Kawasaki Announces Vulcan 1700 Voyager Tourer

And a Vulcan 1700 Classic, Classic LT and Nomad!

This past weekend at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, TX, Kawasaki held their 2008 dealer show. The biggest announcement was a complete line of Vulcan 1700cc cruisers, topped by a new Vulcan 1700 Voyager touring bike, were on their way.

I say "announcement" because the four bikes are all "coming soon" according to Kawasaki. That means they could be late-arriving 2009 models or early-release 2010s. As the bikes seemed to be complete and not prototypes, there are two possible reasons for this. One is that the current 1600 Vulcan line is languishing on dealer showroom floors and Kawasaki is giving them an opportunity to clear the decks before bringing in the 1700s. The other - and more likely reason - is that there are production line/raw materials issues preventing more timely shipping for the coming year.

So while the 1700s are definitely coming, the Vulcan 1500 Classic and the Vulcan 1600 models, including the Mean Streak, are leaving the line-up. Rumor also has it that the Vulcan 500 LTD, a motorcycle that pre-dates the Jurassic period, is making its swan song in 2009. The most likely reason is that the motorcycle is carbureted and will not meet emissions requirements in the future. Look for a new, small displacement model, something between 250cc and 650cc, in 2010.

The styling of the 1700 line will be familiar to current Vulcan riders but fortunately, the cake pan air cleaner covers have been replaced with much more stylish covers more befitting a 21st Century cruiser. The 1700 series is much more than a simple displacement increase. The 1700cc engine is a new design based on the Vulcan 2000 engine. Gone are the predecessors' push-rods, replaced by a single overhead cam in each cylinder head for "faster revving," with four valves per cylinder and liquid cooling. Kawasaki claims the increased compression (raised to 9.5:1), increased displacement, long-stroke motor makes significantly more torque and power over the 1600, but we'll have to wait for a test bike (and that will be when???) and some dyno time to see if that bears out - which it should. The engine is of course fuel injected but now includes an electronic throttle valve system, aka throttle by wire. It consists of an "Accelerator Position Sensor" on the throttle body and a "Throttle Position Sensor" on the throttle. Data is sent from these sensors to the main ECU which precisely controls the opening of the throttle plates.

Changes to the drive train are also big improvements over the 1600s. The first is a six-speed transmission with a true overdrive top gear. The second is that the shaft drive has been ditched for a belt. Previously, belts had to be very wide to handle the power of big bikes. Kawasaki has developed a carbon fiber-based belt that is only 28mm wide (just over one inch). Belt drive also weighs less than shaft and has the benefit of smoothing out any driveline lash.

The frame is shorter from the seat to the head stock for a shorter reach to the handlebars and a shorter wheelbase. The single backbone, double cradle design is also 40% stiffer than that of the Vulcan 1600. Kawasaki claims that these changes will result in better handling, particularly at low speeds. A conventional fork sits up front with dual adjustable air shocks handling things in the rear.

Rolling gear includes a 130/90-16 front radial tire and a matching 170/70-16 in the rear. Stopping the whole shebang are a pair of 300mm discs up front clamped by twin-piston brake calipers and another 300mm disc in the rear, also with a twin piston caliper. Fuel capacity is 5.3 gallons. The rider gets floorboards while passengers make do with footpegs. One interesting feature is that after turning the ignition on, the key can be removed to prevent "key bunches from scratching the instrument cluster or tank." The flip side is that once the switch is turned off, one must reinsert the key to restart the motorcycle, a feature certain to drive our staff nuts on test rides.

The Vulcan 1700 Classic LT gains a tall windshield and chrome-studded seat, backrest and leather saddlebags. The saddlebags have chrome buckles with hidden quick-release fasteners.

The Vulcan 1700 Nomad adds hard saddlebags, passenger floorboards, adjustable windscreen with lower wind deflectors, deluxe backrest with grab handles, and, as a standard feature - electronic cruise control. That last feature was a fly-in-the-ointment for the 1600 Nomad when it came to touring bike comparisons and it's finally been addressed. The control will work at any speed between 30 and 85 mph. We haven't heard anything about the "Mode A - Mode B" selector button's function. The hard saddlebags are new and are now top-loading. Kawasaki claims 8.6 gallons of storage per side and we can attest to the fact that the bags appear to be wider than most every other hard saddlebag out there. The seat is also upgraded for longer touring distances and there are front engine guards. The engine also has a different state of tune, to work at higher rpms for the open road. It also receives a different clutch with six damping springs for three-stage clutch damping to smooth out shifting under braking and power under acceleration. Lastly, to accommodate the saddlebags, there is an exhaust muffler on each side of the bike instead of the over-and-under right side pipes on the Classic and Classic LT.

Finally the big daddy (big mommy?) of the 1700s, the Vulcan 1700 Voyager. Bringing the Voyager name back to the line-up after 12 years, this bike is Kawasaki's re-entry into the deluxe tourer class, competing most closely with Harley-Davidson and Star, and to a lesser extent with Victory, Honda and BMW. While the fairing and trunk look like the big differences between the Voyager and the Nomad, it's what you can't see that makes the Voyager stand out. That would be the optional anti-lock brake system. Moreover, on ABS equipped bikes there will also be K-ACT - Kawasaki Advanced Coactive Braking Technology. In short, while the ABS prevents locking up the brakes, particularly in the wet or on a dirty road surface, the K-ACT is "[d]esigned to complement the riders' applied brake control, the system distribute[ing] the ideal amount of brake force to maximize braking efficiency." We look forward to providing you with all of the nitty-gritty once we get our hands on a test bike.

The Voyager has a frame-mounted fairing, the upper containing the headlight and two fog lights. The lowers feature a ratcheting vent so your legs don't cook on hot days or freeze on the cold ones. The tail trunk has a 13.2 gallon capacity. Kawasaki claims it will hold two full-face helmets but we're sceptical until we see it in action. There is also a completely different set of gauges from the other 1700s, all fairing-mounted. In the center is a multi-function, backlit LCD that is controlled by a remote switch on the right handlebar. There are also analog, round gauges for the speedometer, tachometer, fuel and coolant temperature to either side of the LCD. Unfortunately the speedo and tach are pretty small, only about 3 inches in diameter. There are lockable glove boxes on each side of the fairing. Of course a deluxe tourer has to have an audio system and Kawasaki hasn't forgotten. The system has two front speakers, FM, AM, weather stations, and is compatible with iPods, an XM tuner or CB radio. A CD player will not be available as an option. The seat is also upgraded from the other 1700s while the fuel capacity is the same at 5.3 gallons.

Price? Weight? Availability? We'll let you know as soon as we do.

A couple of other tidbits gleaned from the show: One is that the Eliminator 125 rejoins the line-up, no small wonder given the current price of gas and an awakening to the fact that motorcycles are a viable means of daily transportation; and, the second is that the Vulcan 900 Classic has new handlebars with a much more comfortable reach and angle, as well as being much narrower than the old ultra-wide beach bars.

Finally, a bit of eye candy: a Vulcan 900 Custom Special Edition:

The new Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager makes its entrance.
2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 500 LTD
New Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Classic
Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 engine
Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 electronic throttle valve system
New Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Classic LT
Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Nomad
New Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Nomad and Voyager electronic cruise control
New Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Nomad and Voyager saddlebag, closed
New Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Nomad and Voyager saddlebag, open
New Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager
New Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager front fairing
New Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager gauges
2009 Kawasaki Eliminator 125
2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom Special Edition