February 18, 2005
Back in 1986 you could buy a new Honda GL1200 Gold Wing Interstate for $6,198, and a BMW K100RT was $7,650. In our October issue we tested their vastly updated and improved successors and found that the 2005 BMW K1200LT now has a base price of $18,660, and the ’04 GL1800 Wing is $18,999. Wow, isn’t there any good value at a low price anymore?
Actually there is, and you’re looking at it. If this bike seems familiar, it’s because Kawasaki has changed the Concours very little since its introduction. For 2005 it’s now in its 20th model year, and has lasted an inordinately long time with only minor changes. Why? Well, for starters it’s a 1,000cc sport tourer with a full fairing, driveshaft and saddlebags that, with an MSRP of only $8,299, sells for less than the 2004 885cc Triumph Thunderbird Sport triple, the Kawasaki ZX-6RR four and even the BMW F650CS single. Hey, it’s cheap!
Yet obviously price is not the sole reason why the Concours has lasted; many other bikes, low-priced or otherwise, have been discontinued by their manufacturers over the past two decades. No, while value is certainly a major reason for the Concours’ continued success, there are obviously many additional reasons.
The original ZG1000 was based on the ZX1000 Ninja, a sportbike with a box-section perimeter frame and chain final drive. To create the Concours, Kawasaki converted the ZX’s power transfer system to a driveshaft and stuffed the engine into a tubular-steel frame. But that liquid-cooled, transverse-mounted, 997cc DOHC four-cylinder engine remains at the heart of the matter to this day, and that’s a big part of the draw. Bore and stroke are still 74.0 x 58.0mm, a short-stroke design that yields a redline of 10,500 rpm. Compression ratio is 10.2:1, and Kawasaki recommends 87-octane regular fuel.
The 2005 Concours looks very much like the ’86 version with its clean, seamless styling, low windscreen and black saddlebags. The only major updates occurred in 1994, when its front end was totally revised. At that time the existing 38mm fork and narrow 110/80-18 front radial tire were replaced by a 41mm fork, 3.0-inch-wide front wheel (up from 2.15 inches) and fender, and wider 120/70-VR18 tire. In place of its relatively flat seat was a new, cushier unit with a custom look. These changes carry over today. For 2005, the only change Kawasaki reports is that the mufflers are now fully chromed.
Climb aboard today’s Concours and it’s like déjà vu all over again. Here is that long dash shade shielding those familiar round, analog gauges. These include a speedo, tach, fuel gauge and temp gauge—with a clock. Don’t look for any of those little gray LCD screens with their imperious readouts; we don’t need no stinkin’ mini-computers!
Fire it up after utilizing the manual choke lever beside the left grip, and the Concours inhales through a brace of four Keihin 32mm carburetors—we don’t need no stinkin’ fuel injection, either! With a moderate pull on its hydraulically actuated clutch, slip it into first gear and go for a ride. It offers a comfortable seating position with the feet fairly high and the hands comfortably forward. Granted, the engine is a bit noisy by today’s standards with its typical in-line four-cylinder roar, but the Concours’ six-speed transmission shifts as sweetly as a typical Japanese six-cog, so long as its linkage is properly adjusted.
Say what you will about the Concours’ dated styling and lack of features, its more-than-adequate horsepower wears quite well over the years. Power delivery begins with a definite torquey pull at about 3,500 rpm, then power really kicks in past 6,000 rpm. Our test model cranked out 65.7 lb-ft of torque at 6,350 rpm, and 95.5 horsepower at 9,100 rpm, which certainly will peg most riders’ fun meter. What we liked less, however, was the familiar Concours complaint of engine buzziness. Despite the fact that the engine incorporates a gear-driven counterbalancer, vibes start in the grips at about 3,500 rpm, then will tickle your fancy as they tingle the tank and seat beyond 6,000 rpm. While cruising long distances on the highway, I found myself flexing my throttle hand a couple of times per hour in an attempt to awaken my snoozing circulation.
Suspension setup is crucial to the Concours’ handling. At the lightest settings the bike felt heavy and slow during spirited riding. Then we set the rear single shock to its fourth (highest) damping setting and pumped in some additional air pressure, which raised the back end. Cranking the fork’s spring preload adjusters all the way in raised and better supported the front end. Now the big Connie felt lighter and more nimble, though it still suffered some immediate dive under braking.
Another consideration is that, like bikes of its day, the Concours still comes with an 18-inch front wheel and a 16-inch rear, in widths appropriate to 20 years ago. The problem is that they are no longer compatible with modern tire sizes. While the Dunlop K700 and K701 radials felt planted and secure in turns, and gripped tenaciously, their prominent center grooves made them extremely sensitive to Southern California’s ubiquitous rain grooves. The bike hunts and squirms constantly on rain grooves, but was fine on standard pavement.
The seat, with its thick, triple-density foam presents a seat height of 31.1 inches; shorter riders may find it a bit tall. Personally, though I’m only 165 pounds, I sunk into the seat foam and found it squirmy, which was fatiguing. There’s a reason why many aftermarket seats are relatively firm.
Kawasaki has learned a lot about aerodynamics since the ’80s, but nevertheless that Concours fairing and windscreen really work in concert. I stand 6 feet tall, and found the screen easy to see over. At freeway speeds the wind struck me at about midhelmet; I felt very little wind on my torso and hands, and none on my legs. Some comes around the screen and closes in around the rider’s sides and back, so they’ll get some breeze on hot days. Wind noise was prominent, and I recommend wearing earplugs. Yeah, I could have used a stinkin’ adjustable windscreen….
One area in which the Concours shows its age is in braking. Its 300mm dual front disc rotors are gripped by two-piston calipers that have largely been surpassed by four-piston units for enhanced feel and stopping power on more modern machines. Our test bike could have used a thorough brake bleeding. When the brake lever came too far back toward the grip I turned the four-way adjuster wheel—and found that the lever was already adjusted to maximum! The front lever required a major amount of squeeze for serious stopping. In the rear the single disc offers good modulation and power. In addition to a new seat and some fork springs, perhaps some Teflon brake lines and high-performance brake pads should be on your shopping list.
If you’re like me, you hate when you’re in a hurry and feel you have to consolidate your food and fuel stops, eating stale sandwiches from vending machines with eau d’ gasoline wafting on the air. One of my favorite Concours features is that huge 7.5-gallon fuel tank, which at the bike’s 37.4-mpg average means it can haul you and yours somewhere around 280 miles. This allows you to confine your stops to actual restaurants and parks rather than the Gas & Go. The fuel gauge is a bit of a pessimist, and tended to hit the red zone (reserve) when there were still more than two gallons left. Also, the tank is steel and will accept magnetic tankbags.
The side-opening hard saddlebags, which measure 17 inches long by 12.5 tall and 12 deep, are secured with an easy-operating set of locking flip latches—the same style latches that easily lock them to the bike. Some of the interior space is stolen by those turn signals and other indents. When you reach your destination, unlock them and whisk them away by deploying their handles.
When it comes to carrying things, the Concours was quite innovative for its day—and still is. Each of two lockable compartments in the fairing will hold a pair of light gloves, and beneath that easily removable skullcap behind the seat is a small rack good to go with 11 pounds; front bungee holders are built into the grab rail, and the rears are those little chromed levers that flip out on either side of the taillight. Loading is made easier by using the standard centerstand. Should you decide to go sporting about sans saddlebags, their brackets can be removed very easily with two Allen bolts each. The color-matched plastic panels provided will snap in place and leave the Concours’ flanks nicely finished.
Where the chili hits the cheese in terms of the Concours’ place in the biking cosmos comes down to value vs. function. How inexpensive is the Concours relative to the competition? Today, the ranks of the 1,000cc-plus sport-touring persuasion include (all prices are 2004) the Yamaha FJR1300 ($11,599, or $12,599 with ABS), Honda ST1300 ($13,499, $14,499 with ABS) and BMW R1150RT ABS ($16,290). Choose a Concours, and your savings range from $3,300 to about eight large.
Obviously, those who choose the Concours over these three larger, more powerful, more comfortable state-of-the-art sport tourers are either considering price over ultimate function, or have decided that they can do without such amenities as fuel injection and LCD readouts.
Any potential Concours buyer must be aware of how far ol’ Connie has fallen behind the current crop of sport tourers in terms of function and comfort. It gives up engine smoothness, suspension compliance and seating comfort to all these bikes, and the perceived safety of available anti-lock brakes. You may think you don’t need no stinkin’ electrically adjustable windscreen (they’re either standard or available on the above) until it’s stinkin’ hot—or really stinkin’ cold.
But are there grumblings in the ranks? I visited the Concours Owners Group Web site (www.concours.org), and viewed the informal survey they were running for Concours owners and fans. With more than 1,160 votes cast, in response to the statement “I wish Kawasaki would give the ZG/GTR:” 31 percent wanted more horsepower, another 31 percent voted for 17-inch rims, and 21 percent wished they would beef up the 400-watt alternator. Another 17 percent wanted no changes, and 6 percent said “None of the above.”
What’s so good about the Concours? Incredible price. Fine fairing protection. Large, boxy, easily removable saddlebags. A huge 7.5-gallon tank with 280-mile range. Acceptable power and comfort. If that’s enough, and you don’t need no stinkin’ other stuff, your Kawasaki dealer will be happy to show you his good value/low price Concours inventory.