Cleveland IMS: The Kawasaki that surprised me

20150131_140140All the hype last year seemed to be about the new supercharged motorcycle, the Kawasaki H2. I admit that I recognized the photos, and realized that supercharging a motorcycle wasn’t necessarily something new, but doing so on a mass production scale was way “off the reservation” by today’s standards. That being said, I wasn’t20150131_140210 rushing over to the magazine stand to consume the latest reviews; a track performance sport bike is probably not in my near future, to say the least. I’m of course not going to kid you, even I’m somewhat of a gear head, so given the opportunity, I’m going to snap a photo; if nothing else to whet the appetite for the rest of the speed demons I know. I salute Kawasaki for the effort made, raising the bar, inviting mass publicity to their brand, and hopefully some of this race technology will make its way down to the entry level bikes over time (turbo charging your economy 4-banger is becoming more standard in cars these days after all). If you’re looking for the rundown on the new H2, I’ll leave you with this.

If you haven’t detected the common theme over the past few posts, my mission to find a sport touring and or “adventure” bike is pretty much what led me to the Kawasaki booth. Kawasaki is now making their “Adventure” bike, the Versys,  in 650 & 1000 cc now. Admittedly, the Versys (Versatile System) is not all that unlike the Hypermotard, Multistrada, Tiger 1050, V-strom, and the FJ-09: while folks may apply the word “Adventure”, from the factory these bikes are very minimally, if at all, designed to be ridden off-road in their factory form. Most of them with 17” front & rear wheels, roughly 5” of suspension travel, and street tires. While I wouldn’t say this completely disqualified the Versys from the list, the look on my wife’s face suggests there are other bikes in my future. As a side note, I have seen many a thread on Adventure Rider (among other boards) about off road adventures on a Versys, so if you’re also researching sport touring options, look it up.

20150131_164307A few steps away sat Kawasaki’s “new” Vulcan 650; “I’ll bite” I said to myself and plopped down on the demo model. I had actually just read an article about it the other day; Kawasaki slightly re-tuned the Ninja 650 engine for more low end torque, threw in some cruiser looks, and marketed it as the new 650 cruiser. While at first this seemed like a total snooze to me, after reading more I discovered they included 3 position adjustable foot controls, handle bars, and rider seats. So, suddenly the “it’s a 650, so what?” crowd has something to consider: All the large manufacturers are vying to entice new prospective riders onto their brand, now Kawasaki has made fitment of the first bike easier than ever, at no extra charge. 20150131_170339Mind you, I knew all this when I sat on the demo; what happened next surprised me: suddenly my dedicated passenger climbed aboard a demo, solo. A wise Kawasaki representative walked over and started up a conversation about all the options available. Unbeknownst to me, Kawasaki brought enough Vulcan S models to outfit one in each “rider size” so you can sit in three different control configurations; the Boss was sold. She’s been practicing on an ’82 Honda 650 Nighthawk, which is somewhat intimidating because the center of gravity is so high; Not with the Vulcan S, 27” seat height, 498 lbs. wet, and completely customizable control and seating options. While it’s not very high on my “want” list; make no mistake, if the wife decides she wants one, I will have no qualms about riding it to work when the temperatures get well below her comfort threshold; and do so gladly. Rumor is that it’s quite sporty, and for “entry level” $6,999 (without ABS) is a sweet deal when you can pick a seat that actually fits your posterior without having shell out $300 extra.

20150131_170138“Workhorse”; that’s pretty much what I think  when I see the KLR 650. Until typing this, I knew Kawasaki has built the KLR for some time, but had no clue it first came out in 1987; needless to say, the resume is long, the posts on Adventure Rider about the “legendary” KLR are longer. If I grossly stereotype Japanese motorcycle companies: Honda means quality, Yamaha has everything, and Kawasaki knows dirt bikes; I assume the KLR is no different. If I take the booth rep’s comments in this context, the latest iterations of the KLR have been to give an otherwise qualified dirt bike better road manners. Without rambling on further, I climbed aboard contemplating what traveling the globe 20150131_170134 on the KLR would be like. I managed to coax my better half into joining me with kind of a “are you sure?” look. To my disbelief, the passenger seat was apparently quite comfortable. I wouldn’t say she was as impressed with it so much as the Super Tenere, but satisfied nonetheless. This has left me only more confounded  on finding the “all purpose” bike, fearing that a 650 doesn’t have enough “umph” to run two-up to my liking; while at the same time thinking “we’ll, it is a single…”. The KLR weighs 432 lbs. on the road (or off), and stickers at $6,599 which is impressive. Anyone looking for the ultimately (one-up) utilitarian machine should probably take the KLR into consideration.

I wasn’t going to leave the booth without at least taking a second to sit on the Concours as well. Similar to the FJR, I think that the Concours is a sporty budget touring bike. There have been many articles written about it so it was only fair I give the bike a chance. Right about the point where my wife was about to tell me “it’s okay… but…” a couple of guys selling raffle tickets for a new Harley FL… something… start shouting “She’ll like sitting on this a whole lot more!”. So anyway, she’s still not a fan of all the plastic; but for those interested, the new Concours starts at $15,499 (that’s a good deal on an ST), is a 1352 cc four cylinder, has about 4.5″ of suspension travel, shaft drive, and weighs 690 lbs. road ready (that’s a beefy ST, but it’s still not “up” to Honda’s standards).  If dirt was out of the question, the Concours resume is substantial (first model was in 1986) and this bike would be on the short list (but probably the bottom).

Like the Yamaha booth, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time looking over sport bikes and cruisers, but it’s worth mentioning that the “small” Ninja was recently upgraded from 250 ccs to 300, hence the onset of the new Yamaha R3. I’m hoping that this is forming a market trend as manufacturers begin filling in the gap between 250 and 650 cc bikes.

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