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First Look: Kawasaki Concours 14

“Transcontinental Tourer” inspired by a Vincent V-Twin?!

Kevin Cameron

My first thought on looking at Kawasaki's new Concours 14 is, “Somebody has been influenced by postwar Vincent Twins.” The black-epoxy-painted chassis/airbox includes the steering-head and arcs down to terminate just above the gearbox, where it provides mounting points for the rear suspension unit and the upper pair of suspension arms. The seat frame (not shown) also bolts to it, making it easily replaceable in case of distressing incident.

The late, great Vincent engineer Phil Irving faced a set of problems that caused him to adopt features that continue to influence motorcycle design today. In immediately postwar Britain, aluminum was plentiful (think of all the aluminum warplanes and engines then being scrapped) but steel was rationed. Irving therefore abandoned the whole tubular chassis idea. He made his chassis as a stiff, welded steel box that incorporated the steering head, then bolted across the Vincent engine's two cylinder heads like a small bridge beam, and finally provided mounting points at the rear for the machine's suspension.

Irving also wanted to give his motorcycle a sporty, short wheelbase. He was able to achieve this by eliminating the traditional loop chassis with its downtubes in front of the engine. This cut back on steel use and it put to work the large stiffness of the engine castings as a structural member, in place of the usual separate frame.

Another thing that jumps out here is mass centralization. Just as it is easier to change direction while carrying a cannonball than it is while carrying a long ladder of equal weight, so motorcycles respond more quickly to control inputs if their major masses are clustered together. It is hard to imagine a tighter cluster of major parts than we see here.

Touring or sport-touring machines require smooth engines so that rider and passenger are not exhausted at the end of the ride. An earlier Kawasaki tourer used a classic inline-Six engine to achieve this—straight-Sixes have excellent primary and secondary balance.

The current trend is to develop one engine and then employ it in as many products as possible, thereby amortizing the considerable expense of development of the largest possible number of units. The inline-Four we see here was developed for the ZX-14 super-sportbike, but also in 1495cc form powers Kawasaki's 15X personal watercraft. Straight-Fours normally have a buzzy residual secondary vibration but in modern motorcycles—especially those with aluminum chassis like this one—that has been quieted by means of a balancer shaft. The result is an engine more compact than a Six but smooth enough for long-distance use.

It seems that each branch of motorcycling has its special requirements. The invention of O-ring chain meant no more changing chains at 5-10,000 miles, and no more packing leaky containers of sticky brown chain lube for application at every gas stop. Despite this gift of civilization, touring riders continue to smile upon shaft drive. As the engine turns the pinion, it tries to climb up the face of the large driven gear attached to the wheel. In traditional shaft drives, this has meant that opening the throttle raised the rear of the machine, and closing the throttle lowered it. On a machine with long travel, the result could be quite comical. John Wittner designed this out of his Battle of the Twins Moto Guzzi racer by reacting this pinion climb torque to the chassis instead of to the swingarm. By altering the geometry, any desired degree of squat or anti-squat could be dialed-in. BMW's Paralever accomplishes the same goal, and clearly that is also the purpose of the articulations in this Concours rear suspension.

Because this engine has transverse engine and gearbox shafts, conversion to shaft drive requires the prominently visible right-angle gear pair in the cast aluminum case at the lower center in the sideview photo.

The “antlers” that look so menacing in the head-on shot are the inlets to the engine airbox. The extra material atop each one is probably a resonator whose job it is to prevent objectionable intake honk.

Directly below the water pump in the sideview can be seen a legacy of Superbike racing. Early Superbikes had shallow, flat sumps for their oil, and vigorous riding could—and did—cause oil to slosh away from the oil pump pick-up, starving the crank and in some cases leading to spun bearings. This led to adoption of deep sumps like this one, located off-center to provide room for the exhaust pipe, and beveled for cornering clearance. Unless the machine is actually upside-down or out of oil, there is no way the oil pump pick-up in such a deep sump will ever suck air.

Source: Cycle World
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