A History of the Kawasaki Concours ZG1000 (1986 - 2006) by Elvin Rivera
1984. That’s when George Orwell said we had to beware of Big Brother. Well, if you were a motorcyclist you were more interested in Big K. 1984 was the year Kawasaki debuted the Ninja 900. The first water-cooled transverse inline 4 cylinder sportbike from Japan. With it Kawasaki hoped to carry on the heritage of the legendary Z1.
It wasn’t only water-cooling that made the Ninja 900 (GPZ900R) special. Kawasaki’s engineers made the new engine compact. They centralized its mass and made it narrower. They proved, with the KZ line, that they knew how to make powerful engines. Now they set out to show the world they knew how to make a bike handle. Their 2-stroke bikes and even the Z1 were spooky when pushed in the twisties. The Ninja 900 changed that. First the engine was made narrower by moving the camchain from the middle to the end of the valvetrain. Next they removed the alternator from the crank end and tucked it behind the cylinder block along with the starter. A narrow engine allowed steeper lean angles to take advantage of the new wider tires being introduced. They developed a new “Diamond” backbone frame that used the engine as a stress-bearing member. These innovations, along with others, pushed Kawasaki to the front of the sportbike pack.
The Ninja 900 grew to 1000cc in 1986 and became the Ninja 1000R (GPZ1000RX). Kawasaki used that engine to create the ZG1000 Concours/1000GTR (1986) and the ZL1000 Eliminator (1987). For these two models Kawasaki replaced the chain final drive with a stout shaft drive. Both engines and transmissions were retuned for their missions. The Eliminator was a muscle cruiser. The Concours, a sport tourer in the European tradition. The Concours’ target was BMW’s K100RT and from the early reviews she hit the bulls eye.
Using 32mm carburetors, instead of the Ninja’s 36mm carburetors, milder cams, and smaller diameter exhaust pipes reduced the horsepower from 125 to just under 100, but increased torque in the middle of the RPM range compared to the Ninja. The gear ratios were revised for touring with a taller 6th gear. The Concours retained a version of the steel “Diamond” frame while the Ninja went to an aluminum perimeter design. Both utilized Uni-Trak rear suspensions, and twin front single piston 270mm disc brakes. The Concours front suspension used 41mm air forks but minus the Ninja’s anti-dive valving. The rest of the bike was purpose built for the Concours. The long comfortable seat, the 7.5 gallon fuel tank, the wide full fairing with tall windshield, the built-in tail rack and, of course, the spacious hard luggage.
With the Concours’ debut Kawasaki made a promise to make no changes for 5 years but in 1987 they fine tuned the design. In the cockpit the designers raised the handlebars 1 inch, lengthened the hoses and cables by the same, and added a right side locking fairing pocket. They then turned their attention to the lower half of the fork. The 1986 had 270mm rotors but the 1987 to 1993 models wore 280mm discs. The stanchions were altered to accommodate the larger brake rotors by relocating the mounting lugs for the calipers. The next changes were to the lower fairing panels. The 1986 lower panels were unique in that the large and small heat exhaust vents were not molded in. They were separate pieces that would screw onto the lower panel. You can see the screws on the exterior. Finally the 1986 bag lids had a smooth finish that was changed to a sand grain texture. The better to hide scuffs and scratches.
After the 1987 changes, other than different colors, Kawasaki more than kept their word and changed nothing until 1994. That year saw the Concours undergo the biggest change of its production run. Most of the changes took place up front. The new fork assembly came from the ZR1100 Zephyr. The fork tubes were still 41mm but went from air to mechanical preload. The 5 spoke front wheel from the ZR1100 Zephyr replaced the original 6-spoke design. The new single action dual piston 300mm disc brakes came from the ZR750 Zephyr. The interior fairing panels were restyled with twin locking pockets. The dashboard cowling was changed to compliment the new instrument panel from the Ninja ZX11. It included dual tripmeters versus the original’s single. The Concours gained a lot but lost the Reserve Lighting feature. That’s OK though. Most owners didn’t know what it was anyway. She also lost the fork’s oil drains. Now to fully change the oil the legs had to be removed. Not an overly difficult job but one that wasn’t necessary before. The handlebar switch pods were restyled and the hand levers gained adjustment wheels that affected the reach. Moving towards the rear there was a new stepped seat styled to look like the popular Corbin Gunfighter and Lady saddle. The last change for 1994 was to the rear wheel. It was restyled to match the Zephyr front wheel.
After the 1994 updates Kawasaki changed little and then only in dribs and drabs. In 1999 the forks sprouted little shields and the diameter of the Fork Stanchions was reduced to accommodate them. Then for the 2004 A19 edition Kawasaki dressed the Concours up with all chrome mufflers.
In North America (Mexico, Canada, and the USA) we know the ZG1000A as the Concours. Throughout the rest of the world she is known as the GTR1000 or the 1000GTR. Ahh, the mysteries of Japanese marketing. Kawasaki, needing to comply with the various exhaust emission, noise restrictions, and horsepower limitations, tailored the GTR to each country it was sold in. Other than different colors than the Concours used, one visual GTR identifier is that some markets didn’t require side and rear reflectors. Another was an extended muffler tip on GTRs needing to meet noise limits. Horsepower limits were dealt with using a carburetor top that limited the full throttle travel of the slide needle. To cope with Europe’s higher altitudes and colder temperatures the carburetors also received a de-icing kit. The colder and wetter climate also drove Kawasaki to provide the GTR with Fairing Extenders as standard equipment versus the Concours’ foot scoops. The final touch was GTR badging on the windshield, tail and bags.
Twenty years is a long time for anything to be produced but for a motorcycle it’s akin to immortality. As good a motorcycle as the Concours / GTR is, all good things must end. The first generation ZG was and still is a great bike with a loyal following. Even with the new Concours 14 many will keep their originals. Some of “The Faithful” are hard at work giving Connie what the factory never did. Like a cartridge fork with all the adjustments, 6 piston front brakes, 17 inch wheels front & rear, 1052cc, 1109cc, a ZRX1200 engine transplant, turbocharging, revised gearing, re-timed cams, improved lighting, and much more. It takes real passion to do all this to a 20 year old design. While these skilled craftsmen work their magic, most of us will just keep maintaining and riding our beloved Concours. She may be out of production but she ain’t dead. There’s lots of life left in the old girl yet.