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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

Review: 2017 Kawasaki GTR1400 (aka Concours 14)


The market for sport-touring motorcycles seems to have cooled in recent years. Unless you count KTM’s 1290 Super Duke GT, we’ve not seen a truly new sport tourer in quite some time. Stalwart machines like the Kawasaki GTR1400, Honda ST1300, and Yamaha FJR1300 have received tweaks here and there but generally look exactly the same as they did a decade ago. It’s the ebb and flow of motorcycling, I suppose; things fall in and out of fashion. But with more and more adventure-styled bikes being designed with no intention of going off road, I can’t help feeling that – in terms of purpose, at least – the sport tourer is ripe for a comeback. 

So, last autumn, when I had reason to want a bike that meshes the concepts of fast and comfy, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to throw a leg over a model I’ve long admired: the Kawasaki GTR1400 (better known as the Concours 14 in the United States).


I spent several weeks with the Kawasaki, primarily using it as transport to attend EICMA, which is held each year in Milan (that's in northern Italy, for those of you with as poor a geographical awareness as myself). It’s a trip that’s becoming a tradition for me; in 2015 I made it aboard a Victory Vision (RIP Victory) – a solid touring rig that needs better stock tires. The roughly 3,000 miles I put on the Kawasaki were racked up on just about every kind of paved road there is, and, in fact, one unpaved track that came about as a result of my GPS not understanding Italy. I put the bike to the test through wind, rain, and snow (!), and finger-numbing cold.

Fast, relatively comfortable, and damned useful, it is arguably deserving of its US $15,600 price tag (£13,700 in the UK). Though, it’s a motorcycle that’s not without its faults.


Urban Riding

I first became interested in the GTR1400 a few years ago, when I was doing some rider training with an erstwhile member of the South Wales Police. Long his weapon of choice, he loved the Kawi so much he encouraged his former employer to choose it for the patrol fleet. So, it should come as no surprise that despite its being a meter wide (3.2 feet) and weighing 313 kg wet (690 lbs), this motorcycle is adept at cutting through city traffic. Certainly, the presence of flashing lights and sirens make lane splitting easier for police, but civilians will also find it a manageable task thanks to a commanding riding position (seat height is 815 mm, or 32 inches), responsive but smooth throttle, and gearing that’s tall enough to avoid having to click up and down too often.

When you do have to change gears, more sensitive riders may find the 6-speed gearbox to be a little notchy. It’s not bad – it won’t distract from your enjoyment of the vehicle in any way – but it’s less smooth than other Japanese transmissions. Above 10 mph the bike carries its weight well, but very slow-speed maneuvers demand more effort than you’d like. Slow U turns are a pain, with weight sitting high and making the bike feel unsteady. Admittedly, the model I rode was technically a GTR1400 Grand Tourer, which differs from a standard GTR1400 in the presence of a top box. So, the weight of the box may have contributed to low-speed unsteadiness. Meanwhile, top box or no, muscling that weight around in the garage can be a real workout.


On the Highway

Kawasaki claim 154 horsepower at 8,800 rpm, and more than 100 lb-ft of torque at 6,200 rpm. Which means the bike’s considerable “go” is relatively accessible. Thanks to my EICMA route’s inclusion of the German autobahn I know the GTR1400 will cruise comfortably at 120 mph all day long. And when I say “comfortably” I don’t mean in the optimistic sense of “it probably won’t blow up.”

I mean it is as smooth and steady at 120 mph as many other good-quality bikes are at half that speed. Related to that, I found it difficult to adhere to speed limits in those countries that have them. You don’t feel you’re going as fast you really are. Top speed, by the way, is an ECU-limited 155 mph (though, according to my GPS I only ever made it to 147 mph). At that pace there is a fair bit of bike shaking and ‘bar buzzing, but not unnervingly so. Without the voluminous panniers and top box stuffed full of gear things might have been more relaxed.


Back at legal-in-places-other-than-Germany cruising speed, the electronically adjustable screen did a good job of keeping almost all the wind off my 6-foot-1 frame. However, one problem with that is that the screen eliminates windblast that would normally prop me up while riding in a “sporty” position. True, seating on the Kawi is mostly upright but there is very modest lean that oh-so-slightly puts weight onto wrists. Without the wind to lift you, wrists ache after a while. That, along with the almost imperceptible buzziness from the big Kawasaki’s 1352cc inline four, meant a full day of riding could become uncomfortable. Aches and pains could have been lessened by taking more breaks, I suppose, but the bike is so much fun you don’t really want to stop more than the tank’s 200-mile range demands.

Or, well, actually, you’ll get upward of 260 miles from the 22-liter tank (5.8 US gallons) if you remember to click the bike into Eco mode by pressing a button on the left grip. Other buttons on the grip allow you to turn off the KTRC traction control system, turn off the K-ACT linked braking, and scroll through a menu of handy info like outdoor temperature, trip meter, fuel economy, miles until empty, and tire pressure.

One button you don’t have, though, is cruise control. It’s not available on the GTR1400. Which is a damned shame.


On the Back Roads

The famous strength of a sport tourer, of course, is that it gives the ability to travel long distances to good roads, then enjoy those roads once you get there. Here the Kawasaki definitely lives up to billing. For such a massive beast, it moves well on twisty roads. The bike’s capacity to spring out of corners is addictive. Hitting the sweet spot of torque and power takes a little mastering, though. I wish I had had a few more weeks, and a few more dry days, to really work out how to get the best out of that engine. Such would be the joy of ownership: over time you would become a master of the GTR1400 hustle.

This hustle is aided by the Kawasaki’s ability to tip into corners more easily than expected. Once tipped in the bike holds its line well, though adjustments can be easily made. A certain amount of effort is still required to zip through particularly tight corners but, as I say, it’s easier than you’d expect. A rider better than me would have no problem dragging a knee – good thing the panniers are easily removable.

Stock Bridgestone Battlax tires work with quality suspension to give a good enough amount of feel. Most of the time. Ultimately I would choose to replace them with Michelin Pilot Road 4s.


Practicality

The GTR1400 has 4,000-mile service intervals, which I find to be shockingly too frequent on a modern motorcycle (compare it with the 10,000-mile interval on a Triumph Trophy SE). But beyond that, it is utterly sensible. Heated grips, massive fairing, and the aforementioned electronically adjustable screen do a great job of keeping the elements at bay.

Related to riding in the cold, I rode through temperatures of -5C (23F) in Switzerland and the bike was unfazed. In Germany one night the temperature dipped a degree cooler (down to 21.2F) overnight and the bike still started the next morning with a single push of the starter button.


This could very easily be a person’s everyday all-the-time machine. Especially thanks to the presence of shaft drive – no chain to oil or adjust. Mirrors are decent, but do show more elbow than is necessary and are located somewhat low – out of a rider’s immediate line of sight. The headlights give the bike presence and throw a good amount of light when riding through moonless British nights. Height of the beam can be adjusted with dials on the dash.

The top box, panniers, and fuel tank are all opened with a single key. The key tucks into the bike’s keyless-start fob, thereby causing the latter feature to make less sense. You’ve got the fancy ability to fire up the bike just by carrying a fob in your pocket, but you’ll need to dig into that pocket (and risk losing key and fob) any time you want to fill the tank or open the luggage.


What Everyone Else Says

“No bike this big should handle this well. Bend the big Connie into some corners and it makes quick work of all but the tightest of turns.” – Jason Fivella, RideApart 2017

“[The GTR1400] does not have all the bells and whistles of many of its competitors. But neither does it have the price tag that goes with them.” – Kevin Wing, Cycle World

“Although the platform is a few years old now, Kawasaki’s top-of-the-line sport-touring bike continues to make us believers with its near perfect blend of performance and comfort. Factor in its lofty build quality... and the Concours is one heck of a value for those seeking a capable heavyweight sport-tourer.” – Adam Waheed, Motorcycle USA


The Little Things

Aside from the absence of cruise control, my biggest complaint about the GTR1400 is its side stand. Or, perhaps, it’s more correct to say it’s my biggest concern. It is simply too scrawny for such a big machine. Press down on the bike when parked up and you can see the side stand flex. That is not the sort of thing that leads a rider to sleep well at night. Sadly, the center stand is no better. It’s equally puny and seems likely to twist or snap. I should point out, though, that didn’t happen. So, maybe I’m needlessly worrying. Or maybe Kawasaki makes its stands out of adamantium.

Meanwhile, a minor design flaw means the dashboard’s useful 12v socket is located at a point on the fairing that draws water when riding through rain. Said socket has a handy waterproof cover, but it seems likely to me that a person riding in the rain might be plugged in with heated gear. In my case, I was using a GPS. After a few hours of speeding through a deluge, my USB plug shorted out and I had to pay a premium for a new plug bought at a gas station.

Another issue exposed by bad weather: muck kicked up by the rear tire will fling itself onto the top box and into its locking mechanism. After just 1,000 miles the lock was in need of WD-40.


The Best Things

My criticisms of the bike feel a little petty when I consider its best attribute: that engine.

I mean, if you can somehow twist the throttle and not start giggling you may, in fact, be dead. Really. See a doctor or something, man. You might be a zombie. In which case, we definitely don’t need you zipping around on this thing; no one will be able to escape. The living, though, will find the engine thrills the heart, the soul, and the senses. One of my favorite little aspects of the bike is the deep-bass turbine sound of that big inline four. Speeding down the highway I felt I was on a kind of spaceship. Wind the engine up, meanwhile, and you get that classic frightens-old-ladies-two-miles-away howl.

Also earning kudos from me is the bike’s look. Yes, it is a little long in the tooth in terms of styling, but bedecked in a Metallic Moondust Gray / Metallic Carbon Gray paint scheme I feel it’s still pretty cool. The fairing vents add to that coolness, making it look equal parts menacing and purposeful.


Would I Buy It?

When I first picked up the GTR1400 near London’s outskirts I spent much of the 140-mile ride home wondering if Kawasaki would be willing to sell its press bike at a friendly discount. This thing ticks a lot of boxes for me. I don’t own a car, so I rely on a motorcycle to get most places a bicycle can’t reach. And working for RideApart isn’t a rich man’s game, so any motorcycle I own needs to be something of an all-rounder; I don’t have the dough (or garage space) for more than one bike.

However, multiple days of riding exposed some issues – especially long days. I felt tingling in my hands, and pain in my wrists, arms, and shoulders. Although the screen does a good job of physically blocking wind, the noise of it is still there, and that causes fatigue after a few hours. There were a bunch of little things like that. Little things that may reflect more my own quirks – height, posture, etc. – than quirks of the bike. Little things that another rider might never experience. So, while I wouldn’t pony up my own dough to buy a Kawasaki GTR1400, I’d strongly support the decision of anyone who did.

This is the sort of motorcycle that earns a devoted following, the sort of bike that turns owners into proselytizers. Its looks aren’t exactly “now,” it lacks a few bells and whistles that some might expect from such a machine, but many will find its pluses easily outnumber its minuses.


Rider Stats
Rider: Chris Cope 
Height: 6 feet 1 inch
Physical build: Lanky, athletic
Riding experience: 25,000+ miles per year

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