A Mostly Biased Review of the Kawasaki Concours (1986-2006) by Elvin Rivera
My apologies for the length but I don't think anyone can cover the Concours in less. I think I fairly cover her good points as well as her faults and think it has value for anyone considering the Concours. First of all, thanks for checking us out. This is a forum for fans of Sport Touring in general and specifically the Kawasaki Concours ZG1000. She's not the perfect bike but many of us think the Connie is the place to start "building the perfect beast."
Commuting, long distance tours, and short sporty dayrides are all in her bag of tricks. The Concours has been in production for 20 years with few changes. She's made of proven parts picked from Kawasaki's parts bins. The engine was developed from the early eighties Ninja 900 (ZX900A) and Ninja 1000R (ZX1000A) with brakes and others bits from them and other Kawasaki sport bikes of the period. Her cockpit dimensions are designed for comfort. The big tank means long range and the spacious bags hint at the long trips to come. Take the bags off and you have a Sport Bike. A big heavy Sport Bike but you can't have everything.
The Concours is a little top heavy, especially when all 7.5 gallons are in that giant tank, but you get used to it. Low speed, parking lot handling demands good throttle and rear brake control. The Conc's seat height is 31 inches but there are tricks to lower that an inch or two. Paddling around with your feet means watching where you step. Gravity never sleeps. Oil, sand, and pea gravel are not your friends. Bad things happen when she tips over. On the Interstates she will cruise at 80 MPH or more all day without complaint. She loves to go far. Why else give her such a huge tank? The handling at all speeds is great. She is a joy in the fast sweepers and fun in the tight twisties. Once rolling she seems to shed those pounds and becomes quite nimble. After all, she was born from the first Ninjas.
The seating position is classic Sport Touring style. You will lean forward some but not as radically as on a full sport bike. Your feet are under your butt so you can use your legs over bumps and to shift your weight. I added GenMar handlebar risers to shift the weight off my arms and straighten my back. Others use Heli-Bars or one of the available tube bar conversion kits. Larry Buck can modify your OEM bars for height and pullback with his ZG-Bars kit too. The seat is big, and comfortable enough for two but many can't leave well enough alone and swap seats. Corbin, Russell, Sargent's, and the Mayer brothers all make seats for the Connie. The passenger accommodations are generous but a backrest adds comfort and security. Aftermarket mounting blocks lower the driver footpegs about an inch and a half. If your legs get stiff, aftermarket Highway Pegs allow you to stretch the legs without having to stop.
The large full fairing will keep you warmer in the cold and dry in light to moderate rain. The downside is it keeps cooling air from reaching you when it's hot. The fairing traps hot engine heated air that will cook your feet in stand still traffic and at stop lights. Sport height aftermarket shields, cutdown OEM windshields, and/or Baker-Built Air Wings help here. For cold weather protection Kawasaki offers their fairing extenders. These are "spoilers" that mount on the fairing's outer edges and create a larger calm air pocket for pilot and passenger. The OEM wind shield has a flipped up top edge that's supposed to push air over your head. It works for some but for others it just creates turbulence at head level. For those who prefer to look through the shield rather than over it, the flip also creates a distortion where it bends upward. There are shields available from Rifle, Clearview, GIVI, Targa, Cee Bailey, and others, that fix these problems. Some owners have developed homegrown solutions as well.
Sport Touring is the Connie's reason for being. To that end there are tankbags, trunks, driving and fog lights, backrests, luggage racks, and aux fuel cells for longer range. The bike is rock steady at high speeds and nimble in the twisty stuff but you'll have to muscle her a bit compared to a pure sportbike. Some complain about sensitivity to crosswinds and truck wakes but it's just a matter of chassis set-up and getting comfortable with the bike. A popular suspension upgrade is stiffer fork springs with a fork brace and 15 weight fork oil. This minimizes brake dive and improves handling. I weigh 250 lb. and installed RaceTech's 1.0 ratio springs to stop the nose dive. Now Sonic Springs makes springs in 1.0, 1.1, and 1.2 ratios. Out back, changing the OEM shock oil to 15 weight gives a firmer ride. Aftermarket shocks are also available. The brakes are good but better with HH compound pads and stainless steel hoses. This is not to say the Concours needs all these modifications and accessories, I just haven't met a biker that doesn't want to improve performance and add a personal touch to his or her ride. The average cruiser owner likes to add chrome doodads. Sportbikers go for more power. We tend to improve comfort, handling, and braking performance.
The engine pulls strongly through the gears from idle to redline. There's a little flatspot just off idle but it's made up for by a step up on the power curve after 6000 rpm. The flatspot (some call it a stumble) can be fixed with a little fine tuning. The motor has plenty of passing power, even in 6th gear. The engine supplys approx 90 HP and 60 FtLbs of Torque to the rear wheel. The "Ton" (100 MPH) and beyond is no problem. Click down 2 gears for the twisties and you go from highway cruiser to canyon carver but lets be honest, the Concours is no middleweight sport bike. She is a sport tourer and will cruise all day at illegal speeds without complaint. Whatever the road, "Connie can do." When you reach interestingly twisty ones her sport genes take over. The shaft drive doesn't exhibit the "jacking" they are reputed to and is a clean and elegant way to push a motorcycle. Just lube the splines with every new tire and change the fluid regularly and you'll never go back to a chain.
All the press about the "buzz" has been blown all out of proportion. She does buzz a little bit around 5000 RPM but most of us ignore it. All inline 4 cylinder transverse engines are inherently out of balance. When the Concours' motor was designed, balance shafts were new technology. She has one but could use two. Other companies have refined their motorcycles over the years and engine vibrations have now been all but eliminated but the Ninja based Concours engine is stuck in the mid-eighties. If you compare her with current sport tourers she'll come up short. Some people are more susceptible to numbness or tingling than others. This can be reduced with adjustments, such as a carb synch and the balance shaft, and a pair soft grips. The vibration is certainly less than a V-Twin produces. Test a Connie and determine for yourself.
Many owners do their own maintenance. Basically that means oil changes and valve adjustments. There are other duties but those are the big two. The valvetrain has screw adjusters so no shims or removing of the cams are neccessary. Lots of engines out there, of all model years, with over 100,000 miles. Some over 200,000. Gene Kinzell has over 300,000 miles on his '87. An immaculate bike with high mileage has probably been pampered by its owner.
That said, the 1986 Concours had problems with soft valves suffering "tuliping" (the valve edges rolling into a cupped shape). If worried, a leakdown test will reveal it. There are camshafts (all model years) that show scuffing and pitting of the lobes but I know of no engines self destructing because of it. General opinion is that it's a result of Kawasaki's casting and plating methods and the stress of one cam lobe operating two valves, not rider abuse. Mine (1995) have some pits and it hasn't affected performance any.
The junction/fuse box (J-Box) can develop cracks at some solders joint causing electrical bugs but that is easily repaired with a touch of a hot soldering iron. The petcock has been known to leak and cause the carb float bowls to overfill. The petcock trouble is a haphazard thing. Some fail, some never do. They can either be repaired or replaced with a manual tap. Adding an inline fuel filter keeps the float bowls and the needles clean and seating fully.
For a "first look" inspection on a used bike check for leaks. By your left foot peg look for oily sludge inside the bottom fairing pan. That's oil residue from a leaky clutch rod or shift shaft seal. Both easy to repair. The water pump is in that general area too. Its seal could leak and is replaceable but not as easy a fix as the other two. Not as easy but not that hard either. Sniff around for antifreeze. Coolant leaks are usually a loose hose clamp or old O-Ring. Again, an easy fix. Move back to the final drive and driveshaft. These are a little harder to fix but not terminal. Leaks are always good bargaining points. These leaks aren't common but on a bike 5 years or older they could appear. All these things are considered normal wear and tear and not defects. The Concours' engine has no terminal faults and will give good reliable service for years if cared for properly. The aftermarket makes some performance goodies for the engine if you want them. You can even transplant Ninja 1000R cams and carbs and return her to former sportbike glory.
My gas mileage is about 43 mpg with 235 miles before hitting reserve, but I'm not obsessed with squeezing all the gas I can into the tank. Nor am I careful about getting every mile out of the tank either. (your mileage may vary) Rust inside the fuel tank has been a problem for some. Check the tanks for rust inside the filler neck and bubbled paint around the lower edges caused by fuel leaking through pinholes. Don't poke these bubbles or you may have to pay for a new tank. Also look for signs of internal tank coating treatment. Could be the seller already had rust. You may end up replacing that tank later. A new tank is expensive. Regular use of Gas Dryers and keeping the airspace inside to a minimum helps prevent this corrosion.
Tipovers happen. When the 600 lb. Connie tips over the footpegs and/or their mounting can crack. Get in close and look for stress wrinkles and cracks. Run your hands under the saddlebags for gouges or cracks. If she has been dropped and the bags were on, the mounting "antlers" could have cracked too. Feel behind them for cracks, wrinkles, or bends. They will feel loose and wiggly. They're designed to do that. Take the bags were off, check them for cracks or scratches, and look at the mufflers for scratches and dents. Look at them from the rear. They should be even. Also check the rear footpeg mounting brackets for cracks. The exhaust cans are attached to them and could be damaged in a fall.
Check that the inner fairing panels are fairly equally spaced from the tank. If there isn't any clearance on one side or the other the fairing mounting bracket may be bent or just sloppy Kawasaki assembly. Try to lift the upper fairing. If it moves it's probably a loose Main Fairing Bolt. (http://www.mindspring.com/~gbyoung2/misc/frame/fairbolt.jpg) A loose bolt couls saw through the mounting tab. Look for cracks above the front running lights where the plastic is narrowest. Besides checking the mirrors for scratches and cracked glass, grab them and gently work the swivel mechanism looking for slop. Careful, it's fragile. Check the fuel tank and look for dents where the fairing may have pushed into it. Remove the side covers and seat and look for damaged paint on the chassis and engine from spilled battery acid.
Check the fork sliders for oily film. That means new fork seals. Check the brake pads for thickness. Ignore any tire cupping. The causes of that are in dispute and range from tire pressures to braking technique, to brand of tire, to loose steering head bearings. The cupping doesn't necessarily indicate any terminal problem. Lots of different bikes do it.
This should be enough to give you a general idea of the bike's condition. Anything more involved will require a mechanic's eye. Have one look the bike over before handing over any cash. Sort of a grim picture, huh? This is a worst case scenario and not typical of every used Concours. Most of it is normal wear-n-tear stuff, common on any used bike. The Conc is a reliable, workhorse of a bike. Tough. The kind you can ride all day and "put away wet" without worry. Spend a few bucks to have her professionally inspected just to be safe.
Even buying a leftover or used Concours from a dealership has its pitfalls. Unfortunately dealer prep has been an issue for many. Before accepting delivery check air pressures (tires & rear shock), and fluids (oil, hydraulics, coolant, & final drive). Check for loose nuts & bolts, etc. Refer to the Assembly Checklist. It's a good guide when checking out a used Concours too:
Some COG members have stepped up and designed some great stuff that the mainstream companies have overlooked. Handlebar kits, highway pegs, backrests, luggage racks, light bars, tipover bars, better brakes, advanced cam sprockets, taller gearing, and more. Most tips, fixes, modifications, and upgrades are time tested and passed on by owners who have tried them beforehand. Keep asking questions here and on the other sites, or just "listen" to get ideas on suspension upgrades, brakes, and accessories. Use the search feature for answers to your questions. Chances are they've been asked before. The Concours is a great platform to start molding into your idea of the perfect bike.
From 1986 to 1993, the only change was an inch rise added to the handlebars from 1987 on. In 1994 the front brakes went from single to dual piston calipers. The new forks, from the ZR1100 Zephyr, went from air to mechanical preload and lost their oil drains. A wider 5 spoke front wheel was added with a new rear wheel restyled to match. The dash cowl was redesigned, the instrument panel is from the ZX11, and storage pockets were restyled with locking lids. Adjustable hand levers also came from the ZX11. A new zoomy front fender was added, along with a stepped Corbin style seat. In 99 the forks sprouted little shields. That's it for changes. That's why the new yearly color used to be such a hot topic. Buying a leftover Concours from a dealer does get you a three year, unlimited mileage warranty though. Something to consider. Buy a used 2006 Concours and the warranty is good until 2009. I should point you to our classifieds. Go to the COG Homepage. On the left you'll find the hyperlink to our classifieds. The items there are available to everyone but you can place an add only if you're a member of COG. If you don't see what you want there, you can subscribe to the COG Mail List. (The mail list is open to members and non-members alike.) There are often "For Sale" posts there.
Time has marched on but the Concours has stood her ground. There are newer bikes like the Concours 14, ST1300, FJR1300, K1200GTR, ST3, Futura, and probably a few more, competing in the Sport Tour market. They employ newer technology and bigger engines. They may be quicker, go faster, stop shorter, turn sharper, but none does anything $5,000 better. Some don't even come with standard bags. The "best bang for the buck" cliche makes the Concours and her owners sound cheap. The truth is that neither the price tag nor the spec sheet should determine the right bike for you. The low price leaves you the option of upgrading when and where you want, like comfort accessories or suspension improvements. As for performance, the last few years have seen the developement of more power from the engine but performance is best defined by the rider than the bike. There are riders in COG that can push harder and go faster on their Concours than riders on supposedly faster bikes. The best performance boost comes from a MSF class and later a riding school. Track days are fun too and you can go as fast as you want without Officer Friendly interrupting you.
A big plus to owning this bike is the Concours Owners Group (COG). Great rides are scheduled locally, regionally, and nationally. Plus tech info, personal and regional web pages, our magazine the Concourier, the membership directory, and a mail list with regulars that live and breathe Connies. These are the nicest people in motorcycling. I've listed a few Concours sites below. If you have questions about the Concours the answers are out there somewhere.
www.cog-online.org (Concours Owners Group Home Page)
forum.cog-online.org (Concours Owners Group Forum Home)
www.zggtr.org (ZG/GTR Fanatics Forum)
www.micapeak.com/lists/COG (COG MailList)
forums.delphiforums.com/concours (Concours Delphi Forum)
www.pbase.com/elvin315/the_kawasaki_concours (pbase Photo Gallery: Elvin Rivera)
Hope I've been helpful. Now get out there and buy a Connie.