Monday, March 24, 2014

Kawasaki Concours "Classic" Ride Review

What is it like to live with a Concours Classic?  Well the short answer is that it is like living with a good friend that lives on coffee and energy bars.  It wants to go someplace and wants to go now.  No matter where, it just wants to hurry up and get going.

As always it is a little hard to be completely unbiased about something that you shelled out your hard earned cash for, so, without any apologies, let me tell you what I think about the Concours.

When the Concours was introduced to the US market it was one of the first of what we now call "sport touring" bikes.  Even though it came with saddle bags, it leaned more toward sport than touring.  The engine was pulled from the hotrod Ninja 1000.  The engine was modified to mate with a shaft drive and to provide more torque down lower in the rev department.  Still, it is a strong engine and a good one can put 100+ horsepower to the ground.

Speaking of the engine, it has to be one of the easiest to live with.  It pulls strongly and smoothly from very low revs.  As the revs build the engine really comes alive.  At 5000, 6500, and then again at 8000 RPM it feels like you lit an afterburner.  Not only does it accelerate with increasing strength, the sound turns from a guttural purr to a howl.  The sound and the acceleration produce a very satisfying experience.

The suspension gives a sporty ride and the handling is completely unflapped by road irregularities - at least at the speed I am comfortable riding.  The bike rolls into and out of curves with the ease of a much lighter bike and can easily change direction mid-curve it needed.  The brakes are a good match for the handling and an adrenaline aided two finger pull can make the front tire howl, yet the brake is easy to control right to the edge of adhesion.

For me, the seat, handlebar, foot peg location is nearly perfect.  Most weight is on the seat, but you do support a bit with your arms and hands.  I find it very comfortable.  How comfortable?  I once rode it 1200 miles in 23 hours including a short four hour break to take a nap.  This was with the bike completely stock. Since then  I have put a Corbin seat on it.  Not that it needed it, but the original split a glued seam and I was able to convince myself to put the Corbin on it.  My best friend and riding buddy Kim feels the tiny back rest on the Corbin gives a feeling of security, but the OEM seat really was good.  We also added a Clearview windshield to the bike.  When riding in a quartering headwind the still air pocket behind the original screen began to collapse on the back seat passenger and caused a fair amount of buffeting.  Something a solo ride never feels.  The Clearview is a little wider but the same height as the original.  It did help the buffeting, but a properly fitting helmet made a much better solution.

So we made two minor modifications to the bike and while I like the seat and windshield a little better than the originals, there was actually little true improvement.  It seems the bike was mighty good as it came from the factory.  If I were to do it again, I'd keep the EOM parts and spend the cash on a weekend trip.

The fairing offers good protection and it keeps legs and feet nice and warm clear down to about 20 degrees F.  At least I thought so when I lived in the north, different story now that the blood has thinned in the Florida heat.  In the hot south, the fairing can draw engine heat up on the rider, especially when crawling along in city traffic.

Are there negatives with the Connie?  Not really. At my height (5' 8") it is a little tall and heavy when sqeegying around the garage, but as soon as you are above a walking speed it all becomes easy.

The classic Connies have a timeless beauty.  Park it among more modern rides and passers-by will walk past the newer bikes but usually stop to give the Concours a good eyeing.  Our bike is a 2004 and I call the color black, which it is.  It also has a subtle blue metal flake.  When it sits in the sun it is a very shiny black that seems to give a faint dark blue sparkle, when the angle is right.  I have always thought it reminded me of a steam locomotive.  It gives the look of raw mechanical purity, strength, and competence.

Hit the start button and the bike settles into a gentle idle.  The stock exhaust is a quiet and muffled sound that cannot hide the underlying strength of the engine.  I have read that the Connies can be buzzy.  I have to say that I don't notice this.  That could be because my other bikes make this one seem smooth by comparison, but I have never felt fatigue or tingling even after long rides.  One thing I do is to set the valves at the recommended interval and I take the time to sync the carbs at the same time.  Maybe this simple maintenance is what keeps the buzz at bay.

The gas mileage runs a consistent 44 MPG on the highway and at interstate speeds.  A heavy hand could lower it of course.   When I ride the back roads that I prefer, the mileage ranges from the mid to upper 40s and has topped 50 a time or two.  You can expect to ride 240 miles before it goes on reserve.  I once rode just a shade over 300 miles on a tank, but I was sweating a bit by the time I found a gas station.

The classic Concours can no longer match the performance of a modern sport tourer, but its' performance is probably greater than the abilities of most of its' riders.  Certainly it has more performance that I have ability.  The bike has a timeless beauty that it has retained with grace as it has aged.  I suspect it'll have a strong and loyal following for many years!