"Sport Touring at its Finest"TM

The Bike FAQ - Classic Concours A1-A21

This FAQ compiled by Elvin Rivera, COG#2536

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. It’s one of the original “Gentlemen’s Express” motorcycles that created the Sport Touring class.


What exactly is Sport Touring?

It's looking on a map for the squiggliest roads imaginable, then riding maybe hundreds or thousands of miles to reach them. And when you reach those special roads her sport genes take over and you can enjoy some spirited riding thru wild canyons, along winding rivers, and through high mountain passes. A great way to see the country.

Is the Concours a Sport Bike or a Touring bike?

Both. Commuting, long distance tours, and short sporty dayrides are all in her bag of tricks. The Concours is a hearty bike. Rugged and dependable. You can ride her to work and back all week. Her cockpit dimensions are designed for comfort. The big tank means long range and the spacious bags hint at the faraway weekend trips to come. The Concours will cruise all day, if you're up to it, without complaint. Take the bags off and you have a Sport Bike. A big heavy Sport Bike but you can't have everything. Highway or Byway. Whatever the road, "Connie can do."

I notice most Sport Touring bikes are 1200cc or more. Is the Concours' engine powerful enough to handle 2 people and their stuff?

In 1986 1000cc qualified as a super-bike engine. Not so today. Connie’s engine was developed from the 1984 -1985 Ninja 900 but retuned for more low and midrange power to cope with its duty as a hauler. Tap the transmission down a gear and passing is never a problem. The Concours will cruise the Interstates at 90 MPH or more all day without complaint though the Highway Patrol might have something to say about it.

It looks so big and heavy. How does The Concours handle?

The Concours is a little top heavy, especially when all 7.5 gallons are in that giant tank, but after a while you get used to it. Low speed, parking lot handling demands good throttle and rear brake control. Once rolling she seems to shed those pounds and becomes quite nimble. After all, she was born from the first Ninjas.

I'm not a tall person. How high is the seat?

The Concours’ seat height is 31 inches but there are ways to lower that an inch or two. Getting your feet firmly planted on the ground is important. Padding around with your feet means watching where you step. One false move and down she goes. Gravity never sleeps.

I don't like the riding position of Sport Bikes. I have to bend over too much and the footpegs are too high. Is the Concours like that?

The seating position is classic Sport Touring style. You will lean forward some but not as radically as on a full sport bike. If the bars are still too low for you there are many aftermarket solutions, like risers. The footpegs are underneath you. Not set towards the front or rear, so you can use your legs to absorb bumps, and to shift your weight in turns. There are also products to lower the pegs if needed. If you want to stretch your legs you can buy Highway Pegs.

I bring a passenger on rides. Is the seat big enough or are we going to be crowded?

The accommodations are generous with plenty of legroom and a thick comfortable seat for both. If you want a different firmness, style, or upholstery there are many aftermarket seats available. A backrest adds to passenger comfort and security.

The Concours is an old design. Are there still accessories available?

Because it's been around for so long the aftermarket has had a long time to produce items that make the Concours the premiere Sport Tourer she is. To that end there are tankbags, trunks, driving and fog lights, seats, seat covers, backrests, windshields, luggage racks, aux fuel cells, heated grips, and on and on.

Can I still improve the Performance?

There are 2 types of performance. Engine and Braking. If you're smart you'll improve both.

OK, what’s available for the engine?

There's not much in the commercial aftermarket for the engine besides carburetor jet kits, a few Ninja 1000 cams, and a 1039cc kit. Determined owners have come up with ways to bump the Concours engine to 1052cc and 1109cc. One has even swapped for a ZRX1200 engine. Another is turbocharging his Concours. These aren't kits but I’m sure they'll answer questions if you‘re interested. They have also revised cam timing gears, added Ninja 1000 carburetors, punched out Concours exhaust canisters, and more. No hard performance numbers but 115 HP wouldn’t be too farfetched.

Now, what about the brakes?

The stock brakes are good but better with HH compound pads and stainless steel hoses. There are now adapter bracket that allow you to replace the early single piston , and also the later dual piston, front brake calipers with 4 and 6 piston calipers.

What about handling improvements?

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. A popular suspension upgrade is stiffer fork springs, a fork brace, and 15 weight fork oil. This reduces brake dive and improves turn in. For those looking for more the fork can be swapped for one from the Kawasaki ZRX. Buy the whole front end and you get a fully adjustable cartridge fork, a 17 inch wheel, and 6 piston brakes on 310mm discs. Other forks may be adaptable too. In the rear Kosman Specialties will convert the 16 inch wheel into a 17 incher. This allows fitting a greater variety of tires. Changing the rear shock absorber oil to 15 weight likewise improves handling. A ZZR1200 rear shock can fit in place of the stock unit with slight modification. Aftermarket shocks are also available.

I've never had a bike with a fairing. What will it do for me?

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 outside. The fairing also traps engine heated air that will cook your feet in a traffic jam and at stop lights. Low, sport height aftermarket shields, cutdown OEM windshields, vented shields, and/or Baker-Built Air Wings help. 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. Some complain about sensitivity to crosswinds and truck wakes but it's to be expected. The fairing and windshield act as a sail and catch these winds. Suspension adjustments and the right tires help but mainly it’s a matter of getting comfortable with the bike. I’ve never heard of a Concours blown over at speed.

What about windshields? Am I stuck with Kawasaki's or are there other choices?

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.

What kind of gas mileage can I expect?

My gas mileage is usually about 43 mpg with 235 miles before hitting reserve. Spirited riding could yield 30 - 35 MPG. A more relaxed pace might give you 45 - 50 MPG. Taking the bags off and installing a smaller shield might improve it further. As they say, “Your mileage may vary“. Most of us measure the mileage in terms of “smiles per gallon“. That’s more important to us.

I’ve heard a lot about the engine buzzing. That it numbs your hands and wears you out. What’s the story?

All the press about the "buzz" has been blown all out of proportion. If it was that bad Kawasaki couldn’t have sold the Concours for 20 years. They all buzz to varying degrees. I don’t understand what people expect. If you sit over a high revving engine you’re going to feel some buzz. The engine is a stress bearing frame member so vibrations are transmitted into the chassis. Some people are more susceptible to numbness or tingling than others. The good news is the effect can be reduced with a carburetor synch and balance shaft adjustment, topped with a pair soft hand grips.

I like to maintain my own vehicles. Is the Concours hard to work on?

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 uses screw adjusters so no shims or removing of the cams are necessary. Unlike a chain final drive which needs lube every few hundred miles, a shaft drive usually gets lubed when the rear tire is replaced. Lots of engines out there, of all model years, with over 100,000 miles. Some over 200,000. At least one has over 300,000 miles. Concours owners tend to be “mature” and don’t abuse their motorcycles. An immaculate looking bike with high mileage has probably been pampered by its owner.

Any troubles or weaknesses I should know about?

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 owner neglect. My bike’s engine (1995) has some pitted cams but that hasn't affected performance any. The electrical 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 fuel petcock has been known to leak and cause the carburetor float bowls to overfill. They can either be rebuilt or replaced. Some owners install a manual tap. Adding an inline fuel filter keeps the float bowl needles clean and seating fully.

What I should look for when inspecting a used Concours?

This applies to almost any motorcycle you’re thinking of buying. For a "first look" inspection on a used Concours I’d start with leaks. They are always a good negotiation point. By your left foot peg look for oily sludge inside the fairing belly 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 bearing’s oil seal can leak. It’s replaceable but not as simple 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.

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 the seller 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. 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 the bags were on, the mounting "antlers" could have been damaged 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

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 could 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. That’s another easy fix. 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 stained paint on the chassis and engine from spilled battery acid.

Check the fork sliders for oily film. That means leaking fork seals. Check the brake pads for thickness. Ignore any tire cupping. The causes of that 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.

Have a mechanic 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. Spend a few bucks to have her professionally inspected just to be safe.

What kind of stuff have owners made for the Concours?

In addition to the aforementioned performance items, 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, Dual headlights, tipover bars, better brakes, taller gearing, and more.

Twenty years in production is a long time. Which model year Concours is the best?

Nothing much changed over the years. Here’s a brief history. From 1986 to 1993, the only major 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 but lost their oil drains. A wider 5 spoke front wheel was added with a rear wheel restyled to match. The seat changed from a relatively flat style to a Corbin style. 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 19 99 the forks sprouted little shields. That's about it for changes. That's why the new yearly color used to be such a hot topic.

So, which is better? An early 1986 - 1993 model or a later 1994 - 2006 model?

Neither actually. The post 1994 “improvements” are mostly cosmetic. The changes made to the fork and front brakes didn’t substantially improve anything. Some that have owned both claim that the early models brakes have a better feel at the lever and that the narrower front tire produces a quicker turn in but just as many say the same about the late models. Who’s right? Who knows.

What is COG?

A big plus to owning this bike is the Concours Owners Group (COG). It’s the oldest and largest Concours club in the world. More than just a technical support group, COG is a network of friends. People that share your love of riding and are willing to lend a hand if you need help far from home. Rides are organized at local, regional, and national levels. Some COG members host tech sessions at their homes to work on the bikes and to meet other owners. Membership benefits include The Concourier (our official magazine), regional newsletters, Chalkdust (a compilation of technical tips & advise), the Membership Directory (our most valuable resource - carry it always), and official COG merchandise, but COG is much more than these things. These are the nicest people in motorcycling. All COG activities are family friendly. Many members bring their spouses and children to the rallies and rides. And despite it being called the Concours Owners Group, everyone is welcomed regardless of what bike they ride. Membership isn't required to participate in rides or rallies. If they find value in what they see maybe they join. Many members have moved from the Concours to other bikes yet continue their membership. 

COG's official motto "Sport Touring at its Finest"

COG’s unofficial motto:   “Join for the bike. Stay for the people”