When Kawasaki invited us to ride the Vulcan 1700 Voyager in sunny California, I jumped at the chance. What could be better than touring the Golden State’s vast highways and beautiful byways on a comfortable machine equipped with everything touring riders need to rack up the miles? Besides nice styling, there’s a large frame-mounted fairing, ample storage capacity, a plush saddle, cruise control, a premium sound system, and a big engine.
Power comes from a long-stroke 1700cc, liquid-cooled, 52° V-twin, tuned to deliver peak torque and horsepower at higher rpm than the Classic models. Over the years Kawasaki has increased the displacement of the Vulcan series from 1500cc to 1600cc, and now 1700cc. This new engine design is based on the Vulcan 2000’s engine. Pushrods have been replaced by single-overhead cams on each cylinder head, with four valves per cylinder, which has taken it from a fairly anemic performer in its early days to the torquey motor it is today. Kawi rates maximum torque as 108 lb-ft at 2,750 rpm, but does not provide a horsepower rating.
Kawasaki’s fully electronic throttle valve system enhances engine response and helps the engine control unit (ECU) precisely adjust intake airflow and idle-speed. The system uses an accelerator position sensor (APS) and a throttle position sensor (TPS). Both units feed data to the ECU, which adjusts throttle opening accordingly. The system offers natural throttle feel and the bike feels responsive and very controllable. Besides the obvious FI advantages like improved fuel economy and automatic altitude adjustments, the system also permits easy hands-off warm-up and idle speed control. There’s plenty of power in the low rpm range and yet the big-twin revs right up, thanks to four valve cylinder heads.
Voyager’s clutch features a progressive three-stage engagement for less lever effort. A smooth-shifting six-speed transmission features overdrive fifth and sixth gears. Its tall gearing contributes to relaxed riding and better fuel economy at highway speeds, and its carbon-fiber drivebelt is clean, quiet, and maintenance-free.
Chassis, Brakes, and Handling
The single backbone, double-cradle steel frame is shorter from the seat to the steering head for less reach to the handlebars, and it’s also 40 percent stiffer than that of the Vulcan 1600. Up front, a conventional 45mm Showa fork, 2mm larger than the other Vulcan models, delivers 5.5 inches of suspension travel. Dual rear air-shocks feature four-way rebound damping, but only 3.1 inches of travel. This short suspension travel gives a low 28.7-inch seat height, but yields a choppy ride on rough pavement.
For 2010, Voyager’s ABS gets a new Kawasaki Advanced Coactive Braking Technology (K-ACT) system. Available on the ABS-equipped Voyagers, K-ACT translates rider braking inputs into smooth, balanced deceleration for maximum stopping performance. Basically, the front lever also activates the rear brake, and the rear pedal also engages the right front caliper. K-ACT provides strong braking seamlessly and effectively, doesn’t engage when braking below 12 mph, and the ABS disengages below 4 mph. It takes hard braking to get the ABS to activate, recognizable by a small pulse at the brake lever and pedal.
Despite the Voyager’s considerable weight, steering is fairly light and the big machine rolls into corners nicely. It will hold a line well, but like most motorcycles with footboards, it’s easy to scrape them even at moderate lean angles.
A large frame-mounted windshield and front fairing, as well as leg shields effectively protect the rider from wind and weather. For 2010, improved heat management better insulates the rider from engine heat. Airflow to the lower extremities can be custom-tailored via adjustable air vents incorporated in the leg shields. Still, in hot summer temperatures engine heat can be felt by the rider.
Sculpted touring seats with a backrest and floorboards provide comfort and support for all-day touring. I found the seating very comfortable, even after a long day on the road.
In the center of Voyager’s dash is a backlit LCD display that features gear position, clock, odometer, dual trip meters, remaining range and average fuel consumption. There are smallish round analog gauges for speedometer and tach, plus fuel and coolant temperature to either side of the LCD. Cruise control is operated from the right handlebar and works between 30 and 85 mph in any of the top four gears.
Voyager’s 40-watt, twin-speaker intercom headset-compatible audio system features an FM/AM/WX radio that’s compatible with iPods, an XM radio tuner, or CB radio. It sounds great and can be heard at highway speeds. With an alternator capable of 46.8 amps, there’s still enough juice to power electrically heated apparel and other accessories. A cigarette-lighter-style power port on the dash and two outlets under the seat provide power for electrically heated clothing and other items.
Luggage is a must on a touring bike and Voyager comes with a pair of roomy lockable top-opening side cases with 38 liters of volume each and optional liners. There’s also a 50-liter tail trunk large enough to hold two full-face helmets, plus a pair of lockable glove boxes, up front, for small items.
Kawasaki’s Vulcan 1700 Voyager combines eye-pleasing style, V-twin feel and performance, with comfort and amenities that long-distance touring riders demand. We also had a chance to ride the Nomad, which is the naked version of the Voyager and offers a similar ride and performance, sans the windscreen and touring amenities, for a substantially lower price. It’s worth considering if you don’t often travel far from home on your motorcycle. Either way, Kawasaki offers quality machines for less than you’d pay for some competing brands — and that’s important in these tough economic times!