid economical motorcycle that fulfills the needs of the two-wheel commuter and sport tourer, the Concours will ride on.