2011 Kawasaki Vulcan® Vaquero™

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Kinney Jones

Kawasaki's latest touring-cruiser Vaquero (which means "cowboy" in Spanish) was appropriately introduced amid longhorns and cattle ranches in the Lone Star State north of Houston. The Vaquero shares Voyager's wide upper fairing, but with a shorter windscreen and revamped lower bodywork, plus new, hard saddlebags. The upper fairing also houses the Vaquero's unique louvers which can additionally mount driving lamps.

Powertrain

Vaquero’s SOHC 1700cc liquid-cooled 52-degree V-twin is nearly unchanged from other Vulcan 1700s, except there’s a larger-volume intake manifold for a more linear throttle response and improved idle from its fuel injection. Kawasaki didn’t provide horsepower figures, but maximum rated torque is 108 lb-ft at 2,750 rpm and redline is at 6,000. The engine starts easily and lugs away nicely in the lower revs. Vaquero’s single-pin crankshaft adds that characteristic V-twin feel and hard acceleration brings on a nice rumble, with ample power in the mid-range between 3,000 and 5,000 rpm.

The six-speed transmission’s first gear ratio has been changed slightly (40/13 to 44/15) and third and fourth gears now have taller tooth profiles for smoother operation and reduced shifting noise. Still, the heel-toe shifter engages first with a “thunk,” but the gearbox delivers crisp shifts and neutral is easy to find. Fifth and sixth gears have tall overdrives for relaxed highway running, with only 2,500 revs needed at 75 mph.

Vaquero shares the damper-less clutch with the Vulcan Classic, which is said to deliver a rawer torque pulse from the engine. Final drive is a low-maintenance belt that’s 2mm narrower and designed to reduce squeaking sounds heard on previous Vulcans.

Chassis and Handling

A sturdy steel double-cradle frame with single-tube backbone and steel swingarm ties everything together. Up front, a conventional 45mm fork shared with Voyagers, along with air-adjustable twin rear shocks, deliver a plush ride. Our test bike was fitted with Bridgestone Excedra G721 bias-ply tires, in sizes 130/90x16 front and 170/70x16 rear, which offer decent grip but a slightly mushy feel. Twin front, and single rear, 300mm brake rotors are grabbed by twin-piston Tokico calipers. The brakes bring the big machine to a halt well, but require heavy lever effort to do so. ABS is not available this model year, but may be soon.

Vaquero isn’t about tight twisties, but it can handle normal backroad corners at reasonable speeds. As is common with cruisers, the floorboards scrape as soon as you pick up the pace through the curves, but the bike tracks well through a turn and feels stable at all speeds.

Features and Ergonomics

The frame-mounted fairing provides decent wind protection, but we found the stock shorty windscreen produces buffeting to the head and shoulders. There are six Kawi accessory screens and I tried one of the intermediate-height versions, which allowed me to just look over it and solved the buffeting.

Riding position is feet-forward cruiser style, with a plush seat and easy to reach pullback bars that makes it a pleasure to rack up miles. The low 28.7-inch seat allows most riders to plant both feet on the pavement, and a firmer accessory saddle is available if you’d like. Passenger accommodations are limited by the thin pillion seat, but accessories can fix that too. Currently, Kawasaki has dozens of accessory parts in the works, so many should be available when the bikes reach dealer showrooms.

Vaquero’s functional dash with speedo, tach, gas, and coolant-temperature gauges was borrowed from the Voyager, but has red backlighting which looks great at night. Coolant temperature rose just above the ¾ mark a few times when idling, which caused concern, but never went further. Cruise control is standard and works through the Electric Throttle Valve (ETV) system.

The on-board stereo system comes with AM/FM, plus XM satellite radio capabilities and CB radio – thanks to dash-mounted speakers, it sounds great, even at highway speeds. Under the saddle are connections for two-way communication, adjustments for rear shock pressures, and a pair of helmet hooks.

Vaquero’s side-opening hard saddlebags look nice and are slimmer than the top-opening units on the Nomad and Voyager. However, they can’t hold a full-face helmet, and when the bike is on the sidestand, the left bag is so low to the ground that it’s difficult to access.

Final Thoughts

Overall the Vaquero is a solid competitor in the large touring cruiser segment. While it gives up a bit of practicality for style, the big brute runs and rides well, it has a nice audio system, and paint, chrome and fit and finish are up to its $ 16,499 MSRP. It compares favorably with American V-twins, such as Harley-Davidson’s Road Glide at $ 18,999 and the Victory Cross Country with a $ 17,999 list price. Vaquero also comes with a standard 36-month warranty, which can be extended to a full six years.