Update: 2010 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager

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When it first hit the street last year, the Vulcan 1700 Voyager was touted by Kawasaki as the first "full-dress metric V-twin touring bike". That makes for a great sound bite, but there were a few niggles. Quite a few journalists (and buyers) derided the bike's heat-generating qualities, which roasted many a touring rider's right leg en route.

So now that Kawasaki's had a year to let the issues marinate in the old noggin, what's changed for the 2010 version of the Voyager?

We recently hopped aboard a new, updated model to see for ourselves, logging over 400 miles in 3 days around California's central desert and Sierra foothills. The itinerary proved to be a healthy mix of superslab, backroads, high temperatures, cold mornings and dizzying altitude. Because one of our stops would be Death Valley, there'd be ample opportunity to see if one of the main tweaks for the 2010 Voyager - Kawasaki's new heat-management modifications - were effective. And because Kawasaki had also outfitted our new Voyagers with just-introduced communication and audio accessories, we'd be riding into the sunset with onboard entertainment. How could we say no?

Team Green Product Guru Paul Golde debriefed us about the onboard, pre-installed gadgets at Kawasaki HQ before we hit the road, pointing out the added Helmet Speaker Kit and Headset Connection Kits, as well as a CB radio kit (manipulated via the handlebar controls), which, along with the Rider Communication Kit, upgraded the rider headset for intercom and CB Radio use. All of these were plugged into the bikes' wiring harnesses with the requisite adapters. It was the iPod Adaptor Kit though, that instantly piqued everyone's interest.

The iPod Kit let us plug into the Voyager's radio so that the song/artist/ playlists on our music players were now visible on the radio display, and we could select songs via onboard audio switches. That turned out to be a pretty handy feature - and one we found ourselves constantly accessing en route. The kit also came with a foam cushion which swaddled our Pods into the left fairing pocket to protect against vibrations and bumps. Good idea, that.

Settling into the Voyager's soft, dished 28.7 inch tall seat, I instantly remembered how well this bike fit me the first time I sat in it. There's not a lot of rear-end cushioning, but it's humanely situated, and with a low center of gravity, shoving off was a nerve-free affair. I realize I'm a short human (5'7"), and that the rider's triangle on the Voyager is considered to be compact, especially for a touring motorcycle. But it fit me to a tee, and I'd be the one riding it for the next 3 days. Coupled with an upright riding position and a blissfully short reach to the bars, the close-in floorboards also allowed for more immediate control and input (at least in my case; I remembered that most of the six-footers that rode this thing on our test said the ergonomics felt cramped over long hauls).

Once we broke free of L.A.'s urban sprawl and car-choked arteries, the wide-open straights and valley byways we merged onto seemed perfectly matched to the Voyager's higher-strung powerplant. Nothing's changed in the engine room for 2010, so the Voyager's power continues to feel most accessible past 2500 rpm. There is definitely more oomph in the mid-to-high rpm range.

Unfortunately, I'd forgotten that the higher rpms is where the mechanical noise was being generated too. Decelerating hard on a downhill, you still heard the drivetrain whine, which also made for some vibration in the saddle. But, like my first time on the bike, these nits didn't in any way spoil the ride for me.

Mostly because I was impressed with the smoothness of the Voyager's throttle response. The throttle uses an electronically controlled system of sensors and pulleys run by an ECU monitoring air intake, fuel delivery and spark. The result still delivers a prompt push with just a slight roll of the right wrist.

And while i'm not a fan of linked braking, I was reminded that Kawasaki's Advanced Coactive Braking Technology, which works in conjunction with its ABS setup, manages to be a fairly non-intrusive yet effective system. The ABS kicks in only under hard braking, and its pulse is pretty subtle. Furthermore, front-end dive under heavy braking remains a non-issue.

The roads can get pretty monotonous in the high desert, and that's where we found the onboard entertainment a saving grace. You'd think that cranking the tunes on a 40-watt audio system at speed would be a washout, especially on the Voyager's measly two-speaker system, but we found the sound audible and pretty healthy even at 55-per, and most of us opted to use the onboard speakers more and more as the trip wore on. The helmet headsets' sound quality just didn't do it for us, whether we tapped into them for music or for our CB communications. All of us preferred the iPod Kit's setup and ease of operation over that of the CB's, but much of that came down to personal preference and dubious sound quality from the 'phones.

For 2010, Kawasaki did listen to all the rider complaints about the Voyager's onboard roasting tendencies. We're happy to report that the new heat management system does the job as advertised, and we emerged from the desert temperature-neutral (and burn-free). The mods are simply minimal plumbing tweaks (and well-hidden at that), but the rerouted radiator ducting and exhaust shields deflected engine heat admirably along our route, while a new, shorter coolant pipe now simplifies oil screen maintenance.

As we prepared to part ways back at Kawasaki Motorcycles' USA headquarters in Irvine, California, the riders compared notes about our time on the road. It was interesting to me that - in the absence of bikes for comparison - everyone, to a man, found the three days on the Voyager to be a happy (or at least neutral) affair.

Sure, the niggles remain for the 2010 version - the luggage latches still feel flimsy and don't line up as neatly as I'd like; the Voyager's overall fit and finish isn't quite as refined as its competition's; and uphill passing maneuvers still require the occasional well-timed trip to the gearbox.

But when placed in context, the 2010 Voyager emerges as an extremely competent machine - and a smokin' value, when you consider that it's $2000 less than a similarly-equipped Electra Glide or Star Venture (and $5000 less than a Victory Vision Tour).

For more info on the 2010 Kawasaki Voyager and its available accessories, visit:
www.kawasaki.com or
www.kawasaki.com/kawasakinew/Accessories2/PCCatalogTypes.aspx?intCatalogID=1&intCatalogType;=4

2010 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager specifications
Base Price:
$17,299 ($18,399, ABS)
**Colors: **Black, red, blue, gray
**Standard warranty: **36 months

ENGINE
Type: **liquid-cooled, 52 degree v-twin
**Displacement, bore x stroke: ** 1,700cc, 102 x 104mm
**Valve train:
SOHC, four valves per cylinder
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Fuel system: EFI; dual 42mm throttle bodies
Transmission: **6-speed w/overdrive; multiplate wet clutch
**Final drive:
belt

CHASSIS
Overall length:
100.8 in.
Wheelbase: 65.6 in.
Wet weight: 895 lbs.
Seat height: 28.7 in.
Rake/trail: **30º / 7.0 in.
**Wheels: **9 -spoke cast aluminum
**Front tire:
130/90 R16
Rear tire: 170/70 R16
Front brake: **dual 300mm hydraulic discs, 4-piston calipers
**Rear brake: ** 300mm disc, 2-piston caliper
**Front suspension:
45mm hydraulic fork; 5.5 in. travel
Rear suspension: **twin shocks, adjustable air pressure/rebound damping; 3.1 in. travel
**Fuel capacity:
5.3 gal.
**Instruments: **Analog speedometer, LCD odometer/dual tripmeter, fuel gauge; average fuel economy computer with distance to empty, oil temperature gauge and tachometer

2010 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager