( continued from Part 2 – The Bikes )
There were a lot of interesting bikes, motorcycle accessories and people to see at the 2013/2014 Progressive International Motorcycle Show in San Mateo. And the rear parking lot of the Expo Center was full of manufacturers offering demo rides on Saturday and Sunday. Only the San Mateo, Long Beach and Phoenix shows have demo rides available, I suspect because of poor weather when the other nine shows are in their respective cities. The participating manufacturers this year are: Can-Am Spyder, Harley-Davidson, Indian Motorcycle, Kawasaki, Star Motorcycles, Victory and Yamaha. A full listing of which bikes are available for demo rides is here.
My First Demo Ride
A first for me at the show was taking two demo rides Saturday morning courtesy of Kawasaki. My new mission is to learn how to ride off-road on a dual sport and my first step along that journey was to test ride a Kawasaki KLR650. The KLR is a beloved dual-sport machine that was introduced in 1987 and remained virtually unchanged until 2008, after which it received excellent upgrades without fundamentally changing the platform. Although arguably less famous than BMW’s GS series, the KLR has circumnavigated the globe just like Ewan McGregor’s storied ride in his excellent “Long Way Round” and “Long Way Down” TV documentaries.
I talked to Danny and Roy an the Kawasaki booth Friday night and found out that signups started at the Kawi trailer at 8:00 A.M. Danny’s wife would handle the signups. It was great to meet and greet the Kawi crew the evening before the rides and then talk to them the next morning as I signed up.
I arrived at 7:30 and took advantage of the free motorcycle parking in the front parking lot, and was the only bike there at that early hour. Unfortunately, the show didn’t open until 9:30 and the demo ride trailers were all the way in the rear parking lot where parking was $10. That meant that I couldn’t walk through the show, but had to walk all the way around the San Mateo Expo Center. But, it was a beautiful morning and a 15 minute walk in the brisk morning air was welcome.
When I arrived at the Kawasaki trailer there was already a line of about a dozen riders ahead of me. There were plenty of bikes and ride-times to go around, though, along with great camaraderie which made arriving early a very pleasant experience. Coffee and pastries were offered by the ROK people (Riders of Kawasaki) for their members or new enrollees. As I waited to show my drivers license and sign the all-encompassing waiver, I noticed the sign below. It actually made me sad to think that this sign was needed at all, but such is life in a world full of squids.
I came to learn that Kawi limited demo rides to two per day per person, which seemed eminently reasonable. The way riders accomplished a second signup was to go to the rear of the line and sign up again when you got to the front of the line—a very fair system. After I secured my back-to-back demo rides for the KLR650 and new 1400cc Concours, I then waited for the safety briefing.
First Demo Bike: Kawasaki KLR650
Riding a new bike for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience. Especially going from a 650 lb. top-heavy, 1000cc Kawasaki Concours like MyConnie, to a tall-in-the-saddle thumper like the KLR. I first needed to ensure my feet would touch the ground so I wouldn’t fall over at every stop. Like most dual-sports, the KLR has a tall seat height, and my 28-inch inseam legs worried me at first. I quickly found out that once my body weight was on the bike and the suspension compressed a bit, I could firmly plant my toes down on both sides to balance the bike. Or, I could plant my whole foot flat on one side or the other if necessary. It took me a little getting used to, but I checked the first item on my list: I could ride this bike even with my rhinoesque legs.
After the excellent safety briefing they made a big point of asking if anyone was new to riding on a freeway. I was surprised to find out that this was frequently answered in the affirmative, but not this day. Today we were all chomping at the bit to get on our steeds and out on the open road. A few moments later we were told to saddle up, start our engines and get ready to roll.
The demo ride route was much better than I expected. We received a 30 minute, escorted ride through town, 55 mph freeway, 65+ mph interstate, 35 mph back country roads and then back to the show. Each group of about 15 riders had an escort who wore high-visibility vests with one up front, one in the middle, and one at the rear. Here is a map of the route we took.
Map of Route: Google Map
My Impressions of the KLR650
The KLR was a lot of fun. Danny at Kawasaki told me that the KLR felt very much like what we all originally wanted to get out of motorcycling: a light, nimble and quick ride that can go anywhere. He was right. Since the seating was high I felt very different than when on my relatively low-slung Connie. Also, being a mostly naked bike, I was unaccustomed to having a lot of wind hitting my legs, torso and helmet. This wasn’t a problem, but it added a bit to the first ride jitters associated with getting accustomed to any new bike. After a few miles, though, I felt like had owned the KLR for years. What especially surprised me was how comfortable it was at 70 mph on the freeway, even with knobby tires! I could easily see a KLR in my future for motocamping trips, especially since they only cost about $6,200 brand new. There are also many available used online for a good amount less than that. As much as I would love to consider a BMW GS, it’s hard to rationalize the $15K+ price tag and oft-bemoaned service costs which helped coin the snarky acronym Bring My Wallet.
Second Demo Bike: Kawasaki Concours 1400 ABS
Right after returning the KLR to the demo area, it was time to saddle up for my next ride on the new Connie. I’ve heard a lot about this successor to my bike from the other members of the Concours Owners Group (COG). I knew that at 1400cc, it had 40% greater displacement than MyConnie and almost double the horsepower making it good that it also had ABS brakes. Last year, a 70 year old Connie rider in the show parking lot told me that the variable valve timing made it so fast that his son’s Suzuki Hayabusa had to work hard to keep up.
What I noticed after mounting this supersport touring beast was that the speedo went to 180 mph. Humm-baby! But even though I had great anticipation of feeling those ponies beneath me, after firing up the Connie the first thing I did was turn on the heated grips and adjust the temperature to “microwave” to take the chill away from my previous ride. Sport tourers are so much more civilized than canyon racers.
My Impressions of the Concours 1400 ABS
Pulling out of the parking lot felt much more natural on the Connie than on the KLR. It was more like MyConnie in how it handled. But I soon found out that the similarities between this 1400cc model and my current ride were few. Surprisingly, the new larger Connie handled very well, and felt significantly less top-heavy than my 2001 version. There was no time where I felt uncomfortable in terms of handling the bike. It seemed to have less wind protection than the older Concours but the electric adjustable windscreen was neat. I preferred riding with the screen in the lowest position which placed my chest and helmet into the wind. At its highest position, the wind still hit me mid-helmet, so I would imagine achieving a full tuck to get out of the rain would be difficult, but not impossible.
Except for the demo rider in front of me who decided that 60 mph was the right speed for the freeway, I had a glorious time on the new Connie. This would be a fantastic bike for touring, camping, commuting, canyon carving…or whatever. But, with a MSRP of $16,199, MyConnie doesn’t have to worry about being replaced by MyConnie II anytime soon.
The Kawasaki Crew
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a tremendous group of people the folks at Kawasaki were. I spent a significant amount of time talking to the different folks, especially Roy and Danny, and I have to tell you that they made attending the show a fantastic experience. Having been a veteran of trade shows myself for over 30 years, I know it‘s their job to do so. But they went above and beyond the call of duty getting me interesting in what was going on, answering my questions about the different Kawi models, and demonstrating their personal enthusiasm for motorcycling. I guess the people at Kawasaki really do let the good times roll.
Up Next: Part 4 – The Show