Do you remember 1986? It was a time before cartridge forks, low-profile
radial tires, four-piston brakes and before CAD/CAM and finite element analysis
had enabled engineers to pare every last gram from structural components.
It was also a time when Kawasaki ruled the performance segment, as it had
almost uninterruptedly since the days of the two-stroke streetbike era. In 1986,
the fastest machine ever built was the then-new ZX1000 Ninja, a sensuously
beautiful beast capable of 160 mph in stock trim. And a time when sport-touring
in the united States was almost unknown—a tiny niche market, dominated by BMW.
Against this backdrop, Kawasaki dropped an unprecedented bomb, a remarkably
well thought-out and seriously fast sport-tourer, not merely a gentlemanly
grand-tourer. one of its chief selling points was that the company promised not
to change the bike for five years (imagine, we thought improvements were coming
too fast—back then). This was both an oblique suggestion that the bike would
continue in production that long and an open invitation to the after-market to
support the new machine (another anachronism).
But, the secret of how this particular machine defied the odds of the
marketplace and is still on sale twenty years later (dog years in terms of
motorcycle technology) is no great surprise when you spend time with it.
Based on the aforementioned DoHC, four-valve ZX1000 Ninja motor, Kawasaki was
leaving no doubt that they'd gone all out to build a performance machine. The
engine tune was largely borrowed from the Eliminator variant, a low slung
dragster-inspired machine, with bodacious torque as its calling card. The carbs
were downsized from the Ninja's 34mm mixers to 32mm, the stainless steel
headpipes (a rarity back then) made 6mm smaller, and a unique set of cams with
15° less duration than the Ninja, but a fraction more lift than the Eliminator's
finished the changes. This gave the heavier Concours 12% more torque in the
midrange (3000-7000 rpm) than the Ninja.
A counterbalancer at the front of the block allowed the engine to be mounted
as a stressed member in a stout double backbone diamond chassis sourced from the
previous 900 Ninja. Steel swingarm mounts replaced aluminum, to provide greater
support for the weight of luggage.
Today, the basic engine specifications are unchanged, and our latest example
put out 2.2 more hp than it did in our last test in 1996. Engine vibration,
mentioned as a problem in earlier tests, was not objectionable this time, not
that you don't notice it. The engine makes a low growl under way that makes for
an enjoyable soundtrack, and although you can feel it working through the bars,
it doesn't qualify as hand-numbing. However, after speaking to a number of
owners, we suspect individual models may have slightly more or less smoothness
than our test bike.
A number of the original Concours had cam tensioner problems (reported by 17%
on our owner's Survey in 1994). This was cured in 1990 by changing the
spring/wedge tensioner design to a ratcheting arrangement to eliminate slipping.
Some snatchiness in the original carburetor settings were also reported, but
these must also have been fine tuned. Now, especially for those who have become
accustomed to the abruptness of fuel injection, the Concours' carburetion is a
revelation; smooth, controllable and eminently driveable.
A plus for Do-It-Yourselfers is that the motor's valve clearance is handled
by screws and locknuts. Adjustment intervals are reasonably long; every 10,000
miles, and yet the engine's redline is not restricted—good for 10,500 rpm.
Today, you'd have to consider the Con-cours' motor as well-proven and
reliable as any on the road.
Fitted with a wide-ratio six-speed transmission, the Concours' first gear is
relatively short, to enable a heavy load to be accelerated briskly. Top gear is
an overdrive, to allow relaxed high-speed cruising. In-between, the ratios are
well-spaced so that you usually have more than one choice in corners, depending
on your mood. our top-speed testing revealed the machine's aerodynamics prevent
more than 127.2 mph, in either fifth or sixth gear.
Shifting action is completely silent, and the lever moves with such
well-oiled precision that you wonder if current designs haven't found a way to
save weight by eliminating ball bearings somewhere. This is truly a fine
The clutch, being descended from a hotrod powerplant, has no problems with
drag-strip starts and gives very good control feel.
Shaft final drive was considered a necessity for the target market, and
although the design is devoid of torque-controlling linkage like a BMW
Paralever, it does use a very long driveshaft, like the Yamaha FJR1300, to
minimize final drive leverage on the suspension. Kawasaki's patented progressive
rear linkage, called uNI-TRAK, is also said to help, and we really couldn't
fault the action.
originally introduced with air-adjustable suspension on both ends, the front
fork was converted to conventional spring preload adjustability in 1994, as
overpressurizing caused fork seal leakage problems.
The rear suspension continues to offer both adjustable rebound and
air-pressure preload over a range of 14^0 psi. Removing a single screw on the
left sidecover will access both the remote adjusters and we found that full
preload (#4) and 15 psi of air worked very well for a solo rider and full
luggage. Note that air is a progressive spring by nature and such a system, when
done well, offers real advantages. Here, it is done well.
Another plus is that zerk fittings are provided on all the rear linkage
pivots, so there's no need for disassembly to perform this important task.
However, we were dismayed to find that the front fork drain bolts were
eliminated in 1990, meaning that the fork legs must be removed and upended to
thoroughly change fluid.
As was typical many years ago, the Con-cours' original front discs were
undersized for its weight—671.5 lbs. wet with unladen bags in our recent
weigh-in. In 1990, the discs were upped in size considerably (from 265 to 300mm
in diameter), and although the calipers were improved from one to two-piston
units all around, today they are behind the state of the art—still single-action
designs at both ends. The pad composition is also old-tech and not aggressive
enough, giving smooth control in moderate stops, but unable to handle multiple
hard stops without overheating. In fact, the pads were smoking after just four
maximum braking tests, and the hand effort required had the lever very close to
the bar. Even at its maximum reach adjustment, you were in danger of crushing
your fingers if you didn't cover the lever with all four.
The Concours' chassis geometry is arranged for good high-speed stability,
with a rake of 28.5° and a trail of 4.84". Because the machine is relatively top
heavy, it resists the effects of side winds well, although its high CofG and
narrow GT-style handlebars conspire to make for truckish handling at low speeds.
Tires play an important role in overall handling characteristics, and
although the standard Dunlop K70 tires are rated as radi-als, they constitute an
early shallow cross-ply construction with profiles like bias ply tires and are
mounted on relatively narrow rims (3.00" x 18" front and 3.50" x 16" rear in
this case). And although tire choices, especially of fronts, in these sizes is
getting harder to find, the stock tires work very well, allowing very
controllable transitions to steep lean angles with an excellent feedback of the
road. But we did find that the tires' old-fashioned circumferential center sipes
tracked rain grooves and shaved road surfaces significantly.
Overall, however, the bike is very entertaining to ride on mountain roads,
and feels spectacularly steady railing corners at high speeds. Its handling must
still rate as excellent for the class.
Although the shape is now so familiar that it can't help but look somewhat
dated, the Concours still looks "right"—sleek enough to be unmistakably a
sport-tourer and obviously configured for the long haul, with a seat as
attractive as it is comfortable. The way the bike can be visually converted from
tourer to sportbike is still a plus; with the saddlebag mounts and rear rack
easily hidden away with form-fitting covers.
"Overwhelmingly favorable" describes the Concours riding impression in two
words. Supremely comfortable seating... maybe the best stock seat ever, matched
with good wind protection for the rider's hands and torso (and helmet too, if
the windshield is correct for the rider's size— very good for a six-footer),
plenty of power, entertaining handling and handsome good looks all make for a
Our only little gripe was the inability to adjust the rear brake pedal as low
as we'd like. But, we did manage to get it down perhaps 10mm into a more level
position. Otherwise, the shifter and hand levers are all adjustable, the
instrumentation very complete, with dual tripmeters (an innovation at the time),
temperature and fuel gauges and a clock. The ergonomics are a nice balance
between sport riding and relaxed lux-ury—again, hard to fault.
Attention to Detail
The mirrors are fantastic, perhaps the best we've ever used. The saddlebags
hold a lot and are O-ring sealed (a seven-hour ride in the rain didn't wet the
contents). And while they remove easily, we never quite mastered the technique
of mounting them as quickly in our month with the bike.
Also, the windshield uses a vent above the headlight to flow air up its
which we've found makes a big difference in reducing turbulence.
Note that the side vents, positioned to cool the rider's legs in warm
weather, can be swapped side to side to do the reverse in cold riding. But in
the standard position, they will scoop rain splash at the legs effectively,
too—an unfortunately good test for waterproof boots. In addition, there are two
lock-able compartments on either side of the cockpit, which have come in handy
as a place to mount radios, etc. Two helmet locks are provided as well. Little
things, like accessory electrical leads under the seat, a window on the right
sidecover to hold your business card, a grab rail for lifting the bike onto the
centerstand, flip up bungee hooks on either side of the taillight, a good tool
kit, and even a cable to lock the front wheel; are all thoughtfully included.
Its tooling long ago fully amortized by its long production run, the Concours
is an amazing value, and actually has been for a long time. Even in 1991, when
it was challenged by the ST1100, Honda's then new sport-tourer was priced $2000
higher. Today, with the Concours priced at $8299 list, you can't touch its
capabilities without spending at least $3500 more.
Although we couldn't verify the claimed 7.5-gal. fueltank volume (the bike
hitting "reserve" on the gauge after only four gallons), what we got still
allowed 200 miles between stops, which is certainly adequate. Plus, the bike's
riding comfort meant that just the time needed for a refill was enough of a
break to refresh before emptying another tankful. Such long range comfort is a
rare commodity, even today.
I was selling Kawasakis the year the Concours arrived on the scene. After
only a brief test ride so that I could tell customers about it, I was very
impressed, both with the power and the amazing level of detail in its design.
But what's even more amazing, is that after all these years, it's still a great
machine, as anyone in the Concours Owner's Group could tell you (join COG if you
Excellent handling is one of my most serious qualifications for a bike
purchase, and the Connie gave me great confidence in its twisty road abilities
almost immediately. I did find it a bit of a wrestling match at very low speeds,
what with the narrow-ish handlebars and high center of gravity, but that can be
forgiven because that's really not its mission anyway.
Unusually cold wintery weather swept through southern California during our
time with the bike, and after one particular seven hour high-speed jaunt in the
rain, I couldn't imagine being more comfortable on anything else.
The Connie is great bike, and a great bargain.
It don't get no respect, just because it wasn't built last year. That's just
crazy I tell ya! (Thanks, Rodney) —Dave SSearle
This is the first time I've had a chance to put a lot of quality miles on the
Concours, and for a 20-year old motorcycle, I'm impressed. This tells me that
when it was first released, it was one heck of an impressive machine. Sure, some
of its technology has been eclipsed now, but there are still many things that
make it the bike-of-choice for many: A large fuel tank and plenty of range,
cushy suspension that smooths out bumps, shaft drive to eliminates all the
maintenance needed with a chain, a seat that uses triple-density
foam—comfortable for making lots of miles, and wind protection that's first
There are also some things that I didn't appreciate: The distortion in the
windscreen was a little bothersome. The front brakes are too weak and the lever
pull is way too spongy. The wheel sizes limit tire selections. And finally, the
downside to excellent wind protection seems to be the gentle but constant push
from behind as it swirls around behind the rider.
I'd certainly consider the Concours if I were in the market for another
shaft-drive bike capable of comfortable, long distance touring. Walt Fulton
Two additional items drew gripes: The effort to raise the bike onto the
centerstand and the longish sidestand that meant you really need level ground to
park it securely. But, in all, our complaints are relatively minor items.
Challengers to the Concours have come and gone and been revised to come
again. But the Connie's functional strengths and attention to detail are still
extraordinary. It gets the basics right: Comfort second to none, great mirrors,
a sweet transmission, a willing motor, rock-solid handling and purposeful style.
Changes like modern 17" wheels and radial tires, four-piston calipers and the
option of ABS brakes would probably be enough to keep it around for another
decade. Let's hope they do it. A bike this good deserves one more upgrade. P