The comparo I’ve been waiting for

Back in 2007, Kawasaki took the sport-touring world by storm with the introduction of the Concours 14. Ever since, it’s been the darling of the motorcycling press, and generally regarded as the king-hell sport-tourer. This year, though, BMW strikes back with the new bikes based on the 1600cc I-6 engine, and they’ve received rave reviews.

The thing is, when you ride a bike by itself, it often seems more impressive than it would by riding it side by side with something else with which to compare it. So, what would happen, and who would win, if some testers rode the Concours 14 and the K1600GT side by side? Well, thanks to Motorcycle.Com, we now know. They spent a couple of days riding the two machines side by side, and have written up their impressions, as well as providing some video.

We’ll get to the video down below. In the meantime, the key takeaway from this comparo is probably this:

Compared to the Kawasaki Concours 14, the K16 simply blows the doors off its Japanese counterpart from the word “go.” It’s astounding to say that the ZX-14 engine is weak by any means, but when stacked against this competition, the Kawasaki simply feels, well, slow.

The K1600GT is the motorcycle that made the Concours 14 seem slow. That says a lot right there. But there’s more. Apparently the K1600GT blew away the Kawi in several other areas, too.

Once above 5 mph, the GT changes direction with absolute fluidity and grace, though the K16 won’t be mistaken for an S1000RR in the weight department. That said, its linear steering and sporty chassis were a hit among both our testers, especially compared to the heavy-steering Kawasaki…

BMW claims the K16 (in both GT and GTL form) makes 70% of its available torque at just 1500 rpm. That’s quite a lot of power with the engine barely spinning. What that means in the real world is that no matter if you’re just leaving a stop or cruising on the highway in sixth gear at 80 mph, when the throttle is twisted, the Beemer moves…

Yes, only 123.4 horsepower. Dyno chart junkies might scoff at that number (especially compared to the Kawasaki’s 131.8 peak horsepower), but from the saddle the abundant amount of torque makes it easy to forget any horsepower disadvantage. What we didn’t expect, and what may be even more surprising, is just how smooth and well balanced the K16 engine really is. Propped up on the center stand and with the engine running, full-throttle blips produced no visual movement from the bike whatsoever. None….

ABS intervention from the BMW felt much less intrusive than the Kawi, to the point where you almost forget it’s working. It’s truly a step above where ABS technology was just a few years ago…Simply put, BMW has nailed the ABS on the K16…

We’ll just say it right now: we’re in love with the K1600GT as it does everything a sport-touring motorcycle should do, and it does it incredibly well.

Looks like BMW has a winner with their K1600-series bikes.

And now, video!

httpvhd://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpTPihOYMn4

Kawasaki Police ZG1400

I have an update to the post on Mesa, Arizona ‘s police department switching to the new Connie for duty motorcycles, thanks to a reader.  Apparently Kawasaki has nothing to do with kitting out a police version of the bike.  Instead, Wattco/Whelan is offering a ZG1400 kit for police work.  Click on the image below to enlarge it.

Kawasaki Police ZG1400
Kawasaki Police ZG1400

Wattco has lots more info here, including a video of drop-testing the crash bars.

2010 Kawasaki Concours14 First look

Pete Brissette of Motorcycle.Com got to spend a day with a brand new 2010 Concours14 that had all the trimmings, including Kawasaki’s new linked ABS system and Traction control.  He really liked it, for a number of reasons.

First kawasaki really seems to have listed to their customers about what was good and bad on the 1st-Gen C14.  The top complaints were heat management and wind protection…not enough of either.  Both issues seem to have been addressed, with a completely new front fairing design, and a taller, wider windscreen that even  has a bit of a Cee bailey-type lip at the top.

Second, Kawi stuck factory grip heater on it (they look like they come from exactly the same parts supplier as the ones on my FJR), dumped the useless little tank box, and put a real storage box in the front of the fairing.

But the big news is the linked ABS and traction control. The linked ABS system runs as follows:

But what really sets the new linked-ABS apart is the rider-selectable level of linking. For starters, ABS cannot be disabled, but by pressing the orange K-ACT button (bike must be stopped to select modes) the rider can choose the “high-combined” effect in Mode 2 or the lesser-combined effect in Mode 1.

K-ACT mode selection impacts the amount of front brake application (only one of the two front calipers are involved regardless of Mode 1 or 2) when applying only the rear brake. The amount of linking applied to the rear when using the front brake remains constant.

I can’t say I’m a big fan of this type of linking system.  I prefer the BMW partially linked system, where the rear brake doesn’t engage the front at all, while the front lever engages both.  I realize this is probably a simple matter of preference, but I don’t want the front end to dive when I hit the back brake.

The traction control system seems like a neat safety feature, as long as you remember that it is just a safety feature.  It’s not the Troy Bayliss Ducati 1098 system that’s designed to make you faster.  It’s the “you’re getting a little crazy, let’s apply some sanity” system.

By controlling airflow (via secondary butterfly valves in the throttle body), fuel delivery and ignition timing, three parameters as opposed to the two of competitors according to Kawasaki, the system limits engine output when it senses the rear wheel spinning faster than the front.

And for those wondering, yes, it is a wheelie nanny, but only when enabled. Phew!

Most impressive was how seamlessly and unobtrusively KTRC performed. When power is cut, it isn’t done abruptly, nor is reapplication of power. Rather than a stumbly on/off throttle experience, the bike simply feels like it has a fraction of its available power.

All in all, it looks like Kawi has made an already well-received bike even better.

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Kawasaki’s 2010 Motorcyles

Big Green has released the details of the 2010 model line today, and some of the changes are pretty nice.  Some of them are simply…meh.

2010 ZX10R
2010 ZX10R

First up is the 2010 ZX-10R Ninja.  This is one of the “Meh” entries in the lineup.  Not much new to talk about here.    They’ve modified the bodywork a little bit.  They’ve changed the steering damper to a new–and presumably better–one.  And they’ve painted the muffler black.  Other than that, next year’s ZX-10R is pretty much status quo ante.

My best advice is to wait for a year if you want a big Ninja. Supposedly, Kawasaki is gonna put the bike through a complete redesign for the 2011 model year.  Until then, the new Ninja is pretty much what the old Ninja was.

2010 Versys
2010 Versys

Another “meh” is the 2010 Versys.  It has new headlights, that kind of have a BMW R1200R kind of feel.  But it’s is, again, pretty much the same bike as this year’s.

I think we’re done with the “Meh” bikes in the line-up, though.

2010 Concours14
2010 Concours14

There are some nice changes to Kawasaki’s premier sports tourer.  Not, unfortunately, some of the changes rumored earlier this year, like the night vision and HUD I wrote about a while ago.  Instead, the Connie gets something called KTRC, Kawasaki’s first-ever traction control system.  Also new is the the K-ACT II anti-lock braking system to control those panic stops, a larger windscreen to solve the complaints about the effectiveness of wind management, bodywork redesigned for better heat management, heated grips, upgraded suspension, and new Bridgestone tires.

Oh, and it’s blue.  Blue is nice.

2010 Z1000
2010 Z1000

The Z1000 is the bike where major changes have occurred.  The current incarnation of the Z1000 is OK…but just OK.  Nice, but the power is kind of soft and squishy.  The new Z1000 looks like a big step forward.  It’s pretty much a completely new motorcycle, in fact.

First, the engine is completely new.  It’s a 1043cc I-4 power plant adapted from the ZX10R, and it provides 136HP and 91lb-ft of torque.  That’s a serious improvement over the current incarnation’s 953cc mill from the ZX-9.  That means noticeably better acceleration, and improved top-end speed.

Next, the steel backbone frame is gone, replaced by an all-aluminum frame with a monocoque main spar.  Fuel storage is now beneath the seat, so the narrower frame and changed fuel tank offers a narrower profile for better knee gripping.  That’s helped by the narrow bottom and flared top of the…uh, whatever the thing on top now is, instead of a fuel tank.

There are lots of suspension changes, too, with the rear suspension being an all-new “horizontal” design, and more aggressive front-end geometry.

The styling has been updated, too, giving it a noticeable B-King vibe, but whether that’s a good thing or not is in the eye of the beholder.

2009 Sport Touring Shootout

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Motorcycle.Com has just released this year’s comparo of the top sport touring motorcycles.  This year, they pit the BMW K1300GT, Yamaha FJR1300A, Kawasaki Concours14, and the venerable Honda ST1300 against each other.

They declare the top bike to be…

Objectively the BMW is the clear winner to us. It makes markedly more power than the others despite not having the biggest engine. Our experiences aboard all four left no question the big K bike is the quickest steering and provides excellent braking performance. It offers very good wind protection, great ergos, an adjustable seat and handlebars, possibly the best passenger perch and very good saddlebags, to name only a few high points.

I’ve never been aboard the St1300 or the C14, but after tiding a K13GT and owning an FJR, I’d pick the FJR any day.  I didn’t like the GT at all.

The RT, on the other hand, was a dream.


Motorcyclist’s 2009 Picks of the Year

The mavens at Motorcyclist magazine have announced the winner of the award for 2009 Motorcycle of the Year, as well as their other picks.

Motorcyclist's Motorcycle of the Year: 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1
Motorcyclist's Motorcycle of the Year: 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1

The bike picking up the top award this year is the Yamaha YZF-R1.

Modern sportbikes are engineered so close to the edge of the performance envelope that we’re conditioned to expect incremental changes: a shaved pound here, an added pony there. It’s almost unimaginable that any sportbike could surprise us with a novel riding experience that realigns our understanding of what a liter-class sportbike is, and what one can do. The 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 is exactly that sort of bike-which is why it’s our Motorcycle of the Year.

Other notable picks include:

Ben Spies as the Motorcyclist of the year.

The Kawasaki ZX-6R as the best sportbike of the year, closely followed by the Ducati 1198.

The Ducati Streetfighter as the Best Naked Bike, followed by the Harley Davidson XR1200 Sportster.

The Kawasaki Concours14 as the year’s Best Touring Bike, followed by the Harley Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide.

Best Adventure Bike honors go to two BMWs, with the F800GS in the top position, and the R1200GS Adventure in second place.

The Best Dreambike is the Aprilia RSV4, with the BMW S1000RR as the follow-on.

Best Bang For The Buck goes to Kawasaki, with the ER-6n as the winner, and KLX250SF as the second-place finisher.

For Best Cruiser, Motorcyclist goes strictly for muscle this year, with the Star (Yamaha) V-MAX ruling the roost, and the Harley Davidson V-Rod Muscle in the supporting position.

Best Dirtbike is the Husaberg FE450; second best is the Honda CRF450R.

Best New Technology is the Honda Combined ABS system, followed by the Ducati Traction Control.

And, finally, the Best New Product honors go to the Gopro Motorsports Hero Wide Camera, with the Bazzaz Performance Z-FI Traction Control taking the runner-up position.