Two Purposes: Motorcycle Sport-Touring Gloves

If you are a seasoned sport-touring rider, you probably have a few pair of motorcycle gloves in your garage.

Maybe more than a few? Perhaps you’ve got some riding gloves for when it’s hot. And you’d need very different motorcycle gloves for when it’s cooler. Neither of those might work when it rains, so you might have a pair of waterproof gloves and/or some “rain covers” to slip over the gloves-of-choice for rainy-day riding. Could anyone complain if you also have a separate pair of mechanics gloves? More importantly, there’s “the” gloves. Stated differently, your “favorite” sport-touring gloves. Those are the gloves that engender the right, somewhat indescribable, combination of tactile comfort, pleasure and familiarity. They are likely the gloves in your collection that are the most called to duty, even if there are other gloves better suited to the day’s conditions.

For all the various routines, skills and habits that a sport-touring motorcyclist may execute on any given ride, motorcycle gloves serve two primary purposes:

A) Increased comfort and enjoyment with attendant better motorcycle control. You probably don’t think too much about the role your hands play in the overall picture of your riding experience. However, those fleshy mitts of yours execute the routine, subtle and occasional emergency handling of your front brake, throttle, clutch and steering inputs: your entire life, and that of your passenger’s, is literally in your hands!

Fortunately, your hands and fingers do their job quite well, given a reasonable amount of comfort to aid their performance.

On the other hand, have you ever ridden beyond the point when your hands had become fatigued? Or, too cramped? Or, how about when your hands were cold?

As a result of any of these mentioned points, have you ever experienced the disquieting recognition that your hands are NOT responding to situational demands as you normally would expect? Such have the potential to spell “bad news,” PARTICULARLY in any kind of threatening riding situation, when your instant response and control is what can differentiate a disaster, from a merely increased flood of adrenaline into your blood stream, as you avoid an unfriendly obstacle – completely unscathed.

B) Protection. And what if, in spite of your best efforts, you were not able to avoid that unfriendly obstacle unscathed? Protecting your hands in the event of a motorcycle mishap is a vital benefit your riding gloves may offer: even if you never require them to fulfill that duty. Ultimately, if you crash, your hands are going to do whatever they can to protect you – regardless of the type of motorcycle gloves you are wearing (or not).

Without trying to be morbid, if you do go down without gloves, your experience will likely impress you with the notion that you won’t ever ride without motorcycle gloves again.

As a point of comparison, I’ve survived a few motorcycle crashes. Two of them were dramatic. Although separated by a quarter of a century of riding experience, both separate motorcycles were totaled as a result of those escapades. The good news it that, in each case, motorcycle gloves kept my hands from sustaining any injury at all. The point? Protect YOUR hands with good motorcycle gloves.

So, how many pair of motorcycle riding gloves do you have? Regardless of how many you own, when you are riding, you need at least one pair that you are actually wearing.

BMW Announces K 1300 GT for 2009

bmwk1300gt-2009This month the big German motorbike maker announced they’re upgrading their BMW K 1200 GT to a K 1300 GT for 2009.

To note the obvious (at least for this website), the GT (Grand Touring) is BMW’s younger, high-performance, sport-tourer. (In contrast to the grand daddy of the sport-touring world, the BMW “RT” series).

Although the K series of BMW engines goes back to 1983, it wasn’t until 2003 that BMW launched its first GT motorcycle, the K 1200 GT, which was mostly a K 1200 RS (sport bike), with added hard bags, an electric windshield, and a larger fairing.

In 2006, the BMW K 1200 GT was re-released as a completely upgraded bike with automatic stability control (ASC), a heated and adjustable seat, heated hand grips (which I’ve used and are very nice) and adjustable handlebars, tire pressure monitoring (TPM), cruise control, adjustable seat, adjustable handlebars, integral ABS, and anti-theft alarm. And of course it kept the hard saddle bags and electronically adjustable screen.

A unique option is BMW’s electronic suspension adjustment (ESA) which allows easy variation of the suspension (I’ve used this feature, too, and it’s quite nice).

In July 2007, the GT was named one of the top ten motorcycles for 2006 by the editors of Cycle World magazine. It also received the magazine’s award for Best Sport-Touring Bike. So, the newest version has a high standard to maintain.

In addition to the larger displacement of the latest K 1300 GT, it also features an improved electronic suspension adjustment (optional ESA-II), a single indicator-switch, which is a departure from the dual, turn-signal switches that BMW is known for, as well as concealed crash bars.

This is a powerful motorcycle, and it appears that BMW is trying to dethrone the Kawasaki Concours 14 as the most powerful purpose-built, sport tourer. I’ll report on independent tests of the bike as they develop.

Yamaha FJR1300

2008 Yamaha FJR 1300 AEYamaha has made an indelible mark in the sport-touring motorcycle world with its well-crafted FJR1300.  This is a “purpose-built” sport tourer, meaning it comes factory-equipped with shaft drive, saddlebags, a large gas tank and a fairing.  Here in the USA it comes in two flavors: the FJR1300A and FJR1300AE.

The “AE” version is unique in the big motorbike world with its semi-automatic transmission, which Yamaha calls YCC-S (Yamaha Chip Controlled-Shift).  What that means is you get a 5-speed manual gearbox with a computer-controlled clutch so that no clutch lever use is needed by you or I.  Whether you or I actually need such a gizmo is another story.  Regardless, having ridden a few of these FJR 1300s with, and without, the electric shifting, I can say that the electric gizmo does indeed make shifting easier – although I have no immediate desire to put that on my motorcycle wish list of desired features.  (Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve been using a clutch for so long that by taking it away it, well, it just doesn’t seem to me like that’s the way a motorbike ought to be).

Regardless, with or without the electric shifting, this is fine bike.

When the FJR1300 was introduced in 2001, it was only available in Europe.  (I don’t quite know why manufacturers do that, but the FJR is not the only bike to make its debut overseas).

Anyway, we in North America were able to see the FJR in 2002 (with the 2003 model year).  It was initially available without ABS.  It made a splash that year with Motorcyclist magazine, which named it the 2003 “Motorcycle of the Year.”

With the 2005 North American model year came an option for ABS (and no other revisions).

Other than 2005, for most model years Yamaha has made some minor revision to the bike.  (At least up to the 2008 model year).

However, if you are considering the purchase of a used FJR, one important improvement you should be aware of is that in 2006 Yam resolved some complaints of overheating the rider by including better insulation under the tank and better ventilation around the motor to direct the heat away from the rider.  Hence, if you are looking for a used FJR 1300, you would be better off if you grabbed any one manufactured for the 2006 model year or later.

I have ridden both the 2008 FJR1300A and FJR1300AE models and, as mentioned above, although I find the electric shifting on the “AE” intriguing, my preference is the standard “A” model.

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Kawasaki Concours14

2008 Kawasaki Concours 14In July of 2007 the completely brand-new “2008″ Kawasaki Concours14 (4 cylinder, 1400cc) finally became available to the public for purchase. And if your recollection suggests it’s been longer, well, you’re not actually getting senile: This bike was “announced” to the public back in 2006. (Yep, that’s an unusually looooong stretch of time for a motorcycle to be promoted by its manufacturer prior to its availability).

And as Kawasaki was purposefully desiring to create, a lot of C14 hype was built up during that interim.

So, with 12 months behind us, how has this Concours14 been received in its first year?

In simple terms, “rather well.”

The July 2008 issue of Rider magazine awarded the Kawasaki Concours14 as “Best Sport-Touring Bike” for 2008 and then went on to further award it as “Motorcycle of the Year,” making the C14 their #1 pick for all the categories of motorcycles they awarded. Here’s a short quote from Rider mag: “This stylish sport-tourer…has an impressive list of standard features that are both fun and useful, including KIPASS key fob security, a tire pressure monitoring system, electric windscreen, remote rear spring preload adjuster and large, functional, locking side cases.”

In the same month (July 2008) Cycle World magazine bestowed upon the Concours the title of “Best Sport-Tourer” of the year. And here’s a few words about the C14 from that mag: “It moves with an athletic confidence and over-powerful ease like nothing else on the road.”

I have had the opportunity to take a couple of the 2008 Concours14’s out for a spin, and I have to say, overall I agree with the assessments of Cycle World and Rider. Technically, Kawasaki has a big winner here with the Concours14 and they have pushed the sport-touring category up another notch.

Alas, is it possible to go too far in terms of power and wizardry?

Don’t get me wrong, the C14 is by all reckoning a great motorcycle. Heck, I imagine at some point there will be one parked in my garage for a much longer-term analysis. But I’m not head-over-heels about it. The thing is, although I enjoy a wide variety of motorcycle categories, I’m primarily a sport-touring rider. And because of that, you’d think this bike would automatically become my favorite (especially because among all the bikes I’ve owned, I’ve had 3 of the original 1000cc Kawasaki Concours motorcycles from their 20-year production run).

Alas, I cannot. I believe Kawasaki has pushed the C14 boundaries to the razor edge of what constitutes a “Sport-Touring” motorcycle. This bike is a VERY powerful surface-to-surface missile.

I am of the opinion that Kawasaki manufactured this rocketship with a greater emphasis on technical and marketing panache than the actual riding needs of a long-distance tourers, many of whom select their intercontinental weaponry from the sport-touring category.

From a marketing perspective, it’s pretty sexy to promote this as the fastest, most powerful, and arguably the most advanced sport-touring bike on the market at this time. And technically, the C14 does reflect the best in what our world’s motorcycle makers can envision for this motorcycle category.

Having said that, it’s also the heaviest (dry weight = 615 lbs. with ABS) of all the purpose-built sport-touring bikes, and most importantly from my perspective, it has the smallest gas tank (5.8 gal) — which is a pretty fundamental disadvantage for a long-distance, sport-touring rider, as myself.

Shoot, if you really want that much power for your sport-touring pleasure, why not just get a sport bike? The C14 is built on the foundation of the Kawasaki ZX14, and that bike is one of the two fastest, mass-produced motorcycles in our world. (The famous – or infamous – Suzuki Hayabusa is the other sport-bike champion).

More to the point, when I want to get out of town, whether for a weekend, a week, a month, or longer, I am just as interested in blasting through scenic twisties as I am about getting across a continent in relative ease. And in both regards, I want as BIG a gas tank as I can get to keep the fun factor going longer.

Bear in mind that I may be categorized as a “mature” middle-aged rider, with a lot of riding experience, so I am more interested in the basics of riding than more power and more gadgetry.

Having said that, I do find myself enjoying the flexibility of electric windshields, the added safety of ABS and something that is relatively new to the motorcycle world which is included on the C14: a tire pressure monitoring system. I’m much better than I have been in the past about regularly checking my tire pressures, but that digital read-out on the instrument cluster sure makes that task all the easier.

In short, the Kawasaki Concours14 is a fantastic motorcycle and quite an inspiring ride. However, it is more performance weighted than cross-country lighted, in comparison to the current BMW K1200GT, BMW R1200RT, Honda ST1300, or Yamaha FJR 1300. I would categorize the C14 more as a “Luxury Sport Bike” with long-distance livery, than the most practical sport-touring bike for a true long-hauling motorbike rider.

Kawasaki Concours ZG1000: 1985-2006

2006 Kawasaki ConcoursLast month Kawasaki announced they would be introducing an all-new sport-tourer: The Kawasaki Concours 14, for 2008. Although this will replace the existing ZG1000 Concours (known in Europe as the GTR1000), it’s a completely new motorcycle, based upon the Kawasaki ZX14 sport bike (introduced earlier this year), which is one of the fastest production motorcycles in the world.

Although the new Concours does offer the same essential ingredients for a purpose-built, sport tourer – which includes factory luggage, a shaft drive and a full fairing – the bikes are so different from each other that if there is even one bolt that’s the same between the new and old bikes, it was not intended.

The announcement was not a surprise. In fact it has been rumored for MANY years, since there are very few motorcycles that have enjoyed the long production run of the venerable ZG1000.

I should also mention that, having owned a number of motorcycles over the years, including several ZG1000′s, I will definitely always maintain a fond appreciation for this machine.

So, to note the passing of a historical bike, I thought I’d offer a little background on the Concours.

A Little Concours History

Kawasaki introduced the Concours in 1985, based on their Ninja 900 and Ninja 1000 sport models, as a model year 1986 bike. (So, there have been 20 model years for the bike, even though the production run would have been 21 years).

The ZG1000 Kawasaki Concours is a 1000cc, six speed, four cylinder, liquid cooled, sport-touring motorcycle with a shaft drive.

It has enough “sports” power to cruise at triple-digit speeds and is designed to negotiate twisty, canyon, mountain, or back-country roads with ease.

A fairing with windshield, two removable locking luggage cases, and a 7.5 gallon gas tank (that uses regular unleaded gas), can carry one or two passengers with accouterments across a continent in relative comfort and economy, hence the “touring” part of the “sports-touring” depiction.

The Concours may be likened as the “ultimate utilitarian” motorcycle, since it has been around a long time, is very reliable, can be used for weekend “get aways”; for multi-week, cross-country excursions; is an able commuter bike; can handle many errands; and is considered the best motorcycle value in its class.

In an era when the evolution of a motorcycle model may seem as short-lived as some women’s fashions, the Concours has been unique in having been around since 1985 without many revisions. However, there have been some small ones:

♠ From 1985 to 1993 the design was largely unchanged aside from modifications to the screen, handlebars and other very minor changes.

♠ In 1994 Kawasaki updated the instrument cluster, forks, controls, front fender, front brakes, and the front wheel. From 1994 to 2006, the design again experienced only minor changes: fork protectors and exhaust tips.

In other words, a Concours manufactured in 1985 looks largely similar to the last ones of 2006.

Due to its longevity, for the do-it-yourself mechanic, there exists a substantial market for used parts that can be purchased at reduced prices through motorcycle salvage yards. There is also a fair amount of after-market accessories available to a Concours owner to better personalize his/her vehicle.

The European GTR1000 has 10–20 percent less horsepower than the US Concours, which varies by country.

An additional benefit to the Concours owner is the support of the Concours Owners Group which is comprised of helpful, knowledgeable and in some cases, quite passionate members who enjoy their Concourses and like to help other Concours riders.

So, even though we won’t see any “new” ZG1000 Concours motorbikes after this year, this legacy machine will be around for many years to come, since there’s a lot of them that have been sold in the last two decades.