Kawasaki’s GTR1000, or ’Concours’ as it is known in the USA, has been around since the mid 1980s, yet remains one of the most underrated touring motorcycles you can buy.
Although the model was deleted from Kawasaki UK’s line up at the end of 2000, there are plenty of used models about and you can still buy one brand new in the United States, for just $8199 – that’s about £5500 for a shaft drive, 130mph, hard luggage equipped motorcycle, which is easily capable of taking two people halfway across Europe in a day’s ride. In comfort too. Insidebikes reckons that there’s life in that Eighties revival yet!
There are many reasons to go motorcycle touring, but I have only one essential quality in a touring bike; comfort.
Maybe I’m turning into one of those grumpy blokes who stand at the end of the bar, in back street pubs, endlessly moaning about how badly made everything is nowadays, no craftsmanship anymore, blah-blah-harumph…
But it’s true. Old motorbikes, like a Suzuki GS1000, Honda CBX1000, or a BMW R100RS, were comfortable to ride, all bloody day long. I know, I rode the buggers and they proper saddles, straight handlebars, nice flat gas tanks that didn’t have a ledge placed right in front of your knackers, ready to cause mayhem every time you had to jam the brakes on. You could add a huge old Rickman fairing, or some pig ugly Craven panniers, then go blatting all over the place on those bikes. Touring was simple then – you just packed a tent, some cash, a passport and went.
Now, you have sat nav, de luxe luggage `systems,’ which require a keycode entry and cost £1000, heated grips, vests, boot insoles and – for all I know – possibly glow-in-the-dark underpants, just for added safety when travelling in convoy across Uzbekistan. Touring has become big business, yet the downside, from my experience, is that some of the motorcycles sold as touring bikes, simply cannot cut it when you do something insane, like ride them all week around Ireland in the rain.
I mean what’s the point in fitting a `full’ fairing, if it ends at knee level and your boots get soaked, or the edges aren’t wide enough to keep rain away from your gloves – the very things which any motorcyclist will tell you get wet first..and dry out last? Then there’s saddles; don’t start me on saddles for God’s sake…did man go into space so we could sit on ridged planks which play havoc with the average spinal column, whilst leaning forward just far enough to cause partial seizure of the shoulder blades??? I don’t think so.
THE ROAD TEST ACTUALLY STARTS HERE
OK, I’ve had my medication and calmed down now. The fact is however, this old school tourer from Kawasaki has all the right stuff, the touring essentials, even if it does look, and feel a bit dated. The enormous fairing keeps air away from the rider. I rode it for a week in sunny California, so I cannot tell you if the rain would eventually get past it, but just two or three bugs were able to sneak around each day to splatter me, which is fine by me. The model tested also had funky little plastic deflectors on the fairing lowers, which could either flick cool air in during the summer, or vice versa in the winter. Handy. There were also two large fairing pockets set near the handlebars – a good idea. My two riding buddies were both around six feet tall and reported that the screen did give a little buffetting at speed, but there is the `flip-up’ option available, which should deflect more air away from the rider. I found it very calm behind the Kawasaki’s bodywork, all the way up to 90 -100mph, which is fast enough for anybody’s holiday road. By the way, the mirrors worked well, good view all round.
Inside the fairing you’ll see a big dashboard, with the usual gauges, plus a digital clock. This was more accurate than the fuel gauge, which rapidly dropped towards the red zone after 100 miles or so, even though the bike was capable of covering 240 – that’s 240 – miles, without running onto reserve. This incredible fuel range is due to the huge petrol tank, which is 7.5 US gallons, or 6.2 Imperial, to you and Cyril down the Dog & Duck. There’s a downside to this of course, which is that the bike feels very `top heavy’ and I came close to dropping it whilst doing several U-turns on mountain roads. The GTR1000 isn’t in the Gold Wing league, but it isn’t far off in terms of needing exactly the right amount of body lean/throttle/turning circle, to make for a smooth turnaround. I suppose this lumberingness (OK, I know it’s a made up word, but it fits) is why manufacturers nowadays are scared to put big fuel tanks on touring bikes, which means you end up having to stop for fuel as often as every 130 miles on some bikes, just to be on the safe side.
Elsewhere, the bike has a superb seat. It’s wide, fairly flat and easily big enough for two. At 31 inches, it’s perhaps a little bit high, but I had no problems stopping at lights etc. It also comes equipped with hard luggage and a rack as standard. Givi, and others, do aftermarket top boxes for the Concours.
I liked the panniers. They were plenty big enough, OK to get on and off (fiddly securing locks, tiny key) and looked durable enough to take a thump onto the deck if you did topple the bike, without falling into a hundred tiny bits. Add shaft drive, 100-ish bhp from the engine, a six speed gearbox and we’re ready for the open road.
FAST ENOUGH TO MAKE YOU SMILE
Fire up the 16 valve, liquid cooled, four cylinder engine and you hear a faint tappety noise, then it settles down to that familiar Kawasaki `whoosh’ kind of noise. Sort of washing machine meets jet engine.
Fact is, when you get the bike revving, this old RX1000 motor can move fairly well, shoving the bike along well, although there is soon a buzziness, a harshness, being transmitted through the side handlebars. The motor has a counterbalancing mechanism inside it, to minimise this vibey feeling, but it’s lurking above 7,000, or about 85mph in top gear. Once moving the GTR1000 handles predictably, if slowly. With a massive 60 inch wheelbase, plus a whopping 18 inch diameter front wheel, this bike ain’t gonna win any trackday duels, unless you’re challenging a JCB digger. You need to use your bodyweight to `make it have it’ in slower corners too, but once cranked over, it obviously holds its line well. In fact, only a passing iceberg could deflect it from the path you have chosen, so get the line right…
Any modern touring bike – except the Gold Wing, or possibly the BMW K1200LT – could run rings around the GTR1000 on a twisty road. But there’s no shame in that, because the Kawasaki is a great handling motorcycle, for anything manufactured in 1985 and basically left unchanged – chassis wise – since then.
Buy a GTR and you’ll have to live with carbs (crikey, I remember them), choke levers, reserve taps on the fuel tank and no ABS braking, just 300mm discs and bendy 41mm forks to stop you hitting the scenery. It also has a ridiculous 16 inch rear wheel, which means getting tyres for it becomes a Holy Grail type quest every 5,000 miles. The bike is tyre sensitive too – it can `white line’ a fair bit, even with new rubber on.
Other weak areas? How about the styling – I mean was there a stylist on this bike, or did they just ask a couple of lads at the warehouse to bolt a few bits onto a Ninja, then paint it grey, or a nice sickly white colour? The only thing I can say is that it looks handsome compared to a K series BMW from the same era.
But the bottom line is this; the GTR1000 works. It goes OK, it handles corners reasonably well, if you put some effort into it and it stops well for something so heavy. More importantly, it costs peanuts to travel huge distances on this bike. It returns 40-45mpg, the engine is as reliable as they come and it sits the rider up straight, ready to take in the scenic views, all day long.
We got off the Kawasakis every day, feeling relaxed, not exhausted. There’s a difference between feeling like the day’s ride was an endurance test, a challenge, instead of just a holiday on wheels. Personally, I like the challenge to be on a dirt bike, or a GSXR600 around Cadwell, because when all I want to do is chug along, saying hello to the next blue sky sunset, comfort is the key to happiness.
For about the same money as a Honda Deauville, you get more speed, more room on the saddle, a bigger range, plus a bigger fairing and a massive increase in pannier space. Even though the Honda handles sweeter, I know which one I would choose to ride to Spain if I had to, especially two-up. For all its age related faults, the Kawasaki surprised me with its basic ability, it’s functional honesty – this bike does what it says on the tin – it tours, full stop.
Get Kawasaki motorcycle insurance for the kawasaki gtr1000.
Engine 16 valve, liquid cooled, four cylinder, four stroke
Bore & Stroke 74 X 58cm
Compression ratio 10.2:1
Estimated power 100bhp @ 9,000rpm
Gears 6 speed
Carbs X4 Keihin CV type
Frame Steel, diamond tubular type, engine as stressed member
Forks 41mm non adjustable
Rear suspension Monoshock, air assisted, multi-adjustable Uni-Trak linkage
Front brakes Twin 300mm discs, 4 piston calipers
Rear brake Single 280mm disc, 2 piston caliper
Front 120/70 18 inch diameter
Rear 150/80 16 inch diameter
Seat height 31 inches
Dry weight; 595lbs ( est )
Top speed 130mph