Motorcycle Comparison: Kawasaki Vulcan 1600 Classic Versus Yamaha Road Star 1700

Two supersized versions of favorite big twin motorcycles compared in six categories. From the August 2003 issue of _Motorcycle Cruiser _ magazine.

Regular visitors to know that our full test of Kawasaki's new Vulcan 1600 Classic ($10,499) was posted in the Road Tests section in early April. We got the Vulcan 1600 Classic a little too late for the June issue and didn't think that readers should have to wait until the August issue -- halfway through the riding season -- to read about Kawasaki's 2003 flagship motorcycle.

Yamaha's 1670cc version of its Road Star, released as a 2004 model, was ready in time for our August issue, and a First Ride article was posted here on this site. The full test appeared in the August issue of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine. This comparison of the two motorcycles was originally published with that test as a sidebar.

With two such similar big V-twin flagships entering the market so close together, it seems natural to ask how the two similarly sized motorcycles stack up. Here in a nutshell are what we see as the important considerations.


Kawasaki:** The fuel-injected 1552cc Kawasaki responds more readily and consistently when cold. The drivetrain, which has a sjaft final drive, has a bit more lash than the Road Star. The clutch grabs badly when hot. The Vulcan 1600 makes less mechanical noise than previous big Vulcans or the Road Star.

**Yamaha: **The bigger air-cooled V-twin offers more power than the Vulcan at all speeds. The carburetor induction permits easy modifications, and it has a smoother drivetrain and clutch than the Kawasaki. The Road Star's belt final drive will please customizers. Both of these bikes shift well. The fuel mileage is similar.


Kawasaki: **Less vibration --thanks to its counterbalancing system -- and well-sorted suspension rates are the Vulcan 1600's strengths. The handlebar is awkwardly wide, however. The seat is well padded but poorly shaped. It crowds taller riders, creating pressure points, and locks you into one position.

**Yamaha: **The Road Star's saddle is roomier and flatter but not quite as well padded as the Vulcan 1600's. Still it is an axcellent saddle and our choice of these two. The Yamaha's riding position is also preferred by most riders. The Road Star vibrates moderately at high rpm and transmits more road thumpage. Even so, it's our choice for comfort in this pair.


Kawasaki: **Superior suspension and cornering clearances give the Vulcan 1600 an edge in most situations, though the wide handlebar makes the motorcycle a bit awkward at ultra-slow speeds.

**Yamaha: **The Road Star is somewhat handier at low speeds than the Vulcan 1600. The wet weights of the two bikes -- 743 pounds for the Vulcan 1600 and 746 for the Road Star 1700 -- are too close to make any difference. Most big bumps come through more clearly on the Yamaha, with its less controlled suspension rates.


Both have been improved and impress us. We slightly prefer the Yamaha. The Kawasaki lever adjuster makes it easier to adapt to your hand or a glove change, though.


Styling is always a personal thing, but we felt the Kawasaki had better detailing. We are disppointed in the Vulcan 1600's standard color choices, however. They are a sort of plain-vanilla automotive selections, and there are no two-tone choices. Everyone prefers the surprisingly forceful exhaust note of the Vulcan, which is perhaps possible because it is so quiet mechanically (for which liquid-cooling must get some credit).


Since it is very similar to the 1600 it replaces, the Yamaha has an edge here, both in support from the manufacturer and from the aftermarket. There are lots of accessories available for both of these motorcycles' predecessors. However, the fact that the Yamaha 1700 is more like the 1600 than the Kawasaki is to previous big Vulcan Classics means that there is a larger existing accessory supply for the Road Star. In addition, the significant changes to the Kawasaki may discourage aftermarket vendors from creating new products because a history of frequent change means that they are likely to have relatively short lives. Finally, the quality of accessories for the Yamaha also appears to be somewhat higher.

Additional motorcycle road tests and comparison tests are available at the Road Tests section of

Yamaha's Road Star 1700 builds on the success of the 1600.
Kawasaki gave the Vulcan a major revision in the shift from 1470cc to 1552cc.
The Vulcan has better suspension and more adjustability.
Both bikes graduated to cast wheels and dual discs up front this year. This is the Kawasaki.