Long Term Bikes | Cutting the Stryker and the Vaquero Loose

We haven’t the chance to report on them as much as we’d have liked, but with 2012 breathing down our necks, it’s time to part company with our long-term test bikes. Our summary of living with the Stryker and the Vaquero for the better part of a year should bring you up to speed on these steeds. —Ed

2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero

MSRP: $16,499
Caretaker: Zimmerman
Measurements: 5 ft. 10 in./190 lbs. /32-in. inseam
Odometer: 6002
Miles since last issue: 1725

By the time you get your hands on this issue, the Vaquero will have ridden off into the sunset. As I’ve mentioned, the bike never really resonated with me, but I also can’t honestly say it’s not a good motorcycle. Prior to the wrap, I changed the oil (five quarts of Amsoil’s best) and filter, and checked the tire pressure. It was the only real service I’ve had to perform since the bike’s been in my care. Shortly thereafter, I headed out for a long weekend trip to Cape May, NJ. The ride was basically a scenic tour of the Garden State Parkway, which is to say, neither scenic nor much of a tour, but it did allow me to spend four uninterrupted hours, each way, riding and ruminating on the Vaquero.

Here’s what I came up with: Overall, the Vaquero is a very good motorcycle, and especially so if you’re looking for a stylish cruiser that can handle touring duties without breaking a sweat.

In fact, despite my lukewarm feelings for the bike, (which, I should reiterate, had nothing to do with the bike’s performance) I’ve developed some real affection for it as a tourer. The Vaquero is comfortable, has plenty of power, and handles way better than a bike this size should. On the highway, handling isn’t compromised by the limited ground clearance, and it also has outstanding weather protection. This summer has been one of the wettest on record, and I can tell you that the Vaquero’s fairing is one of the best out there. This machine also gets terrific tire life; at 6000 miles, the rubber has a fair amount of life left—easily another 2500 miles or so—which was a pleasant surprise after my last long term tester burned through its OEM skins in just under 4000 miles.

Unfortunately, it also has some minor glitches. First, the saddlebags are on the small side. I took several weekend trips, and even riding solo used up all the space. The optional luggage rack would have solved the problem, but somehow I never got around to installing it. Secondly, fuel mileage is lackluster. Most of the time it hovered in the high 30 to 40 mpg range, with the best I could manage being maybe 45 miles to the gallon. Lastly, I never did get the radio to work as well I’d have liked. It constantly dropped stations, and on my way to Cape May started to flash a “check antennae” code. My guess is that this was an issue peculiar to the test bike, so I don’t want to make more of it than it is, and would certainly welcome comments from any of you that own a Vaquero.

The bottom line here is that while I never became a huge fan, I’m reminded of that classic break-up line: “It’s not you babe, it’s me,” which in this case, is true. I do have some affection for it, especially as an open road tourer, so while it isn’t a bike I’d consider owning, it does have a lot going for it. It’s certainly a bike I’d recommend without reservation to anyone looking for a stylish, easy-to-live-with cruiser that does a credible job as a light touring bike.

2011 Star Stryker

MSRP: $11,240
Caretaker: Bartels
Measurements: 6 ft. /190 lbs./33-in. inseam
Odometer: 2345
Miles since last issue: 592

Let me emphatically say that this has easily been my favorite long termer at Cruiser. Part of it was because I didn’t get stupid with the changes I made, yet still managed to create a light custom that turns heads wherever it goes.

The idea behind this project was simple: use the dark parts from the black version of the Stryker to change the look and lines of this blue/chrome bike. The black part was easy, though the black bike has stock parts that make it different. Occasionally it took a special order from Japan to get the accessories in hand, but once we started changing stuff, the results turned out even better than I hoped—especially the aluminum rims.

I’ve never been a fan of the Stryker’s dropped rear-end, so I thought I’d change that. The Vance & Hines pipes were the biggest mechanical change, while removing the fender struts made a huge visual difference.

The last round of additions included Progressive Suspension parts, with a 465 shock out back and PS standard fork springs up front. I was asked by the technicians at Progressive what sort of riding I do, and I pretty much replied “all of the above.” I ride with a passenger (of various sizes, as I have two kids and a wife), half the time, I like to ride aggressively on back roads, and I also jet around on the freeway at high rates of speed—all of which place very different demands on a set of boingers.

In the end, I can report definite ride improvement in all areas except with sharp-edged bumps. On our washboard freeways, I can still feel the ripples, but the ride is more controlled at high speed than before, while back road performance is phenomenally better. The preload setup we came up with was a good compromise between heavy, light and no passengers at all. Uneven or rough roads gave the suspenders some trouble, as did potholes, which transferred more shock to me than I’d prefer, but if I wanted plusher, I’d need to give up some performance and control—which I’d rather not do.

The last two add-ons were cosmetic, stock parts from the black Stryker. Black fork lowers (installed with the fork springs), and a black air cleaner cover helped to finish off the look of the bike. I realize the prices for the stock replacement parts are on the moon, but, hopefully soon, they’ll be available secondhand or as take-off parts at the dealer.

The one problem we were never able to sort out was the disconnect between the Vance & Hines PowerPak and the Star brain, which occasionally led to poor idling. Around town it was annoying (stalling out at lights), but on the back roads it was all but unnoticed. In fact, the additional power with just pipes and the ‘Pak was tremendous. Since the problem was intermittent it never got solved. Happily, an earlier battery issue was fixed by simply swapping to a new one.

Most times when I have a bike for an extended period, I'm through by the time it needs to leave. In this case, when I return the Stryker (very soon), I'll be sad to see it go. It was nice to have a project bike that didn't force you to adhere to a central theme. Adding parts to the Stryker came down to two simple questions: Is it black? And does it make the bike better? If the answer was yes, it was on. CR


Progressive Suspension: **
**Fork Spring Kit:
465 Shock (stock-length): $495.95
Star Air Cleaner Cover: $152.77
Star Fork Assemblies: $357.80 (ea.)