Comparing the BMW R1100RT to the Kawasaki Concours
by Bob McKee

Until August of 2000, I was a happy owner of a 1995 Kawasaki Concours ZG1000 sport-touring motorcycle. Although I was pleased with my Connie, I was curious when BMW came out with the R1100RT, and shortly after the bike was released to dealers, I made a special visit to the BMW shop in Sturgis, South Dakota, which is about 200 miles from my home. Even though I told the salesman at the time that my Concours was not yet a year old and I had no intention of buying the new Beemer, he insisted I take one for a ride. Since I am at heart a non-confrontational sort of guy, I allowed this aggressive salesman to twist my arm and force me astride the new Glacial (that's what they called it at the time) Green RT. Against my wife's better judgment, I gave it some clutch, and by the time I had traveled three blocks away from the old BMW store on the north side of Interstate 90, I had fallen in love. But love or not, I had a family and a perfectly good Concours, a bike which by then had become a good friend, and there was no way I could cough up $16,000 for a new two-wheeler. 


Fast forward five years, and as I do every morning, I am sitting at the breakfast table reading the motorcycle section of the local newspaper. "For Sale: 1998 Sinus Blue R1100RT, 5,200 miles, $10,500. Three-rail motorcycle trailer included." After I cleaned up the spilled coffee, I made my way to the telephone and punched in the number listed in the ad. Two days and $10,000 later (Yeah, I got him down $500. Not bad, huh?), I was the proud owner of a greatly discounted, hardly used, still immaculate BMW motorcycle.

That was five or six weeks ago, and although I admit the honeymoon is not quite over, I think I can make objective comparisons between the Concours and the R1100RT. One reason I can be objective is because, as much as I love the BMW, I still have a soft spot for the Connie. So, let's begin. I will start with what I perceive to be negative aspects of both bikes and then move to the positive aspects. Remember, I am talking about both bikes in their stock condition. Of course many of these problems are curable with  the addition of  after-market accessories.

First, the Kawasaki Concours:

The bike has a terrible windscreen that causes buffeting that is sometimes severe and always annoying. The gas gauge is so inaccurate that it shows dead empty when there is still well over a hundred miles available in the tank. The bike carries its fuel high, so the always top-heavy motorcycle is particularly top-heavy when full of gas. The speedometer reads fast. The seat is mediocre. The styling is fourteen years old and shows its age. I am just under 5'-11" tall and I find the leg room cramped to the point that I have considered removing the knee armor in my Aerostitch because on rides of more than 100 miles it becomes tight and painful. The handlebars are low for a sport-touring bike and quickly cause wrist and shoulder discomfort. The bike is very buzzy, particularly between 4000 and 4500 rpm, which is right at freeway speeds. You have to be an Austrian weight-lifter to get the thing on its centerstand. The bags are a pain to remove. They are boxy, unattractive, and are locked with a separate key. The bike has helmet locks that are unusable when the bags are attached. The suspension, although adjustable front and back, is old-tech and feels it. The luggage rack is so small that it is useless. Two drain plugs have to be removed to change the oil. It has an old-style oil filter. It has valves that need to be adjusted every 6000 miles.

Next, the RT:

It has a windscreen that is too short for some and too narrow for everyone. It has instruments that need to have larger numerals for the far-sighted rider. The speedometer is absurdly inaccurate. The odometer may be inaccurate. (I'm still not sure). There is only one trip odometer. The handgrips are uncomfortable. The turn signals are awkward to use. The radio is the joke of the motorcycling world. It has a seat that was apparently designed in the Eighteenth Century by the Marquis de Sade. Buzzy. Loud and very clunky transmission. Only five gears. A fairing that is a pain to remove. A battery that for all practical purposes is inaccessible. I realize this is subjective, but to the American ear the bike sounds more like grandma's sewing machine than it does a modern motorcycle. It has a clunky transmission. Not enough power. Bags that are small. Clunky transmission. Cheesy helmet locks that are virtually worthless. The bike is expensive to buy, and even by motorcycle-shop standards, both service and accessories are expensive. It has valves that need adjusting every 6000 miles. Did I mention the clunky transmission? And, oh, yeah, it also tends to surge, particularly in 2nd and 3rd at sustained low to moderate rpms.

BTW, I consider the negatives of the BMW to be twice as bad when compared to the Concours because the BMW costs twice as much. (Concours, $8,000; BMW, $16,000).

Now, the positives for the Concours:

Because it springs from the same Kawasaki gene pool as the Ninjas, it is fast down low, it is fast in the middle, and it is very fast on top. (139 top end, 12 seconds in the quarter). It has six gears. It has two odometers. It has a 7.5 gallon gas tank­-to my knowledge, the largest in the industry (including Gold Wings). Adjustable preload front end. Air-adjusted shock in back. A fairing that will keep everything dry except the top of your helmet and the bottom of your boots. Two fairing pockets. Huge bags. Many places for bungee cords, including two hooks in back designed specifically for that purpose. Very flickable in the twisties. If you maintain your battery properly, which is easy to do since it is conveniently located under the seat, the bike will fire up first time, every time. In five years, I never once had a problem with starting. And the best part: It only costs $8,000!

Positives for the R1100RT:

Pardon my exuberance, but it is one gorgeous motorcycle. It has gazelle-like lines that never fail to turn heads. It has ABS. It has fuel-injection. It has a front and rear suspension that is the wonder of the motorcycling world. It has an adjustable seat, allowing for plenty of leg room for almost any rider. It has an adjustable windscreen that is not only highly functional, I never tire of playing with it. It has a gear indicator that I might have once said was a gimmick appreciated only by sissies, but now I have to admit that I use it constantly; if that makes me a sissy, so be it. It handles better than any other motorcycle heavier than five hundred pounds on the market. (That includes a 600-pound Concours and a 700-pound ST1100.) It is subjective, I know, but IMO it consistently has the most beautiful colors of any motorcycle available. (That includes all the varied hues put out by Willie G. and the boys in Milwaukee.) It is so well balanced that it takes virtually no effort at all to put it on its centerstand. It has handsome bags that are a snap to remove. It has a canister-type oil filter. It has a roundel. And last but not least, ladies and gentlemen, the R1100RT has those two big, beautiful heads that stick straight out to the sides. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Wrap up:

I believe that dollar-for-dollar, the Kawasaki Concours, bar none, is the very best motorcycle buy in the world. For $8,000 you get a bike that probably has way more power and handling ability than any of us are capable of dealing with unless our name happens to be Kenny Roberts or Max Biaggi. It has a storm-buster fairing, enormous luggage capacity, and as much or more comfort as many bikes costing thousands of dollars more. Add to that the fact that it is a bike as reliable and trustworthy as anything on two wheels, and you have something that cannot be beaten. At least it can't be beaten when looking at it as value for money and bang for buck.

On the other hand, technically the BMW shows how dated the Concours has become. We RT-ers whine among ourselves about Motronic 2.2, clunkiness, and surging, but despite all that, it cannot be denied that the R1100RT is and has been for over six years on the very cutting edge of modern production motorcycle technology. It is a nearly perfect blend of form and function, and if money is no object or of only moderate concern, my old friend, the Kawasaki Concours, even as good as it is, cannot come close to the BMW.