2009 Kawasaki 1700 Vulcan Classic/ Classic LT, Vulcan Nomad, Vulcan Voyager

Kawasaki's New Vulcans Aren't Just Reruns

As far as riding goes, Mill Valley, California, isn't a bad place in which to indulge your throttle hand. Especially when somebody else is providing the bikes, as Kawasaki was for its 2009 Vulcan 1700 launch last month. The firm was introducing its fuel-injected future in the form of four new cruiser and touring V-twins, and for the next two days I sampled the new line while negotiating the twisty miles that snake around the verdant Marin hills.

Four models--three of them bearing familiar names--are being rolled out for 2009. The 1700 Classic, Classic LT and Nomad all receive the obvious 100cc bump in displacement from 2008's 1600, but the bigger news is Kawasaki's new luxury touring bike, the Voyager. Any way you slice `em, all the new 1700 Vulcans all get a six-speed transmission, a belt instead of shaft drive, and a new chassis.

The Big Picture
I've always felt the 1600 Vulcans were just an incremental step up from the 1500s, so I'm happy to see Kawi go with an entirely new engine and chassis for the 1700s. The new long-stroke V-twin is indeed a fresh design, even though it's loosely based on the Vulcan 2000's mill. Most noticeable is the debut of a single-overhead cam in each cylinder (and four valves per cylinder) instead of the V2K's pushrod-actuated arrangement. The 1700cc engine retains the 1600's 102mm bore, but stroke gets stretched to 104mm for a solid 1700ccs of displacement.

Probably of greater concern to cruiser riders is torque, however-- and they'll be tickled to hear the new engine allegedly outputs 108 ft-lb of the stuff at 2250 rpm (15% more than the old bike). Kawasaki says the new long-stroke design along with a bump in compression (now 9.5:1) also results in 20% more horsepower than the 1600's (we've heard 89 hp), peaking at just below 5000 revs. Engine heat is now diffused by a combination of machined cylinder fins and liquid-cooled upper cylinders.

A single-pin crankshaft delivers the requisite rumble, while twin counterbalancers (as opposed to the V16's single balancer) keep the 52-degree Vee's vibes in check. Power production is smoothed out by Kawasaki's first electronic throttle valve system. The setup allows the EFI to adapt to inputs from throttle position, load, temperature and air pressure.

It doesn't end there. The new powerplant is backed by a 6-speed transmission that offers overdrive ratios in the top two gears. Thrust is now sent rearward via a 28mm wide carbon-fiber-based belt drive- the bulky shaft of the 1600s has been ditched, for better power transfer and no jacking. It also makes the bike easier to customize with aftermarket goodies.

Tying it all together is a single backbone, double-cradle frame with some forged steel parts for lighter weight. That chassis is also more compact and has fewer castings, which likewise helps knock tonnage off the curb weight.

But that's all just press-packet prelude. Let's take a ride, shall we?

Vulcan 1700 Classic
The foundation of the platform are the two Classic models. The Vulcan 1700 Classic is the base configuration--a stripped down boulevardier--while the Classic LT adds bags and a shield.

Basking in an improbably sunny Mill Valley morning in April, the Vulcan 1700's curves are a bit easier on our eyes than its loutish bigger brother's. A large headlight with a sparkling chrome shroud perches in front of the attractive-but-generically styled fuel tank. Gone is the distinctive dog-dish air cleaner, though the engine itself it nicely finished, with polished surfaces glinting against a matte black finish. The now-familiar cruiser styling cues mean there's no missing the Vulcan family heritage, though the bodywork is more refined this time around. Brightwork abounds, from the tank-mounted instruments to the slash-cut pipes. You'll also find nine-spoke cast wheels, steel fenders and the first LED taillight on a Kawasaki cruiser.

Thankfully (for me, anyway), the 1700's chassis is more compact than the old 1600's, with a new frame that's substantially wider near the swingarm pivot. Kawasaki says the structural update is 40% more rigid but 4.4 lbs. lighter. The 30mm shorter chassis helps abbreviate the wheelbase to 65.6 inches.

A shorter distance from seat to steering head also keeps it more manageable than the 2000. The rake has been brought in to 30 degrees, with 6.7 inches trail. Though it's a touch heavier than its 1600cc predecessor (claimed curb weight is 761 pounds), the 1700's maneuverability is aided by sharper steering geometry, while the rider cockpit triangle has been tightened up for enhanced comfort.

Seat height on the Classic and Classic LT is 28.3 inches--more than an inch higher than the 1600's, but still accessible. The improvements on the new chassis are evident as soon as you chug away from a parking spot. The 1700 possesses a natural balance that's a notch above some of the other big boys in its class, allowing for deft maneuvers in tight spaces. Reasonably sized 130/90 and 170/70 tubeless tires mounted on 16-inch wheels add to the bike's sure-footedness and agility.

Like most machines from the Big Four, snicking through the heel/toe gear shifter is an effortless affair on the V17, as is working the hydraulic clutch. Kawi's Positive Neutral Finder makes slotting into neutral from a dead stop a cinch, but finding it while the bike is rolling isn't quite as seamless.

At speed, the new Vulcan is equally impressive--you have to give it a good push on the bars, but it reacts willingly. As with any floorboard-equipped cruiser, spirited romps in the twisties are cut short by clearance, though we're told cruising riders never bitch about restricted lean angles--right?

Up front, you get a 43mm Showa fork with a generous 5.5 inches of travel to soak up the bumps, though it's non-adjustable. The first big bump out back however, comes up rather insistently through a pair of rear shocks that are air-adjustable up to 43 psi (with four rebound damping options). But there's just 3.1 inches of travel available here, so it's key to have the right setup. My 160-lb weight didn't require adjustments to the stock setup, but heavier riders in our group found themselves adding a whiff of extra air.

Kawasaki has wisely given its latest Vulcan a raft of common-sense features. One that should be adopted industry-wide is the integrated fork lock--it works with the ignition key slot, so there's no need to poke around for a second keyhole. The ignition switch also lets you remove the key once the bike has fired up, so you don't scratch the surrounding embossed metal. When the ride's over, just twist the ignition off. The bike can't be restarted unless the key is back in.

Not surprisingly, the Vulcan Classic's tank-mounted gauges mean you have to lean in to see the info. And there's plenty to look at. Readouts include goodies like Range to Empty, Average Mpg, a fuel gauge, a clock and twin tripmeters, all controlled by switchgear on the left handlebar.

Cruisers aren't exactly known for high-end brakes, but the new Vulcan gets a nod for its triple-disc setup. Sure, twin-piston calipers are kind of low-tech nowadays, but combined with the 300mm rotors, the unit does a pretty nice job of hauling the Vulcan down from speed. Modulation is a breeze, and you can howl both tires if you squeeze really hard.

But getting up to speed is usually bigger fun, and there's a huge spread of grunt on tap from the 1700cc Vee. The party gets going just off idle and doesn't end until the 6000-rpm rev limiter kicks in. Power is more noticeable lower in the rpm range than on the touring models and the Classic feels livelier at the throttle.

Some riders might bemoan the fact that there's no real rush, though--the powerband is so linear that you just feel a steady flow of power. On the other hand, this is one Vulcan you can bring home to Mom; we found no driveline lash or throttle hiccups along the way.

What's not fun is the Vulcan 1700 Classic's outward identity. While you can readily brand it as a quality machine with superior fit and finish, visually it tends toward the generic. From an aesthetic standpoint, it feels more bland than its pricier peers. The fact that it's available only in black doesn't help either, though that may explain the attractive list price.

**Vulcan Classic LT **
Current cruiser vogue demands a companion bagger version of the base model so you can hit the high road in style. The call is answered by the Vulcan 1700 Classic LT, which offers a full complement of touring accessories, including a studded touring seat, a pair of studded leather saddlebags, a large height-adjustable windshield and a passenger backrest.

The LT (Light Touring in Kawasaki parlance) is the functional equivalent of the base Classic--other than the bags and shield, there's not much else to distinguish it, which is why Kawasaki has rolled out the "value" argument to bolster its appeal. And yes, it is a bargain--for just $1,500 more , you get added comfort, better passenger accommodations and an extra shot of bling.

My half-day ride on the LT was in somewhat breezy conditions, and frankly, it was a relief to be parked behind a windshield. The LT's unit is adjustable over a 2-inch range. The top-loading reinforced cowhide leather saddlebags offered up plenty of room for a camera, snacks and a jacket liner, and the roomy passenger pad and backrest looked nicely configured for a back-seater. The saddles get chromed brass studs to match the detailing on the saddlebags--a nice touch, but I wished it was an option. The additional weight of the accessories definitely was felt on the LT, and the tall windshield--even after adjustment--added noticeable buffeting. Handling occasionally felt floppy because of the windshield as well, but in general, stability was rock-solid through turns.

The LT's paint options add considerable appeal over the black-only Classic. The two-tone color schemes available (Metallic Nocturne Blue/Pearl Burnish Beige and Metallic Dark Green/Pearl Burnish Beige) both feature pinstriping as well. The $13,799 MSRP includes a two year warranty.

Vulcan Nomad
To the base Vulcan 1700, the Nomad adds a pair of lockable saddlebags, passenger floorboards, adjustable windscreen with lower deflectors and a deluxe backrest with grab handles. But this isn't a mere bags-n-shield upgrade; we're happy to report that the Nomad finally gets electronic cruise control--standard.

Like the other Vulcans, the Nomad gets a new frame with shorter wheelbase and lessened distance between seat and steering head. Handlebars are pulled back less, however, while floorboards are moved further back, for a more upright riding position than on the Classics. The Nomad is equipped with plusher seats as well, and a heftier curb weight of 834 lbs.

The shorter frame also means that the risers some riders used for a more comfortable riding position on earlier models are a thing of the past, though the Nomad's bars spread you out more. Belt final drive replaces the previous model's shaft, and there are welcome changes in the tank-mounted gauges and accompanying readouts. The multifunction displays are now controlled from the right grip, including dual trip meters, miles left in the gas tank, Sixth Speed Overdrive and Cruise Control.

If you ask me, the new engine works well in this configuration, and the exhaust note sounds better than the old Nomad's sterile whine. Gearing on 5th and 6th gear however, feels exceptionally tall, even though Kawasaki says final drive ratios on all four bikes are the same. Compared with the Classics, the Nomad hits peak torque 500 rpms higher on the rev range --the power builds more slowly--but it's there when you need it, especially at freeway speeds (though you'd better be north of 85mph to even think about clicking into 6th).

Although it features the same 30-degree rake as the Classics, the Nomad reworks the trail to a more appropriate 7 inches. As a result, the 1700 feels more planted in corners (if a bit less limber) and steers lightly at parking lot speeds. You can still toss it around when you have to, and on that point, it's a good thing the floorboards are hinged; dragging them is easy. The brakes on the other hand, were notable for their weak initial bite, but I found that with some extra muscle at the lever, the power comes on nicely.

On my 150 mile trip, the saddle felt suitably comfy, though it wasn't on par with the Voyager's (yes, it's taller than on previous Nomads, but not intimidatingly so). The new Nomad retains its rear shock air-pressure adjustability which, combined with the new geometry, results in a more compliant ride. I preferred the Nomad's height-adjustable shield over the LT's however -I could look over it, without the same buffeting effect.

Passengers will be pleased with their environment too. They get a bit more room front-to-rear, and the 1700 also brings a nice, wide backrest and sleek, sturdy hand-holds. Factor in the aforementioned suspension changes, and the 1700 should feel plenty comfortable for your traveling companions.

The big cues setting the Nomad apart from the rest of the Vulcans, of course, are the sleek color-matched saddlebags. This year, for the first time, the 10-gallon bags are top-opening, so you'll have less hassles packing and unpacking. Also still distinguishing the Nomad from its brothers are dual exhausts (one on each side) jutting out from under the saddlebags, to allow for more baggage capacity.

My short ride on the Nomad reaffirmed its status as a refined touring cruiser. Even with all these road-ready features, the $14,399 base price is not nearly the bargain last year's model was, but it's close.

You can paint it Metallic Diablo Black or Candy Diamond Red / Pearl Luster Beige. Like the Classic LT, the Nomad comes with a 2-year warranty.

Vulcan 1700 Voyager/ABS
The biggest and most dramatic 1700 Vulcan for 2009 is the flagship Voyager. But why is Kawasaki bringing the model back after a six-year absence? Company reps said the Voyager's return was due in part to customer response, and an opportunity for Team Green to capitalize on a lack of alternatives. The firm also says positive trends in the touring segment over the last few years spurred it to tap into the niche.

The new Vulcan 1700 Voyager is flush with technology and amenities. But would the new model have the same easy-handling nature as the old one (introduced in 1986)?

Frankly, this model has as much in common with the old Voyager as Spock has with Captain Kirk. Kawasaki's re-entry into the deluxe tourer class will likely compete with Harley-Davidson and Star, and more peripherally with Victory and Honda. As a luxury tourer, it offers advanced cruise control, integrated premium audio, and a full trunk.

While the fairing and trunk would seem to be the main distinctions between the Voyager and the Nomad, its optional anti-lock brake system is what takes it to another level. ABS-equipped Voyagers are further bolstered with the K-ACT system --Kawasaki Advanced Coactive Braking Technology. In short, the ABS prevents the brakes from locking up, particularly in the wet, while the K-ACT is "designed to complement the riders' applied brake control.. (by) distributing the ideal amount of brake force to maximize braking efficiency". In other words, linked ABS.

Stepping up for a closer look, I notice the Voyager's frame-mounted fairing contains the headlight and two fog lights in its upper portion. The fairing and saddlebags get an aerodynamically sculpted treatment, which bodes well for handling's sake as well as wind protection. The lowers feature an adjustable, vent to introduce airflow onto your legs during hot spells. The (somewhat) thin plastic top trunk has a 13.2 gallon capacity and can hold two full-face helmets (I was skeptical too, until I saw it for myself). The round analog speedo, tach and other gauges are all fairing-mounted and completely different from the other models' arrangement. Centered in between is a multi-function, backlit LCD controlled from the right grip.

Once settled into the 28.7-inch high seat, I can't help but notice how much smaller this bike feels than it looks. The long, plush saddle is comfy to sit on, though the front nose comes up too abruptly to the fuel tank for my liking. That tank isn't overly wide, so the riding position doesn't splay you out too much, and the reach to the swept back handlebar is just right (the Nomad's bar is wider). The floorboards are in tight, too, and in the saddle, the seating position feels practically upright, with arms set comfortably forward. As riding triangles go, it's similar to the old Harley Ultra, but with more room for your legs. Still, I'm 5'7", and I wonder if the Voyager will cramp taller riders.

Thumb the throttle, and the bike fires up instantly. Its rider-friendly ergos and short wheelbase make the large motorcycle easily manageable at low speeds from the get-go. When motoring away from the curb however, throttle response feels less than immediate, perhaps because the bike needs to think things through an ECU. The Voyagers also deliver their best torque 500 rpms higher than the Classics, at 2750 rpm.

As I roll through the gears of the six-speed transmission, I'm not surprised to find smooth shifting and gears engaging reliably. First gear redlines around 40 mph, and pushing second to its max means bogging at around 70mph. Third and fourth gears feel the most usable, as they're wide and offer ample power through the rev range. Fifth and sixth are both overdrive gears and are extremely tall--unless you keep the revs super-high, you won't get much roll-on acceleration. I found it better to top out in fourth before shifting up. During the course of a 200-mile ride, I found myself in 3rd most of the time.

Hardcore tourers will be pleased with the well-sorted suspension on the Voyager. Up front, a stout 45mm Showa hydraulic fork supports the fairing and soaks up big hits. Adjustable rear shocks with air-assisted (0-43 psi) 4-way rebound damping do bump duty out back. Factory settings are at the second position, which suited me fine--they're meant for 150-lb riders. Naturally, larger riders should dial in a click or two of rebound for better compliance.

Once we hit Marin County's wooded inland valleys, the Voyager's brakes got a chance to strut their stuff. Though the 886 lb. tourer has four-piston calipers up front, it only runs a dual-piston setup out back. That's where the Kawasaki Advanced Co-Active Braking Technology (K-ACT) comes in. This ABS-linked brake combo is exclusive to the V17V ABS model, and is engineered to enhance the rider's ability. K-ACT automatically disengages when the bike slows to under 12 mph, to smooth out low-speed stints.

K-ACT works in conjunction with the ABS that's an option on the Voyager. Pressure and speed sensors send info to the brake ECU, which controls the proper amount of pressure being delivered to the calipers. When you give the front lever a squeeze, the system will simultaneously actuate the right front caliper on the rear brake. Stabbing the back brake likewise engages calipers on the four-piston unit up front. It took hard braking to get the ABS to kick in (you feel a small pulse at the brake lever and pedal), but I found Kawasaki's system kept the front end from diving as much as other top-heavy bikes.

If you're looking for convenience en route, you'll find it on the Voyager's handgrips--auxiliary controls are housed on the left handlebar, cruise control on the right. You can cancel the cruise at the right thumb switch, or via clutch or braking input. Operating the cruise with my right hand occasionally meant stretching to keep the throttle fully engaged. The Voyager also has an integrated audio system, with plug-ins for an iPod, intercom, rear speakers, XM radio and a CB, but all these are offered as upgrades only.

The obvious touring amenities include hard saddlebags and a top case. The spacious rider floorboards were welcome on long stretches of my trip, and out back, the topcase's built-in backrest looks like it would easily cushion even finicky passengers.

The Voyager looks like a genuine, lower-cost alternative to the HD Ultra, but with a frame-mounted fairing. Kawasaki did a pretty good job in melding traditional styling with modern muscular touches, and their version of ABS works especially well without feeling intrusive. We'd like to see an adjustable windshield as an option, and bigger tank capacity--par for this class seems to be 6 gallons. At the end of the day, I didn't much care for the 1960's Camaro-style gauges, either. They just felt cheaply finished, and something more high tech would probably better reinforce the premium image of this bike.

The 2009 1700 Voyager comes in Candy Diamond Red, Two-tone: Candy Plasma Blue / Metallic Diablo Black and Two-tone: Metallic Titanium / Metallic Diablo Black. The nicely-priced Voyager goes for a $16,799 MSRP, with the ABS version priced at $17,899 (both get a 3-year warranty).

SPECIFICATIONS
2009 Kawasaki 1700 Classic/ Classic LT 2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Nomad 2009 Kawasaki Vulcan {{{Voyager}}}/Voyager ABS
BASE PRICE $12,299 /$13,799 $14,399/$14,699 $16,799/$17,899 (ABS)
COLORS Metallic diablo black; LT: metallic nocturne blue/pearl burnish beige, metallic dark green/pearl burnish beige Metallic diablo black; candy diamond red/pearl luster beige Candy plasma blue/metallic diablo black, metallic titanium/metallic diablo black
STANDARD WARRANTY 12 months/24 months 24 months 36 months
ENGINE
TYPE Liquid-cooled, 52 degree V-twin Liquid-cooled, 52 degree V-twin Liquid-cooled, 52 degree V-twin
DISPLACEMENT, BORE X STROKE 1,700cc, 102mm x 104mm 1,700cc, 102mm x 104mm 1,700cc, 102mm x 104mm
VALVE TRAIN SOHC, 4 valves per cylinder SOHC, 4 valves per cylinder SOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
COMPRESSION 9.5:1 9.5:1 9.5:1
FUEL SYSTEMT EFI, dual 42mm throttle bodies EFI, dual 42mm throttle bodies EFI, 42mm throttle bodies
RANSMISSION 6-speed with overdrive 6-speed with overdrive 6-speed with overdrive
FINAL DRIVE Carbon fiber belt Carbon fiber belt Carbon fiber belt
CHASSIS
FRONT SUSPENSION 3mm hydraulic fork, 5.5 inch travel 43mm hydraulic fork, 5.5 inch travel 45mm hydraulic fork, 5.5 inch travel
REAR SUSPENSION Air-assisted dual dampers, 3.1 inch travel, adjustable rebound, Air-assisted dual dampers, 3.1 inch travel, adjustable rebound Air-assisted dual dampers, 3.1 inch travel, adjustable rebound
FRONT BRAKE Dual 300mm discs, dual twin-piston calipers 300mm discs, dual twin-piston calipers Dual 300mm discs, dual four-piston calipers
REAR BRAKE 300mm disc, twin-piston caliper 300mm disc, twin-piston caliper {{{300}}} mm disc, twin-piston caliper
FRONT TIRE 130/90x16 tubeless radials 130/{{{90}}}-16 tubeless radials 130/90-16 tubeless radials
REAR TIRE 170/70x16 tubeless radials 170/70-16 tubeless radials 170/70-16 tubeless radials
WHEELS 9-spoke, cast 9-spoke cast 9-spoke cast
OVERALL LENGTH 98.4 in. 98.4 in. {{{100}}}.8 in.
WHEELBASE 65.6 in. 65.6 in. 65.6 in.
RAKE/TRAIL 30 degrees/6.7 in. 30 degrees/7.0 in. 30 degrees/7.0 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 28.3 in. 28.7 in. 28.7 in.
WEIGHT {{{760}}}.7 lbs./798.2 lbs. (claimed) 833.5lbs. (claimed) 886.4 lbs./895.2 lbs. (ABS)
FUEL CAPACITY 5.3 gal. 5.3 gal. 5.3 gal.
Vulcan 1700 Voyager/ABS
Vulcan 1700 Classic
Vulcan Nomad
Vulcan 1700 Classic LT
Vulcan 1700 Classic
The seat height is taller, but the 1700s ergos are more compact than previous versions. You can get the Classic in any color, so long as its black.
The new 1700cc SOHC V-twin yields good vibes without the pushrods. Hidden within is Kawasakis first Electronic Throttle Valve System (ETV).
New low-profile, tank-mounted gauge cluster looks the business, and offers up a host of info to boot. It's controlled by switches on the right grip
Weekend trip? The LT's bags, shield and backrest will probably make things a bit more comfortable. An extended warranty doesn't hurt, either
Vulcan 1700 Classic LT
Vulcan Nomad
Tuned for touring--One of our favorite touring bikes finally gets electronic cruise control. It works in conjunction with the new ETV system, for steadier long-haul comfort.
The top-loading bags are easier to pack now, but we're not sure they're any bigger than last years. At least you can work them without keys.
Vulcan 1700 Voyager/ABS
Kawasaki says they have the market's only v-twin metric luxury tourer. We say, lets take it for a tour and see.
The Voyager's fairing-mounted gauges take cues from musclecars of the 60s and throw in slick features like handlebar controls and premium audio. A tad more refinement, please.