Kawasaki unveiled its all-new, completely redesigned-for-2009 Vulcan 1700 family in sunny Mill Valley, California, which includes the Classic and the Classic LT (for long touring). The routes were among Bay Area rider's favorites: backroads through golden hills and the redwood groves to the Pacific Coast Highway. But the chaparral-lined twisties from Stinson Beach to the top of Mount Tamalpias provided a demonstration of the Vulcan's surprising grace and maneuverability.
Carla rides the Kawasaki Vulcan Classic LT wearing Firstgear's Monarch jacket and Joe Rocket's Women's Alter Ego textile pants.
The redesign was in response to Vulcan 1600 owners who asked for a more compact bike with less weight and more power. I thought that it did indeed handle like a much smaller motorcycle -- and that's what most women riders want: an easy to handle motorcycle that doesn't act like a sissy but is powerful enough to play with the big boys.
Carla stands next to the 1700 Vulcan Classic on the shores of Richardson Bay in Mill Valley. With a 28.3-inch seat height, the 760-pound V-twin is easy for her to sling a leg over (she's 5 feet 7 inches with a 32-inch inseam) and the more compact frame gives even shorter riders an easy reach to the controls.
The four-stroke, liquid-cooled V-twin engine rumbles to life, but quietly, as if considerate of the neighbors. It shifts smoothly -- neither the Classic or the Classic LT I rode balked between gears even once. The heel/toe shifter takes some getting used to if you're not accustomed to using your heel to shift down (not usually up) into gears; and I liked Kawasaki's exclusive "positive neutral finder" that means you don't have to play footsies with neutral. The clutch and brake handles are adjustable to accommodate even small hands, like mine.
We tested the Vulcan on roller-coaster roads in the golden hills before hitting the shadows of the redwoods, then emerged to zoom through Lagunitas at higher speeds than we'd been able to achieve on the congested freeway. A perfect test ride for the cruisers!
The Vulcan has more than plenty of power for quick acceleration, assisted by the electronic throttle actuation system that delivers instant satisfaction when you twist the grip. This and other next-generation features make for a super-high-tech machine hidden away behind the classic cruiser styling. Riders, male or female, who enjoy cutting edge technology, will appreciate what the Vulcan Classic has to offer.
The V-shaped LED taillight is nice and bright so that when you brake, people notice.
The floorboards on the Classic and Classic LT are set a tad further forward than on the Nomad and Voyager model to give larger riders more leg room.
Carla recruits a pillion rider to test the Classic LT's stability, finding that it handles two-up with ease. The pink mesh jacket is the Breeze by Fieldsheer, a fashionable solution for very hot weather rides.
I was comfortable with the Vulcan because it responded to my whims without either lagging or trying to flip me off the back. I was able to relax and enjoy the scenery, which is exactly the point of cruising, no? I had to remind myself I was on a bike of this large an engine size.
The Classic is the rebel of the family, shunning baggage and allowing unobstructed views. The Classic LT takes responsibilities, adding a pillion backrest, windscreen, and saddlebags.
On the two Classics, the instrument cluster is basic, providing only a fuel gauge and consumption metrics, an odometer with dual-trip meter, clock, and gear position.
The Classic LT adds two-tone paint, adjustable windshield, studded seats, studded leather saddlebags, and passenger backrest. Both of the Classics have twin-muffler styling that's sacrificed in the Nomad and Voyager in favor of saddlebag capacity.
Because she loves taking multi-day solo rides, Carla is happiest on the Classic LT with the windshield and saddlebags.
The Nomad adds a bigger instrument panel, hard-sided bags, cruise control and more seat padding. The Voyager has a frame-mounted adjustable fairing and auxiliary lights for great visibility.
I think the Nomad is a great-looking bike. It retains a bit of the bad-ass attitude of the Classics but allows for long distance touring in plenty of comfort for folks who love motorcycle travel but aren't ready to commit to a big "bagger."
The Nomad (above) and Voyager are tuned for touring, which means you get more torque at higher RPMs than with the Classics, which respond with more torque on the lower end.
Now let's spend some time on the Voyager, because this is the bike that couples are going to want for long-distance touring with maximum comfort. First of all, it's worth noting that the Voyager is the industry's first metric (Japanese-made) V-twin full-dress touring motorcycle and, as such, competes with America's popular Harley-Davidson and Victory V-twin baggers.
Pillion riders are going to love love love the Voyager's padded seating and wraparound backrest.
The Voyager comes with a comprehensive instrument panel and iPod ready audio.
The trunk holds two full-face helmets and with the matching 10-gallon saddlebags you can pack your hair dryer and a lot of other stuff. And thank you, Kawasaki, for finally designing saddlebags that you don't have to lock and unlock a gazillion times a day. They can simply be latched shut until you want to lock them for security.
The only complaint in the list of features is that it doesn't include the tire pressure monitor that Kawasaki thoughtfully included in its Concours 14 sport touring motorcycle.
Available as an option for the Voyager is K-ACT ABS "smart" braking: "Kawasaki Advanced Co-Active Braking Technology," a confidence-inspiring feature for riders navigating unfamiliar terrain on the big bike.
Warranties range from 12 to 38 months with a protection plan available that can add up to 36 additional months.
The Vulcan 1700 family offers ideal choices at, what we think, are ideal prices, for experienced riders who want to move up to a big V-twin cruiser. The Classic is great for short runs and day-tripping and additional features on the Classic LT make it suitable for multi-day trips or longer if you’re riding solo. On the Nomad you could comfortably ride two-up for weeks, but the Voyager is the ultimate for leisurely two-up cross-country journeys.
Specs at a Glance: 2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Family
Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gallons
Weight: 760.7 pounds
Seat Height: 28.3 inches
Price: starts at $12,299
Weight: 833.5 pounds
Seat Height: 28.7 inches
Price: starts at $14,399
Weight: 798.2 pounds
Seat Height: 28.3 inches
Price: starts at $13,799
Weight: 886.4 pounds
Seat Height: 28.7 inches
Price: starts at $16,799
Price with ABS $17,899
About the Author: Carla King is a long-distance touring motorcyclist
who travels to exotic places and writes about it. Her Motorcycle
Misadventures series includes stories about trips in America, China,
India, Europe, and soon, Africa. You can buy her book (reviewed on WRN) and read her dispatches on the web at CarlaKing.com.