Thursday, July 5, 2012

Kawasaki Concours 14 Vs. BMW K1600


The 2009 Kawasaki Concours 14 just on the west edge of the Bighorn Mountains in the Bighorn Valley. (Photo by author)
           I've owned a Connie (2009 Kawasaki Concours 14) for a while now. If you're feeling technical, or pedantic, it's been one year and four months. It's a good machine though one with a with a few flaws. As a first generation machine it carries bugs and oversights – which I've enumerated on several occasions. My personal peeve is the heat. If the mercury crests 90 the Connie's saddle resembles a Dante-themed roller coaster spiraling into the 8th level of hell. Of course, I'm from Minnesota and don't necessarily handle the heat all too well, but there are other problems, too. The stock riding position is too sporty for any real touring. That is unless you're a long-armed, knuckle-dragging great ape with an extra set of knees. The stock windshield which has electric height control only raised high enough to path the wind - and bugs - into the gap between your helmet and jacket. This functioned as a kind of insect-shell-powered exfoliation system – for your neck -- until the addition of a Cee Bailey aftermarket screen which completely changes the experience.
          Kawasaki has since taken care of most of those first gen issues, but it's still cramped, still just not quiet perfect, not for a bike with touring right there in its title.
          Of course, there is a reason you tolerate the gaps in the pavement so to speak, and it's a damned fine reason. The bike is hot, it's quick, in fact it screams, screams like a freshman with a bottle of Five O'clock vodka. Screams like that Billy Mays guy used to scream. It screams like an all-caps email from your mother. I LOVE YOU, HOW ARE YOU WE ARE IN CANAANDA TODAY AND ITIS MUCH NICER THEN WHERE YOU ARE! You know exactly what I'm saying. It screams. Like a tornado in your home town.
          So all that first gen stuff is worth the trouble, because I can lean on one number, 2.9. 2.9 seconds is the time it takes the Connie to jump from 0-60, which feels a hell of a lot like Star Trek when Scotty finally finds more power. (Also, he's dead Jim.) Of course, I've never done 0-60 in 2.9 seconds. I tried a couple of times, but my balls withered like grapes in the sun and, so I gave up and ordered some testosterone from one of those online retailers. It hasn't been enough.
          It can be done, though, because there are 155 horses grinding on the flywheel. And if you don't know that's a lot. More than my car. It means you can treat other vehicles on the road like stationary objects with a flick of the wrist, and if you hit a big enough ramp you can land on the moon. What's more, you can get even more out of the machine if you dump the Potato Cannon (otherwise known as a muffler) for something better and install a Power Commander III. Under those circumstances it's purported to pull wheelies at 60mph with a “whack of the throttle.” The moral here is with the Connie you get all the sport in sport-touring you can handle and it's all summed up in 2.9, and that's a number you have to lean on.
The BMW K1600 on an astral plane. (Photo from BMW website)
          Why? Because shortly after I got my Connie, BMW came out with the K1600. It was supposed to be an awesome machine, but one I never approached because it was haloed with protective dollar signs. Plus, technical as it was, the  0-60 time was a mere 3.4 seconds. What was this, a machine for 1955? So after my father-in-law bought one, I could say "Suck on that!" as we sat in his garage with Budweisers. And I would say that, because with all the technology he had, I still had 2.9 and he only had 3.4 and he paid about a billion dollars more. (Minimum average upgrade charge from Kaw to BMW is about 10 grand.) With 2.9 I could live without gizmos. No GPS, gyro stabilization system or trunk with LED brake lights built in... without six cylinders, zero vibration, duolever/paralever suspension, three driving modes or a headlight that pivots with the lean of the bike. Without, even, the Akrapovič exhaust, which really does sound really like an F1 car.
          I didn't need any of that until he said, “Why don't you take that thing up and down the road a few times, I've never actually heard what it sounds like. You know, you're always on it and you can't get a good listen, so go out, really give it the beans – all she's got cause I need to hear what it sounds like.” And then he complimented me, told me that at least I had a machine that had enough power... so I'd know what to expect. Aw. 
          Well, I thought, his machine is basically worth my machine three times over. This was followed by a slight wave of panic and the concern that my pants would soon look like Frosty (the snowman's) come springtime. Yeah. Wet. I wasn't concerned for my safety, not immediately, but more for his machine and what damage would do to the continuation of my relationship with his daughter. That and I was pretty sure he was a member of the NRA.
         I looked over at him and said, “Alright!
The BMW K1600 in motion. My father-in-law bought one the same day
as his first test ride. (Photo by author's wife)
           So, there we are, uh, on a track. You know, cause we rented the track for this. Because a track would be a lot saner than just doing it in front of someone's house in the country, even when the roads run like those parallel lines you learn about in math class. The kind that never intersect. There we were on asphalt and he says "Alright, off you go!" I guess like a dad letting go of the bicycle seat. Off you go, and off I went.
          Fortunately, I had found myself in a similar position many times. I knew at least how to turn and stop. I knew how to do those things. I knew the basics, I knew what to expect.
          What I didn't expect was everything else. The way the gravitational pull of the world changed from vertical to horizontal by way of inline six. The way the front end went light but never wobbled because of those fancy gyroscopes and the traction control and all of the other crap I "didn't need." I didn't expect the machine – the one that doesn't have 2.9 to lean on – to chew up MPH in bites of twenty. To asymtotally approach the speed of light. And what I really didn't expect was on what I saw on the first return pass, when I was moving so fast I thought my body transmuted into light, with the machine taching so hard I thought it would stroke out, I didn't expect to see him standing in the middle of the road smiling like an old, toothless woman who's just heard it's ice cream for dinner. I imagine my smile was about the same, if I had any brain power left to control my face.
          The Connie – the 2.9 Connie – has always felt a bit, well, like it's spent the night rolling around in powdered methamphetamine and  waits like a caged dog. It's kind of angry, hungry. Looking for meat. That inline four gets good and pissed. It's the sport-touring machine that brings a knife to a gunfight but that still manages to come out alive, at least most of the time. It goes faster than the K1600, but you always feel like after it kills the Beemer it'll kill you. Just turn the knife on itself. Seppuku, why the hell not, just cause it can. The BMW, though, was nothing like that. Nothing at all. When you're on the Connie you're pretty sure it'll lift the front tire if you work at it. It's a terrifying thing, too, when your testosterone pills aren't full potency, because it'll lift the front tire, seppuku (because why not?), and boom you're done. The BMW you trust, though. When you gas it good and hard it soothes you. I'll never wheelie on you.  And it never will, and that gives you all the confidence in the world. Why not try a little faster? The police wouldn't be patrolling here... The kind of confidence to use your first 3.4 seconds to hit 60, and then to continue skyward. 
          So I buzzed him and he grinned like the prom queen, and I buzzed him again. And again and again. "I mean," he said, "I knew that it sounded good, but I never knew it sounded that good!" He's the kind of guy who rarely uses exclamation points.
          So he grinned, and I grinned, and it was like a couple of morons kicking each other in the junk until he said, "Why don't you take it over there?" he asked as he pointed to a curvier portion of the... track. Just around the corner lay a few nice curvies to try out the rest of the package.
          That's when the brute really came into it's own, I entered the a big sweeper, tenuous, then with the confidence of a beer-fueled freshman -- because the machine under me felt nothing like a motorcycle, it felt like a huge smooth wedge that cut its way through the asphalt and straight into the earth itself, the thing was planted and as sharp as a veteran sniper. The word Flickable gets thrown around, but I've never used it before. This machine was flickable. Flickable in a way unrepeatable on the Connie. Flickable as hell for a 700+ pound machine.
          I may have that magic 2.9 to lean on in my Connie, so I've got something the Beemer doesn't have... but I'm missing something else, the thing that made me smile like someone smeared shit on my gums. That accumulation of parts and tweaking and magic and raw sex appeal that brings together a machine that's, as the rhetoric goes, more than the sum of what it should be.
An old bucket of bolts, a Honda CB550K from '78. The old girl's got spirit,
but not a whole lot more these days. (Photo by uthor)
           So, is it worth it? That's damned tricky. I'll tell you that even though the Kaw gets angry and crazy I firmly believe it's is worth the money. Worth what I paid and then some. By the same token, I think the Beemer is worth what they're asking. When you really start to add up the features, all the small things and understand how you landed in the 25-30K range, you can nod slowly and agree that, yes... it's worth it. And it's really worth it if you walk around with burlap bags with dollar signs stenciled on the sides. The real question is, is the BMW worth the difference in price? For him, I know it was, he's put on 10,000 miles since October. October – in the North, and he says the thrill is there, something that lacked in his Goldwing. (Odd, I know.) But there's also real proof reflected in the service record. Sure, he's doing the service on time (what self respecting Beemer owner wouldn't?) but he's also - at 10,000 miles - on his third set of tires. That is a man having fun. It's worth it for him. But for me? I don't have burlap bags full of cash. I'd have to give up my BMW (2006 F650GS), my Honda (CB550K), my Connie, and probably my Mazda, too. Is it worth that to me? No. But is it worth the sticker price? Hell yes. 

17 comments:

  1. Absolutely great! I had to read this aloud to Oilburner...not that he has a Connie or K1600. Had me laughing the entire time. You describe each ones merits so well. You give me a great view of the handling of the Beemer. But I'm still not sure I would have the guts to ride it. ;)

    But why the track? Though it did give FIL the chance to hear it more in various situations instead of just up and down the road.

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  2. Lori,

    It was getting dark and I was afraid my father-in-law would kill me if I got too far away on his machine. He's quite fond of it as you may have noticed. I'd love to get a longer ride in on it. he'd probably let me if I asked nicely, but then again he does have a lot of guns. Maybe I'll arrange a test ride some day. Thanks for reading. I love that you took the time to read it out loud. Makes my day.

    Brady
    Behind Bars

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  3. Great bit of writing.. I've got the Connie's slightly more evil and twisted cousin, the Zx-14. I've got 30,000 miles on it and have never lifted the front wheel off the ground. You can feel it coming on though. It takes a bit of right wrist discipline. I've also never gone for the 0-60 times. Maybe a roll-on of 40-120 though. I try to avoid dropping the hammer on it in 1st gear! A computer controlled anti-wheelie system would be awesome!!! It, like your Connie, or your FIL's BMW has a lot more balls than I do, I've yet to find top speed. The Pucker Factor grows exponentially above 140 MPH. At that speed I feel like it's going to go to "plaid"* in seconds!!!

    *Spaceballs humor, sorry.

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    1. Erik,

      I've never gotten the Connie's properly off the ground, but she threatens in the same way. It gets light. When I first started riding it scared the crap out of me. It's funny to think of how fast, really how easy it is to jump from 40 to 120 on a bike like these (I can only imagine what it's like on the ZX-14), and then I get back in the car and dump around.

      I've never hit 140, but I do understand Spaceballs. Who's he? He's an asshole, sir. I'm surrounded by assholes!

      Brady
      Behind Bars

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  4. I sat on one at the auto show and I thought I was convinced, but after reading this post, I'm thinking I can sell the Enfield. And my car. And my wife's car. We could get by wih just one vehicle, right?

    Nah, she's going to want a new car before the current one is paid off. Reality.

    But you are a tempter, Brady.

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  5. Alan,

    It really is a fantastic machine. The worst is once you get it you'll say, "Gosh, this is almost perfect, if I just got this seat - which is only a thousand dollars more - it'd be perfect." You can do that until you've spent enough money to buy a single-family home, at least in a low-rent district. OF course, they're pretty nice right out of the box, too.

    Brady
    Behind Bars

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  6. Splendid review Brady

    The only bike above that looks like a real bike rather than a super scooter is the Honda CB550!

    Then again I was born in the 50s

    Nikos

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  7. Nikos,

    I love all the laser-fighting crap the new bikes have, but it speaks of a whole different generation of machines on the road, one that leaves behind a lot of the old spirit of motorcycling. When that 550 came out most fairings were aftermarket, now they look like they were designed by high-schoolers. You can't ride the same on the old machines without all the protection and the motors wouldn't let you anyway. I can't go as fast on the old 550, but there's something about it - even when it breaks down all the time - that I love. I feel attached. I work on it, and working on it is a relative breeze compared to my new bikes because I don't spend half my time prying tupperware lids out of the way.

    Thanks for reading and taking time to write in.

    Brady
    Behind Bars

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  8. That was just an awesome comparison Brady.

    I am continually in awe of your writing and you had me smiling and chuckling the whole time I read it.

    Nicely done.

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    1. Thank you very much Trobaritz. I live off of compliments like a dog lives on Milkbone and belly rubs. Makes me warm all over. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Brady
      Behind Bars

      Delete
  9. Good stuff! Excellent descriptions. I laughed as I was reading it.

    And I'm sad to say, I kinda want one now.

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    Replies
    1. Dan,

      Laughter works as a great placatory in times like these. We all want the biggest and the best. If you can't afford one (as some people sitting in this room cannot) go buy a Kaw. Or an old Honda. Enjoy what you've got, it's all you can do.

      Thanks for reading.

      Brady
      Behind Bars

      Delete
  10. Hmmm, thought I had commented earlier, having a senior moment I guess.

    You've obviously been exposed to the magic spells woven into that Beemer's Crafted by Teutonic Elves fairing which will if exposure is continued lead to lewd thoughts about your FIL's ride; and given his collection of guns, we all know where that's going to end up.

    The antidote is of course to be exposed to the Beemer's distant cousin three times removed. I speak of course of a Ural Sidecar Rig: no fancy complex of networked computers regulating everything from 0-60 in 3.4 seconds ( it's more like 3.4 minutes to get to 60 on a Ural .... Assuming of course it's headed downhill with a strong following wind). No "ludicrous speed" to secure for, a redline at 5400, risk of life and limb on right-hand turns, passed by heavily loaded RVs towing trailers packed with Harley Davidsons while going uphill, automatically adding two hours to a planned ride because of performance envelope issues and UDF at stops.....

    All the above and yet one quick ride about the town on a Ural and you'll be ready to pick up your wrenches and sign on to the collective for you will be assimilated.

    Colorado awaits.....for now I still have two rigs and if need be I think the V-Strom could hit 60 in less than 10 secs. But why?

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    Replies
    1. Dom,

      You hit 60 as fast as you can for the same reason you climb a mountain - because. Cross my heart and hope to die, my next ride will be an airhead. I've wanted one for a long time. However, that's a ways off. Some men want boats, others want... whatever they want. I want more motorcycles. An Airhead is next. I'm OK with old and slow, but I'll get in there and make it go as fast as possible. With a Ural, I guess that means it'll blow up pretty soon thereafter. Live an learn.

      Still, I understand why you do it. I had the Honda out before we left SD to putter down the gravel roads known only by THs. (178th) I think we broke sixty on the highway, but I was so happy just taking damage in the breeze. It was great. I look forward to riding the old pig down to Kansas. It'll be a hell of a lot different than the ride on the Connie. I'll come and ride one of your rigs one of these days if you're not careful, Dom. Really, I will. Maybe when it's not so damned hot.

      Brady
      Behind Bars

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  11. I rented a couple of 170hp four cylinder BMWs (on two occasions) and found the power was just too much. 125mph on the freeway (Autostrada)took too much concentration. Inadvertent wheelies plagued me, and the ability to pass anything anytime barely made up for the fearsome inconvenience of trying to turn a rocket around on a one lane lane with reverse camber fighting to tip the bike on my leg. My $8,000 out-the-door Bonneville is my speed. I have found the pot of gold at the end of the motorcycle rainbow and its a shoddy little air cooled parallel twin. How odd. How fortuitious. I envy you your envy (barely concealed).

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  12. Conch,

    Fortunately the BMW has traction control. I never felt like it was going to launch. Turning was a bear, though, mostly because I was horrified of dropping such an expensive machine, when I get on the old Honda I have zero fear, because it's worth just slightly more than zero dollars. As such I can swing it around in a single lane. There are tradeoffs, but I really love my big machines when I'm on the highway and I'm stuck behind some maniac truck driver who may or may not have been awake for 36 hours. For average, shorter rides, in-town riding and all those other similar instances I prefer a smaller bike. That's the thing about motorcycles, though - as much as I want one bike to rule them all, it doesn't exist. You can get an all purpose car, but an all purpose bike always has a problem or two, sometimes that problem can be that it just doesn't weigh enough for the interstate and 80 mph.

    Brady
    Behind Bars

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  13. Just got around to reading your post today. Great article! I get nervous borrowing my dad's bike. I can only imagine the pressure of not having an accident on your father in-law's bike. I'd like to own both of these beasts in the near future but I'll probably have to settle for the Connie due to price difference. Who knows though, maybe I can talk myself into the BMW. They say you can't take the money with you, but I'm pretty sure you _can_ take the ride experience.:)

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